Page 2 of 5   <       >

Rep. Jeff Flake Spends a Week Alone on Deserted Island

Fulfilling a childhood dream, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) spent seven days alone on a survivalist trip to the Pacific's Marshall Islands earlier this year.

As I moved my gear to the center of the island, I passed a few hundred Sally Lightfoot crabs, which scurried into the surf. I guess I'll be eating a lot of crabs, I thought. I soon discovered that the interior of the island offered a great campsite. Tropical trees offered good shade, and the ground was covered with short crabgrass or dead leaves. I could have all the coconuts I wanted without having to climb a tree.

I had barely hung my hammock when the rain came, an isolated shower that lasted only 20 minutes. It was an event that would occur just four times during my stay.

As night fell, the island became an orchestra of sound and movement. First, the birds. There were two main types. A mid-size white bird would flutter anxiously above whenever I was close to its nest. A gray bird with a long beak whistled constantly, like the whistle a cowboy uses to call his dog. Coconuts would fall. Limbs would drop. Crabs would crunch. And all in near total darkness under my jungle canopy.

I watched the clouds part over the lagoon, revealing a canopy of stars like I'd never seen. I tried to pick out the planets, but I had no idea which ones are visible from 9 degrees north of the equator. I looked alternately at the sky, then at the water, where fish emitted bio-luminescence that flickered like fireflies.

I heard the muted sound of the roaring surf on the ocean side and the gentle lapping of waves on the lagoon side. Nighttime wasn't too bad yet. I had worried most about this, my first night. I'd now made it through all but the sleeping part. I couldn't help but wonder at this point: What have I got myself into? Will I discover that this adventure is more fun to talk about than to undertake?

Day 2

It was now 8 p.m. It had been a long day. By 9 a.m. I was starting to get a bit hungry, so I found a coconut under a tree. It was ripe, like those you purchase in a store. Tough to open, however. Glad I brought a small hatchet. With that hatchet I also cut a flat piece of an old hard tree, knowing that if I was going to start a fire by rubbing sticks together, it had better be hard wood. I rigged up a bow, a base and a swivel top for the fire starter, but the stick wasn't straight enough.

I decided to see if I could light a fire with a magnifying glass. This was a challenge leveled by my 11-year-old son, Tanner, who has cooked many ants with this method.

It worked. The key was to have a dry coconut husk. As soon as I had coals, I went to the lagoon with the pole spear and started hunting for crab. Since at any given time you can see dozens, it wasn't much of a hunt. I bagged several in five minutes.

I put the crabs in the cooking pan. It would hold only five or six. I ended up eating just the legs, which were tasty with salt and pepper.

Afterward, it was time to do a scouting run to the lagoon reef. Before I even got in the water I saw a small black-tip shark, who seemed fascinated with my yellow flippers. He came a little too close for my comfort. He could have bitten my toe off, like a yipping dog. He joined his friends, and a gang of small sharks snapped their fins and got ready to rumble as they headed out to deep water.

I decided to dive down on the ocean side, where there were beautiful tide pools. I saw another shark pup and a big fat ugly eel. The surge was strong and I didn't want to get slammed against a coral head, so I headed back to the lagoon side. It was time to catch dinner.

I went out to where the water was 25 feet deep, "loaded" my pole spear and waited. A bright blue parrot fish sauntered below, looking for coral to munch on. I fired my spear, but it grazed his side and blood spewed. I knew I'd better spear another one fast and get to shore before sharks gathered. Within seconds I shot one right through the gills and turned toward shore, looking down as I did. There it was, resting on the bottom, a six-foot gray reef shark. It was an odd sight, a shark so still. I raced for shore.

<       2              >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company