The Soviet Experiment of Hunger Trips

Two Weeks Without Food

Imagine:you found yourself in a deep forest, and in you knapsack – not a crumb.First, you will try to find food:mushrooms, berries … And in vain, according to the master of sport tourism G. Ryzhavsky (interview took place in 1986).He, the organizer of two extraordinary trips, is convinced, that an individual can go without food for quite a long time without the slightest harm to his health.

The first trip took place in 1981. Nine guys and two ladies participated in it – different in age and physical data. On the Valdai Upland, they walked 14 days on full starvation, consuming only water. During this period, the travelers lost 13 to 18 percent of their own initial weight, but were active and could continue the trip on their own. Psychophysical examinations carried out in the process of the experiment by its supervisors, candidates of medical sciences G. Bobenkov and V. Gurvich assured not only the preservation of the usual state of the participants, but even its improvement.

The second “hungry” trip was conducted by a new group of 7 enthusiasts – canoeing on the Ural Snow-White River. 15 days without food. The result was the same. The trip did not harm any of the participants.

“And so, two weeks on nothing but water?” we specify of G. Ryzhavsky.

“Yes,” he confirms. “But for contrast – in all forms: raw, boiled, chilled, hot. Although it is true, on the 2nd trip, we made an exception. The youngest of the participants, a student, Sasha Bombin, turned 18 years old. We built a “table”, laid out napkins, said the toast and drank a bottle of narzan. One for all seven.”

“What about exhaustion, loss of strength, starvation to death?”

“Most of us have heard about the tragedies of recognizable travelers, people who have been in an extreme situation and died of starvation. I, myself, had to face with similar. A couple of years ago I walked with a group in the Northern Ural. In the upper reaches of a small river, we suddenly came upon two young men, who were sitting under the tree and looking at us with indifferent eyes. They did not even immediately realize that they were saved. These guys had rifles, they counted on hunting and therefore did not take any food. The hunt failed, the guys did not eat anything for a number of days and literally were dying of hunger. All this gave me a hint to the idea of “hungry” trips. After all, in place of those young men could be anyone. The incident, frankly, is not a rare one. So I wanted to try it out for myself, to find the right course of behavior, to tell about it to others.”

“Well, after two weeks of starvation, you were absolutely not like the dying …”

“We even played football … The fact is that a healthy individual can live without food for 30-40 days. The mechanism of hunger is essentially simple. the first two or three days an individual who has stopped consuming food, painfully wants to eat, feels a certain weakness. But after the last remnants of food are digested and removed, the organism is reorganized, internal reserves are opened. The feeling of hunger comes from lack of carbohydrates. Many, for sure, have noticed: it is enough to eat a piece or two of sugar, a spotless carbohydrate, and hunger seems to be receding. So, with the complete refusal of food, on the fourth or fifth day, the fats and proteins, whose supplies in the body are quite significant, begin to be partly processed into carbohydrates. A new state begins perfectly: the body has switched to real internal nutrition, and the individual does not feel hunger.”

“Did your group have any special training?”

“Yes, but not physical. The main condition of the experiment was the role in it of the most ordinary urban residents, and not all of them even tourists. We prepared for the march psychologically. We knew that a two-week fast would not do any harm. After the famous trip on a small boat across the ocean, Alain Bombard made a fundamental conclusion: it is not nature, but horror that kills an individual. And we decided not to be afraid. In most cases, people in a similar experimental situation are panicked. They try to find and eat at least something: berries, bird eggs, mushrooms, nuts, roots and fruits of various plants. With this “nutrition”, malnutrition and, naturally, exhaustion of the body occur. The switch, however, to the internal reserves will not work, since there is no complete starvation. Here come dystrophy, metabolic disorders.”

“What are the practical results of the experiment, and what can be recommended to those, who suddenly and unwittingly will find themselves in your place?”

“The two trips allowed us to create a method of saving starvation, which we proposed to specialists for training with instructors in tourism. Obviously, with distant hikes, it is necessary to anticipate all precautions in advance. But, if a person is still disoriented, lost, the main thing is not to give in to panic. Depending on the events, one should judge: expect assistance on the spot or try to reach the people, to the nearest settlement. If it is decided to go, do not forget to leave notes-notches along the way. If you have food with you, you do not need to break it into portions, to conserve it. Continue to eat, as usual, and then switch to full starvation. Overcome the feeling of hunger and the horror of the early days, apathy, which can turn into horror. The little weakness will soon pass by itself. Do not, under any circumstances, look for a substitute to real nutrition – as already mentioned, it will only aggravate the condition of the body. Do not waste time and energy on this, but be sure that the internal resources are completely enough for four or even five weeks. Time is enough to find the way to housing or to a large navigable river. Do not forget the well-known rule: after fasting, you cannot immediately feast. It is necessary to get used to food slowly, beginning with juices and porridges.

From the conversation of the master of sport in tourism G. Ryzhavsky with I. Nekrasov and V. Strakhov in “Soviet Russia”, February 14, 1986.

Translated by: Dmitriy Kushnir

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