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'72 Hours': Five Things Learned In The Backwoods Of Ontario

06/05/2013 02:46 EDT | Updated 06/05/2013 03:36 EDT
Slice

If you're reading this right now, there's a good chance you live a comfortable life. Sure, life could be better -- a bigger house, maybe a nicer car -- but on the flip side, life could be a lot worse. How much worse, you ask? Let's say you were transported to a region of the world so remote, the only way of getting around was with your own two feet. Not tough enough? Okay, then let's take away all the grocery stores so that unless you're comfortable with foraging, you're probably going to go hungry.

Now, let's say you're stuck in this remote region for three days as as a member of one of three teams trying to reach a single destination in order to survive. That's the premise for one of Slice's latest reality shows, "72 Hours."

Hosted by Brandon Johnson, the show functions something like the lovechild of "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race." There are nine contestants grouped into three teams of three, tasked with traversing remote regions like the precarious cliffs and ocean depths of Fiji or the rolling hilltops of New Zealand. There, teams are given 72 hours to make it to three checkpoints in order to win a cash prize of $100,000 (it would seem that when life or death isn't enough motivation, money is the next best thing), but can only travel during sunrise to sundown.

It's the kind of scenario many of us wouldn't find ourselves in too often, so to get a sense of what contestants would be going through on the show, members of the media were invited out to the backwoods of Burford, Ontario, located about an hour's drive of Toronto, for a trekking adventure.

Much like the show, we were broken into small groups of three or four participants plus one guide (to ensure we wouldn't, you know, die). Teams had to then navigate through trees, wade through marsh water as high as your waist and run through pockets of mud that threatened to suck the boots right off your feet, in order to find 15 markers. Fifteen markers would reveal six clues and those six clues would reveal the grand prize: a $500 donation to the charity of our choice.

I'd like to tell you my team won. I'd like to tell you it was a landslide victory; that trekking is easy but then I'd be a liar. Instead, here's what I learned while running through the backwoods of Burford, Ont. for three hours.

72 hours preview

Gimme Shelter

Before we began our trek, members of the media were given a crash course in survival training -- think of it as a boot camp on how not to die in the wild -- and included techniques on how to build a shelter from scratch. As we were told by our guides, finding shelter is paramount to survival and is right up there in terms of importance as staying hydrated and energized.

When it comes to building in nature, there are two things to keep in mind: you need to work with what you're given, and size matters. Fallen branches turn into frames, weaves made from cattail leaves and stripped tree bark becomes your shelter's cover to protect against the elements. Size matters because the smaller the shelter, the easier it is to keep your body heat from escaping and re-circulating, a key factor between a night's sleep and waking up as a human Popsicle the next morning.

Pace Yourself

Among some other skills we picked up during training, pacing had to be one of the most overlooked trekking techniques and it's easy to see why. Participants essentially walked a line of rope 15 metres long and were asked to count our steps. The number of steps then becomes a way to mentally keep track of how far you've travelled. See, when you're in the wild with little sense of distance, pacing becomes vital as a way to keep track of how far everything is. In our case, when you're given nothing but a set of directions and a compass, pacing decides whether you're off target by 10 or 100 feet.

Keep Talking

If you find yourself lost in the wild with a friend, consider yourself lucky. Sure, the chance for cannibalism increases significantly, but so does the ease of trekking since it's a two-person job. One person sets the bearing on the compass which determines the direction to go. The second person then paces until the first person can no longer see them. During this exercise, it's vital that everyone stays in communication with each other; otherwise both people can stray off track and end up further lost in the wilderness.

In The Wild, There Are "The Want-To-Eats" And "The Must-Eats"

When you're lost in the wilderness, desperation and temptation take over and can make travellers desperate enough to eat anything. As Andy Tonkin, program director with Treks In The Wild puts it, there are things "that you want to eat and things you must eat." What Tonkin means by this is that while the leaves of evergreen trees are technically edible (and high in vitamin C), they're not the first thing starving travellers will want to eat. Instead, start searching for common cattails, which are nearly entirely edible and contain pollen which are even considered a "superfood."

There's No Such Thing As Bad Weather, Just Ill-Prepared People

As you can imagine, trekking's tough. Trekking through the pouring rain is tougher and it's left me with a newfound appreciation for waterproof boots. After trekking in the wild, I've also learned that "waterproof" means nothing if there are holes in your shoes. Granted, this could have been avoided if I bothered to invest in a pair, but part of me was glad that my feet got wet. After that initial five-second panic that my socks were now soaked, I threw caution to the wind and waded through marshes, jumped into puddles and marched through pits of mud like an unstoppable juggernaut.

By the end of our three-hour trek, my bug-bitten hands had swollen into small clubs. Each of my footsteps came with a wet, squishy sound from the rain and marsh water that now called my faulty boots home. I looked, smelled and probably had more in common with the wild than my teammates. By all accounts, I should been miserable, yet I was energized -- happy even -- because of one thought: "At least I didn't have to do this for 72 hours."

"72 Hours" premieres Thursday, June 6 at 10 p.m. ET on Slice.

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