Lions, black mambas and dangerous thorns are not things you’re apt to encounter on your average walk in the woods.
But one local woman navigated those elements, and so much more, in the depths of South Africa’s Selati River Basin, a region devastated by drought and teeming with predators, for 40 days and 40 nights.
Or did she?
Kaila Cumings can’t say, for now.
But the fate of her second journey on “Naked & Afraid” can be gleaned on Sunday, May 6, when her episode of the popular TV reality shows is scheduled to air, at 10 p.m. on the Discovery Channel.
Cumings, of Troy, a self-employed knife-maker, made her debut on the show — a 21-day immersion in a Colombian jungle with one male partner — about a year ago.
This time, she went bigger — and longer — on “Naked & Afraid XL,” which consisted of 12 people in four groups of three. Not for 21 days, but for 40. Over the days, the groupings merge and reform, she told The Sentinel this week.
Cumings and two female partners were allowed two survival items each. Cumings chose a bow and arrow that she uses for hunting and a knife she made herself.
“It’s a whole different ball game,” she said, referring to the difference from the first experience. “It’s a whole different mindset, too. You’re out there for so much longer, so you have to make sure you secure your food, your water, all of that right away.”
However, those necessities for survival aren’t always guaranteed.
Compared to Cumings’ first 21-day run, she said she got to do a lot of hunting this time, something she said she’s always loved to do.
“I got to kill some snakes and eat some snakes on my 21-day (competition), but this one, I got to do primitive, persistent hunting, and it was honestly the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Although she can’t share exactly what she ate, she shared just one thing: “We ate protein when we were out there; we can say that.”
Shelter, another vital survival element, wasn’t always guaranteed either.
Nothing was, she said.
Over the 40 days, Cumings lived in and out of various “bomas,” which, she said, are essentially enclosures made of thorns, the craziest obstacle she encountered.
“The thorns out there are ridiculous, and there are so many different types of thorns, too,” she said. “Trying to make a shelter out of thorns when you’re naked and barefoot is really difficult.”
And getting a solid structure down was a learning process.
The first time, her group’s boma, which was a couple feet tall, wasn’t quite big enough. She and her partners were being stalked by lions, and they later found out the lions could jump over the structure.
“So,” she said, “our first boma was kind of crappy, and then we learned from that. And then the second one we made was a lot bigger. We learned from each boma that we built.”
After rebuilding their boma multiple times, the lions, and other creatures, still didn’t go away. Being stalked by lions and surrounded by black mambas — the world’s most venomous snake — made the experience “surreal,” she said.
Cumings, a single mom, has an 11-year-old daughter; she said she wanted, above all, to make it back home to her.
“I remember we would get up in the morning, and us girls would see these huge lion tracks right outside of our camp. ... This is insane. Africa is definitely no joke.”
The weather was also “no joke,” as Cumings would say.
While she said she anticipated experiencing the end of Africa’s dry season and the beginning of its wet season, the weather was “up and down.” One minute could be a crazy thunderstorm, and the next, she said, might serve up 100-plus-degree temperatures.
Cumings described a commercial being aired in which the viewer can see she and one of her partners huddled beneath a tree with their bags over their heads. “We definitely had some crazy weather out there.”
All in all, she said, being away from her daughter was the biggest challenge. Second was being around varying personalities that sometimes clashed. “I went off on a lot of solo adventures; I’ll just say that.”
But through all the challenges, she said these kinds of experiences are what she lives for.
A Monadnock Regional High School graduate, Cumings sold her gun collection to start her knife-making business, which she markets on social media and features on a YouTube channel. She also makes tomahawks, hatchets and multi-tools, like bottle openers, she said.
Cumings is 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs 120 pounds. The youngest of seven children, she experienced the outdoors from about the time she was old enough to walk, she said, eventually learning to hunt and fish with her father, Doug, and learning how to live off the land.
“I can’t even explain the feeling of being out there, being away from society. You don’t have your cellphone, you just feel so free and relaxed. And honestly, I would go back again and again and again if I could,” she said. “I honestly felt better when I was out there than I ever have in my entire life here.”
In her 21-day excursion, Cumings lost 15 pounds. You’ll have to tune in to see what toll an extra 19 days might have taken on her physically.
The easy part is being naked; it doesn’t faze her in the slightest.
“I actually love being naked; I know it sounds stupid, but I hate wearing clothes. I don’t have to worry about what I’m going to wear that day or anything.”