A quarter-mile past a dead-end road outside Royse City is a group of campers loading up in the back of a few pickup trucks to head into the woods for the weekend. They are all students and instructors of the Texas Survival School — where you go to learn how to survive.
For 10-year-old Emily Solis and her dad, Alfonso Solis, they’ve trained with the Texas Survival School eight times.
“There’s no phone, no emails, no text messages,” Alfonso said. “So, we enjoy the quiet time.”
Now as experienced campers, they pack light.
“We’ve learned, well, the more you know the less you carry,” Alfonso said.
For this Level One Basic Class, some comforts are allowed for first-timers — including camp chairs, pillows, small coolers, etc.
But in the advanced Level Four class, “What was the stage four class? Nothing but a knife?” asked first-timer Trent Winters to his grandmother, Mimi (Brenda McDaniel). “Nothing but a knife,” Mimi said. “You may have to do that one by yourself,” she said to Trent with a laugh.
Mimi said she watches a lot of survivor-type television shows and a survival class has been on her bucket list.
The goal at Texas Survival School is to teach people (who, for example, might become a lost camper or hiker) how to survive in the woods for 72 hours.
Ray McKee is one of the instructors. “We teach a lot of skill sets that, quite honestly, seem to get lost more often than not,” Ray said.
“I think we live in a society that is so dependent upon technology and dependent on this and dependent on that that we forget how to actually take care of ourselves,” Alfonso said.
That often-lost skillset includes how to build a shelter with limited resources: just a few pieces of rope, a tarp for overhead, and a ground cover for underneath—the rest is nature.
“It’s like, whenever you sleep, sometimes I might get scared there’s bugs, but there’s not,” Emily said while sitting inside her primitive shelter.
There are also lessons in emergency first aid, including making a tourniquet to stop blood loss by using only two bandanas.
Emily practices on an arm that belongs to instructor Chris Moore. If she can’t feel his pulse in his hand then her tourniquet is a success.
“Pull! There you go, now wrap it around,” Chris said, who served as an Army combat medic for 12.5 years.
Another potentially life-saving skill is how to build a fire without matches nor a lighter; instead, using a primitive bow-drill method.
The process uses friction to create an ember. This process can take a trained outdoorsman around 30 minutes to complete from start (collecting wood) to finish (a sustainable fire), but for a first timer who is learning the process, it can take up to four hours and they still might never get their fire lit.
Instructor and Texas Survival School owner, Eric Giles, said patience in this technique is key, but the feeling students get when they finally accomplishment it can’t be beat.
“I think the biggest part, though, is that they succeed in something and then that follows them on into life,” Eric said. “And you’re, ‘OK. I did something the first time, I thought it was kind of hard, but I tried and I could do it.’”
That feeling of empowerment is something that’s converted Emily from a self-proclaimed, “scaredy-cat,” to a confident outdoorswoman who can take care of herself.
“I like it because it’s helped her grow up,” Alfonso said. “It’s helped her mature and she sees the world differently. So, it’s a beautiful world out there, I want her to get lost in it, but I want her to find her way back.”
“It’s almost like you gotta get comfortable being uncomfortable. You can’t really grow unless you get out of your comfort zone,” Eric said. “And that’s what we all kind of do, we all kind of push ourselves, we do different things, and we try to get people to come out here too and try new things.”
The Texas Survival School is stoking the fire of adventure while teaching life skills to help you survive it.
“Just think of it like a fun camping trip where you get to learn a lot of really neat stuff,” Eric said.
The Texas Survival School has a variety of classes including one dedicated to “wild edibles” where you learn how to forage the woods for food. The three-day Level One Basic Class is $150 for adults and their children are free.
To see pictures of the entire weekend of training that was featured in this story, check out the Texas Survival School’s Facebook page.