Disclaimer: You may want to pass on this post if you are 1) a member of PETA, 2) a vegetarian, or 3) a person who hates gory movies.
When we last checked in with the younger me at Survival bootcamp, I was jogging to stay up with the rest of the group as we made our way to the mountain summit where we would be allowed to bed down for the night. Around midnight, we were told we had reached our goal – and we all looked around for the tents and sleeping bags that had been taken from us earlier. There was nothing to be seen – not only because it was the pitch black, dark of night that you only experience far away from city lights, but because our backpacks were apparently waiting for us at our next camping spot – which we wouldn’t reach until the next afternoon.
The wind was blowing fiercely with no trees and little shrubbery to slow it down – and the temperature had been steadily dropping since the sun had gone down. We were all cold, exhausted, and hungry – but with no food to be had, we opted for trying to get some sleep. We quickly realized that curling up into a ball alone did not work well, as we were soon shivering too hard to go to sleep. One by one, we began to group up, and then the duos made their way to other duos – and soon we were one mass of bodies, huddled together for warmth. This worked well if you were in the middle, surrounded by other warm bodies. However, if you were like me and stuck on the outside of the group, it was a night where one had to make the hard decision to have either their face or their ass turn into ice.
In the morning, some of the more outdoorsy types attempted to build a fire by rubbing sticks together, but after a half hour of that, they gave up in disgust. The counselor took pity on us at that point and produced some matches – and soon bonfire was raging. I had barely slept, every muscle in my body was stiff, and I was still terribly cold, so as people made a ring around the fire, I made sure I was in the front row. I crept closer and closer to the flames, but it seemed I would never warm up! Finally, when the sun was firmly in the sky, the counselor announced that we had to start down the other side of the mountain. We made sure the fire was out and then I approached the counselor to find out how far we would have to hike that day. He took one look at me and burst out laughing! I was confused and a bit offended – I mean, did ANY of us look great? We had just spent a horrible night on top of a cold mountain for God’s sake! The counselor took my arm and turned me to face the rest of the group, saying, “This is what happens when you get too close to a fire!” Apparently, in my quest to get warm, I had singed off my eyebrows and eyelashes – a fashion statement that, not surprisingly, did not catch on with the general populace.
The hike down the mountain was less scary than the night before and the group was in general good spirits as we admired the wildlife and scenery. Soon we crossed a creek – where I learned a valuable lesson that I will pass along to you now: Never drink from a creek when there are cows grazing upstream. I’m still not sure how you are supposed to know who or WHAT is upstream if you can’t see them (although floating cow pies are probably a good clue) – so my advice would be not to drink from creeks in general – unless you are dying of thirst. Even then, I guess you have to weigh the consequences between certain death and ingesting parasites – I’ll leave it to you to make that choice when the time comes.
At the campsite, our backpacks were returned and tents were pitched. When it was announced to the group that we would be staying here for a few nights, cheering erupted at the prospect of being able to rest our sore muscles. We were also told that we were responsible for making dinner that night – and then we were presented with crates of live chickens. My first thought was, “Great! I love eggs!” I started to wonder how I would cook an egg with no frying pan and if it was possible to bake a whole egg in the coals of a fire. The cogs in my mind were turning so furiously, I didn’t hear the rest of the instructions and was only jolted back to reality by the horrified gasps from the girls standing next to me. It was then I realized…dinner was not eggs. Apparently, part of our lesson on how to survive in the wild was to track down helpless chickens (or perhaps other live creatures in crates) and then kill, gut, pluck, and cook our meal.
Each person was assigned a chicken. I sat for a long while looking at mine, while she looked back at me. She clucked occasionally and I answered, assuring her that my plotting her death was nothing personal. By the end of our conversation, I had named her Cheryl (with a “ch” sound – you know, CHeryl the CHicken) and had determined she was a pretty bird. By this point, it was time for the slaughter to begin. Most of the boys in the group were looking forward to the carnage (at least that is what they were saying). The girls…not so much. We had a few kids from farms who had actually killed chickens before and one particularly burly 17-year-old named David told us he would be happy to show us how it was done. He reached into his crate, grasped the chicken’s head and pulled her out. As you can imagine, the chicken was not happy – there was muffled squawking and feathers flew as the chicken flapped her wings furiously.
Have you ever seen a game of “crack the whip” at an ice-skating or roller-skating rink? It’s when a group of people link hands as they skate, and as they go around a curve, those in the middle basically come to a stop, while the unlucky few at the end barrel along at terrifying speeds, aided by centrifugal force. Occasionally, the speed and force combine and cause the person at the end to lose their grasp and go flying, hitting other skaters or occasionally ramming into the wall, sustaining large bruises on various parts of their bodies. Crack the whip was never my favorite game. But I digress…I just wanted you to picture that “crack the whip” – because that is exactly what David did to the chicken. He raised his arm and brought it and the chicken down sharply, flipping his wrist, which created enough force to separate the unfortunate chicken from her head. Her body went flying, spraying blood on those of gathered around and her head remained in David’s hand.
You think that would be dreadful enough – but no, the horror continued – because that chicken body picked itself off of the ground and began to run around the camp! You know the phrase, “running around like a chicken with its head cut off?” Well, it’s based on REALITY, y’all! Girls began to scream, dodging to get out of the way of the undead bird, while most of the boys laughed until they were crying (Come to think of it, perhaps all of that laughing was really just a hysterical reaction to the bloodbath – I could have sworn I saw a couple of boys screaming…and not with laughter).
I blocked out most of what happened after that. I know that David was kind enough to dispatch and gut all of the girl’s chickens, Cheryl included. I vaguely remember attempting to pluck her, but it was nearly impossible, so I eventually resorted to skinning the carcass instead. I do vividly remember that it was the worst chicken I had ever eaten – tough and overdone, with virtually no flavor – not that I had much of an appetite by that point. Cheryl definitely got in a bit of revenge in the end – bless her little chicken heart!