Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Five Rules

Being a competent outdoorsman doesn’t come naturally for most of us. That shouldn’t be a big surprise, because we live indoors, get our water out of a faucet, eat refrigerated food that’s cooked on something other than a wood fire, and sleep dry in a comfy bed under a roof. We don’t grow up hunting everything we eat, shaking our boots out before putting them on, building shelter from natural materials before bedding down in a blanket roll, and bathing in a cold creek while using a bit of sphagnum moss or equisetum for a scrub brush. That’s because most of us live in civilization.

That being the case, it takes some effort to become competent in the outdoors. To be good at living in a camp setting, we have to break the chains of civilization…at least a little bit. Doesn’t mean we have to live in the dirt, sleep with a pinecone stuck in our back, eat semi-raw burned food, offer ourself up to predatory insects, or be miserable in a hundred unmentionable ways. Nope! All it really means is that we need to learn some new rules of life in order to keep ourself safe and happy.

Here are five suggestions to get started:

  • The first order of business is to know where you are in relation to where you want to be. It’s called not getting lost. 
A butcher friend once told me, when I was foolish enough to ask him if he ever cut himself, “Heck yeah! I’m a butcher, ain’t I?” I took that as a yes. And the same goes for outdoorsmen — if you explore the great outdoors long enough, it’s only a matter of time until you look around and wonder just where you might be. That’s what we call being lost. It comes from failing to pay strict attention to everything around you…especially the trail behind you.

To keep from getting lost, periodically turn around and study your backtrail. It looks totally different going back on the same trail, so memorize the landmarks — the rock with lichens growing on it, the tree with a goofy forked limb, everything.

I got lost once in a deep forest in Louisiana. Being from the West, I grew up looking at mountainous scenery, using peaks and cliffs and canyons as landmarks while I hiked. Well, Louisiana has none of that stuff, and sure enough, I got misplaced (just another way of saying the L word). It’s a spooky feeling, and I don’t recommend it. So pay attention. Turn around often and memorize the backtrail. If there’s nothing memorable to look at, tie a bit of surveyors tape to a twig so it will stand out when you look back upon it. When you hike back out, take the bits of tape with you, so as not to litter the trail.

  • Be prepared to stay longer than originally planned. You never know what’s going to happen, so if you’re out for a day hike, be prepared to stay overnight, or maybe even two. That means some kind of shelter, some food, water and the ability to make fire and signal for help. All of that stuff can go in a couple of pockets, if you choose your equipment well. 
We’re talking the basics here. For shelter, I carry two items — an inexpensive pocket poncho and an emergency blanket by Adventure Medical Kits (www.adventuremedicalkits.com). For food, I carry a few granola bars and some jerky. For purifying water, I carry a Frontier Filter straw by AquaMira (www.aquamira.com). To start fires, I carry a Bic and also a Swedish FireSteel (www.lightmyfire.com) plus a few cotton balls treated with petroleum jelly and stowed in a zip baggie. And to signal for help, I carry a signal mirror and a signal whistle.

  • Experienced outdoorsmen make camp early in the afternoon, several hours before sunset, giving themselves ample time to get the shelter up, a fire started, and a good supply of firewood to last through the evening, with some left over to start the fire the next morning. 
  • Be prepared to solve emergency medical problems. Even the most cautious life in camp sometimes involves getting a splinter, minor burns, cuts and scrapes. Have a good first aid kit. Expand your knowledge by taking a first aid course. Become competent and comfortable managing factures and sprains, hypothermia, heat-related injuries, CPR, blood loss, shock, drowning, snakebite, and major burns. 
  • Finally, the mark of a true outdoorsman is wilderness etiquette — Don’t take noisy entertainment gadgets with you when you go camping. There’s a reason people like to go into the great outdoors for short periods of time — it’s called getting away from it all. What’s the sense of getting away from it all if you take it all with you? 
While boat camping at Lake Powell one summer, we found a quiet cove with an isolated beach, dropped anchor, kicked back and enjoyed the crimson canyon walls and crystal blue water. A hawk soared overhead. It’s the kind of place that causes you to whisper so as not to disturb the silence.

Then they came — a houseboat with a family full of kids. They anchored a hundred feet away, fired up the generator, cranked up the megawatt stereo system, and proceeded to destroy the serenity. I found myself shaking my head in disbelief. We quietly packed up our camp and moved to another canyon.

Real outdoorsmen love the sound of a breeze whispering through the trees, and the chuckle of a stream racing over a bed of rocks. They are polite enough to allow others the same opportunity to enjoy the peace nature has to offer. So my recommendation is that if you absolutely can’t live without noise, at least spare others the annoyance by wearing ear buds or headphones.

So, there you have five fundamentals that can help you become a more outdoorsman-like person.

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