Last weekend was my first camping experience. It was a head-first adventure considering that I wasn’t allowed to bring many things you would typically want on your first camping trip. No phone, no bottled water, no food — we were completely off the grid and expected to be as self-reliant as possible. I arrived with enough layers of clothing to keep warm, a tent, a sleeping bag, a knife and a sheath. That’s it.
This isn’t an adventure I would have chosen. My mom, dad and I were visiting my 20-year-old sister at an outdoor school called Teaching Drum in Wisconsin, a place whose mission is to “facilitate the connection to self and to the Earth,” and to teach Ojibwe-inspired living. Basically, it’s the kind of place people often write off as hippie commune or a cult.
We only stayed there for three days and two nights, but my sister had been there since April. To get to her, we took a canoe ride, crossed a dam, traveled downstream, then hiked up through the woods. It took three hours on indiscernible trails and our guide, a Teaching Drum student, led us by memory.
During my long weekend at Teaching Drum, I subsisted on fruit and nuts, used moss instead of toilet paper, sampled bear fat (it tasted like a gamey bacon fat) and drank “smoke water” from a small stream, which another camper jokingly referred to as “diarrhea water.” I found that for as much as people romanticize simple living and off-the-grid culture as idyllic, there was always an immense amount of work to be done. Over the course of a day, we had to scout, tan hides, butcher, collect food and gather firewood. Each task focused on what needed to be done to survive now.
This kind of survival-style camping is not something I would voluntarily do again, but with all the post-apocalyptic situations that pop culture tosses us, it’s hard not to imagine the possibilities: What if we had to permanently abandon modern conveniences to survive? What if some catastrophe drove city-goers out into the country to attempt to survive off the land for the first time in their lives? What if zombies were on your heels?
Thankfully, this is only hypothetical. But based on my off-the-grid experience, these are seven modern conveniences that I unexpectedly felt very grateful to have:
1. Every Nice Aspect of Food
At Teaching Drum, there were times when campers had to scavenger their own food (fish, frogs, decent roadkill), but they were also fortunate enough to receive vegetables, fruit, frozen meat and nuts from the bi-weekly food deliveries the school provided. The week I was there, the camp received a frozen deer that had been hit and killed by a car but was found in good enough condition to eat.
And cooking food over an open fire may sound romantic, but it’s not exactly efficient. Every meal prepared on the campfire took hours. Also, if we’re discussing post-apocalyptic terms here, you’d be eating most things as plain as they come, without seasoning, salt or butter. Even canned or ready-to-boil food would sell out almost instantaneously at stores and your personal stocks would only last you so long. So forget eating for pleasure — anyone living off the land is eating to survive.
2. Sweet, Sweet Chairs
One of the wilderness leaders at Teaching Drum told me that the thing she missed most while living in the woods was a good chair. The group would sit around for hours roasting food over the fire and talking. Many of the campers were used to this, but I struggled sitting cross-legged for so long without back support. I often had to get up to stretch out my legs and back, and I hardly had the patience to stay seated the entire time.
3. Clocks and Calendars
Imagine not being able to track time? I’m not just talking about knowing the hour — I mean day by day, never knowing exactly where you fall in time beyond what sunlight and the weather can tell you. Everyone at Teaching Drum called each day a “sun” and tracked the months by the waxing and waning of the moon. Instead of feeling short on time by the hour, they worried about running short on daylight.
This may seem obvious, but after the apocalypse, you will miss lights more than you could imagine.
To best understand how my sister had been living since April, I wasn’t allowed to bring flashlights to Teaching Drum. As a result, I was unable to find my tent in the dark, even with the bit of moonlight we had at night. My sister, however, was able to guide my family by candlelight through the forest. (I had a surprisingly difficult time even with the candle as the flame itself became the focal point, effectively blinding me to everything beyond it.) Light often isn’t an issue addressed by post-apocalyptic pop culture (fighting off zombies seems to work better, plot wise), but in the midst of an apocalypse, flashlights would certainly be the first thing to sell out. Just imagine having to beware of everything in the dark, zombie or otherwise?
5. “Feminine Hygiene Products”
The women at Teaching Drum used dried moss for what the school referred to as their “moon time.” Perhaps not coincidentally, there were only two women at the camp who took on the yearlong commitment Teaching Drum requires. I snuck in my own supplies because, honestly, just look at that photo above and let your imagination parse out the rest.
I was able to bring a toothbrush and toothpaste to Teaching Drum, but something I couldn’t have during my three days in the woods was soap. Even just getting my hands clean on a regular basis was a struggle as we only used evergreen needles as an antiseptic.
If I had stayed at the camp much longer, I would have had to bathe in the closest body of clean water, downstream and without soap so as to not contaminate anyone’s drinking water. It appears that even biodegradable soap can pollute fresh water drinking sources. Clean freaks would not fare well after the apocalypse, that’s for sure.
One of the students at Teaching Drum had broken his back a few days before we arrived and was fortunate enough to make it off site via an on-hand emergency vehicle to receive medical treatment and muscle relaxants to get him by when he returned (!!!) to the woods. Thankfully, he was able to receive the help he needed — but in any post-apocalyptic situation, people would have to cross their fingers and hope that someone traveling with them would have the skills and supplies necessary to treat wounds and illnesses as they popped up. Otherwise, who knows how far you’d make it at the end of the world.
What do you think you’d miss most after the collapse of civilization? Think you’d be able to live without any of the comforts mentioned above? If you were heading to Teaching Drum for a long weekend, what would you sneak in? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
Freddie Moore is a Brooklyn-based writer. Her full name is Winifred, and her writing has appeared in unFold, The Leaf Unturned and Italics Mine. As a former co-president of SUNY Purchase’s Cheese Club, she’s a big-time foodie who knows her cheese.
KEEP READING: More Travel
- War and Peace and I
- Ancestor Worship: The Emotional Treacheries of Heritage Tourism
- Lit Nerd Abroad: Ireland & Scotland