Tipi Experiment Part Three: Embracing the Cold

The sun was rising over the frosty hillside. I forgot where I was as my eyes opened. I was outside somewhere, perhaps camping? I was so warm inside my sleeping bag, it was hard to imagine within inches were subfreezing temperatures. Oh yes, it was all coming back. Instead of walls and a house, I had carefully selected wool batting and fabric on the inside and wrapped up in my organic canvas tent coated with beeswax. I was basically in a cacoon of my own making. I had entered a world few dare to travel. It is a world of exquisite beauty and silence.  I laid there awhile until I could remember the day of the week…It was January 8, 2013. I was starting my first day of living outdoors in winter. Tipi wasn’t set up yet. I was starting with just the sky as my roof.

I unzipped the bag and wiggled out. Already wearing most of my clothing, all I needed to put on was my outer Gore Tex wind barrier. This was my last piece of synthetic fabric I hadn’t replaced yet.

The morning was sparkling with possibilities. I slipped into my boots that had been tucked under the edge of my groundcloth, then got the food out from the cooler in the car.

I pulled out breakfast that was carefully prepared ahead for this hour when fingers would not move. Food that was close to what the Native Americans who lived here before I did would eat. There was no desire for anything but raw meat and butter. I was not going to trouble with fire, and I had made a special fermented carrot recipe that I thought, when mixed with the meat, was probably close to their pemmican idea. This food was the key to making this whole idea work. Every resource possible had to be directed to setting metabolism right, generating heat, and providing sustained energy. This wasn’t for wussies.

The temperature was 25 degrees.

This was the ultimate test of my one year experiment. After months of researching, designing, and testing gear made from non-synthetics, as well as working with Cold Thermogenesis (dunking, swimming and soaking in icey water), and developing a line of recipes that were portable and provided the body with heat.

I was determined to break through my fear of the cold. I was tired of my fear and my lack of ability to withstand the cold in a comfortable and workable way. My lack of cold tolerance was keeping me from exploring the vast world of primevial wilderness. I was not tough enough. I didn’t want to think of it as ‘tough’ but as, ‘I am comfortable and at ease in sub freezing temperatures. I am free to live in the wild and move freely at will. I can thrive out here where I have not before found a way to adapt.”

Title: When winter comes Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer Date Created/Published: c1908 July 6. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Dakota woman, carrying firewood in snow, approaches tipi. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-46974 (b&w film copy neg.) Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office. Call Number: LOT 12319 [item] [P&P] Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Title: When winter comes Creator(s): Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer Date Created/Published: c1908 July 6. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Dakota woman, carrying firewood in snow, approaches tipi. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-46974 (b&w film copy neg.) Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office. Call Number: LOT 12319 [item] [P&P] Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

I remember many attempts at entering the cold throughout my life and they all turned into survival trips, zapping my strength and energy. I would come back after a winter hiking trip having survived but physically knocked out and needing several days to recuperate. That was not fun. What I wanted was to find a way to be COMFORTABLE in the cold and not see it as a barrier. There was this amazing freedom awaiting me. A huge universe would open up when I cracked the code. I would be able to be anywhere anytime without fear or hardship.

The ultimate test came half way through my two month tipi living experiment when a cold front descended from the Arctic.


Journal entry Sunday Feb 17, 2013  11am at Greenlife Grocery in Asheville, North Carolina

I don’t know if it’s 5 or 10 degrees out or what, but last night and today are by far the coldest so far I have experienced. My water bucket inside the tipi had a layer of ice over it. I broke it open so I can continue to access the water. As I was eating breakfast, it froze on the plate. However, I slept very peacefully and really long naturally. I went to bed immediately after supper and was in a state of serenety from biking across town inside the austere screaming beautiful deep purple sunset/twilight in the torrential wind. I was completely okay inside my clothing with plenty of balanced strength and energy so the bike ride was not depleting me. I was not experiencing any kind of bad stress like having my head too cold or feeling run down. Everything about me was warm and it was sort of like being in a space suite where you know it’s impossible outside but you are perfectly fine inside. I went into a peaceful sleep right after eating my cold and even frozen supper. I didn’t care hardly the least bit. I mean I would have loved a warm meal and coming home to a beautiful loving woman or whatever, but there was some kind of love I was experiencing that made everything seem completely okay. Not in some kind of logical way, but in a feeling way. It just felt good to simply FEEL. I was feeling the sky, the wind, the tipi, the emptiness, the fullness, the past falling away, not needing to try to piece together the past with the present or the future like some kind of jigsaw puzzle.

