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Pathfinder Youth Organization: The Great Escape

By Kevin Jackson

In today’s society almost everything is about electronics to make life easier, in my mind easier is not always better. What happed to the feeling of accomplishment you get by earning or building something yourself? When I saw the opportunity to open a NPYO chapter I couldn’t help myself, what a great way to get kids off the couch and out into the real world. I love sharing the things I have learned throughout the years growing up in southwest Florida spending my days outside. I spent my teenage years working on a reptile farm and volunteering at local animal shelters and vet clinics. Later in life I took several Bushcraft courses with the Pathfinder School, wild edible courses with Green Dean, and went on quite the adventure hiking hundreds of miles through the rainforests of Ecuador with Mickey Grosman during the Amazon 5000.

I was excited to share this information I have acquired with tomorrow’s generation. I must say, being a married man and father of two wonderful young girls, I wondered how I would find the time to fit these classes into my busy schedule. So here at Expedition Survival we have to do it a little differently. We run a five week course four Saturdays in a row and then the last Saturday and Sunday we test our newly acquired skills with an overnight camp. Kids are always welcome to take the class more than once and we try to make it different every time. Also, I get to spend time with my girls more than ever. Both are graduates of the Pathfinder Basic Class and help me teach at all my classes, I couldn’t do it without them. I have to admit I was a little nervous standing in front of our first class in February 2012. How was I going to teach almost 20 people and keep them entertained so they would come back? My class had an average age of 11 years old and every kid had at least one parent with them. Getting everyone together, we start by teaching safety and shelter the first week and every week we practice these things while adding more tasks. The second week focuses on water and fire. The third covers food and signaling. The fourth week we go over navigation. The last weekend and camping trip the kids are expected to be able to do all of these things on their own and then we add in some traps, go fishing, and clean and cook our own food for dinner. By the end of the first course, seeing the changes in attitude for being out in the hot, dirty woods of Florida is the best reward.

After the first class the kids go from hanging their heads down during the hike to walking tall excited about what they will learn in today’s class and asking questions the whole way out to our spot. Seeing these kids gain interest in something that to me has more meaning than playing video games is worth the effort to run the classes. I have watched many kids come into class never starting a fire, reading a map, or having to tie a knot other than the one in their shoes and watched them become more wilderness self-reliant in just a few weeks. Telling me where water is by the trees around us, collecting it, and treating it over a fire they made, set up shelters and traps and able to tell you all the knots they used to do it. The world is not full of lazy kids they just need someone to show them the way. I love this program and plan to continue to do it for years to come.

Here are what some of our students had to say:

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to attend the most useful, enjoyable, and unique camp out there. This camp was the place I looked forward to every weekend for nearly a month not only learning new skills
and fun activities, but making new friends as well. On this trip, Kevin organized an amazing opportunity to meet a true modern day explorer and ultimate survivalist. I had the opportunity to meet Mickey Grosman. Mickey, who recently survived one grueling year in the Amazon, met us at our campsite to pass down basic survival skills. Mickey left a memorable experience not only with the kids, but the adults as well. It is people like Kevin and Mickey that keep children informed and prepared to conquer their fears in ways they never thought they could. Expedition Survival is an exhilarating new way to get kids off the couch and involved in their community. Thank you for this once in a lifetime experience.


Survival Class
It was 7:30 A.M. I was in the middle of a very interesting dream when I was rudely awakened by my alarm clock. I figured I had accidentally set it the night before, but as I went to hit snooze I realized that I HAD to get up. My parents were making me go to Survival Class, where I had to learn how to survive in the wild. Little did I know that I would absolutely love it. I shoved my head into my pillow and hoped that my dad’s alarm clock wouldn’t go off, but it did and he came in a few minutes later. I ate a rushed breakfast and my dad and I were off to the baseball park. Behind the baseball field was an open woodsy area where we parked and waited for everyone else to arrive. I didn’t notice just how beautiful of a day it was until I got out of the car and felt the cool air across my face and the sun lightly shining on my hat. Mr. Kevin Jackson, the survivalist in charge of this, warmly welcomed me, and I had already felt at home. He opened up his trunk to reveal about 15 backpacks. Before I had time to guess what was in them, Mr. Kevin told me to pick one. All of them had different colored Parachute Cord (a useful survival tool) bracelets on them, and I chose one that was red and yellow. He told us that these would be the backpacks we would use every time we met up for the next six weeks. And then we were off.

It was about a mile hike until we were at an open grassy area. Now reading this, you might think that a mile hike with a 5 pound backpack would be pretty tiring, but when you’re waiting to find out where you’re going, you hardly notice the distance. Mr. Kevin explained to everyone that we would be making shelters and I was a bit skeptical. How could we make shelters when we didn’t have anything to make shelters with? He told us to look in our backpacks, where I found a huge orange tarp folded neatly. I wondered why it was orange, wouldn’t we want camouflage? As if reading my thoughts, Mr. Kevin told everyone how, if you were lost in the wild, you wouldn’t want camouflage, you’d want a bright color so you would be easier to see.

Upon further investigation, I found tons of things in my backpack. Parachute cord (one of the strongest cords you can find), a knife (for sawing Saw Palmettos and other trees if needed), and some metal rod in red casing (which I would later know as a Magnesium Rod, or fire starter.) All day we made shelters out of a tarp and parachute cord, and I had an amazing time. But after what didn’t seem like very

long, it was time to head back. When I asked what time it was, my dad told me we’d been there for five hours! Time really does fly when you’re having fun.

Next Saturday, I woke up before my alarm. I was so excited to go to survival class! When we were at our destination, Mr. Kevin told us to take out our Magnesium rods, and held up his so we’d know what take out. Today we’d be making fires, and I was very nervous. Me? Starting a fire all by myself? He showed us how to strike the rod with the steel striker, and he made it look so easy that I wondered why he needed to show us. But I am very small for my age and I had never done this before, so it was much harder than
it looked. After almost 15 minutes of striking the rod, I managed to get a spark perfectly onto the tinder, and it lit. Before I knew it I had my own fire. I started over 10 small fires, and now my dad’s new nickname for me is his Pyromaniac.

Overall, I thought that in my 6 week survival class with Mr. Kevin Jackson, not only did I learn TONS, but I had lots of fun doing it too. At the end of the 6 weeks, we even went on a campout! There, we made fires, caught fish, learned how to make Paracord bracelets, and much more! We even had Mickey Grosman, a survivalist who crossed the widest part of South America, give us some survival tips! Even if you feel that this might not quite be your cup of tea, try it anyway! I’m sure you’ll love it!


*Article originally published in Self Reliance Illustrated magazine Issue 21 July/August 2014

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