I awoke last Wednesday and, as I usually do, groggily thumbed through the notifications on my phone. To my surprise, I had a Twitter DM from Xbox Canada with a message contest entrants love to hear:
Congratulations! You have been selected as a potential winner of the State of Decay 2 Zombie Survival Camp contest! Please email [redacted] to confirm if you and a guest are available to attend Zombie Survival Camp from May 25-27 in Ontario. He will confirm your eligibility and arrange to have your travel booked. Thanks!
Of course, I rubbed my eyes, read it, re-read it, then showed it to my wife, Colleen. Of course, the notice was short and the timing was tight (it’s not like you have advanced notice of the zombie apocalypse after all) but one thing led to another and Friday morning we were up at 4 a.m. and off to the airport to head to northern Ontario for the Xbox Canada State of Decay 2 Zombie Survival Camp!
UPDATED (6/1/2018): Added the Xbox Canada Survival Camp Lesson 1: Combat Training video.
UPDATED (6/8/2018): Added Xbox Canada videos for Lessons 2 and 3 (which includes a glimpse of yours truly)!
UPDATED (6/14/2018): Added Xbox Canada video for “The Outbreak” – scroll down towards the bottom to see who survived!
After an almost 4 hour flight, we met up with two other contest winners and their plus ones at the airport — Rod and Andrea, also from Alberta, and Tucker and Ashley from Manitoba. As far as I can tell, we were the only ones who flew in out of the 28 total participants. At any rate, after we were assembled, we were whisked away to head 250 km north to the Bancroft, Ontario area. After a very long 3 1/2 hour drive we arrived at Camp Can-Aqua, a.k.a. Trumbull Valley Survival Camp. We were immediately greeted by two members of the Zombie Survival Training team at the gate who directed our driver where to go. It was unexpected for sure but definitely set the tone for the rest of the weekend.
After being assigned to our rustic cabins, complete with bunk beds and windows and doors with nothing but screens on them, we ate dinner, had a quick introduction to the team from the Zombie Survival Camp organization, who assured us we were in good hands. With instructors like Deidter “The Soldier,” Peter “The Jedi,” Eric “The Strategist,” Dom “The Butcher,” Gerard “The Postman,” Tash “The Medic,” and Lindsey “The Operative,” we felt we were in good hands for the upcoming events. Having run various Zombie Survival Camp events over the past 6 years, this was their 22nd event teaching Field Tactics, Zomjitsu, Wilderness Survival, Weapons, Archery, First Aid, and more. In fact, three of the team members live off the grid at their own piece of property.
Next up were some team building exercises with the rest of the winners and Xbox influencers who attended and some State of Decay 2 gaming on the Xbox One X. Afterward, we received a weekend survival gear kit which consisted of a flashlight, rain poncho, backpack, thermos, State of Decay 2 patch, t-shirt, and ball cap, a sleeping bag, and the always important roll of toilet paper. We then hit the campfire then headed off to bed to rest up for the long day ahead of us.
Zombie Survival Training Day
The day started off at 8 a.m. with Tactical Yoga. Led by Diedter, Tactical Yoga helps you loosen up and provides some exercises you can do throughout the day to stay limber — the last thing you need while running from zombies is to cramp up! After a quick breakfast, everyone was broken up into teams to continue the day’s training.
Eric was our Survival Tips instructor and took us through some pretty basic, but necessary, survival training. You’d think food and water would be the most pressing matter when you’re trying to survive but it is, in fact, shelter. While you can survive 3 weeks without food and 3 days without water, depending on the weather you can succumb to the elements in as little as 3 hours without shelter.
After building a shelter out of sticks and leaves, we moved on to identifying what you can and can’t eat (NO MUSHROOMS). Little did I know that my weed-ridden lawn is actually a nutritious smorgasborg of leafy greens which include dandelions, clover, and broadleaf plantain (which also doubles as a salve for burns, cuts, and scrapes).
Next, we grabbed the flints and strikers and proceeded to start a fire out of twigs, leaves, birch bark, and other dried items commonly found in the wild. While building fires is nothing new to me, it was still satisfying to get one lit in this way.
Anyone who’s watched The Walking Dead no doubt recognizes that the farther away you are from a zombie when you kill it, the better. Gerard stepped up and taught our group basic archery skills. After we’d all successfully hit the stationary targets a few times, we tried our hand at a moving zombie target dubbed “Will.” Headshots, of course, are key, and there were a few of us who managed to sink our arrows into Will’s noggin…
Up next was first aid training with Tash. After going through what you should keep in an emergency kit (something that you should have ready to go and on hand at all times), we moved on to assessing symptoms and diagnosing field wounds like sprains, broken bones, open wounds, and yes, even zombie bites. We learned how to stabilize these different types of wounds to give the wounded a better chance of making it to the nearest med bay.
Sure killing zombies can be fun but you may not always have a weapon handy. Zomjitsu, led by Peter, taught us valuable skills like rolling properly should we trip and fall while running, as well as how to redirect zombies lunging for us with basic moves including arm bars and the viper throat hold. Like the other skills we’d learned so far, these would be invaluable for the zombie invasion the following day.
Arguably the most fun training session of the day was weapon training with Dom. We covered the pros and cons of close, medium, and long-range held weapons as well as blunt and edged weapons. Everything you’ve learned watching The Walking Dead? Forget about it! As Dom was quick to point out, you’re never going to get a knife through someone’s skull (the eye socket is best) and it can take up to 12 whacks to detach a head from a zombie’s neck (ewww). The biggest thing to remember with weapons is to focus on the technique… without that, it doesn’t matter how hard you swing or lunge, you’re leaving yourself open to failure.
While it may seem fun to run around and gleefully slay zombies left and right, we quickly learned under the tutelage of Diedter that escape and evasion is often the better route for many reasons. During our field tactics training, we learned how to move safely as a group in various formations, as well as how to split off in fireteam pairs to handle situations as they arose.
Overall, a lot was learned on Saturday and some much need R&R and dinner finished out the day. Of course, the evening wouldn’t be complete without a “Breaking News” clip from a local Toronto TV station which saw the lovely reporter being attacked by a shambling zombie followed by a quick briefing to set up Sunday’s event…
As for the “format” of the zombie apocalypse, the entire campground was the infestation zone. Survivors (us) would be given two red flags to tuck through our belts while zombies would have one green one. Grab the green flag and the zombies would “eat” their intestines for 30 seconds to give the survivors a chance to get away. On the other hand, lose both your red flags and it was off to the graveyard for a zombie makeover. While there was to be no physical contact in the main area, there were three “engagement” zones where we could practice the skills we’d learned throughout the day: the Kill-Mart, Cabin Fever, and the Scream Fields. Even after getting the run down and an overview, there was still some apprehension as to what to actually expect.
The shit hits the fan…
After the second night of sleep in a cabin in the middle of the woods, everyone geared up for the day’s events — not knowing what to expect. During breakfast, the Zombie Survival Camp team informed us that the perimeter had been breached and the zombies were on the way. Given two jugs of water, a length of rope to use as a barrier (the “rules” dicated that the zombies couldn’t cross into roped off areas), and a map indicating the preferred location of our HQ as well as hidden supply caches, we started to plan our course of action. No sooner did we take a group selfie than the doors busted open and the groans of zombies could be heard…
Of course, Colleen and Andrea bolted and our plan to stick together almost immediately went to shit. Nothing like a “surprise” invasion to jump-start the fear factor.
Our wives abandoned us IMMEDIATELY.
— AntiMacro (@AntiMacro) May 27, 2018
Once outside, we briefly collected our thoughts but to be honest, the zombies were everywhere and the 28 of us were soon split into two groups. Our group had the supplies and it looked like the direction towards our initial HQ plan was overrun so we came up with a plan B and headed to another suitable location we’d seen the day before. Once arriving, without any casualties, we set up a perimeter while distraction teams ripped the “guts” out of the zombies to delay them.
With the perimeter set up, Tash (our field medic), tasked four of us to bring back medical supplies she’d stashed on the other side of the campground by the beach. Four of us headed out and it wasn’t long before we were down to three when one of our team took on a distraction mission while the rest of us continued. Having spotted the location, we were soon down to two (Colleen and myself) and we managed to secure four medkits and a quarantine center rucksack. It was at this point we realized just how committed these “zombies” were. In a bid to give Colleen a head start, I circled back and led some of the closest zombies away in the opposite direction. Coming across a small fence, I hopped over and slowed down thinking it would slow down the zombies… boy was I wrong! The first zombie to reach the fence stumbled, leaned forward and toppled over the fence to my side before shambling back up and starting to head towards me once again…
Needless to say, the journey back to HQ was stressful trying to stay quiet, avoid the zombies, and lead off those that did spot us. Eventually, we caught up with one of our other team members and the three of us made it back to HQ with the much needed med supplies.
The rest of the morning consisted of scouting out to find caches of supplies, hitting up the engageable areas in teams of two to collect needed items from inside, and following cries of help to rescue other survivors who were injured in one way or another. We were able to put our first aid, weapons, archery, zomjitsu, and field tactics training to use and were definitely thankful for the previous day’s training. It was interesting to see how quickly each survivor adapted to particular tasks and it wasn’t long before small fireteams of people who worked well together and you could trust were formed.
After a quick lunch break, the ZSC team had a spot of good news. Due to the number of survivors we’d rescued and items we’d collected in the morning, we received the location of two recoverable kits with enough supplies to create a couple of forward operating bases. Little did we know that the zombies would also be getting more aggressive as the day wore on and setting up those OPs wasn’t that easy.
One image I’m sure will take some time to shake off is that of a little 9 or 10-year-old girl zombie (one of the morning’s rescued survivors) — who was quickly dubbed “The Screamer” — who emitted a screaming zombie noise every time she spotted a survivor, attracting the attention of other nearby zombies…
After a couple more hours of scrounging for supplies and avoiding zombies, a mass of zombies came up the main road and after one final battle, the zombie invasion of the Trumbull Valley Survival Camp was contained. While there were a few casualties and survivors-turned-zombies, we made out rather well overall.
The Xbox Canada State of Decay 2 Zombie Survival Camp was the perfect tie-in to the recently released game. Sunday’s events felt like you were right in the game from setting up your HQ and other useful buildings like the quarantine center and operating bases, as well as heading out to locate caches and supplies. It was great to get away for the weekend — even though it was stressful at times — and work together with other gamers to survive the zombie apocalypse and meet Xbox influencers like Camille, Brock McLaughlin, Greenskull, and Maka.
I have to give a huge shout out to Xbox Canada for having the contest, those who participated as zombies and survivors on Sunday, as well as the entire Zombie Survival Camp crew and the folks at Wunderman for arranging the event and travel. I honestly wish that the ZSC crew had a base of operations out here in Alberta — it’s definitely a weekend everyone should experience at least once! If you’re in Ontario, you’d be remiss not to check them out.
Not only did we learn a thing or two about survival but we definitely made some new friends (and possibly met my doppelganger). It was a blast (even though my wife still gets stressed out thinking about Sunday’s events) and I can’t wait to see the video that the Xbox Canada film crew puts together from the event! Thanks again to everyone involved in making the event happen, it was definitely an experience of a lifetime.