It really didn’t make sense in my head, but in my heart there was completion, wholeness, coherence, and a place of stillness. I was just sitting there eating my frozen brussel sprouts and dipping my raw meat pieces in the spice mix, cutting slabs of butter off the hard block, eating spoonfuls of my fermented vegies which tasted much better than the cold cooked vegies.

There was no feeling sorry for myself. Actually an excitement about my life and my ability to cut through fears and obstacles that would stop everyone else dead in their tracks. My ability to just accept this turn of weather without any mental or emotional resistance, but just surf it like a wave, was actually increasing my energy. It was an interesting experience. I was just exploring the feelings of the experience and systematically taking one step after another to exist comfortably within this harsh, unfamiliar environment. Each bit of clothing, each thing about organizing my food and drinks so they neither freeze nor spoil, and keeping my bedding and transportation systems working….



So I started at the end of the previous winter with a few ideas of how to make peace with the cold. There were several angles:

1—Non-synthetic clothing and sleeping bag and tent. This would allow the body some processes that synthetics messes up, such as electrical flow, cellular respiration, body temperature regulation, moisture wicking. Plus, my goal was to find out how Paleolithic Humans lived and what worked. There was a huge satisfaction in seeing the STORY behind my belongings and feeling a connection. (See The Soul of Design)

2—Metabolism and good thyroid function. This can be tested by taking the pulse and oral body temperature. I spent 10 years on the Paleo Diet getting this to work right. See Optimizing Circadian Rhythms.

3—Cold Thermogenesis (Using cold exposure as a therapy to increase the bodies heat-generating abilities.

4—Protection from rain and wind. Using non-synthetic wardrobe and camping gear…this would mean making my own everything.

My goal is to make an alternative wind/rain barrier with a special hemp/silk combo fabric that has the lightness and suppleness of silk but the strength and durability of hemp. I won’t be waterproof by any means. It may be water repellant for the first few drops of a rainstorm, but water will definitely penetrate. So on the inside the wicking powers of wool will be needed.

Sewing wool quilt outside tipi on typical 40 degree day.

Sewing wool quilt outside tipi on typical 40 degree day.

My theory is, we don’t really need to be dry. We can be warm even when wet, when using the right materials. Actually, there are some advantages to being wet, just like there is to being cold. Or at least, if it was so bad, how did humans evolve without Gortex? I would some day find out. But for now, I had the cold to work with.

Boots, which basically are necessary because you no longer have a floor. Your footwear becomes your floor in all kinds of terrain, moisture, and mud.

7—A relaxed, easy, playful attitude about the whole thing. This was about joy and regeneration, not about proving something or getting somewhere. This was about merging with nature and finding wholeness and being present.

8—Exploring the edge between comfort and discomfort and slowly extending that edge incrementally.

9—Diet and recipes that would generate the heat needed. In my case I was wanting raw and fermented foods that were ready to eat and there would be no cooking, no stove, no dishes. I was thinking Native American Pemmican which was basically the original Power Bar. Pemmican is dehydrated meat, berries, herbs, and fat that are mixed together into a ready-to-eat complete meal.

10—Developing a SYSTEM for nomadics where all my processes had a plan. Every object was carefully chosen using minimalism as a guide.

tipi site for part of year

tipi site for part of year

If it was going to be carried on my back, it needed to earn it’s keep in my backpack. Each article of clothing, food, and gear had to be the ultimate best choice and contribute to the plan and goal of generating heat, energy, and being sleek and lightweight. Multi-function was ideal if possible. So a stuff sack and a couple pairs of extra wool socks could be combined to make a pillow, for example. Every item needed to have a specific place to keep it and always be put back there…otherwise chaos would take over. I needed to be extremely EFFICIENT and I would be going places that my life would depend on organization and skill and preparation and strategy. I would need to calculate exactly what temperature range my gear could take me.

