JACKSON, OHIO-The sheer multitude of roaring fires and rolling smoke adding to the haze of the chilly morning drizzle conjures up thoughts of a viking ceremony, but this was merely an early morning deliverable for the Pathfinder School’s basic survival course: get a self sustaining fire going within five minutes.
The Ohio based school usually has less attendants according to multiple instructors as they prepared for an intermediate class, a very intense experience, with more than a dozen students. Participation has been on the rise throughout the year mainly due to the the events that have shaped 2020.
“This intermediate class was twice the size of my basic,” said Anthony Powers, a student turned instructor who progressed through the courses at record speed. Powers noticed a steady increase in participation throughout his involvement in the courses this year. “In a short amount of time, participation doubled and almost tripled.”
Less rigorous courses involving a variety of wilderness skills and self reliance techniques have also experienced increased participation during the pandemic.
“The realization of how fragile our system is really hit home with people,” associate instructor Paul Haack explained when addressing the motivations for enrolling he has encountered in 2020 “This year has just been so wacky, we’ve seen stores get emptied of toilet paper and food, and I think that has really shook people.”
Chris Wood, a bushcraft, hunting, and military equipment supplier, took the Pathfinder School’s trapping class to brush up on skills his grandfather taught him. He also sees it as legitimate way to feed his family and escape his desk.
“With shutdowns due to coronavirus, a lot of people are spending time in the outdoors and they are taking advantage of programs out there to get that [survival] skill set,” Wood speculated before exclaiming, “Because there is nothing else to do, you go spend time in the outdoors or you sit at home!”
The COVID induced urge to learn survival and bushcraft skills is also happening in Australia according to Reuters who reported on Gordan Dedman’s Bushcraft Survival Australia and its course.
Dedman, a former army ranger and a Pathfinder School instructor, filled up his bushcraft course quickly after lockdown restrictions were lightened in May. He and others involved expressed there was a high demand especially after the lockdown for similar reasons expressed by students in the US.
“With nobody going to work or school, it really opened up possibilities.” Demographics in terms of gender diveristy have also been changed due to COVID according to Haack.
“With this whole pandemic thing and the COVID stuff its kinda opened the door for more types of people to come in and really start developing outdoor skills,” he said.
The election also played a role in certain concerns as depicted in an SNL skit aired in early November, where the show’s Kyle Mooney bought and set exaggeratedly archaic, spiked bear traps in a stereotypical suburb for fear of post election violence.
“We live in a society where we are constantly running late to work, running late to appointments and running late to prepare for what may happen,” reflects Powers, “People are just worried about whats going to happen and they are preparing for the worst.”