October 9, 2009

Health & Sports

Getting in Touch with the Wilderness

wilderness

Image from martigras

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Adam Cook. Mr. Cook is a passionate alpinist, mountaineer and all-around outdoorsman.

Content to be wrapped up in our blanket of technology and seemingly powerless against the  pull of our cozy man chair, it’s easy to forget there are tons and tons of opportunities to get outside and into the wilderness. People are always wishing for a trip to some major foreign city to see the scenery and take in something different but often fail to realize just how awesome and unique their own countryside can be.  By taking up an interest outdoors, you can turn nearly every weekend into a short vacation and save a lot of money in the process.

Being outdoors puts you in direct contact with this magnificent planet of ours.  City wilderness often consists of artificially placed miniature trees, a few squirrels, and a pigeon.  Any other wildlife you see will likely scurry away the moment it notices you.  In the deep wild though, most animals have barely had any human contact and will not hesitate to walk straight up to you.  It’s really an experience to see two big-horn sheep fight within 15 feet of you and not care that you’re sticking around.

As both a blessing and a curse, being outdoors will put you in touch with your own mortality.  Being in a controlled environment for the majority of one’s life will lead to feelings of immortality or at least an inflated feeling of strength and worth.  Having your tent ransacked by a grizzly at 3am or getting caught in a mountain squall can put you right back in your place and teach you a lot in the process.  In fact, the reason most alpinists climb is just to revel in that feeling of exposure to danger.  It lets you know you’re human.

With a little know how and a few supplies, you can start becoming an outdoorsman yourself. Here are 5 points to keep in mind as you make plans to get in touch with the wilderness.

1. Choose a hobby that puts you outdoors

This sounds obvious, but a lot of guys’ hobbies are what keep them locked up inside.  An outdoor hobby can be very cheap, but it can also turn into a serious investment (see: alpine climbing).  If you’re on a budget, choose outdoor activities like backpacking and general mountaineering that don’t require an abundance of expensive equipment. These pursuits give you a chance for adventure and travel without costing an arm and an leg. With a pack, clothes, tent, and a dehydrator, you can hike the entire Grand Canyon for the cost of gas and the time it takes to dehydrate a few foods from your own house.  This equates to around 120 dollars for an entire week (if you live in Ohio like me).  If you have a quick bivy shelter, you can take an airliner to the beaches of Thailand on a moment’s notice with nothing more than a few extra bucks and a backpack.

2.  Find at least one person to share your experiences with

While solo hunting, fishing, packing, and biking may be fun, it’s often the other person that will keep you at it.  It’s easy to say you don’t feel like waking up at 4am to set up your deer stand, but if you have a friend tagging along, that’s usually all the motivation you need.  It also gives you something to talk about and really furthers a relationship, be it with a best friend or significant other.

3.  Realize your mortality

I realize I mentioned this earlier, but it needs to be said again before you take off into the wilderness.  There are plenty of things out there to teach this lesson to you, but it’s best you realize it yourself right now and prepare beforehand.  Knowledge is your friend here.  Know that a 50 dollar Wal-Mart tent can’t withstand the 80 mph winds of a mountain squall, and know that a grizzly can break through a car door to get to a Snickers.  In fact, there are two rules to being outdoors.  1) Put yourself in a position to be lucky, and 2) Don’t put yourself in a position to rely on luck.  Here’s a scenario: getting up before dawn to start a hike on a cloudy day puts you in a position for the weather to clear and the day to be nice.  If you only have 2 days and you decide that first day to stay in the tent and wait, you’ve put yourself in a position to rely on luck for the second days’ weather.

4. Get supplies and know where to get them for cheap

Every outdoorsman needs a few basic supplies.  This includes rain gear and/or bivy gear (this can be as simple as a large trash bag), a small first aid kit, a compact mountaineering stove with a few dehydrated meals, a compass, a headlamp, and a water purification device. It’s easy to fit all this into a backpack, and even on a challenging day hike it puts you in the position to be lucky if something should turn for the worse.

There are several sites I recommend when looking for outdoor gear at a bargain price. The Sierra Trading Post sells gear and clothing for 30%-70% off and often has very good deals on name brand stuff. But my favorite site is Steep and Cheap. They offer just one greatly discounted item at a time and sell it until it’s gone. Obviously with that kind of set up, you have to act fast to snatch up the stuff you want. But they offer a variety of alerts you can sign up for that will keep you abreast of what item is currently being sold.

5. Respect the wilderness

This should go without saying, but too many people thoughtlessly dump trash outside.  Just the other day when bouldering in the local park, I found a white trash bag that had to be 10 minutes from the beaten path.  I don’t know how it got there, but I grabbed it and packed it out myself.  Respecting the wilderness means allowing it to have the same spirit-reviving effect on others as it has on you. When you leave behind your trash or in any other way mar the wilderness, you create an eyesore that will pull others out of the meditative experience they’re having  and back into the ordinary, material world they were trying to escape. You’re gazing at a scene of mighty redwoods and feeling a stirring in your soul, and then-bam!-there’s a McDonald’s bag and the trance is broken. If you say you ‘need’ to leave something behind, it’s understandable, but only once in my life did leaving trash and food behind actually aid me in survival, and I still feel bad about it to this day.

So go out and gear up.  Fall is in full swing and there’s no better time to get outside!


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