Articles / Aux Aliments du Pays -2011
Category: Camps, Treks & Adventures
April 17-19 Sebastian "Char" Scheler went for a trek a bit different from the regular trek he is used to. Not a single bit of food was brought along. Not even salt. "Aux Aliments du Pays" or "three days and two nights living of the land" is a good description. Heres what happened:
Woke up early, and after a greasy breakfast (the last meal for three days) I headed out in the forest. My girlfriend Sofia left me about a mile from where I was planning to camp. The walk was pleasant, the sun shining and reminders of spring time was growing everywhere.
I stopped at a small clearing, made a digging stick and started to collect my evening meal consisting of roots from the cow biscuit* that is rich in carbon hydrates. An hour later, about 30 roots in the kettle and a bunch of worms in another I moved on to Lappsjön, the lake I was planning to camp by.
Camp was made as simple as possible. A bunch of spruce twigs for bedding and a bunch of dead fall spruce logs for firewood and I was done. I immediately prepared two fishing rods and baited my hooks with the collected worms. While waiting for the catch I started to clean and cut my roots into small pieces and started collecting sweet tasting birch sap*.
The hours went by, but not a single fish wanted to come close to my hooks. So I left them there to prepare my meal consisting of pine needle tea (rich in vitamin C and a small amount of carbs) and a stew of water, cow biscuit roots, and a few hands of wood sorrel* for seasoning. I boiled the roots for about an hour to get rid of the bitter taste. After that I added the seasoning herbs and boiled it for another 15 minutes. My taste buds weren’t to pleased. But it fulfilled its purpose. I wasn’t full and I wasn't hungry. A good result I guess.
As evening closed in I made a large kettle of pine needle tea and rolled up in my buffalo robe quite early.
Slept for almost 12 hours, a good way to kill hungry time I’d say. Breakfast was made from pine needle tea and birch sap. Still hungry I packed up my fishing gear, worms and a canteen full of water and walked about a mile to another lake where I hoped fishing would be easier. On my way I collected another day’s ration of cow biscuit roots.
After a couple of hours in the sun guarding my fishing rods I gave up. Where was all the fish I had hoped to catch?
On my way back I felt tired and hungry, but still didn’t look forward to my meal. The taste of cow biscuit reminding of bitter parsnip was still in my mouth. So to try something different I collected about two liters of ground elder* which can be used similar to spinach but with a slight bitter taste... of course.
Back in camp I prepared dinner, boiled more pine needle tea, and went down to the lake to gather water. To my surprise I managed to catch a crayfish, small but a very welcome taste by this time.
Dinner was served, stew from roots and ground elder, pine needle tea, and a single boiled crayfish. The taste of the stew almost made me vomit, so after a couple of spoons I left it for breakfast. The crayfish and the tea though were delicious.
After dinner I had a hard time getting rid of the boredom I felt. Wanted to do a lot, but didn’t have the energy or materials to do it. So I read through my old journal entries, and studied up on the book on edible plants I had brought along. And finally it was once more time to hit the robe.
Another twelve hours of sleep, and a whole day to kill before I would be back at home. Boredom is a major enemy I’d say. Knowing home is only a couple of hours walk away made it hard to concentrate and enjoy the wonderful time I actually had.
Breakfast still had to be made, so I went down to the lake to see if I could find any more crayfish. Instead I caught a frog, if the French eat it so can I.
I made a biscuit from the leftover roots and ground elder and baked it in my frying pan. Made another kettle of pine needle tea and boiled the frog. The biscuit tasted just as horrible as I was afraid it would, but with a lot of tea and a cup of birch sap I managed to get it all down. The frog was actually really good. Not much meat though, probably would have to collect about 20 of them to get a full day’s ration of protein.
All I had left now was to let the time pass. I wrote a few more notes in my journal, read more about plants, mended my tarp and tried to sleep some more. At noon I broke camp and started my walk home. Fully packed and with low energy I had to make short brakes and drink water every ten minutes. It took me more than an hour to walk the firs mile. There I cached most of my heavy gear close to a road and laid down for about two hours to rest before the long walk.
Later in the afternoon I decided it was time to walk the remaining six miles home. The beautiful weather and summer temperatures made it quite easy. It felt good to do something else than sitting down. I had to make several short breaks to drink, rest and eat whatever eatable herbs I could find. Meadowsweet* tastes sweet and a bit like peppermint, a very welcome taste. It also contains salicylic acid that works as a simple painkiller. As afternoon turned in to evening I entered my home again. After three days out in the wild a greasy dinner was soon made, guess if I enjoyed it!
Swedish forests have a wealth of edible plant, fish and animals that can keep a man alive forever. But without the addition of animal fats and proteins it’s harder to get a full days ration of energy.
I chose to do this during spring, a good choice in one sense but bad in another. In spring all the roots are still loaded with energy, and fresh herbs and buds are abundant and still well tasting before they turn bitter (extra bitter that is). No mosquitoes or ticks is another benefit. Berries and mushrooms though are still months away with the exception of wintering cran berries and a few lingon berries that I didn’t manage to find this time.
Swedish gun and hunting laws does not permit hunting with muzzleloader, bow or snares. So land living animals are out of the question. Fish though was where I had hoped to get my protein and fat. But the fish had other plans than to get dragged out of the water. My conclusion is that I probably suck at fishing and have to make an effort trying to learn all the tricks to make it work.
Boredom is another issue I actually had thought of before I headed out. Putting myself in a survival situation by my own will makes the thought of just walking home and eat hard to manage. But I suppose that is a good experience as well. While hungry you want food, while lonely you want company, quite natural actually. I’d say my screaming stomach and my frustrated mind was about 50/50 of the hardship. If I didn’t have to save energy I could have walked, made something useful etc.
To finally put all those hours of reading and thinking about survival into practical use is definitely the main benefit. Now I know I can manage, and I know it takes a lot of time collecting, fishing and hunting to keep the hunger at bay. So I’d say it was worth all the efforts persuading my own mind to keep on going and force myself to swallow the bitter roots. I managed to survive and with energy enough to walk home. That’s what it takes isn’t it?
Would I recommend it? Sure, this was my second time on a survival trek, living from the land. First time was while doing my military service, this was my first time doing it using only pre-1840 mountaineer gear. Putting theoretical knowledge into practical use is needed to know you can actually do it.
*Cow biscuit = Latin: Anthriscus sylvestris, Swedish: Hundkex/Hundloka
*Birch = Latin: Betula pendula Roth, Swedish: Vårtbjörk
*Wood sorrel = Latin: Oxalis acetosella, Swedish: Harsyra
*Ground elder = Latin: Aegopodium podagraria, Swedish: Kirskål
*Meadowsweet = Latin: Filipendula ulmaria, Swedish: Älggräs