Bushcraft and Survival Pro Tips #8 – Ticks

When moving through tick country (basically anywhere that there are Deer, tuck your trouser bottoms into your boots like a soldier, tuck you shirt in, roll the sleeves down and generally leave less skin exposed to them than there might be if you did nothing.

Ticks are resilient, you can’t wash them off your skin, they hold on really well and even washing clothing is not enough to get rid of them (although putting your clothing into a hot tumble dryer seems to kills them)

The only effective chemical measure that I know of is Permethrin.  As I understand it (I might be wrong) It was developed by the US Military to reduce non combat casualties in Jungle conditions.  Too many soldiers were being taken out of action by tick borne illnesses and infections caused by bites that something needed to be done and so they developed Permethrin.

Unlike Deet, Permethrin kill´s insects, it does not just deter them, it kills them.

While in the Jungle on expeditions, I spray my hammock with it and if anything that flies gets inside the netting like a mosquito, they sort of spin round a few times and then drop out of the air.

The same goes for ticks, as they crawl onto your clothing that you have sprayed, they will just die.

There are no natural deterrents that actually work, not that I have encountered anyway and I have tried a lot of them, the only thing that is effective is Permethrin.

Permethrin in it´s concentrated form is toxic, it is not a pleasant chemical but Lymes Disease is no fun either, as long as it is watered down it has been deemed safe for contact with skin.

For this reason, it is better to buy it pre-prepared for this use but in some countries it is not available for use on people so you may have to source it from a farmers supply shop (they use it on livestock) and mix it with water yourself.  How much water you use depends on the concentration that you have so I will leave it to you to determine this and not give the amounts here, it will do you good to read up on it anyway.

Shawn James over on MySelfReliance.com does a decent guide on how to mix it and treat clothing, check it out.

The tick on the left is a fresh one, she has not fed yet, the one of the right has been there for quite a while and is inflated with blood.

If you find a tick attached to you, remove it with tweezers by gently grabbing the head and giving it a twist and pull, making sure that you get it all out in one piece.  Monitor the area for signs of a bullseye style rash, if you discover one or more of these go to a doctor straight away and make certain that they understand that you were bitten by a tick.  Lymes disease is no joke.

Most (every) GP that I have ever spoken to about ticks in my extensive experience of being bitten all over the world, has been blissfully unaware of the risk as most GP´s have no experience of being outside and getting bitten by ticks.  They deal with coughs and colds, stress and flu most of the time so their natural reaction when you mention ticks is that it is very rare and unlikely that you have encountered one that carries Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lymes Disease.

Press the GP into doing the test, the test is not 100% reliable but it is the best we have at the moment.  A stout dose of Doxycycline is usually enough to handle Lymes before it become a problem but if left untreated it can be very difficult to cure.

Get the ticks off within 24 hours and you should be OK.  After about 24 hours, the two way flow of bacteria and pathogens from the tick begins and it´s hypodermic needle for a mouth will start injecting it´s body fluids into your bloodstream.

It is therefore vital that you make time to check yourself for ticks every day.  It is always easier to have somebody else check you as they tend to attach themselves to hard to reach places, armpits, groin and scalp are all popular places but they can be anywhere.

As with most things in life, Prevention is Better than the Cure, cover yourself up when walking through tall grass areas and inspect the ground before sitting down, use some common sense and stick to your routine of daily checks and you should be fine.  If you do find any ticks, extract them and throw them in the fire.

Pssst….While you are here, check out some of the other tips in the Bushcraft and Survival Pro Tips Series, it wont hurt, i promise!

I cover this and hundreds of other titbits of information like this on my larger, more comprehensive training programs.

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Pro tip #5 – How to Keep your Drink Cool When it´s Hot

When you are in a really hot place it cam be hard to keep your drinks cool.  Naturally keeping your drinks out of direct sunlight helps a lot but eventually it will heat up to whatever the air temperature is.

I remember being in India one time and it was about 40 degree´s centigrade, my water bottle was in my bag and my bag had been inside a car with no air conditioning for several hours.  When i got the water bottle out and took a gulp it actually burnt my lips and throat it was so hot.

A quick, easy and simple way to keep things cool is by harnessing the cooling power of evaporation.

Get a thick hiking sock and soak it in water, put your bottle inside the sock and as the water in the sock evaporates, it will help to move the heat from your drink.

It really works, British soldiers in Afghanistan did this all the time due the ¨rustic¨ conditions and extreme heat (50+ degrees c)

For water to evaporate, it needs to be heated.  Most of this heat comes from the sun and air.  When you sweat, your body heat is what evaporate the sweat away and you expend excess heat in doing so which is what makes sweating such an efficient and effective cooling off system.

With the wet sock and the bottle trick, the heat of the water in the bottle will be used to evaporate the water in the wet sock.  So you end up using the unwanted heat up to dry the sock and the end result is a cool drink.

