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How a survival training getaway will change your life

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So, you thought personal retreats were reserved for lithe yoga bunnies and spirituality seekers? Think again. In our search for a slightly more rugged option, we found Shane Hobel, a wilderness survival expert who is frequently called upon by state and federal search and rescue teams for his superb tracking and primitive living skills. As founder of the Mountain Scout Survival School, Shane takes city-slickers out of their comfort zone and teaches them the skills to survive comfortably without the luxuries of our modern world.

WATCH our interview with Shane Hobel, wilderness survival expert


Tell us about Mountain Scout and some survival getaway options for somebody who wants to learn more about surviving outdoors without the modern day conveniences we're all used to.

Mountain Scout has teaching locations in and around New York City as well in the Hudson Valley. We're actually the only school that teaches both urban survival, as well as wilderness survival, and we're the only school allowed to teach in Central Park. We offer the urban programs in NYC, and some of the wilderness and urban programs in Long Island, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Westchester, and up here in Putnam, as well as Dutchess counties.

The wilderness survival side is about connecting to our ancestors' skills, and understanding ones relationship out here in the world. On corporate retreats, private groups and getaways, we give students that fun day or team building day. Everyone's goal of what they want to achieve at the end of the day is different. It really depends on what they're looking for, but everybody walks away with a bit of that relationship, of knowing what they can do out here in the vast world.

Think of it this way: what would happen if I took away all the things that are a part of your life: your car, your apartment, the refrigerator, the cable TV, electronic devices, etc. Take away all these things and what do we have left? You soon realize what's important in the world and in life. It's shelter, water, fire, food, tracking, awareness, and movement. This just scratches the surface, but it's a tremendous experience.

It must be very empowering. Anyone who's been through the Boy Scouts probably has a lot of these skills but today, kids seem to just want to bury their head in their iPhones and iPad. Say something extreme did happen, what would one do? What's the first step?

You know, 95% of my clients are actually adults coming out of the city primarily. They want to know what to do in the event of...? We don't talk about Armageddon or any of that nonsense because there's enough of that on television. People want to know, "What do I do if a fireman can't get there, a police officer, any other EMS personnel?" People understand that being prepared is being responsible, nothing more, nothing less. What do you expect to do? The first thing to do is to determine, "Hey, is this a safe place to be? If not, how far and how fast do I need to go?"

In this new modern era we really have two types of survival, which is very unique. Our ancestors called it living skills and today we call it survival skills. I call myself a survival school, but I actually teach living skills. I want to get students away from this idea of survival as being that razor's edge of not quite making it. Living skills are really the discovery of self; I want students to be comfortable as they progress. I want them to move through the landscape know every little edible and medicinal plant, and feel confident that they can make fire, just by collecting those certain bits and pieces.

The number one step that you need to take when you know you're in a safe place is to find shelter. Then, it's finding water. I know that I need to boil water, so I need to make fire. There's a symbiotic relationship between the two. After water and fire comes finding food and when you think about it, there are only two types of food on the planet: plants and animals, which need to be washed with our water and cooked with our fire.

I imagine that folks who sign on to your school walk away with not only these unique skills but a refreshing perspective that hopefully they take with them back to their families and their friends, right?

Absolutely. The thing about these skills is, you discover yourself. When do we sit down in the middle of the woods and pick up a log and start carving it to create fire? These skills not only are physical but you have to learn how to use them. Movement is one of the last life skills on the list. Shelter, water, fire, food, tracking, awareness, movement are the seven cardinal paths, or arrows, as it's known, that all of these skills fall under. Movement is movement with a knife and the safety of the knife. The movement path also includes movement through the forest, when you should be loud, when you should be silent, and when you should move in complete silence like that of a shadow.

There's no gray area. You have to know that you can do these skills. I always warn students that there's no correct order to practice these skills; you always jump around and some skills will come more easily than others. Do a little fire making, do a little tracking, do a little shelter, do this, do that, and you get good all the way across the board. Don't be good at just one thing and terrible at other things. It's got to be a spectrum, like a jack-of-all-trades on some level.

First aid is something that everyone can do right now for others and for yourself. You have to be able to render yourself first aid so you can help someone else next to you. Having first aid skills is an invaluable community skill. But coming into the class and going through these skills, the students discover themselves first through the perception of looking at the skill. And then they discover themselves through the approach of how they develop and learn each skill. For instance, my julienning skills in the kitchen don't really work with carving wood so I need to learn a new way of holding and using a knife.

Some people might be surprised that just in the group dynamic alone, if you have wonderful people skills and a wonderful, calming demeanor, how invaluable that is in a crisis situation or in an emergency. So who cares if you can't make a fire or shelter; your calm attitude when faced with a crisis is why I want you on my team. I want that guy who, regardless of what's going on around him, has the attitude of, "This is great! You can get a day off tomorrow. "

The world is under drastic change and people have no choice but to learn these skills. They have to relearn this relationship with nature in order to take care of themselves and to pass this on to their children. Once again, the children will grow and understand this relationship between us and nature and the responsibility and reverence that comes along with this relationship.

How many people do you teach at these weekend outings?

It's a good question and I get that question a lot. Some people are good with big group dynamics, some people not so much. The beautiful thing is that you get the combination of both, and it's important to have that because you are amongst large groups during that time of need and crisis. So you have to deal with it anyway in real life. We have classes that run intimate, small private groups, so it's up to you. One on one, to as many as you want at the private level. That includes the corporate world and school classes.

But for the general public, we open it up so lecture time could be forty to fifty people. But when it comes down to the skills, you're on the landscape and it's now up to you. You aren't waiting in line, you aren't looking over somebody's shoulder, you're not amongst a crowd. No one is there to get in your way. People are there to help guide you and so on but you have that sense of space and freedom.

What are some of the reactions that you get from your students at the end of this journey? What do they say that has really changed them?

The honest truth is I'll get the students that go, "Whoa, this is a lot of work. Let's see if I can do this." And I won't see them. And some of them will understand, "If something happens, yeah, I'll probably be the one eaten by the zombies. I'm not going to make it." They're honest and I appreciate that. Then I get the ones that are extreme. They are the preppers and the serious ones. They're actually being more responsible than most, which is actually really good.

Who is attending these training retreats - Are women doing it?

Single moms will bring the kids with them, that's a big trend now, which I'm really happy to see. We are seeing families participating together; Corporate people who are rolling up their sleeves and going, "Wow! This is what it means to get dirty." And they are enjoying living life again and they are starting to discover that this is what they are supposed to be doing. This is normal behavior. They discover this other child in them and walk away with a brand new look on life and a whole new view on the world. They have better communication at home, better communication at work. They're efficient; they're starting to gain confidence because they are starting to discover, "Wait a second! I'm a single mom and I'm doing this. I don't go to the gym and do these things, but I can make fire." That's awesome and it's empowering.

Tell us about the new school you're opening up.

I've been teaching in the Hudson Valley for twenty-three years and slowly we've been looking for a home site to open up the big umbrella of Mountain Scout Earth School and we're looking right here in the Putnam/Southern Dutchess region. We plan on breaking ground in the springtime; this is how fast and furious we are doing this.

There are twenty-one branches of study in the school, from edible and medicinal teaching programs to permaculture children's camp. Our archery programs include arrow point making to learning how to shoot a bow and arrow. The wellness center is where the grandmothers and grandfathers from the elders are going to be coming in and doing their teaching.