Question: If you were stranded all alone on a deserted island with only 5 things in your pocket/bag, what would they be?
It’s a fairly common question that we’ve all considered at one point or another, although statistically anyone reading this will most likely never end up in a situation even remotely similar to the one in question.
(Well, a remotely, remotely similar situation.)
I was 14 years old at the time, and it was my final summer in the sleep-away camp I attended ever since I was a kid. One morning after breakfast my age group was told that mishlachat (the Israeli staff brought in to work in this Pennsylvania based camp) had planned a special day for us. We were told to change into comfortable hiking clothes, fill up our canteens, pack lunches and meet back at the entrance to camp for further instructions. Once we were all back together, we were broken up into 7 groups comprised of approximately 10-15 campers and 3-4 counselors. Mishlachat then explained to us the name of the game. We were to be loaded, one group at a time, into a series of vans. The windows would all be covered with black garbage bags (in fact, the front windshield was covered as well except for a small rectangle through which the driver could see… crazy Israelis) and we’d be blindfolded as well. After being driven for about half an hour, we’d be dropped off in a pre-planned location. Before mishlachat would drive away, leaving us on our own, we’d be given a walkie-talkie and a map with our drop-off point and camp marked on it. We’d then be on our own to find our way back to camp grounds.
I was grouped together with a couple of friends, one of my bunk’s counselors, a large and fearless male counselor (who will henceforth be known as “Bob”), the head counselor of our age group and some other campers. We were the second group to be shipped out. I remember being transported blind in the camp van, trying to recall every turn we made. One moment I was convinced we were going in circles, the next, I wasn’t so sure. After the first 5 minutes I gave up trying to remember anything because there was simply no way to keep it straight. I put so much faith in movies that it wouldn’t be too difficult to sense car movements while blindfolded. But at the end of the day we were being kidnapped and nothing in my head could save me.
And so it was, after about half an hour of driving we were dropped off in the middle of a grassy meadow, surrounded on one side by a forest and on the other side by some little country lane. We were given our walkie talkie and map, and we stood in the knee-high grass watching the van drive away.
Despite it all, the excitement of adventure got my adrenaline pumping and I entered survival mode. Only one other member of our group, aside from myself, felt comfortable using a map, so together we spread it out and studied it. It seemed simple enough. Since we had no car, we were not limited to streets, and the most direct route back to camp seemed to be in the direction of the forest. The map showed a little stream starting at the edge of the forest that met up with the highway halfway between our drop-off point and camp. The plan was to kick off our shoes, walk through the stream, and then hike along the highway. Sounded simple enough. So we headed towards the forest, fanning out to find the stream, not knowing how wide it would be. After circuiting the closest bit of forest for half an hour, all we managed to find were some muddy areas – hardly a stream. So we headed back to the meadow to re-examine the map, letting everyone take a look at it this time.
As we were arguing over the exact positioning of the stream, our walkie-talkie came to life.
“Uh… hello? Can anyone hear us?”
“Yeah, this is so cool! We’re group six, who are you?”
“Group four. We have a problem.”
“So do we. Group one.”
“I wonder if we all have the same problem.” (Counselor from my group with the walkie-talkie)
“Well, we’re just getting out of the van and group seven probably just left camp grounds a few minutes ago. Why? What’s the problem? (Group six)
“Our map shows us dropped off by a lake, but we were dropped off in a residential neighborhood.” (Group four)
“Yeah, our map shows us by a stream that we can’t find. (Us)
It turns out that the Israelis mixed up the maps. Slowly but surely, each group was able to determine their position relative to camp and decide the best route to take home via the walkie-talkies. Group five happened to be dropped off a couple of hours outside of camp, and group four was dropped off by the mini-amusement-park a short distance from camp (I still to this day resent that their group got to buy ice cream). After all the groups had worked out their routes (while ignoring our group entirely), someone finally piped up over the walkie-talkies:
“Has anyone heard from Bob’s group?”
The answer was, of course, no. No one had heard a thing we said all this time. Not only were we given the wrong map, but we were also given a walkie-talkie that only worked one way. We could hear them, but they couldn’t hear us. We eventually gave up trying and just turned it off.
Without any clue as to where we were, we went towards the little country lane. It took twenty minutes for the first car to drive by, and drive by it did, even though we were hailing it to stop to ask the driver where we were. About ten minutes after that another car passed by, and finally about five minutes later a car finally stopped, except he himself was lost and couldn’t tell us where to go. Rather than stay in place all day we decided to follow the road under the assumption that all roads had to lead somewhere.
After about an hour of walking, it turned into a dirt road, and then eventually led us somewhere… to the edge of a small wooded area. Naturally, we decided to explore. After a number of minutes, we found ourselves at the other edge of the wood, facing a wire fence blocking our way from a nice, little house surrounded by rolling green hills. On the front porch rested a number of shotguns. Ah yes, we were in the middle of Hicksville, USA. Trespassers are not only unwelcome… trespassers get shot. Well, at that exact moment a small group of guys conveniently needed the little boys’ room. Since the trees around us were too sparse, Counselor Bob decided to lead an expedition over the the fence to the far side of the nearest rolling hill. The remainder of us watched the small group frolic off into the horizon. After about five minutes or so, we noticed some fast moving dark dots coming from that same direction. As they slowly approached we noticed that it was our expedition team, running for their lives and shrieking like a group of pre-adolescent girls. It mattered not that we couldn’t make out what they were yelling, as a few moments later we saw three viscous looking dogs chasing them. They made it back to our side of the fence, brave Counselor Bob reduced to tears, and we decided it was an omen. On a rare occasion you can outrun a dog, but you can never outrun a bullet from an angry farmer’s shotgun.
The rest of the adventure is somewhat of a blur in my mind. We sat down for a late lunch on a grassy hill overlooking some small town, at which point G-d opened the heavens and drenched us. A bit later, after we resumed hiking, one of the girls in our group twisted her ankle and needed to be carried the rest of the way, slowing down or non-existing progress.
I don’t know how we managed it, but some time around 7:30 pm our group finally entered camp grounds. We were wet, achy and hungry. Dinner was over and all the kitchens could arrange for us to eat was some bread and peanut butter (this was back before it was a banned substance due to allergies). All the other six groups were back already, fed, showered and warm. (The second to last group arrived back in camp over two hours before us, and the first group back had only been out of camp grounds for a grand total of three hours).
I was tired and miserable, and did not even think for a minute how that day would forever be ingrained in my mind as an extraordinary adventure.
So, even after that experience I still don’t know what I would want to be stranded with on a desert island.
Not an Israeli, that’s for sure.