It´s very simple and very effective.  You´re welcome!

Pro Tip #4 How to gain Super Human Hearing

Cup your hands behind each ear, like a Deer, to help you hear thing clearer and further away.

Like this guy, Vinod, A wilderness nature guide in India.

You might do this already when somebody says something to you and you don´t hear them very well.   When you cup your hands behind your ears it gives to sound that would otherwise be passing by your head something to bounce off of and into your ears.

This is surprisingly effective and if you are listening out for something it can give you a real edge, increasing the distance that you can hear something from by quite a bit.

*I have read that it add about +/- 10 db to the perceived strength of the passing soundwave or in practical terms, give you 25-50 meters of extra range.

*that is a totally anecdotal story and I offer no evidence or warranty on it.

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Where would you rather be?

I am often asked how I got into my current life style of spending a lot of my time away in the woods or up a mountain somewhere or in a river.

The short answer is South West Trains and open plan offices.

I used to work in Central London in an open plan office.  My day began waiting on the platform at Richmond train station for a train that was always full.  I would get there over an hour before I needed to be there to try to find a place to cram myself into on any train that was passing.

90% of the time, the first train slow down at the platform at about 7am and as it moved slowly past I would see hundreds of faces pressed up against the steamed up windows and a look of hatred and disdain on the faces of those already inside as they considered that yet another person was going to try to squeeze onboard this already grossly over crowded train.

As the doors opened, people literally fell out onto the platform as the doors were the only thing holding them in.

I would let that train pass and wait for the next one only to find it in a similar condition of a train carrying two to three times the number of people that it was designed for, all of them paying the full fare too.

Some mornings this would go on for 4 or 5 trains until eventually I would be able to squeeze on.

Then I would endure, along with my fellow inmates, a 30 minute journey, breathing in the fumes of the night before from the man next to me and being overpowered by the woman wearing too much perfume behind me.  Usually there was nowhere to hold on so you would just use the passengers around you to absorb the blows as the train moved around.  Everybody was touching anyway.

A sought after and hotly contested spot was in the corner by the door.  This was you could lean on the wall and you would get a gulp of fresh air as the doors opened at a new station.  Unfortunately this made you vulnerable to being pushed and buffeted around by other passengers trying to get in or attempting to get out.  I would often see people unable to make their way off the train in time and have to go on to the next stop.

One time, I saw a women, presumably a tourist, actually give up her prime corner standing up spot to allow somebody off the train, before she could get back on somebody else pushed in front of her from the platform and stole her place.

Commuting in and out of London is a dark, dirty and awful business in which a moments kindness can see you pushed off the train and delayed for an hour.

Once at the other end I was supposed to tackle the similarly unpleasant busy underground network but preferred to power walk the two or three miles to get to work.

At work, a noisy, hot and smelly open plan office awaited in which nobody could get any peace and concentrating on work was impossible.

After 8 or 9 hours of that it was back on the train again for more of the same.  Usually I would get home at about 8 or 9pm depending on the trains.

It´s an exhausting existence and once you finally make it out to the other side in the evening, doing anything other than sitting quietly is out of the question.

I think a normal, healthy mind can only handle this kind of torture for so long before they crack.

After repeating this day for years, one day it dawned on me that the only reason that I was doing this was to earn enough money so that I could afford to live in London and I only wanted to live in London so that I could work in the high paying job that I only did so that I could live in London.

The absurdity of it all hit me and I immediately quit my job and left london.

If you are looking for a way out, nature usually has the answers and I can help you to find them.

Don´t suffer the rush hour again, check out my new website and it´s training and expedition packages here and leave that behind.

For April 2018 – reader of this blog can get 20% off a trip to *Arctic Sweden with me using this coupon code openplanofficesarenotefficent

*It is the very end of Winter and the beginning of Spring so the exact conditions will not be known until we arrive but expect below freezing temperatures at night and above freezing during the day.  Expect to be going in the 3rd of 4th week of April 2018.  Contact to be sure of the details.

Bringing a friend of two is allowed, contact or give them the coupon code to ensure that they get the same discount.

Cyber Security for Bushcraft and Survival people

  1. Always use the HTTPS version of a website
  2. Use strong passwords
  3. Never use the same password twice
  4. Use Password Managers
  5. Use firewalls
  6. About Antivirus Software
  7. Avoid Public or Free Wifi.
  8. Avoid Airport Wifi
  9. Mobile or Cell phone conversations are not secure
  10. Use different user names
  11. About VPN´s
  12. About TOR
  13. Using TOR and a VPN together 

    Two things have shocked me today

A) I am about to use the word ¨Cyber¨ in a serious way

B)My ¨other¨ career aside from Outdoor related things is about to cross over.

