Trifecta: SSA Summer Challenge

Thanks to everyone who participated in SSA’s Summer Challenge 2011. The results are in…

The Challenge: If you’d like to see a horrid, grainy video shot on a 2003 digital camera of me attempting the Stone Age skill of your choice while trying not to get myself killed, Like this page and leave me a comment.I’m opening a summer contest, and the winner will get to send me into the Mojave desert to try out the survival skill they’ve always wondered about but would rather watch someone else fail miserably trying.

The Winning Entry: Cook one of your fresh eggs without any modern help. ie no matches/lighters, ovens/stoves.. or any device that runs off electricity or gas..

Summary:  So off I went early last Saturday morning to try to get things going.  The way I saw it, the solution to not being able to use matches to cook my egg was going to be the good ‘ol fashion bow drill.  I’ll be honest, this technique for creating fire isn’t easy.  I had to kneel in my backyard for weeks sawing away at my hearth board unto exhaustion until I finally created my first ember.  Turning the ember into flame is a completely new opportunity to fail.  Once you have flame, that’s pretty good, but if you forgot to prep all your fire wood you’ve just killed yourself for the third time over.  All in all, the bow drill is tricky, tiring, and takes patience and practice.  But once you’ve done it enough, it becomes a little easier to manage.

I did indeed prep my tinder bundle, kindling and wood just as you should.  What I did not do was make sure that my fire pit was clear of debris.  I gave it a glance, but in my haste figured I’d just keep things small and under control.  I was in a bit of a rush to start filming, as I was losing the morning light and it was starting to get hot.  As usual, haste means problems.  The fire pit was packed deep with grass and scrap wood, which I had cleared to the side to make room for my cooking fire.  But that wasn’t good enough.  It took a  matter of seconds for the fire to jump the spot I had cleared and get into the dry grass.  I got that awful sinking feeling in my stomach as I watched the flames take on a mind of their own.  Much grass stomping and melting of shoe bottoms ensued.  But that wasn’t enough.  Thankfully I had a water source nearby, which I frantically exploited to wet the rest of the fuel and keep my fire contained.  But what a lesson!  Never, EVER, rush a fire.  Not for filming, not for impatience, not because you think you know what you’re doing.  I was so lucky I did not create a situation that was out of control, but it was close.  Always make sure you fire pit is clear of debris and keep you project under control.  In fact, from now on, I may incorporate wetting down the area around my fire pit as a part of fire prep.  It is worth the extra effort to carry and distribute the water for the safety of keeping your fire under control.

Once I had the cooking fire established, I let it burn down to coals.  I had brought some eggs from the farm, and was intending to eat them both for my Stone Age breakfast.  I had seen an episode on one of my favorite shows where they cooked an ostrich egg in the fire.  The top was taken off, and the contents stirred until it was basically scrambled eggs on the inside.  I thought that might work here, so I gave it a try.  I tapped off the top of the egg and set it in the coals.  I did not stir it, though, figuring a small egg would simply cook on its own from the outside in.  How wrong I was. It turns out the egg starts to steam, which creates pressure, which pushes the innards right on out the top.  It was a total failure.  The egg exploded into the fire and was charred into an unrecognizable mass.  I think the stirring part was important, that would have let the steam out and kept the egg in.  Now I know.

For take two, I left the egg in tact and buried it in the ashes.  It took about 12 minutes to cook, similar to a hard boiled egg.  It also cracked from the steam, but the material that leaked out was instantly cooked, forming a seal.  Otherwise, when lifted from the fire, the egg was charred, but looking good.

When I tapped off the ashes and peeled the egg, the whites stuck to the shell pretty well.  The yolk came out perfectly, though.  I was able to eat that right away, the whites I could pick at as I went along.  It tasted exactly like a hard boiled egg should, and it was delicious, hot from the fire.

All in all, the Challenge was a success.  I had a great time, and it was a great opportunity to demonstrate that objectives can be accomplished using technologies form the Stone Age, Agricultural Age, and Information Age.  It was a trifecta, the whole goal of this blog.  Thank for a good time, and I look forward to the next Challenge!

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