11—Healing salves and first aid to deal with the way the elements would be interacting with my skin. The sun, the rain, the cold, the heat, the bugs, and the pollen. What would happen with no-see-ums and mosquitos if I was not using mosquito netting or bug spray?

Over the course of the year, I worked on two angles of outdoor living. One was totally nomadic (backpacking) and one was semi-nomadic (tipi living). I had to figure a really lot of things out and quick, so I could create my own ‘home’, which was really the great outdoors. See: The Tipi Experiment Part One: A View With a Room.

I designed a unique set of backpacking gear and actually tested it as it was being developed. I found my brother’s old army duffle bag in my Mom’s basement and started with that as a backpack.  I took my wool blanket and used that as a sleeping bag in the summer. I had already made a canvas tent. I put together some clothing I had and found some more at Goodwill until I had several layers for varying temperatures and weather conditions. The only synthetics were 1) a foam sleeping pad, and 2) A worn out Gore-tex Jacket that was basically a wind barrier

Okay, I’m sure I looked like some kind of half-baked, rag-tag character. I would not fit in with the shiny, sleek, made-in-china outdoor fashion protocol of the day. I tried to avoid running into people. I just needed to be alone with the trees and streams and my prototype gear.

I spent the summer testing the gear and making friends with the outdoors. Each nuance of temperature and weather condition became fascinating.

One day per week I went on a simple one or two night hike not far from the car. Just a little ‘walk in the park’, nothing serious. I did go in any weather and there was a variety of conditions from clear starry skies, to muddy grey, to drenching rain and thunderstorms. There were many things to embrace, not just the cold. In fact, it started out not cold at all. The first things I encountered were things like

1)         Noises in the night. Turned out to be a herd of dear but of course my imagination went wild until I realized it. Then I thought I might get trampled on because I must surely be sleeping in their path. I got over it.

2)         Bears. I kept waking up thinking for sure I heard one coming at me. Once a bear DID trash my camp, so I paid special attention to hanging the food from a 10 foot treelimb after that.

3)         Mold and Pollen. I became attentive to finding a good campsite that had fresh air and not a lot of rotting debris. Sometimes the only good place was near a stream that refreshed the air. I slept on beaches and boulders sometimes. I thought about stringing a hammock completely across the stream, and I still want to try this sometime. I am still thinking about the right kind of hammock, and of course will need to make it myself out of hemp/silk fabric.

4)         Frogs. Really. One night I found them jumping on me. I was sleeping next to a babbling brook.

5)         Bugs. Fortunately not too many in the Southern Appalacians. I fought off a mosquito or two but generally covered my face with a light cloth as my defense. They could still get my nose and mouth but eventually they would go away. I believe this is due to the fact that my body has too many anti-oxidants for them to like me. Probably most people would get eaten alive without mosquito netting. Still working on this. I am thinking the EM Quantum Sleep Elixer might be the best thing, because it puts fresh anti-oxidants right on the skin. Also, I could burn a beeswax candle when inside the canvas tent because the tent has enough ventilation. Beeswax candles put out anti-oxidants. But can not do that while sleeping.

6)         Sun. For some reason I burn easily, within seconds of the hot summer sun coming out from the clouds. I developed a clear Quantum Sunscreen using EM Ceramic Powder which seems to do the job. I don’t want to avoid sun exposure, but burning is not the answer either. Also, cotton clothing is another appropriate protective measure.

7)         Cold. The air wasn’t cold, but I needed to prepare for the upcoming winter challenge. So I spent the summer dunking and soaking and swimming in streams, creeks, and rivers.

8)         Snakes. Well, my buddy told me they can go into your sleeping bag at night looking for warmth. I never believed him but I did think about it a night or two. But on a more sobering note, I really don’t know what to do about a bite and I know it is very possible during the day while hiking. I am working on this one. I a

Shopping Cart