Before I got into working with bushcraft and expedition clients, I worked as an Engineer in the Broadcast and Telecoms sector.  I still do from time to time actually.

Here are some points on how to be secure online.  I have tried to keep this as jargon free and non-technical as possible so that it can be understood by everyone.

In that field, I have always had an interest in IT and IP security.  As we become more and more dependent on Information Technology so our vulnerability to ¨Cyber¨ attacks or Hacking increases.  It is now well known in the household that we are all at risk from people stealing our banking information and personal data.  It is less well known that companies such as Google and Facebook among many others, are prolific harvesters of our personal data which they then convert into cash by selling it on to advertisers.

Unpalatable as this may sound, it has become a largely accepted compromise and we are at a point now where you simply cannot expect any privacy at all.

There is nothing that you can do to prevent a directed attack on you from the network.

Much like physical security, which is going to be covered here later, you can make yourself a harder target in the hope that the hackers and their armies of software bots will move on to easier targets.

If we follow some best practise and basic hygiene, we can greatly improve our chances of maintaining a decent level of security and making it harder for people to A) invade your privacy too much and B) actively steal from you

What can you do in simple steps?

  1. Always use the HTTPS version of a website, that is encrypted, the standard HTTP version is not.An internet connection between you and the website you are talking to is very much like two people shouting at each other across the street.  You shout so the other person can hear you and they shout back so that you can hear them.  The problem is that everyone else can hear you too.If they know how, a person can very easily listen to that conversation between you and the website.It is possible and very easy to secure that conversation by using the equivalent of a hard cable connecting the two people on the street so that their conversation is private.We do this by encrypting the messages.  This means that the message is all jumbled up using some extremely complicated mathematics and only the intended recipients can read it.That is what HTTPS (SSL) does.  I´ll try not to use too much jargon but in this day and age, you might want to be mindful that if you are going to succeed in this, you are going to have to learn a few new things.

    So use the HTTPS version of the website.  The best way to make sure that you don´t forget is to use this simple browser plugin from the EFF.  Only this and not some other imitation.  It is free and you should never pay anyone for it or anything similar.

    2.  Use strong passwords  Never use names, birthdays, addresses, or anything else like that, they are too easy to guess.  At this stage in the technology revolution you must be using passwords that are virtually impossible to guess.

    For example: 1q%45XW@y7FkXK6SrBt8)

Impossible for a human to guess and very difficult for a computer to guess too but also impossible to remember for the average person.

Never give other sites passwords for other sites.  For example, Linkedin, the social networking site asks you to give it your email and facebook passwords so that it can log in and collect your data from there.  That is a cowboy practise and you should not do it.
You may be able to trust linkedin (I dont but a lot of people do) but what if somebody else gains access to that data at linkedin and steals the passwords?  This has happened countless times on other sites and there is no reason that It wont happen to them either.

3. Never use the same password twice

If you used the same key for everything you own, your house your car, your office and your safe, a person only needs to steal or copy one key and they can take everything that you own.
It is the same with online passwords which are just like keys that lock your accounts.  A different key is required for each account.  If an attacker steals one password, they must not be allowed to use that to get into every other locked account that you have.

4.  Password Managers – Now days, every website you go to wants you to create an account and log in before you can use it, mostly this is because of SPAM bots, software that trawls the internet looking for places to auto post fake messages and attempt to game google into promoting websites in their searches.

How do remember hundreds of passwords without using easy to remember (and therefore easy to guess) passwords?

Use a password manager.  Lastpass make a good one.  It generates good passwords and then stores them in an encrypted database on your computer or phone.  You only need to remember one password for Lastpass and then it will log you in to which ever site you want to go to.

5.  Use firewalls.  If you computer asks you if you are at home, the office or public – say public, that way it will turn everything up to max and do it´s best to protect you.  A good firewall will make is very hard for somebody to connect to your computer directly.  There are software firewalls to protect your computer and there are bigger firewalls to protect you network.  I´m talking about the one on your computer now.  We can take about network firewalls later but that is a bit more advanced.

The built in windows firewall is fine, you don´t need to buy anything else.  Linux has many but the UFW package is currently popular and is very easy to use.

6.  Antivirus is good but also bad.  Antivirus does not really protect your computer as we once thought but on thew whole, it seems better to have one than not as it does at least provide a warning about some known threats but the problem with Antivirus software is that it requires a lot of access to important parts of your system and is itself a possible way in for an attacker.  Attackers can target the antivirus software and use that as a way to get all your stuff.  If you use windows, the built in windows defender is enough.  Thankfully, still, most viruses are written for windows and will not run on Linux or MacOS.

7.  Public or Free Wifi.  These are like the wild west areas of the internet, people actively join these networks to sit and listen to what is going on and they make great places to collect peoples private data and passwords.  Never, ever trust a free wifi connection.  If you must use a free wifi, never do anything like banking or email, don´t log into a single site if you can avoid it.

