I walked into my local outdoor goods store this past week and simultaneously entered the panic room in my head, one that I haven’t found a way out of just yet. I’m the sort of person with a strange need to feel prepared for any and all possible situations. I was leaving for Patagonia in three days and suddenly felt terribly unprepared. I found myself hysterically scanning each packaged good wondering A) what the heck it was and B) if I needed it. I didn’t know what it did, but I probably needed it to stay alive, right? Do I need that? It looks important. What the heck is that thingy? Do I need it? Why would they sell it at an outdoors store if you didn’t really need it outdoors? I must need it.
I’ll admit, though I fiercely identify with nature, can spend hours wandering a forest, mesmerized by a lake, frolicking in snow or hiking around a mountain, and would rather be outside than in, I did not come pre-equipped with survival skills. I’m not a hunter. I can’t whittle wood. I don’t know how to start a fire with a stone and a stick. I don’t even know if that’s how one would go about starting a fire. I’m no Katniss Everdeen. If I ended up in the Hunger Games, the outcome would not be good.
My first experience with the real outdoors was in 8th grade. My dad, an avid outdoorsman who can probably start a fire just by staring at the ground hard enough, invited my older sister and me to join him on one of his annual treks up to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. I even got to miss a day of school. The only problem was it was the last day of school, you know, where students throw papers in the air, discuss summer dreams, scribble clichés into each other’s yearbooks, capture time with photographs; all stuff of terrible importance to an 8th grader.
I spent the eight-hour drive playing the role of the typical teenager, brooding in the backseat all the way up to Ely, Minnesota, thinking about everything happening behind me, not focusing on the adventure in front of me. We hadn’t even put our canoe into the water, or technically even reached the first portage (I could still see our truck) when my left foot sank deep into a muddy puddle. My knee-high rubber boot noisily sucked in water, mocking me. The pack I carried doubled in weight. I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t budge. Nature was clearly trying to eat me. I called out to my dad.
He looked back and just started laughing, “What are you doing in that puddle? Ain’t gonna get any drier standing in it.” Then he turned around, still chuckling, and kept walking. I watched the hoisted canoe bob away, it’s legs expertly avoiding the three-foot holes disguised as puddles.
Turns out, with a little effort, I could budge.
And now I am headed to a fairly remote part of the world, with a pack full of camping equipment and outdoorsy stuff I mostly know how to use, my friend Michelle, neither of us who can start a fire by staring at the ground hard enough, and a lot of hope. I keep telling myself we’ll be fine. We have a car. We’ll fill an extra gas can since you pretty much must stop for gas at every station you see, which tells me there is not a ton of room for navigational mistakes, something I happen to excel at. We’ll have maps. We’ll experience this beautiful part of the world. We can do this. Right? Right??
Plus my dad gave me GPS tracking unit with an SOS option before I left. He probably thought back to my puddle moment and rightfully questioned my ability to survive in the wilderness.
I hope I don’t need to test my survival skills or that SOS button. But if I do? I heard somewhere that the true adventure begins the moment everything goes wrong.