A handful of people gather around Creek Stewart as he goes through some of the essential items in his survival kit – poncho, knife, water-filtration device – and explains how they'll help him last 72 hours in the wild.
No, this is not an excerpt from the “Hunger Games,” although Stewart does teach a survival course based on the wildly popular book series for young adults. But on this Saturday afternoon, Stewart is teaching a crash course on building the perfect “bug out bag,” an emergency pack designed to help its owner survive 72 hours in the event of a serious disaster.
“Everyone has their own reason for preparing,” says Stewart, who owns and runs Willow Haven Outdoor, a 21-acre survival-training resort in Anderson. “It can be anything from a terrorist attack to a natural disaster.”
Stewart made an appearance Saturday at Gander Mountain in Fort Wayne as part of a tour for his new book, “Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag,” which was released in May.
The “bug out bag” is named after a term coined in the military that basically means, “get out of Dodge,” according to Stewart's book. Usually a large backpack, the bag calls mostly for supplies that help provide three or four basic needs: Shelter, water, warmth, some food and, if possible, tools and first-aid supplies.
Stewart points out the fact that people can go at least a week without food but only hours without shelter and water. Some of the bug-out basics: At least three liters of drinking water, a poncho and space blanket for shelter, fire-starting tools and tinder.
The survivalist mentality behind the bug out bag begs the question: What disaster, so severe as to require an immediate 72-hour evacuation, could strike northeast Indiana, where a terrorist attack or Hurricane Katrina-type natural disaster seems improbable at the least.
More likely, northeast Indiana residents could face a catastrophic tornado, Stewart said, pointing to the deadly storms in the southern Indiana this year that wiped out entire small towns. Severe flooding, such as Fort Wayne's flood of 1982, also could force evacuation, he said.
“I'm kind of on the realistic side,” Stewart said. “These are skills you can use in any outdoor scenario. It doesn't have to be your country starts blowing up.”
His interest in the outdoors and survival skills began as an Eagle Scout in southern Indiana, and he wrote and self-published his first survival manual to help pay his way through Butler University, he said.
Stewart later bought his 21-acre property and started Willow Haven Outdoor. Since then, he's taught survival courses to people from across the United States and around the world – people come from as far away as Spain and Germany, he said.
Stewart acknowledges his classes draw some paranoid, anti-government types. Some of his survival students ask about scenarios in which a dictator takes over America and declares martial law, for example. Once, a man called the Willow Haven store but refused to provide his real name, address or credit card number in case his phone was bugged, Stewart said.
But as a rule, Stewart leaves politics out of his courses, and most people simply want to pick up some helpful skills, he said.
“Politics divide, and people are just paying money to learn survival skills,” he said.
In fact, interest in outdoor and survival skills seems to be increasing among teens in particular, Stewart said, a trend he attributes largely to the “Hunger Games” series. This year, he even started teaching an unofficial “Hunger Games” survival course, where he shows how to master some of the techniques used in the books.
Ideally, Stewart said, no one would ever need to use a bug out bag in a true disaster situation, but the possibility makes the skills worthwhile.
“Every time you turn on the news, it seems like something crazy is happening somewhere,” he said, pointing to catastrophes like the southern Indiana tornadoes, Hurricane Katrina and last year's massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
That's why he signs his books with the catch-phrase: “Remember, it's not if, but when.”