8.  Airport wifi.  Not only are all the same problems here as they are in the previous public wifi section, here you have government actively and aggressively monitoring the network and you may wish to have some level of privacy from them.  Don´t use it, not if you can help it.

9.  Mobile or Cell phone.  At Airports or other protected place and near government buildings, mobile and cell phone traffic is very insecure, these locations often use decoy transmitters that are not owned by the telecoms company.  They do this so that they can monitor and track you without going through the legal system in order to to do so.  This is not a conspiracy theory, it is a proven fact.

10.  Use different user names.  While on the subject of tracking, it helps to use different usernames on different sites.  If you use the same username on every site that you visit, a simple google search will pull up a list of everything that you have ever said online.  This, many years after the internet started, is a problem if you have ever said anything online that you later came to regret.

11.  VPN.  Virtual Private Networks.  These are common and popular but why and are they safe?  A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel for your messages and traffic between your computer and some other computer somewhere on the internet.  It is very difficult for anyone else to see inside the tunnel and so you are sort of hidden in a way.

The problem with VPN´s is that you dont usually know where the other end of the tunnel is, for all you know if could be in a criminals bedroom or a CIA data centre in the US, we dont know.  What we can be sure of is if it is a ¨Free¨ VPN then they will be collecting information on you to sell on for a profit.  Nothing is truly free on the internet.  If they are doing this then they probably don´t care about your privacy so why should you trust them?  Dont

Setting up your own VPN is the safest way to do it and is not that hard to do but it is not for this post, I will explain that later in another post.

If you want to use a VPN then the paid version from Protonmail is quite good.  They are a company that specialise and have made their name in safeguarding private data and have quite good legal protection so cannot be forced to give you up to the authorities either which makes them very attractive.

12.  Tor.  Tor is a very technical and very complicated tool that allows you to be anonymous online.  I´m still trying to not to be too technical or use jargon so bear with me as I describe this.

If you go to your favourite online blog form your computer or phone, the messages that go back and forth between the blog and you pretty much take the most direct route possible and the messages contain certain information like your address to that the blog and your phone or computer can find each other.

This makes it all very easy to see who you are because your address is included in the messages.  There is no way to hide your address because then you wont be able to find each other again.

When you use Tor, instead of sending the messages directly, it sends them through a network of ¨routers¨, your messages could go through hundreds of routers before they reach the blog and when the blog replies, the messages go back through hundreds of different routers.  It makes tracing you extremely difficult.  Not impossible but it is the closest thing we have to anonymity online.
People can however still see the content of the messages.

13.  To be very secure, that is, to have anonymity and privacy, you can use a good VPN like ProtonMail and Tor at the same time.  We create our encrypted tunnel though the labyrinth of Tor routers and then nobody can see where we are or read out messages.  This is the best that we currently have in remaining hidden and private.

If you choose to use this method and are particularly concerned about government spying then keep this in mind.  If you only use VPN / TOR to send secret messages and you go back to normal connections for everything else, it creates a pattern that they will notice.  They will know that every time they see a VPN and Tor being used by you that you are sending something that you do not want them to see, this will probably arouse their interest and they may start digging to see what they can find on you.

Consequently, VPN / TOR only really works when you put all of your traffic through it, all your browsing and mundane stuff as well as your sensitive stuff.

Finally for now few key points to address common problems

Don´t say anything online that you would not want to be brought up 10 years later and used against you.  The internet does not forget, companies have found ways to monetise your information and everything that you say online is gold.  They don´t delete gold, they keep it forever.

If anyone tells you ¨You have nothing to fear if you have done nothing wrong¨ you should immediately ignore any further advice that they have to offer.  This is totally untrue and the only people that say it are people who do not know anything about how network security works and people who do not have your best interests at heart.  Neither are good sources for you to listen to.

¨I dont care if they look through all my mindless emails and amazon orders, its fine¨  You would be surprised and alarmed that  this is the exact kind of data that they use to build a profile on you.  With data like that they can predict with high probability your Political views, your movements, your cash flow, your general wealth and health, what you interests are, who you associate with, how you are feeling, what you are planning and so and so forth.

Before the technology revolution, Police and Intelligence agencies used to do the same thing with your records but it is so intrusive that there were and still are laws to prevent them from doing so unless they have permission from a court to do so.  Ie they must suspect you of a specific crime before they begin researching your private records.

However, now there is so much more data available to them and most of it visible that they just started trawling through it all without permission from the courts.  We evidence of the scale of this thanks to Ed Snowden.  Since then, not much has changed other than a few new laws have been created that allow it to continue.

The choice is up to you on how far you are willing to go to maintain your security and privacy but you should at least be presented with some unbiased information and some options to help you to make that choice.

Have you got anything to add?  Leave a message or contact me

Laugh at your friends misfortune

banter
noun
  1. 1.
    the playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks.

