A positive attitude and some 550 cord never hurts

May 5, 2009

    Our class - Byron is in the orange, next to Kendall and then me. Photo courtesy Wade Berry
Our class - Byron is in the orange, next to Kendall and then me. Photo courtesy Wade Berry

Two locals take survivalist course venture

In my hands I had a scrawny piece of wire and a few feet of parachute cord.  I lifted my head to gain insight or inspiration from my travel partner in crime, and noticed the same expression on her face as on mine, the unmistakable what the hell are we supposed to do with this look.

Kendall and I had found ourselves on the edge of the St. Johns River Water Management area, adjacent to the Ocala National Forest in central Florida.  This part of Florida reminded me of Eden State Park on steroids.  Massive live oak trees covered the grounds with twisting and curling branches, sometimes stretching down to the ground.  It’s no wonder why they hung down so low; they were holding up tons Spanish moss and resurrection ferns.  Those ferns are my favorite, just waiting for a fresh rain to awaken their slumber. We had signed up for a weekend Survival 101 course with the incomparable Byron Kearns of the Byron Kearns Survival School. We initially went into the weekend with the hope of learning a few new skills about surviving in the wilderness – we didn’t just learn a few skills, we learned a whole new insight on with world around us.

One bodacious shelter. Photo courtesy Wade Berry
One bodacious shelter. Photo courtesy Wade Berry

A little research goes along way and I’ll have to give internet savvy Kendall props for finding the class.  However I’m not here to discuss what types of algorithm search engines works best, I’m hear to tell you about Byron, Francine, and our adventure of bodacious proportions.

Byron Kearns is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Survival Instructor School, and a former USAF Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) Instructor.  He’s regarded one of the top civilian wilderness survival instructors in North America and with three decades of teaching experience, Erwin-like enthusiasm, and a calm, caring, gentle, no-worries character he provides students with one serious source of knowledge.
Byron, with his lovely sweet wife Francine, were our hosts, teachers, catalysts, entertainers and most of all (and I hope to be able to consider them as) friends.

Our weekend started off on a hot Saturday morning.  We had stayed the night prior at O’Leno State Park, right above Gainesville.  In typical fashion we arrived there at night with nothing but a bad map and lighting bugs guiding us down the road.  Due to time, we parked, set-up camp and hit the sack knowing that morning was coming early.  We decided to plan another trip to O’Leano in the future simply due to the fantastic camp sites – all natural, rocky, wooden and private.  The area is dubbed “spring country” and it took at lot of determination not to stop at every spring and take a look around – or a dip for that matter.

After a quick drive past a flurry of wildflowers, and a few missed turns we finally made it to our designated meeting spot (late of course).  There we greeted our five other fellow students, Bryon and Francine.  Our camp was a few miles down the road and after a few quick introductions and housekeeping notes we were on the way.  I hefted my pack over my shoulders and before we even took a step Byron gave us each a smile, a plastic bag, a rock and a sliver duct tape with the instructions to “procure a water source.”  Byron has an interesting teaching method, and this was our introduction to his manner of education.

Throughout the weekend Byron would give us a handful of random materials, which we would need to complete a project or I should say lesson.  I think I constantly had parachute cord (550 cord) and visqueen on my person – that is when I wasn’t on the ground searching for acorns to use a “buttons.”  He wanted us to use our heads first and foremost.  We needed to think about the situation at hand, figure out what we needed to do, why we needed to do it, and the best way how, given our time restraints. After we attempted our version of the project, Byron would then show us how he would do it – and it was always so much simpler than we had originally thought.  After a group “oh that’s how” realization, we’d walk around and discuss our sometimes crazy and off-the-wall ideas and how to better them.  It wasn’t until I returned that I figured out what Byron was doing.

There are two main tools that you need to survive any situation: your head and a positive mental attitude.  By forcing us to figure out a project on our own, Byron was instilling both those tools – we had to think about it and forget our frustrations or fears.  Along with thinking, doing and learning (there was some “classroom” time around the campfire), Byron gave us all the confidence we needed to survive any situation – from the wilderness to the workplace.

There is absolutely no way I can tell you everything we learned that weekend and I would hope that you would sign-up for Byron’s class yourself, but here is the run down to get you excited and sign-up: wilderness first aid, shelter building (both natural and man-made), knots, firecraft, water procurement, cooking, the list goes on but I’ll say it again, the most important lesson was confidence.  I think that’s mainly what everyone needed, and Byron and Francine definitely delivered.

So if you enjoy the outdoors, hike, hunt, kayak or just feel the need to add a little confidence in your life give Byron and Francine a call.  And if you have a hiking trip coming up, let me and Kendall know – if anything happens we can keep you alive, warm and hydrated for up to three weeks thanks to Byron.

Oh and you may be wondering what we did with that wire and cord.  We were instructed to make a snare.  Unfortunately the only thing Kendall and I are good at catching is a buzz, but we gave it our best shot and it worked – sorta.  Even though our snare might not have actually worked in a real-life situation, we caught enough knowledge to fill us both up for a while.

I’m going to tie this up with a trucker’s hitch and a few websites to view:




Until my next adventure …

Wade Berry is a local Walton County resident and outdoor enthusiast. When not working as a marketing coordinator for St. Joe, he is exploring new adventures. To learn more about Wade and his explorations, go to: http://wadeberryadventures.wordpress.com/