It seems unlikely in this modern age that someone could actually get lost in the wilderness, right? The average suburban citizen suckling at the entertaining teat of the new fall lineup barely sets foot outdoors, let alone risks being swallowed up by acres of woodland. Well, believe it or not, we are all — even the most Funyun-bag-handed of us — one wrong turn, one fraternity prank, one improperly prescribed medication away from clambering up a rotten stump in the middle of 5000 acres of National Forest and saying: “Or was it this way…?” This guide is intended to help you survive such a desperate situation and, if all goes well, get you back home in time for “Providence.”
The number one mistake people make when they’re lost in the woods is to recall the old saying: “Don’t Panic.” The actual saying you must heed is “Don’t Picnic.” When you are struggling to stay alive, picnicking attracts bears, wastes precious brie, and you have to carry around a lot of dirty paper plates until you find a Dumpster.
What you do want to do — the very second you realize you’re lost — is drop your possessions and run. Capitalize on that blind, unreasoning terror and sprint as hard and as fast as you can in any direction. Nothing else matters, just go — repeating, as you do, “This is not happening!” or more simply, “No! No! No!” If you can keep your speed up, without slamming into a tree or rocketing yourself off a cliff, you will automatically find yourself not lost anymore. Congratulations.
If you’re still lost after all that, don’t give up. Take big, gulping, wasteful drinks from your canteen. You may feel like collapsing into a heap on the ground and sobbing pathetically like a schoolgirl (“I’m going to die! I’m going to die”), but don’t. Save that for later when it’s dark and you clearly hear a pack of bears nearby mauling a faun. For now, pull yourself together. Examine your surroundings and take stock of the situation. Then, really run for it. Pour on the juice. Get the hell out of there.
In the event you do encounter a bear, do not be alarmed by the pitch and volume of your screaming. It’s primal, so go with it. If the bears start charging or seem aggressive, use your head: snatch up a cub and do some bargaining. Threaten to harm it if the bears don’t stay back. Maybe you can even get them to lead you to the highway. If there is no cub, run. Ignore the claims that a bear is as fast as a horse. Everyone knows when you’re scared you can run wicked fast, so don’t worry about it. If the bear somehow manages to catch you, scramble up its body, hold its muzzle closed with your hands and butt it with your forehead. Bears hate this. Note: if the bear is really determined to shred you like hamster bedding, then, well, kiss this sweet life goodbye, slowly and lingeringly, with tongues.
You will eventually need to stop running and set up camp before it gets dark. (If you are fortunate enough to be lost in Alaska or Siberia or another of those midnight-sun locales, you can keep running all night long!) The ideal shelter will keep you warm, dry, and free from the gouging puncture wounds usually associated with a bear encounter. Stack large timbers log-cabin-style into a four-sided structure 8 to 10 feet high. Cover it with a woven thatch-and-pine-needle roof and seal the cracks between the logs with pine-tar cement. If for some reason you are not able to achieve this before nightfall, don’t worry, you can seal the cracks in the morning. Compliment yourself for having survived thus far. Sit back, relax in your new shelter, and let the mind-numbing fear creep up on you from all corners and nip at your brain.
By now, you’re probably hungry — it’s a good idea to find food. Fortunately, the wilderness is an amazing provider and food is abundant.
How to kill and eat a tree rat: Catch it by the tail and fling it away from you in horror as quickly as you can. If all goes well, the rat will land skull-side-down on a pointed rock and immediately die. If the rat instead lands in your hair, run around in a figure eight screaming “Get off get off get off” until the rat is gone. The rat that lands on a pile of feathers may only be stunned, in which case you will need to act fast. Smother the rat with the pillow from which the feathers came, until it stops struggling and expires. It helps to soothe the moral difficulty of this by telling yourself the rat was a terminal case and, rather than be a burden to its family, the noble creature preferred to end its life this way and retain its dignity.
Peel open the filthy thing like a banana. Pick out the parts you can’t imagine yourself eating and what is left over will be an appetizing little pile for you to enjoy. (Don’t be squeamish about this: you’ve probably had rat every time you’ve eaten an eggroll and didn’t even know it.)
Making it through your first night in the wild will do wonders for your outlook and you will be able to embrace the new day. After a rat breakfast, you can focus your energies on being spotted. Do not flash a mirror at a passing airplane. This often causes the blinded pilot to steer into the side of a mountain. To best get the attention of your rescuers, undo the top button of your shirt and put a little vanilla behind your ears. Another good way is to signal with smoke. Smoke rings are always impressive, but to really get noticed you may want to French inhale.
Once spotted, you may have to wait an hour or longer before you are actually rescued. Remain calm, say a prayer of thanks and take some time to get your story straight about what happened to the others.