A friend of mine came on a trip to the north with me last year.  I told him what to bring with him and although it was the tail end of the summer, it can get quite chilly up there, especially in the mornings.

I had anticipated this so I spent a while making a list of things to bring, even including links to purchase cheap items.

Naturally, he ignored this list and arrived about 100Km north of the Arctic circle with some lightweight trouser, a couple of t-shirts and some swimming shorts.  No hat, no jumper, no jacket, no warm socks.

Within moments, while collecting water from a stream and recoiling at how cold the water was, he realised his error.

We had quite the trip ahead of us and he was not going to be able to wing it.  He was in trouble and the look on his face made me burst out laughing.

I cannot explain it really but men laugh at other men´s misfortune and the more misery that they have to endure, the funnier it is.

Men are terrible people, obviously, however there are some very useful reasons that laughing at your friends is more helpful than taking it all too seriously.

Some points about laughing at the misery and misfortune of your friends

  • It defuses a tense situation.  Laughing generate feel good chemicals, endorphins and dopamine.  Those are the natural feel good chemicals and when you laugh, others tend to laugh too and everyone gets a dose of these chemicals.
  • It also helps your friend to know that the situation is not as bad as he might think because if it was a really bad situation, people would not be laughing.
  • Laughing is a great distraction
  • It immediately causes peoples barriers to drop and creates a level playing field.
  • Laughing at misery is of course a temporary fix, it does not work if you keep it going all day, you get about 3 or 4 minutes and then it´s time to move on.
  • Remember that nobody is immune and your turn will come too and you have to take it when it comes.
  • Laugh at yourself too

There is a time and a place for this type of laughter thought and it should not be motivated by malice.  We want to help our friends and that is why it is funny, we are going to help them once we have regained our composure and stopped laughing.

In the above story, I lent him my spare clothes and everything was fine so there was no need for a big drama about it but for some reason the thought of it made me smile for the next few days and even now as I am writing this.

When you are facing hardship, long, uphill walks with a heavy pack or you have had no sleep for days and it is cold, wet and depressing, moments like this can turn your moral around and brighten up the day.

Putting a heavy rock in somebody´s backpack on a long walk is hilarious, especially when they find out, the later in the day they find it, the funnier it is.

 

 

Pro Tips #3 Volunteer for the unpopular jobs

Volunteer for the unpopular camp chores, if it’s a shit job then it might as well be you that does it.  Take one for the team and do it so that they don’t have to.

Volunteer to go and collect more firewood, Volunteer to pack up the tent in the morning, Volunteer to dig or fill in the latrine, Volunteer to do the washing up after cooking, Volunteer to stay up and keep the fire going when it is cold or to get up early and check the traps.

Let the less experienced people light the fires while you collect the wood.

Never let the same person do all of the Navigating, let the less confident to it sometimes too (whilst keeping an encouraging presence).

Be nice and do things to help others around camp.  Being nice is infectious and so is volunteering for unpopular jobs and in time, everybody will be doing their share.

Out in the open during expeditions, there are few of the usual distractions and coping mechanisms available that people would usually resort to if they feel under pressure.  Personal difficulties arise from a range of directions not usually encountered in day-to-day life in the city.

I have seen grown men spend 2 hours collecting firewood that is wet, green and unsuitable for firewood.  The others in camp took one look at it and derided him for such a basic error.  There was a lot of huffing and puffing and passive aggressiveness going on that evening at that moment.

The guy might have wasted a lot of time, energy and left the group still needing more firewood but he had gone out in the rain and the dark to help the group, he did not do it because he wanted to but because he wanted to do his part and his share of the hardship.

The man reacted himself got upset and told them to go and get fresh wood themselves then ¨if your so f´ing good at it, you do it¨.

You could almost see the division in the group dynamic forming before your eyes.

This is a fairly normal reaction, man makes mistake, man is derided for mistake, man lashes out in retaliation.  In an urban setting, people would disperse, cool off and try again later.

Out in the wilderness, you can´t do that, there is no way out of the situation other than to confront is head on.

Drawing attention to his failure and then having him feel responsible for the entire groups lack of firewood and all that this entails.  Things like that can quickly escalate to a man feeling as though his ¨manhood¨ is in doubt, at risk or non-existent.  This is less of a problem with women as they are not burdened with the expectation that they should be good at all of this stuff no matter what.

Women tend to stop and ask when they are not sure about something where men tend to engage maximum power when they are not sure.

Here is a better way to handle this common scenario (which happens to experienced people from time to time too).

<Man dumps pile of wet wood down>  – ¨OK great, we can use that for something later, I saw a great area with some top-notch seasoned Oak and dry pine, let me show you and i´ll help you get some more.¨

You have to be more careful and considerate around people´s feelings when out on expeditions but be too considerate or too careful and it can have the opposite effect.

