There are no egos in the woods. Well that’s not entirely true, but when they do appear they get checked pretty quickly. They usually aren’t checked by another person or authority figure but instead by the experience itself. When the rain is coming down, the temperature is dropping and bellies are grumbling, our true character is revealed. We can talk all day and night about having this skill or having accomplished that task but for those who feel content to rest on their laurels, the question remains: “What are you doing now?”
We’ve all encountered “the expert” or the “know it all” in our daily lives. Well meaning folk who are constantly sharing other people’s insight but have no experience of their own. These people are usually annoying to be around and in a survival situation can be downright dangerous. Just like in the game of baseball where each pitch is an opportunity for the player to succeed or fail and contribute to their teams win or loss, in the woods each moment is a chance to improve upon our skill-set while helping others achieve their goals. If we already know everything how can we possibly improve ourselves and our situation?
Survival and wilderness living, like baseball, are not designed for the individual. Yes, short term survival scenarios or solo camping trips are different and can be rich and rewarding experiences, but I find they only make me appreciate being part of a group that much more. Although we all have our individual part to play, the phrase “it takes a village” has been around for a long time, and for good reason. Cooperation and teamwork make a hard situation that much easier. Indeed, our primitive ancestors and First Nations people considered exile from the community a form of punishment and was usually a death sentence.
If you don’t believe this to be true, then go into the woods by yourself and see how long you last. Chop all the wood, carry all the water, procure all the food, make the entire shelter and do all the things you need in order to be warm, comfortable and healthy. Do this by yourself and see how it goes. Safer options would be to watch Les Stroud’s documentary “Snowshoes and Solitude”, Ed Wardle’s “Alone In the Wild”, or the new survival show coming out on the History channel this summer called “Alone”. I know of and respect a few of the cast members on the show and it will be interesting to see how long these folks survive, alone.
But again this would not give you your own experience and its your own experience that makes you who you are. There are the skills you think you have, then there are the skills you really have. The skills you really have are the skills you have actually used in the woods, outside of practice, tests and survival scenarios. Practice and survival courses are excellent ways to prepare and make ourselves more self reliant and I highly recommend anyone getting into survival, camping, bushcraft, etc to attend as many courses as possible and practice often. After this there is another step to take. Get out of your comfort zone, immerse yourself in the outdoors and actually live the skills.
Please don’t be reckless and don’t put yourself in a bad or dangerous situation. Try an overnight trip first, then two nights, then three and build your skills up like a body builder would build muscle mass. Just like a body builder isn’t going to start lifting hundreds of pounds during their first workout session it’s not plausible to think you’ll be able to survive for a month in the wilderness without ever having camped out for a night.
The wisest woodsmen I’ve encountered never stop learning and are aware of their own weaknesses and the skills they need to focus on. Even though we may call ourselves instructors and actively teach others, we are constantly seeking knowledge from our peers and mentors. A woodsman is a “Jack of all trades” so to speak, so naturally there will be gaps in our skills and ALWAYS room for improvement.
So it’s about time for me to get off this soapbox and get back to my own never ending training. If you are someone who wants to camp in the woods for an extended period of time find a friend and mentor to help you meet this goal. Do your homework, build that skill-set and honestly ask yourself, “what am I doing now?”. What you’re doing now directly influences what you will do next. Your whole future depends entirely on what you are doing just now. To get to the top of the mountain you must start at the bottom and when you get to the top don’t forget to come back down again.