Updated: Aug 2
“You want to do what?!” That’s the usual reply, when we’ve got the call in the office from some amazing and inspirational pioneers!
Survival Wisdom have had the unique privilege, and somewhat daunting task, of working out how and what we can do to assist these amazing human beings achieve world firsts!
The journey begins with a phone call and then a series of questions of when, why, and what experience have you got in mind? Then we start the planning for our unique and diverse delivery of both mental and physical training; which involves a logical developmental journey of theoretical and practical skills, that really put them to the test and build resilience.
A little bit of background…
There exists a natural admiration, a mix of respect and incredulity, for people who have endured life-threatening duress; who have faced death and come through alive whilst others around them have perished. We tend to view such survivors as possessing a quality above the ordinary; a strength of character, a purposefulness or drive to overcome the crushing physical and psychological duresses they encounter: a so-called, ‘will-to-live’.
Excerpt from a paper “Survival Psychology: the won’t to live”, published by Dr John Leach University of Portsmouth the UK’s leading expert in survival psychology.
We have worked with John and other leading survival psychologists at the UK Military’s survival school, where Richard was the former training manager and John Hudson is the current Chief Instructor of UK military SERE training.
Survival Wisdom was formed to help travellers and explorers to understand how issues can develop on a remote journey, and learn how to:
tune in and sense when things are tumbling out of control
develop both physical and psychological measures to react more effectively in emergencies.
Over the course of the past couple of years, we have been extremely fortunate to have trained not just one, but seven world record holders to date!
Mike Perham came to us following his successful Atlantic crossing in 2007 at the age of 14. Then, at 17, he sailed around the world and was the youngest to achieve this record. The next event was to drive and then fly around the world. It was at this time he came to the team for advice on land survival and the ultimate challenges of flying over mostly water - not an easy task!
For us the journey always starts by introducing a client to a survival strategy and PLAN. PLAN standing for Protection, Location, Acquisition and Navigation. It provides a framework to help with any expedition planning and can be adapted to any context. It also provides an easy to remember set of 'action' points to follow in the event of an emergency. This is a really useful tool particularly when your brain, faced with a problem or traumatic situation for the first time, can go into temporary cognitive paralysis or 'freeze' mode. These simple steps help us to train, practice and rehearse clients on how things can unfold, having a plan to meet these challenges gives great reassurance to any explorer.
The team put together a plan of classroom theory sessions which included: survival psychology, survival strategies, following the PLAN format specifically tailored for the attempt, and land and sea survival lectures. Once we completed the theory, we then conducted dry drills using the kit that Mike would be taking. Once Mike had a good understanding of the kit and its functions, the team then conducted a pool drill to practice if he had to ditch during the flight phase. We also worked on kit development as weight in the aircraft meant less fuel, so we introduced him and trained him in the use of the RFD Single Seat life raft https://survitecgroup.com/media/208739/single-seat-brochure.pdf made by Survitec. In our military careers these life-rafts can be found in survival kits for fast jet pilots and helicopter crews. The unique thing about the raft is it's lightweight and forms part of the pilot's seat so we have found is really useful for light aircraft pilots and micro light pilots crossing expanses of open water.
Mike was very appreciative of the unique depth of knowledge that our team provided, and went on to successfully drive around the world, without having to use his life-raft!
The next set of explorers contacted the team in August 2014, Laura Penhaul explained that the Coxless Crew were going to be the first to row the Pacific Ocean from America to Australia. She also explained that only two of the crew have ever rowed before!
We set about a plan and did our homework on ocean rowing and specifically the Pacific and came up with a program and course. The ladies arrived and we were struck by their energy and spirit - Natalie, I remember, ran over and hugged me and said thanks for believing in us! I was sold not just because of the hug but because I could sense and feel their positive and focused energy to succeed.
Our team, which included a former RAF navigator an infantry soldier and myself, started interrogating the team on their preparations, thoughts, fears and worries for the journey ahead. We had a pretty good idea what the fears and challenges would be, but this is part of the psychological journey - opening up about fears and then addressing and countering these genuine concerns head on, through real time training. We used the 'lemons' analogy that, in an outdoor activity, accidents are rarely caused by a single catastrophic event, rather by a 'chain reaction' or 'domino effect'. The lemons, therefore, represent risks and the more lemons that stack up, the greater chance of an accident or incident occurring. This is a great tool to use and we teach that when the lemons stack up you must take control and “stop, think and act” before it's too late. We teach our clients that, if the situation allows, the 'cup of tea' moment instills rational thought and discussion amongst a team to stop the situation from getting worse and spiralling out of control.
We conducted a classroom session on risk and asked every possible 'what if' question that could possibly happen and some that were slightly impossible to happen, but you just don’t know! We then repeated this for dry drills on land with the team using their excellent lifesaving equipment and immersion gear from Musto. After the dry drills we then spent a whole day in the Atlantic Ocean off the beautiful Cornish coast. The team completed all the wet drills and really got a flavour of what it is like to recover someone from overboard and get into what we term as a 'slightly better than death raft'.
We had a great time working with the Crew and were so proud to have been part of such a pioneering and human spirited journey. If you haven’t seen their story, please go to the following link to the film 'Losing sight of shore' which really shows how much effort, energy and human resilience goes into breaking records and being the first. Particular credit should go to Laura Penhaul who had the courage and leadership to achieve this amazing feat!
Matt and Reece from 'As Seen from the Sidecar' are a couple of guys who thought up the idea to circumnavigate the globe on a scooter with a sidecar back in 2015 to raise awareness of modern slavery.
Matt approached me in 2016 when Doris, the Coxless Crew boat, was at Mount Edgcumbe following the ladies' successful double world records. Matt asked me about the boat and the journey and my involvement, and said that he too had a journey planned and could we help? Of course, we said yes, why not?!
The challenge with Matt and Reece was that they are great guys but have no experience at all. They couldn’t ride a bike, had no mechanical knowledge and they hadn’t been camping, but despite this wanted to achieve what seemed an impossible journey. The thing they had however was a cause that really formed the centre of gravity and a sense of purpose. That despite having no experience and knowledge they had an edge over other explorers. Also, their naivety and honesty with others helped to push themselves and grow as the journey developed, plus they are great communicators and easily made others support their journey - which proved very useful in fixing the bike around the globe.
The lad’s course was designed around keeping them safe in some of the most unstable and culturally and politically unsafe countries on the globe. The main effort was survival psychology and cultural and situational awareness. Understanding how region's cultural traditions beliefs and customs can help a long way to get you through some of the most hostile situations. The lads have a great persona and sense of humour and this really helped in dealing with some potential high threat situations - understanding the presence of the abnormal and absence of the normal really helped. The lads used the lemons to great effect when in Canada in an isolated location, when tired and the sounds of “big foot” in a remote forest gave them the incentive to get back on the road to a safer spot!
The other focus was remote first aid and basic life support skills and how to get rescued quickly in the event of serious incident or accidents. The lads really responded well and gained in confidence in their own abilities to achieve the goal. To test this, they came back to us for a final check run using all the remote living skills they had been taught and they had really developed a great sense of belief and self reliance, despite Reece forgetting to bring a sleeping bag and sleeping in a nice red check onesie!
I was glad to see them home safely in January, after transiting through -40 deg temperatures and the treacherous icy roads of Siberia.
They are the first to achieve this and awaiting the Guinness World Record Confirmation.
If you have a unique idea for a life changing challenge, the Survival Wisdom team are here to help you to achieve your goal and break more world records!