Banter is the key to diffusing most tension.

¨Nice one knob head, come on i´ll help you get some more dry stuff¨  Could be just as useful.

Leave a comment, I am genuinely interested in what your views are on this.

Are you planning a trip away or an expedition and need some help?, I offer a range of Expedition skill´s training options, Online Consultancy, Infield Consultancy, Logistics and Planning services.

Get in touch to find to discuss what we can work together on.

 

 

Pro Tips #2 Stop your Water Bottles From Smelling Bad

You have probably noticed that when you are getting ready to go away on a trip, your water bottles smell terrible when you open them to fill them.

When we get back from a trip, most of us unpack and neatly store our waterbottles on a shelf or in a bag but we don´t wash them before we put them away.

You don´t have to wash them but remember that the small amounts of water inside perhaps combined with some bacteria that came from your mouth while drinking will become a stinking, slimy mess in the weeks or months between trips.

The simple solution to this problem is to just leave the caps unscrewed when you put the water bottles away.  This way the residual water in the bottles just evaporates and denies that bacteria the conditions to breed and thrive.  By the time you get around to use the water bottles again, the bacteria will most likely be dead, the bottles will be dry and there will be no bad smell.

It is small tips like this that when combined with other small tips or nuggets of information that make us efficient, well rounded outdoors people and you can only acquire this information through experience and training.  If you are interested in learning more and gaining experience with my guidance, get in touch and let´s see what we can work out between us.

I am having trouble with wordpress´s contact and email pages at the moment so you can email me at the address in the image below.  Unfortunately I cannot just write my email address on here due to the vast numbers of spamy email harvesting bots that trawl through the internet and add any addresses they collect to their mailing lists.

They will most likely still get me but instead of just clicking, you will have to type the email that is written below, sorry about that.

 

Phobias

Fear of the dark, fear of flying, fear of heights, fear of spiders and fear of snakes, what do they all have in common?

Most of us have one or more of these common fears and there are plenty more too.

We have a type of evolutionary memory that is hereditary.  This was at one time a very useful fear that protected us from harm.  In many ways, well, most ways, we are built for the stone age and our body and mind are entirely unsuited to our modern life style.  Many people live in deep shame about their fear of heights and cannot understand why they have it.

My time spent as a rock climbing instructor involves me spending many hours dangling from a rope over the type of exposed drops that would mean death if i fell.  I don´t suffer from vertigo but I do have a healthy awareness that I had better pay attention to what I am doing as I am never very far away from a deadly fall.  I often meet and climb with people who are very much terrified by heights and in fact I noticed that almost everybody I meet has a fear of heights somewhere on the scale, most of us can still function well enough and find the fear useful as it focuses the mind and helps us to avoid dying.

Evolution, the survival of the fittest, has already weeded out those that had absolutely no fear of heights at all, they all died, probably in avoidable falls.  Those with a healthy fear of heights survived and passed on their genes to us who all still maintain a healthy fear of heights.  So don´t worry or feel ashamed if you cant stand heights, it´s not unusual and actually it´s OK and helpful if you can just learn to use the fear instead of fighting it.

Likewise with spiders and snakes, in many parts of the world, these can be really dangerous and are best avoided, this is why so many of us have such an irrational fear of spiders and snakes, many years ago, our ancestors that respected these creatures enough to stay away from them survived while those that got too close did not.

This fear mechanism that we have is designed very much to keep us alive but as we move from a life lived in nature to one lived in a metropolis, it is a system that seems wildly inappropriate to the level of risk that most people face.

I hate job interviews, at least I used to, I have not had one for so long I don´t really know how I feel about them anymore but years ago, A job interview was my most feared activity.

I would arrive the usual 10 minutes early but feeling a general jittery excitement which would escalate the longer that I was left waiting for the interviewers to show up.  Often by the time they had arrived, I was a joyless, sweaty, tense mess.  I would have a dry mouth, fast pulse, shallow breathing and found it hard to think clearly. All of these bodily responses are designed to improve our physical ability to run or fight.  They are completely useless in a job interview though.

I later learned that this was my built in fight or flight system activating and performing it´s routine function.

My prehistoric brain was preparing me to either fight or run away from a Sabre toothed tiger!

When we undertake certain events in life that can change the path that we are on, give us increased income or a different role, a certain level of value is assigned to it in our heads and we want to make sure that we get it, this generates stress which eventually leads to our prehistoric brain that thinks ¨ah, the sabre tooth tiger is back, we had better fight it or run away¨.

Where this system is still very effective is when we go back to nature and they become a key system again.  Fear of the dark, well Humans are diurnal, daytime creatures.  Most predators in the wild are nocturnal, night time creatures.  Our fear of the dark leads us to either create light or to stay in one place when it is dark, this helps to keep us safe, away from danger hidden by darkness and away from the predators that might enjoy eating us in the dark.

Our sight is obviously not very good in the dark but our other senses still work, in fact they become more sensitive in the dark in order to compensate a little for the absence of vision.  We can use our sense of smell and sound to build a picture of where a threat might be.  The problem with this is that without a visual reference, that loud rustling sound or the footsteps we hear sound like huge wolf or a bear when in fact it is a mouse sniffing around the camp.  As our senses become more acute, things tend to seem bigger than they are.

Fear of the forest is not something that I have ever had a problem with but I know other people that are intensely scared of being in a forest alone.  One person who was a student on a course that I was running was paralyzed by it, literally, at night, he was screaming in fear which actually was pretty scary for the rest of us because we all thought that something was seriously wrong!e learned how to live in the forest, how to use its resources and how to identify all of the trees, plants and animals that live there.  Soon, nothing in the forest was strange or new to him, even the foxes that sound like screaming babies in the night.  As he got to know the forest and accept it, a little bit at a time, he found himself become calm and comfortable there and it is now a place that he goes to to feel peace and quiet and ironically, safe.

I used have a fear of flying, I never let this fear prevent me from flying but it always made the experience of flying more stressful that it needed to be.  After a while, the fear vanished but would return from time to time.

Being sealed into a pressurised aluminium tube and propelled at great speed to 30,000 feet is not a natural position to find yourself in.  The fact that you cannot leave and have absolutely no influence over the successful or unsuccessful flight can cause a stressful reaction in some.

The last time it returned, I spent the entirety of a 1.5hr flight having a panic attack but just about managing to stay in my seat and not spring up and start running for the door.  It was pretty uncomfortable.  After that I decided that as I was in no danger, it was a ridiculous situation to find myself.  I did not know why I was so bothered by flying, probably the feeling of being trapped inside but I made a firm decision that it no longer mattered and that I would fly whenever I wanted to no matter what my pre-historic brain thought about it.  I stopped any thoughts or feelings of resisting the fear, I did not try to be brave or courageous, i just got on the plane, sat down and read my book.

Quite often I would get half way through the fight and  suddenly realise that I was not at all concerned by the flight and then i´d start to feel the fear again.  These days I don´t feel anything on flights except boredom, a niggling resentment the seats are far too close together and the desire to lie down flat instead of trying to sleep in those seats.  Fear is not part of the equation anymore.

I stopped feeling fear during flights because I opted to not resist the fear and instead to just let it be to do it´s thing.

There are many different way to over come these fears and a good one is simple exposure but perhaps the most effective, long term cure is to simply accept that these things happen for a reason and that we can use these fears to sharpen our senses and to keep us alive.

Attempting to suppress fear never works

A great analogy I heard once was that in nature, a tree bends in the wind, it does not stand stiff and try to hold itself still in face of such force.  It bends and in doing so is able to absorb the strength of the wind and not break.

A river moves around a large rock in it´s way, it does not try to break the rock, it simply flows around it.

If we let fear takes it´s course and do not try to stop it, it flows through us and eventually it looses it´s grip on us.

With practice, fear need not be a hindrance to you, it need not be the reason that you choose not to do certain things and in fact once you get the hang of using fear for it´s intended purpose, it can be really fun and exciting.

Without fear there can be no courage

Prevention is better than the cure, you can´t really talk yourself out of a state of panic as the chemicals that create and influence your mood are mixed in such a cocktail that fighting or running are the only courses of action that your brain is able to cope with.  The trick, and this may seem obvious, is to not allow your subconscious mind to whip you up into a panic in the first place.

This can fairly easily be achieved by

  • Accept the situation as it is – You may be trapped in an aero plane, there might be a spider in the bath, yes that might be a snake in your sleeping bag
  • Take deep breaths.  Breath deeply and slowly.  One of the first reactions to fear in the body is to begin breathing quickly to oxygenate the blood in preparation to run away or fight the snake.  Breath in for 5 long seconds, hold it for a few seconds and exhale for 5 long seconds.  Repeat as necessary
  •  Focus on stillness, do not process any fleeting thoughts or images and allow your mind to become clear
  • Relaxation should then become an option in which you can forget about the flight, catch the spider in a glass and throw it outside or gently slide out of that sleeping bag with the snake it it.

If you have a fear of heights, forests or something else, get in touch with me and I can help.  I have about 15 years of experience living with fear and panic and have come to enjoy the process of eliminating the control that fear can have over our lives.  You can not, nor should you, remove fear from your life but you can learn to control it so that it helps rather than hinders.

Get in touch with me

The Ocean is Full of Plastic

Go to any beach, anywhere in the world and you will find plastic washed up on shore.  That is just what has washed up, exponentially more is out in the seafloating around.  The worlds oceans are full of plastic and it is a very big problem that grows worse every day.

