MAHANOY CITY — No matches. No sunscreen. No compass. Nothing that needs a battery or an engine.
When Mahanoy City resident Dan Wowak, 34, set off for the wilderness to stay for — well, to stay as long as he could, up to a year —he didn’t mind giving up such modern conveniences.
As a participant in the History Channel’s “Alone” series, he was allowed to bring a knife, a felling ax and a bow saw to the remote region of Patagonia, near South America’s southernmost tip.
For the rugged outdoorsman that traditional equipment, similar to gear Davy Crockett might have used, was what he needed most.
“If I have tools, I can make more things,” he said, explaining one of the first things he did after a helicopter dropped him off was to build a shelter. That was especially necessary because his adventure took place during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, which coincides with summer in his Schuylkill County hometown.
“Everyone here was out sunbathing,” he said, “but we were out in harsh, cold conditions.”
History Channel viewers can see how Wowak and nine other competitors fared when the third season of “Alone” premiers on Dec. 8 at 9 p.m.
The show’s website promises “pure adrenaline, previously unseen challenges, urgent medical evacuations (and) a propeller-driven duck trap,” but in a recent telephone interview Wowak could not reveal too much about his stay in Patagonia, where the competitor who stayed the longest would win $500,000.
He did say that he developed a love for nature when he was very young, accompanying family members on fishing, boating and hiking trips to Tuscarora, Locust Lake and Beltzville state parks.
“They had me out in the woods since I was a little kid,” he said. “I’d be out with my little pocketknife. I did a lot more crawling around in the woods than actually fishing.”
Wowak may have left the fishing to the grown-ups when he was a youngster, but fish became an important food source in Patagonia, where he was near a lake and viewed it as a good source of protein.
Meanwhile, some of the wildlife in Patagonia might consider humans a good source of protein. Knowing there were cougars and wild boar that could be “sometimes predatory and very territorial” was “a little bit nerve-wracking.”
Nevertheless, Wowak said, he wasn’t worried enough to stay up at night.
“I’m really comfortable in the woods,” he said, “and I’m a heavy sleeper.”
The best aspects of coming home to Mahanoy City, where he’s working on starting his own business, was the reunion with his wife, Brooke, and 2-year-old son, Jax, with whom he’d had no contact since “the day before we launched.”
“I was very excited to get home and see everybody,” he said. Being out in the wilderness, he said, “you start to realize material things don’t matter.”
The experience forced him to evaluate everything he planned to do, he said, and gave him a taste of the challenges pioneers faced years ago.
“This is how people lived,” he said. “It was an experiment for us, but they had to keep moving if they wanted to survive.”
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT