Most people wouldn’t call me “outdoorsy.” I am what many might refer to as a “city slicker.” When I was a boy, my father and I would go camping a few times a year, but that was about the extent of my exposure to the natural world, and I haven’t been in many years.
Despite this, three things are true about me:
- Despite not being woodsy, I’m handy and competent. (These are traits that I didn’t so much come by naturally, as much as my father hammered them into me as being essential.) So I didn’t think I’d be useless if dropped in the woods, just inexperienced.
- I actually really enjoy nature on the off chance I get to experience it. I think very fondly of those boyhood camping trips.
- I like doing things I don’t normally do.
So this weekend I drove into the William Penn State Forest, abandoned my car, and hiked out into the woods far away from any formal camping areas and got myself lost, to see what would happen.
I brought one backpack of limited and untested gear that I had actually put together a few years ago as a sort of emergency bag. That was about a third of my motivation, in fact: I had made an emergency bag but realized I had no idea if it would be worth anything in an actual emergency, and I wanted to test stuff. But the rest of the motivation was just because I hadn’t done anything like this before. As Captain Kirk said: “Because it’s there.“
I had a great time. I got well and truly lost on purpose, but kept track of my orientation and landmarks and such. I hiked for about 4 hours before I made a camp, and then was so exhausted from it that I slept in the early evening. I woke up at about midnight when it started to really pour, and since I didn’t think I’d get back to sleep anyway (turns out even this experience was no match for my persistent insomnia), I decided it was a good opportunity to see if I could find my way back off the mountain in the middle of the night, in the rain.
(Hey, I said I was handy and competent, not smart.)
So, in the woods in a state forest, in the middle of the night, in a rainstorm, it’s dark. But I had a compass and a flashlight, and a truly remarkable walking stick I’d found, so I was sure I’d be fine. Slick rocks on a mountainside, climbing over fallen trees, cutting through thorns; I’ll be fine.
Turns out I was right. It was actually really exhilarating to have no visual cues to my journey, using only orienteering skills I was mostly making up as I went along, hacking my way through dense forest. When I did spot a big landmark that I had previously noted as being unique enough to recognize later, a looming shadow black even against the prevailing darkness, it was a great thrill. I was able to navigate back to where I’d left my car in a shorter time than my initial foray, since I was moving with more purpose and not exploring. I left my walking stick propped against a tree; I hope someone else finds it as useful as I did – it’s not an exaggeration to say that it saved me from more than one fall down a mountain.
Have faith in yourself. You can do anything.
And look! I made a very decent camp: