Q+A: Dry Advice

Jan 1, 2002
Outside Magazine

Nobody feels more at home in parched, prickly places than David Alloway. One of the country's leading desert experts, he runs a school, David Alloway's Skills of Survival (www.skillsofsurvival.com), near Big Bend National Park in west Texas. We caught up with David after he'd just finished working on an episode of a new reality-television series, The Worst Case Scenario.

How'd the TV shoot go?
We filmed it in the Anza-Borrego Desert in southern California. The ambient air temperature was 121 degrees, and the ground temperature was 163 degrees. We had four people drop on the camera crew. One day they brought in this motorized glider with a heck of a camera system for overhead shots. Anyway, it got so hot in the plane, the cinematographer threw up on the electronic gear and blew it all out.
So in this episode you teach about survival situations?
Yeah, but I didn't do any Crocodile Hunter stuff like kiss a snake on the lips. We did put a scorpion in my boot and I dumped it out in the morning to show why you should do it. But because this scorpion was a rented scorpion, I didn't squash it.

What's the weirdest thing you've ever eaten in the desert?
Probably iguana with chile sauce in Mexico. I've eaten kangaroo and some grubs in Australia.

What do grubs taste like?
It depends. Some have a nutty flavor; some are slightly sweet. You can bake them, like a bacon rind. Cook 'em up by the fire. But what most people don't do, you need to tear those legs off first, because they really scratch going down as they're trying to climb back out. But seriously, people say, "You eat it guts and all?" Some people eat sardines. And those are not clean, you know.

What's the most common mistake in a survival situation?
The panic factor. Instead of sitting down and logically thinking things through, people panic. They start running. They get lost and decide they're going to run their way out of it, and they leave the trail. And that's where they screw up. If they stay on the trail, that will be covered first thing by a search. A lot of times people go off and start looking for food, which is pretty far down, way down, the list of things you should be doing.

What is the most important thing in your survival kit?
I would say it would be potassium permanganate. It's a vial of little chemical crystals, and with it you can make water potable, you can start fires with it, it's a topical antiseptic, and it's a fungicide. That vial will purify 300 gallons of water.

What's the most evil plant in your area?
Lechugilla. It has a chemical on the tips of the thorns that causes immediate pain and swelling. It's also somewhat antiseptic, so if that thorn breaks off in you it won't fester up. It might take ten weeks to pop out, so you have to have it surgically removed.

How do you stop a bad case of the runs out in the desert?
You can take a piece of charcoal—let's say about the size of a walnut—and grind it up real good, mix it in water, and drink it. That'll help bind you up.

Tell me about things you've been bitten, stung, clawed, or poked by.
Well, I've never been snakebit. I came very close once. I had a rattlesnake strike my boot, and one of the fangs penetrated, and the venom dribbled down my ankle. I've been stung by scorpions half a dozen times. Usually it was my fault, putting on my boots without shaking them out.

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