Pa. survivalists have been prepping for a disaster scenario like coronavirus. Now, many feel vindicated.


by Jason Nark, The Philadelphia Inquirer (PA)

March 20, 2020


RINGTOWN, Pa. When Dan Wowak went to live alone in the wilds of Patagonia in 2016 for a chance to win a half-million dollars on reality television, he was allowed to bring 10 items. Toilet paper wasnt one of them.


Wowak, a Mahanoy City, Schuylkill County, native, did bring an ax and saw, a sleeping bag, and a ferro rod, which you can strike to make sparks in just about any condition. He also chose fishing line and hooks, which proved invaluable. Over 51 days, he ate nothing but fish he caught in a lake: nine of them.


I lost 54 pounds, he said. I know what hunger feels like.


Wowak, who worked in the juvenile justice system before becoming a full-time woodsman, left the reality show Alone early, choosing sanity, food, and his family over the big prize. Today, at age 38, he teaches survival and outdoors classes through his company, Coal Cracker Bushcraft, giving crash courses in how to stay alive in the woods or when goods are scarce. In the last week, he said, hes received hundreds of emails expressing interest as America quickly went from normal to empty supermarket shelves. Hes seen people making smart decisions, like social distancing, and bizarre ones, like grabbing all the toilet paper they can.


"You dont use toilet paper if youre out in the woods. Just grab some leaves and wipe your butt. At home, you can cut up old T-shirts, he said. I think, honestly, a lot of people just dont know what to do. They see me buying toilet paper, they see you buying toilet paper and Uncle Frank, and they go looking for it.


Wowak, who earned an M.B.A. from Alvernia University in Reading, defines essentials as shelter, water, fire, and food. Translated to a city or suburban environment, that could be a house, heat sources like blankets and fireplaces, your faucet, and extra cans of beans. If people remained calm and thought those needs out, he said, theyd find better alternatives at the store.


I went to Target the other day and there was no water on the shelves, he said. I went over to the camping aisle and all the water purifiers and jugs were there. You could literally boil a pot of water in the morning and at night.


Art Dawes, 51, of Lock Haven, Clinton County, runs PA Wilderness Skills, a business similar to Wowaks. He said he took a survival class offered by his junior high school decades ago and has been hooked ever since.


We were starting fires on the front lawn of the school, he said...


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