SWEAT STREAMED OFF GEOFF’S* FACE as he clung nervously to the cliff edge, knuckles white from his tight grip on the climbing rope. The rock-face dropped away vertically beneath him … and he’d never in his life been in such a precarious position! With his safety entirely dependent on a couple of ropes and a harness, Geoff repositioned himself, ignoring the river rushing by 80 feet below, and continued his descent … (* name changed to protect the man’s pride!)
In his short-story collection, The Book of Guys, author Garrison Keillor admits that he hasn’t always been honest about himself as a man. So he sits down and makes a list of his strengths and weaknesses.
Under the heading ‘Useful Things I Can Do’, he writes:
- Be nice.
- Make a bed.
- Dig a hole.
- Write books.
- Sing alto or bass.
- Read a map.
- Drive a car.
Under the heading ‘Useful Things I Can’t Do’ he writes:
- Chop down big trees and cut them into firewood.
- Handle a horse, train a dog, or tend a herd of animals.
- Handle a boat without panicking others.
- Load, shoot, and clean a gun. Or bow and arrow. Or use either of them, or a spear, net, snare, boomerang, or blowgun, to obtain meat.
- Defend myself with my bare hands.
He goes on to say, “Maybe it’s an OK report-card for a person, but I don’t know any persons. For a guy, it’s not good …”
Wildman Trust was set up last year in the belief that there’s something in the heart of man that longs for adventure. Many men fill their lives with things that make them comfortable – things they can control – but some of the best adventures happen in nature!
However, nature isn’t inner-sprung. It isn’t prefabricated. And it can’t be controlled by the remote.
Nature is WILD!
Recently, as Waitangi weekend got underway, a dozen men from across the country met at a remote Central Plateau property – all keen to participate in Wildman’s first-ever ‘Into the Wild’ course. The group, aged from early 20s to late 50s, included accountants, engineers, builders and students. Many of the guys had little experience in the outdoors and weren’t at all sure what to expect.
Following a quick cuppa at the rendezvous point, they threw their gear on the back of a waiting ute and climbed aboard the trailer for a 15 minute ride to Wildman HQ – an old woolshed perched on the side of the Makakahi Valley. There, they received a brief rundown on the weekend ahead, before sorting their gear and sleeping arrangements and gathering around a hotplate covered with sizzling steaks …
‘Into the Wild’ is a two-part programme, with Part 1 being a series of modules on subjects like Outdoor First Aid, Navigation, Bushcraft, Firearms, Game Animal Harvest & Preparation … all taught by experienced facilitators. Most of these topics require days of training to learn properly – not just a couple of hours. But the Wildman goal is simple: to give men (and their sons) a taste of the outdoors that will tempt them to extend these skills later.
Part 2 is what we call the Wildman Challenge … but more on that soon!
After their first meal – cooked up by Wildman chefs, Andy and Lee, over a fire that would’ve impressed even the manliest man – the guys moved into the woolshed for the Outdoor First-Aid module, before calling it a night.
They woke the following morning to the sounds and smells of Andy and Lee frying bacon & eggs. Then, with everybody out of bed and fed, the first of the day’s modules got underway.
Time flew by as, one-by-one, each session covered specific ‘how-tos’– such as adjusting for magnetic declination when navigating … lighting a fire without matches … building an emergency shelter … reading topographical maps … using a rifle and shotgun safely … even killing and butchering a sheep!
Comfort-zones were already being tested!
In the late afternoon, everyone packed up and headed off to the ‘Peninsula’ – a picturesque headland surrounded by the Manganuioteao River. Here, for the final activity of the day, each guy was sent into the bush to build his own ‘bivvy’ (shelter) to sleep in.
Most blokes took to it like Bear Grylls wannabes. And – despite a spectacular collapse or two – some rather palatial abodes began to spring up amongst the undergrowth.
At last, dinner around the campfire with guys all spinning yarns brought a long day to a perfect end … perfect, that is, until they remembered where they had to sleep!
Not enough hours later, in the half light of early morning, the men slowly emerged from the bush to find a substantial breakfast sizzling on the hotplates. Swapping stories of their night alone under a bivvy, the Wildman punters and crew filled their plates and stomachs in preparation for ‘Into The Wild – Part 2’.
The Wildman Challenge has been known to transform boys into men and make grown men cry … well, sort of. What they’d learnt the day before was about to be put into practice – but in a competition format, for a bit of extra pressure!
The guys were split into teams and told to navigate their way around various challenge stations, where points would be given out according to how they handled tasks like digger-driving, abseiling, butchery and clay-target shooting …
There was no loud bang from a starter’s gun. Instead, the teams were let loose in the bush to gather materials for a fire. The group that then built a fire big enough to burn through some weighted baling twine was the first to start. GPS coordinates stating the whereabouts of each challenge were then handed over – for the team to plot onto a topo map.
Once sorted, they could head off in whichever direction they chose …
It wasn’t long before one of the teams had a raging inferno which quickly burnt through the twine. Another team soon followed, while the last group was still just making smoke! Eventually, however, their flames licked the nylon cord, and the weights fell.
Each team headed off to different points of the compass, and it wasn’t long before the first bunch turned up at the abseil and raft-building station.
The challenge here was to build a raft out of tyre-tubes and manuka poles. The raft was then lowered down an 80 foot cliff into the river below, with the team quickly following. Actually, ‘quickly’ is not the best description. Some of these men had never abseiled off anything in their lives, let alone a sheer precipice with white-water below, and it took plenty of courage to step over the edge. But they all did it – facing some very real fears in the process!
The rafting was pretty funny to watch, as guys did their best to avoid getting wet in the cold, mountain-fed river. In the end, though, they all failed – some up to their ankles, and others up to their necks!
At another challenge, there were some hilarious moments as guys struggled to sort sheep into different pens in the yards. And at yet another, required to photograph a native bird, one team of bright-sparks figured a photo of some girls who live on the farm would do. (At least they were thinking outside the box!)
Each team arrived back just before lunch, with stories to tell of animals conquered and pride lost and a great time had by all.
The Wildman Challenge ended up being exactly that. Every man found himself challenged in different ways … whether through the preparation of game, stepping off a cliff, or sleeping alone in the bush. And, in our final debrief, many said how rewarding they’d found it to step outside their comfort zones, face their fears, and see if they’ve got what it takes.
As one bloke wrote afterwards: “For those of us who spend increasing amounts of time indoors and on laptops, I couldn’t recommend this experience more!”
An unforgettable weekend? Yeah, for sure … in a uniquely beautiful place where (to quote author John Eldredge) “the geography around us corresponds with the geography of our heart” …
… and where there’s no phone signal!