As the seasons change and the world starts thawing out, I always start getting the itch to get out of the house and get back into the woods. For the past few years, one of the first events of the year for me has been PWYP (Practice What You Preach). When the weather starts breaking and we shift from snow to rain in my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I start gearing up for the drive south and the refuge that is Chestnut Mountain, North Carolina. One of the things that always primes me for the current year is to go back and look at what we did the previous year. I figured I might as well share this year’s retrospective with everyone and whet the appetite for PWYP 2009, which is practically around the corner now.
Terrill Hoffman started PWYP seven years ago as a chance for folks on Internet forums to actually show up in the woods and prove what they really know. Attendance that first year was only about three people, but it proved to be the seed for an annual event that has kept growing ever since. PWYP is sort of a mix of an adult Boy Scout Jamboree and a Mountain Man Rendezvous. There’s a good balance of camaraderie, classes, and the informal sharing of knowledge and experience. Add in the traditional trade blanket with bartering going on throughout the weekend and evenings spent shooting the bull around the campfire, and you have an event that is not to be missed.
This year’s attendance set a new record with around 92 folks. Participants came from a variety of Internet survival and knife forums, friends of Terrill’s, other past participants, and folks from within the knife industry. There was a wide range of ages present this year, from young children to elder statesmen with a good mix of everything in between. Some of the notables for the 2008 event included: PWYP regulars, knife makers Ethan Becker and Charlie May, outdoor instructors Marty and Aggie Simon of the Wilderness Learning Center, George Hedgepeth of Briar Patch Outdoors and Dan Rohrman and Glen “Spen” Stelzer of JRE Industries. First-time industry PWYPers included Dan Coppins and L.T. Wright of Blind Horse Knives, and a guest appearance by knife maker Eddie White and his wife Lora.
While PWYP is as much about the camaraderie and seeing old friends as it is anything else, there’s still the original theme of actually heading to the woods and practicing your outdoor survival skills and learning new ones while you’re there. Classes ran all weekend long and if you couldn’t find something that interested you, then you weren’t trying very hard. Mike Brown and Marty Simon ran a Wilderness First Aid course; Joe Flowers and Landy Young passed on some of their recently gained knowledge by conducting classes on water purification and rabbit stick (a primitive game gathering tool) construction and use; George Hedgepeth taught a class on fire starting; Terrill Hoffman did a class on reloading ammunition as well as facilitated the Bug Out Roundtable group discussion. The latter was an in-depth discussion of what preparations folks would make for various disasters and a discussion of whether to ride it out in place or to bug out to a different location. A wide array of opinion and experience was brought to this discussion with some interesting issues raised. Between the formal classes you could often look around and see small groups of people teaching each other various skills on a more informal level.
In addition to the classes, some annual events were included like the chopping contest, which was won this year by Garrett Lucas using a Dan Koster Monster Nessmuk. The chopping contest is a timed event with the goal to see who can cut the deepest notch in a log while on the clock. Knife makers Charlie May and Ethan Becker judged this year’s event.
Another annual tradition is the “test log.” Different makers and manufacturers donate test blades each year for testing throughout the weekend as well as donate items for use in the giveaway held at the end of the weekend. Some of this year’s test items included items from TOPS, KA-BAR, and some new Ethan Becker prototypes for KA-BAR. Donations included items from Adventure Medical Kits, KA-BAR, TOPS, Blind Horse Knives, JRE Industries, Four Seasons Survival, Bark River Knife & Tool and others. As Terrill has mentioned in the past, our testing consists primarily of leaving the items out on the test log throughout the weekend and letting everyone have a chance to pick them up, handle them, use them, take them into the woods for a bit and see what they’re made of. While I don’t think anyone is abusive (these are pretty knowledgeable folks for the most part), these blades do see some heavy use by some fairly discriminating outdoorsmen. As always, they’re expected to give honest feedback on whatever they used, good or bad. It’s a nice way for a maker or manufacturer to get a wide variety of opinions and impressions on a product in a short period of time. I know in speaking with Dan Coppins and L.T. Wright of Blind Horse Knives that they were pleased with the amount of feedback they were able to acquire. They found it extremely beneficial to see exactly how folks were using their products and to be able to talk to them about what they liked, what might need tweaking, or what they might like to see in a future design.
One thing not to be overlooked while at PWYP is the Trade Blanket. What started as folks doing some basic swaps and trades in earlier years has blossomed into a full-blown attraction for the PWYP attendees. There’s always a flash crowd that appears as soon as folks start laying out their trade goods and the hill takes on the atmosphere of a Middle Eastern bazaar as the haggling begins in earnest and folks buy, barter and trade their way out of blades and gear that they’re no longer using and work their way into new treasures. I did pretty well myself, picking up a number of leather sheaths from JRE Industries, a Stromeng Leuku, a Blind Horse Knives patch knife, a few Swiss Army knives and a very nice “Kephart”-style fixed blade with an Osage orange handle made by Matt Lesniewski, complete with JRE sheath. Not a bad haul at all this year.
Year of Youngsters
One thing that’s always interesting to see at PWYP is what trends might be apparent amongst this group of skilled outdoorsman and cutlery industry gurus. Sometimes it’ll be a particular knife, or maybe some new technique for fire starting or some particular piece of gear. This past year, the common thread seemed to be in folks bringing their kids. A whole new generation was introduced to PWYP and it was great to see people passing on outdoors skills to their children. I’m not sure what the final tally of kids was, but they made up a significant portion of the attendance at PWYP VII. And they certainly weren’t shy about jumping into the classes and participating in events like the children’s fire-starting contest. It was a great opportunity to start working with the next generation of outdoorsmen and women by teaching them new skills and refining ones they already knew.
End of an Era
PWYP VII marks the end of an era of sorts to the regulars who convene on the hill every spring to hone their skills and rekindle past friendships. This was the last year that PWYP will be held in that spot. It seems that that location isn’t just a prime spot for camping, but it’s also one where Terrill and his wife plan on laying down more permanent roots. As I write this, the hill is being cleared and room is being made for their new home. So what’s to become of PWYP then? Is this the end? Well, fear not friends, while the hill will become Terrill’s more permanent residence, PWYP will continue into its 8th consecutive year in 2009 at a new spot elsewhere on the property. It’ll be a new beginning for the regulars as we’ll all have to find new favorite spots to pitch our tents and tarps, but rest assured, PWYP is as much about the people and the shared knowledge and friendships as it is about the location.