There’s this concept in some sports and activities that 10,000 hours of practice or experience makes you an expert. By this definition I am not an expert in hiking, climbing, kayaking, or even snowboarding. But, frankly – I could be at 50,000 hours for each of those and still know I am not an expert. I will always be learning, improving, and making mistakes.
I often find that I try to portray this image of myself being this knowledgeable outdoors woman. It’s not intentional, but the fact is most people rather get their information from an expert or at least someone who exudes confidence and know how. I get it. I feel the same. But, for a moment (or at least this post), I’m going to ignore my ambitions.
Yesterday reminded just how much I am not an expert. I’m ashamed to even admit that here as it goes against the image I’d like you to all see of me. At my worst yesterday, I was short of breath, nauseous, and about ready to cry while doubled over on my hiking poles in the middle of the woods. It wasn’t a pretty sight. I’m thankful that only my husband, close friend, and dogs saw me like this.
So, let’s back track. What the heck happened?
In short, my group (3 people, 2 dogs) set out to do a popular 4000 footer. We were prepared for the weather and for most situations. What we weren’t ready for was accidentally taking the wrong trail. We had already summited the 4000 footer in great spirits and we’re excited to head back down the AMC hut to hopefully see some views now that the clouds had begin to part at lower elevations. We got a little careless, thought we read the trail sign right, and followed each other assuming that everyone else knew where we were. Soon enough, we found ourselves not really sure. For a trail that was meant to be a constant descent, it sure had a lot of ascent. Evidently we had jumped on a trail that was going to throw three more peaks our way, all of them above 3600′ with well over 2000′ in vertical gain and loss, in addition to the rest of the descent we were familiar with. And – it was just a couple of hours til the sun would set.
Somehow that knowledge, combined with dark forests making nightfall seem far too close, exhaustion, and some worry over my canine companions threw me right into one of those ugly panic modes. You know the type where you feel your heart race and then move to a sluggish beat? The one that leaves you out of breath and sick? Yeah. I was feeling that in the middle of the woods well before I was supposed to buckle down and get up the next peak. I don’t remember the last time I felt that close to hopeless.
So, instead of dwelling on a day hike gone ugly I’d like to share some insanely important mistakes I won’t make again. Let my mistakes be your lessons. If I can’t be an expert outdoors woman, let me at least tell you what not to do.
Don’t point fingers.
In my frustration and exhaustion, I was super quick to point a finger at the rest of my group, as they were in the lead. Fact is, all three of us should have taken the individual responsibility to ensure we were taking the correct path home. And pointing fingers didn’t make me feel any better, improve anyone’s morale, or make the peaks any smaller. In reality, we were never lost. My finger pointing only made my companions doubt their abilities for a moment. Not cool.
Ironically, my fortune cookie tonight with dinner told me “If you aren’t occasionally at fault, start looking for your mistakes.” It couldn’t be more right.
Understand the worst. Prepare for the likely. Expect the best.
When you set out on a day hike, you need to understand the worst case scenario could be anything from getting lost, to injury, or having to spend a night in the woods (while lost and injured?). It’s impossible to prepare for every injury, and it’s impractical to carry all the gear needed to spend a night. So, you need to prepare for what is most likely to happen. For most day hikes, this means that you may be out longer than expected. You may sustain some light injuries (cuts, bruises, blisters). You may end up taking the wrong trail and being confused. But – and this is a big “but” – constantly focusing on the worst to happen is a real happiness and confidence sucker. It’s important to stay positive and focused on reality, or else it’s all downhill from there.
Whatever you do, don’t panic.
I feel like I’ve told complete strangers this before and I’ve even written about it before. Panic is evil. It clouds your judgement, makes situations harder to control, and is probably the most dangerous thing of all.
While it’s possible to become an expert in things like knots, fire starting, and navigation, teaching yourself to not panic is so much harder. Honestly, I don’t think I will master it in this lifetime. Instead, I will focus my efforts on being able to identify why I’m panicking, seeing my way through it, and not dragging others into the slippery slope of freaking out (it’s rather contagious).
In the end…
After 10 hours (instead of the expected 7-8) of hiking, we made it back to the car all safe and sound minus some sore muscles, bruises, and scrapes (all of which we sustained earlier in the day). We were well prepared with headlamps (and spare batteries), and had brought enough food, water, and extra layers to make it through the night had it been necessary. All is well that ends well. On to the next hike!