I read Ed Stafford´s book ¨Naked and Marooned¨ last year in which he spends 60 days alone on a desert island with no clothes, no tools, nothing apart from some filming equipment.  Drinking water was an immediate and lasting problem for him as it would be for anyone, not least because you cannot store water to drink later if you do have something to store it in.  You cannot purify it if you do not have something to put it in and collecting it, even drinking it with no cup or bottle can sometimes be impossible.

In the middle of nowhere, far from civilisation, somewhere in the Pacific, none of this was a problem because the idyllic beach with it´s coconut palms and white sand was absolutely littered with plastic refuse that had washed up from all sorts of distant places.  He found hundreds of plastic bottles complete with lid´s, a straw, flip flops, plastic rope, a toothbrush, a comb and even a Fijian rugby ball called Gilbert.

This is a familiar story all over the world, polystyrene blocks and plastic everywhere.  The trouble is, plastic is cheap to make so virtually every company on earth uses it as packaging material.   In the UK alone, about 38.5 Million plastic bottles are discarded each day.  Every day.  The scale of the volume of plastic waste is all but impossible to measure due to it´s immense size but we do not need to look far to see it´s effects on nature.

The trouble with plastic is that it never degrades fully, it is not bio-degradable.  There are many different types of plastics with different characteristics but generally speaking a plastic bottle can take about 450 years to degrade full in a forested environment.  It is not known how long it takes in the sea but it is known that although after many years, the plastic bottle may appear to break down and decompose, it only ever breaks down as far as it´s component form which is a tiny pellet or grain.

These pellets or grains happen to look very similar to the food that fish eat and fish are not the sharpest tools in the box so they eat it whenever they see it.  These fish then have plastic inside them and are consumed by other fish and sea bird.  The sea birds then have plastic in them too and then the thing that eats them has too and all of the other health complications that this brings.

Grim death

Many animals are hurt and killed by plastic litter on the surface but the real, long lasting problem is plastic in the food chain.

It has become such an enormous and hugely important problem that must be solved that in recent years, many European countries have switched to a 60% recycling target, plastic carrier bags cannot be given away for free and various other things are being looked at.  All of this is just putting a plaster over the real problem which is companies using the stuff in the first place.

Anyway, A bright young Dutch man called Boyan Slat had a think about this while he should have been studying for his Aerospace Engineering degree and noticed that most, about 50% of the plastic was floating in the top 6 inches or so of the sea.  He then figured out a clever system, cost effective and scalable system to scrape the stuff out of the water.

The first large scale clean up operation begins in the Pacific in 2018 (this year) with a 1200 Nautical mile shakedown, once complete in 2020 there will be a massive upscale of the system and deployment into the other oceans of the world.

They estimate that they can clear 70% of the plastic in the oceans using this system.  Take a look at the website for an idea of how it works.

Usually at this stage of the ¨We are saving the world pitch¨ comes the request for a donation or some outrageous monthly subscription that you know full well will be spent on nothing but travel expenses and stationary (or worse).  Not this project, they don´t want your charity because he actually figured out how to make money from this as well.  Not only has he worked out how to massively reduce this problem to a level that we can tolerate and deal with, he is able to make his living out of it and generate jobs for people too.  This is inspiring.

Oh and Boyan Slat was 18 when he figured all of this out and once he realised that this is what he wants to do he dropped out of his aerospace engineering degree.

The the 18 year old university drop out may well have saved us all.  Imagine if he had stayed at school and not bothered with this.

When I was growing up, like almost everyone else, I associated doing passionate things for the greater good with doing it for free.  You don´t get paid for doing the right thing.  Well, that paradigm seems to have shifted and now after decades of stagnation and a failure by government and corporate charity organisations to deal with the problem, this guy is dealing with it and getting rich in the process.

I would encourage anyone with a good idea that they are passionate about to put some real thought into how they could make their living from that instead of doing it in their spare time for nothing.

If the world was run by people who are passionate about their area of expertise then imagine how the rate of human progress could leap forward.

Academia has it´s uses but it should not be viewed as the be all and end all, a university degree in anything other than hard sciences is not a very useful thing to have and you should be wary of any future employer that demands that you have one.  Practical experience and good ideas are much more valuable and if you cant find a job in it then create your own job by starting your own company.

Some people actually commit suicide when they do not meet others expectations in academia, such is the pressure put upon us by society, a great many more become depressed or anxious.  I would love to be able to tell all of those people that it´s really not that big of a deal and it does not matter if you fail you exams, what matters, what really matters is that you identify what you are passionate about and then figure out how to make a career out of that.

Unrelated to the main article but I am receiving requests from people for information about training with me in expedition and bushcraft skills – I am not currently offering a program of courses but am working with individuals on a one to one or one to two or three basis.  If you would like to do this too then you can contact me to make an application here: