Next week I will be writing my little heart out in a hotel room in Vegas with some of my best online friends. So I thought, what better way to prepare for my trip than to teach you all how to survive in the desert.
Not that I have any real life experience with this – I haven’t ever actually been IN the desert. I’ve flown over it a few times. I’ve never actually like, touched sand or wrapped my body in cloth to keep from burning to death under the scorching, unforgiving desert sun. But like all great writers, I’ve got myself a collection of research on how to survive almost anywhere. Or maybe that’s just me. I’ve written a lot of zombie stuff.
The fun news is that the desert is one of the most dangerous environments in the world. So dangerous that a person unprepared to survive can die within several hours if they don’t think before they act. That’s rough.
Since most people stuck in a survive or die type situation in the desert don’t get to plan much before they become trapped by it, what are some things you should know in case your car breaks down on Route 50?
Sommer’s Guide to Suriviving in the Desert (Unofficial*)
1.Give yourself ten seconds to panic. Then it’s time to get smart and survive this
zombie apocalypse desert event
2. Get out of your new, very expensive, toaster oven. You now must become a nocturnal creature and find shade immediately, even if it is in the shadow of your car or behind some rocks. Get there, sit down, stay absolutely still, and wait for night time. Cover your skin with clothing, including your neck. Once night time comes, construct a better shelter out of anything you might have or can find near your car. You can stay in your car at night.
3. Dehydration is your greatest enemy. In the Mojave Desert, temperatures can reach higher than 130 F in the summer and it’s dry and windy. How fast can these conditions kill you if you do not have water? Within hours if you are walking, less than 2 days if you sit in the shade and do absolutely nothing. You want to sweat as little as possible. That’s why you do not want to go walking for the nearest town (You won’t make it 5 miles in the day time even if you are fully hydrated and have water to spare.)
4. If you are lucky enough to have bottled water in your car or maybe some half finished bottles of water, then good. You’re in better shape than most. Do not drink tea, soda, or coffee. Caffeine dehydrates you. If you do have some water, don’t ration it, but don’t drink more than you need either. How do you know how much you need? If you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. So watch the color of your pee. If it’s dark yellow, you’re dehydrated. If it doesn’t have any color at all, you’re perfectly hydrated. Shoot for a nice happy pale yellow. (Never gave pee advice before here! This here’s a classy blog, ya’ll.)
5. If you are unlucky and have no spare water, don’t freak out yet. You’re not dead. Once night falls, you can try:
The Solar Still:. This is a handy trick to know in case you are being chased down by zombies in any environment. Dig a hole kinda wide, like 2 or 3 feet (your hole should be as big as the plastic sheet you’ll use in a moment.) Dig a little hole in the middle of that one and stick something in it like a coffee cup or bowl. Cover the hole with a sheet of plastic. Get creative if you don’t have plastic lying around – a jacket you can strip the plasticy outer layer from would work. Weight the corners of the plastic down with rocks and drop a stone into the center of the sheet so that it dips in the middle over the container in the hole. Now come morning some cool thermal science will happen where condensation will drip from the weighted center into the container in the hole. But it’s going to take a while.
The old Hollywood cactus trick in the desert does work, just not very well. The problem is, you need to not get stuck by any of their thorns because they will cause a nasty infection and right now you need to be at optimal health. Your body is going to start running out of water soon. If you’ve got the tools you can cut the thorns off before you cut the cactus up, or you can use a stick (or crowbar) to spear the cactus and cut it off at its narrowest joint or break it with your crowbar. Start a fire (if you can) and burn the thorns off. However you do it, you want the moist white meaty part on the inside. Depending on the cactus (and don’t ask me which is which, I have no idea) some you can just eat the meaty part and some you have to squeeze the meaty part to get water out of it. A good rule of thumb in the desert: If it tastes bitter, don’t eat/drink it.
If you find a dry stream bed, you can dig for water too. Only only only do this at night. The amount you sweat from digging during the day will off set anything you actually find.
6. But any water you find is going to be filled with bugs that can make you sick. Boil any water you find over a fire (just bring it to a boil then remove it from the heat. Keep whatever you boil it in covered so your water doesn’t evaporate.) If your water LOOKS dirty still, that’s fine. What you can see floating in your water probably won’t kill you. It’s the stuff you can’t see that causes the problems. If it looks muddy, let it sit long enough for the sediment to filter to the bottom, them skim off the cleaner looking water. You can also put clear bottles of water on the roof of your car and let the sun bake the germies to death for a few hours.
7. Food. You don’t need it. You’re (probably) an American living on a pretty fat diet, so your body will be fine for a long time without eating anything and besides, digesting food takes water that you don’t want to waste. Also, do you know what you can and cannot eat in the desert? Yeah neither do I. I’m not an expert at survival, I just play one on TV.
8. Hopefully someone knew you were out on highway 50 and are starting to wonder why they haven’t heard from you. Hopefully rescue is coming soon or at least a passing car. This is the best you can hope for.
9. Besides, wandering off on your own will bring you face to face with some truly nasty beasties. You’ve got to be king of the scary tower to survive in the desert which is why everything you encounter will kill you. Don’t stick your hands anywhere you can’t see and keep your pants tucked into your shoes. Keep a wary eye on the area around you. In general, avoid all spiders. Tarantulas and most scorpions aren’t going to kill you, probably, although I’ll probably pee myself if I see one heading my way. Their bite isn’t all that painful either, but if you are allergic, you’re in trouble. The other famous spider in the Mojave is the dreaded Brown Recluse. There’s a pretty low chance a brown recluse spider bite will cause necrotic skin damage. You’ll probably live. Also, you probably won’t get bit. These little guys aren’t all that interested in you. Be careful though and shake out any clothing or shoes before you put them on. Many lizards are also poisonous. And that’s just the tiny beasties. You’ve also got mountion lions, rattlesnakes, bobcats, wolves, and coyotes to worry about. Since you aren’t going to be cooking or eating any food, you probably won’t draw them to you, but should they show up, take shelter in your car. Especially if the coyotes show up in a pack.
10. If dehydration doesn’t kill you, a day or two in this condition is going to cause the next worst thing: psychological trauma. Imagine it. You’re very hot and very thirsty and very hungry. You’re very uncomfortable and you’re alone. As far as you can see in any direction is nothing but flat, endless sand. ENDLESS. You’re waiting for someone to come find you. You’re waiting to find some water. You’re waiting for scorpions and tarantulas and spiders to climb into your clothes while you sleep. You’re waiting for mountain lions to smell your sweat and come hunting. And as you dehydrate, your brain (made up of 75% water) is going to start to suffer. You know how you get dizzy and stupid and light headed when you’re dehydrated? Yeah. That. Times a million. If you have something to distract yourself with for a while, that’ll help, but as soon as it’s just you and your misery and your thoughts, you’ve got trouble on your hands. The worst thing you can do is let it panic you to the point of leaving your shelter to go find help. The fear will probably drive you crazy. Try very hard not to freak the f-bomb out. Whatever keeps you lucid and calm. Wait for help. It’s coming.
11. Also, if you’re like most writers, you’re probably sitting there thinking, “This is one of the most unique experiences of my life.” and then – “This is totally going into my novel.” If you’re also a blogger, you’ve probably been taking pictures and recording voice over videos to capture the experience to share with your readers. You can probably get an entire week’s worth of posts out of this little experience!
*I am not an expert. Do not follow me into the desert. I don’t want any of your parents calling me, demanding to know why I sent their kid into the desert to prove they can survive using my wisdom. Sit at home, in the air conditioning, and write your book. You can visit the desert the safe, normal way – using Google street view.