Winter has subsided and ushered-in a new season of outdoor adventures to be undertaken. One of my favorite outdoor pursuits is hiking, and more recently, backpacking/backcountry camping. There is nothing quite like journeying out into the forest for several days with a map and everything you need strapped to your back. Just last week, I set out on my first backpacking trip of the season with my lovely girlfriend. The solitude of the wilderness and the simplicity of hiking all day can evoke some unique thoughts. I began drawing parallels between modern life and outdoor adventuring that seemed share-worthy. These things may be self-evident, but many individuals do not regularly partake in outdoor pursuits, so I hope that some of my thoughts can provide some insight into everyday living and spark some inspiration to get out into the wild yourself. The list begins:
1. Plan To Work and Work Your Plan
The fundamental activity before engaging in any outdoor activity is proper planning. Even for a lonely stroll in the woods, you need to consider things like:
- How far will I be going/how long will I be gone?
- Are my shoes adequate for the terrain?
- Will I need to bring water?
- Do I have the necessary clothing layers for my environment?
These are simple considerations for something like a day hike, but when embarking on longer journeys, especially with others, one must consider things like food quantities, fire-making materials, and adequate water supply. And that is just the tip of the planning iceberg. The hiking distance and trails must be decided, then assessing the environment and camping conditions. Planning becomes the difference between a successful journey and an outdoor disaster.
As much as we like to think of life as an organic, free-flowing series of events that we guide and experience, there is always a plan at work on some level. Whether you have short or long term goals, you are working toward something in your life and that is your plan. Without a plan, we tend to get drawn into others’ plans; there are plans abound in our lives. And yet, we tend to neglect planning sessions like those undertaken before a 3-day hiking adventure. I think that simple daily planning routines can help maximize each day of our lives. How focused on your goals would you be if you planned your day around achieving them?
2. Consider All Scenarios and Plan Again
The thrill of outdoor adventuring is that, despite our best efforts to plan for every event, there will be circumstances that cause us to abandon our plans and react to the situation. Some people are good at situational awareness and reacting quickly to their surroundings. However, we can all become better at this by including contingency planning in our planning process. Contingency planning is the art of brainstorming potential problems or holes in the main plan and developing multiple solutions in the event that those problems present themselves. Essentially, we create backup plans and then make backup plans to the backup plans. One can really never over-plan, especially when it comes to safety and well-being.
Now this is easy to visualize in an outdoor context: we will hike for 6 miles the first day, unless it rains, then we will have to scale back to 4 and make camp at another location; we will bring dry pasta to boil, but if we cannot get a fire started, we will bring crackers and spread to eat. Though often unpredictable, outdoor contingencies are easier to consider than life contingencies for the simple fact that with outdoor activities you have a focused context for planning (the activity, the area, the length of time, etc). In life-planning, there are far more facets to consider, all with their own set of contingencies. Trying to wrap your mind around all the possibilities that even a single day in normal life can bring and their contingencies is daunting and can be overwhelming, let alone several months or years in our life. A simple tool for working through these kinds of life plans is to use a decision matrix, or flow chart. A different flow chart can be compiled for each facet of your life. Some examples of separate life facet flow charts include:
- Personal Health and Maintenance
- Fitness and Nutrition
- Friends and Family
- Hobbies/Special Interests
These examples are broad categories which you can create plans within and stem contingencies from each plan. Even if you are not necessarily writing these plans and contingencies out, it is still a good exercise to internally verbalize and think about things before you are suddenly impacted by them.
Some simple life examples:
- “If I were seriously injured, how would I proceed with my job? “
- “If I cannot go on vacation with my family this year, what will we do?”
- “If my spouse and I get pregnant, what are the changes we will make in our lives?”
Small business examples:
- “If we do not make our sales goals this quarter, what will we adjust to move forward?”
- “If we grow our team, how will our organization change?”
- “If our customers are not satisfied, what steps will we take to ensure their happiness?”
The number of flow charts and scenarios is almost endless and each decision flow will be shaped by the unique elements within your life. Try to think of possible outcomes to each major part of your life and what actions will result if those outcomes prove true, then revisit your maps every time you need a bit of guidance.
