Man Gone Wild
Primitive skills could save your life — and open your eyes
Douglas Hill on the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey
Permitted use provided by: Boulder Weekly
One week in fall several years ago, Douglas Hill went into the woods. What came out of the woods was a different man.
Hill was finishing an intensive course in primitive skills at Practical Primitive in New Jersey. Together with the three other students in the class and their instructor, he walked into the woods to put what he had learned and what he had made in six months of study to the test. It was a week that would expose the gaps in the shelters they made, the weaknesses in the tools they used and pots they fired, holes in the knowledge of how to put those tools to use, but more than that, well beyond that, Hill says, on a rainy, cold night, when he was wet, chilled and without food or fire, he would come face to face with who he really was. And discover then that who he thought he was, was not who he actually was.
“We were all so miserable and like our willpower had just gone out the door and I had this moment of just, I think, seeing through who I thought I was, who I always thought I was, and realizing who I am,” he says. “It was this moment of just wow, you know, like it would be pretty easy to die out here. The wilderness isn’t this bubbly take-care-of-you sort of place. You’ve got to take care of yourself. You’ve got to put the energy out there. But I could not bring myself to go out in the rain and try to start a fire. It was just a miserable, miserable night.”
That night reshaped his future. It took a man who could have become another Christopher McCandless story of enthusiasm for a life in the wild gone wrong and dosed him with a bit of well-deserved fear for the woods.
“I think it took away a bit of my ideals and replaced it with experience,” Hill says. “Like a lot of people, I had a slightly altered sense of reality.”
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Hill in Borneo | Photo courtesy of Douglas Hill