3. The Company You Keep Makes the Experience
Have you ever heard it said that “you’re only as good as the company you keep?” I think this proverb applies both to outdoor adventures and to your everyday life.
I have been fortunate enough to share my outdoor experiences with close friends and my significant other, who all understand me and we all reciprocate that understanding. We have shared expectations and communicate well to ensure each others’ needs are all being met.
“Always seek out others that bring out the best in you and consciously try to do the same for them”
However, sometimes you venture out on a hike with one or two people that can make the trip an absolute misery. Perhaps a friend cannot keep up and chooses to complain rather than ask to adjust the pace. Or perhaps you are with a person that that has to eat or drink too often, holding up the group. No matter the group or activity, there will always be ways to make it unpleasant and there will be people that, by nature, make everything less than pleasant.
This is more of a lesson that I learned through life and carried into my outdoor adventures, but I think it still deserves to be said. If your crowd of friends and close acquaintances are constructive and good people, there is a high likelihood that those qualities will be reflected in your life. So always seek out others that bring out the best in you and consciously try to do the same for them.
4. Change Happens. Deal With It.
So we made a solid plan, several contingency plans, and are all ready to embark on a multi-day journey. A day into the journey, a drastic change occurs that we did not plan to handle; the way we deal with unplanned changes really defines the moment and our character. When in the wilderness, changes can happen that force us to simply deal with the situation. This can be as simple as a cold rain starting just as you are making camp or as complex as being 2 miles off the marked trail with the sun going down quickly and low water supply.
A personal example of this:
My girlfriend and I began our 3-day hike at a solid pace, with high spirits and energy for the weekend we had planned. After stopping for a nice lunch and continuing onward, I suddenly realized something was wrong — I was the keeper of our food provisions for the hike, and it occurred to me that I had forgotten a third of our supplies in the refrigerator before leaving. Upon realizing what I had done, I started laughing and revealed the mistake to my girlfriend.
“Why is that funny?” she asked me, confused and seemingly upset at the revelation.
“Because there is nothing we can do about it now,” was my response. This was not a dire situation. We had enough provisions to last for 3 to 4 days without our refrigerated goods, though, it did make things a bit less pleasant without the delicious cheeses we had bought for the trip.
I thought a bit of lightheartedness would be a better handling of the situation than getting upset or down on myself for the mistake. As a result, we did not dwell on it and continued to have a great weekend, despite the error.
I think this is just a lesson on resiliency. There are far more extreme examples of unexpected change that occur in peoples’ lives everyday, but the resilient are able to assess the true meaning of an unexpected change and roll with the punch, rather than eat the punch in the teeth. The key to resiliency is assessing outcomes; ask yourself, “what is the best thing and the worst thing that will result from this scenario?” Often, this question reveals how to proceed in the moment. The worst thing one can do is let emotions take hold after an unexpected change and drive action by gut-reactions. Take a breath, acknowledge the change, and evaluate the next step.
5. Leave No Trace
One of the most widely adopted outdoor pursuits methodologies is the philosophy of Leave No Trace. Developed in the mid-20th century to change attitudes about the outdoors and promote environmental preservation, the Leave No Trace philosophy stresses treating the wilderness in such a way to create the least possible impact; essentially, one should never be detectable after leaving a camp site or outdoor area. There are many ways to put this into practice, but I think it has broader implications than simply leaving an area the same as you found it.
“Leave things better or the same as you found them” – My Personal Mantra
In everyday life, I try to embrace the Leave No Trace philosophy with my own spin on the practice. My personal mantra, adopted from my good friend Kevin Smith, is to “leave things better or the same as you found them.” This can be applied to everything from a room in your own home, the community in which you live, the places you visit for business or pleasure, and the world at large.
This mantra works especially well for those in close-knit communities or in a shared living scenario. A shared house does not necessarily mean a messy house, so long as all the residents abide by the mantra.
I put my mantra into practice by improving my community and empowering those around me. My small business tries to invest in the local community and undertake projects that, though sometimes do not pay well, create a lasting impact on people and organizations in our area. Practicing my mantra can look different for each individual, but the big picture is to never make a negative impact in whatever you choose to do.
There are likely many other parallels to everyday life and experiencing the outdoors. I have simply listed the ones that resonated with me the most. Feel free to post your own thoughts and experiences in the discussion section below.