A little discipline and mindful practice can go a long way in ensuring an optimal experience in the outdoors. Below is an informative guide toward achieving that based on my experience in the Army and a lifetime of playing soldier in the woods. I hope you enjoy.
Devote Yourself to a Mission
There are days and weekends where I want to sit on the couch, do nothing but surf the Internet, and eat bonbons…actually, that’s not something I ever really eat, but the point remains—getting outside takes a level of initiative and effort that can sometimes seem daunting. And though, because of where I live, I like to take advantage of the wilderness areas and push myself a bit, I think it’s probably within everyone’s capability to find something in their surrounding area, which will, to wax spiritual a minute, allow them to disconnect from the artificial elements of civilization and plug back into that which is truly meaningful and life-sustaining, that of course being…nature. So, whatever it may be, hunting, hiking, camping, fishing, or just practicing a relevant skill in the backyard to maintain currency for the next time you are able to get away, I’d encourage people to periodically set missions to get outside, and even more, to actually follow through.
Keep Your Gear At the Ready
An understated skill, and one that can certainly be developed through discipline, is keeping your gear at the ready. And I’m not just saying for the Zombie apocalypse. Yes, prepping bug out bags and planning for survival are worthwhile, but more generally, I think it’s important to have your gear located and inventoried in such a way that if your buddy calls you out of nowhere for a backcountry trip or you recognize midweek there’s an opportunity for you and/or your family to head out over the weekend, you’re not exhausting your mental energy searching high and low for the things you’ll need. That’s why I like to keep my gear all together in one room. I have the sleeping bags on hangers, backpacks on wall mounted hooks, meals ready to go in bags, and my other gear primarily stored between two boxes. In one box are my in season, primary items that I will almost certainly need or have a high probability of using; in the second are out-of-season, secondary items. That way, when it’s time to head out, all I need to do is throw the first box in my truck or ritualistically pack what I‘ll use into my backpack, along with the sleeping bag and meals, and just like that, I’m ready to go.
Maintain Physical Fitness
Just as important, if not more important, than keeping your gear in order to reach an objective, I’d argue, is maintaining a level fitness that allows you to overcome any obstacle you might encounter to actually accomplish your mission after you arrive. After all, that should be what we are setting out to do. Right? Now, I understand, it’s not necessary to always be G.I. Joe’ing it in some extreme way, but on a more basic level, I think you’ll find that the best fishing areas, hunting opportunities, mountain top views, and peace in solitude are found if you are willing to put in a little extra effort, which begins at home or in the gym. For myself, I like to focus on practical exercises that really take nothing more than a kettlebell, a couple dumbbells, a backpack filled with rocks, running shoes, and my own body weight. Using these tortuous devices, you can really condition yourself for about anything, and with a high enough number of reps, you can also develop that deep, dense muscle striation that’ll make you tough like squirrel.
Create Contingency Plans
Pre-trip, if I’m to allocate extra time anywhere, it’s in creating contingency plans. Never mind planning where I’m headed and informing another party of my location and the duration I’ll be gone. That process should be second nature for anyone! In creating contingencies, rather, I’m taking an extra step and really studying my map and considering the shortest paths to a road if any emergency arises, alternative water points if a creek happens to be dried up, other routes to take if creek I want to cross is swollen, secondary camps if the first is not occupiable, mountains I might be able to climb if I need cell phone service, and well…you get the idea. Though, I agree it’s wise to always have a partner with you when you step into the backcountry, I’d be lying if I said often do, and these extra precautions can go a long way in putting my mind at ease, knowing I’ve taken every precaution I could. What happens beyond that, I leave up to the will of the world.
Survey your Surroundings
Alright, so I’ve finally made it out in the bush, rubbed a little pine sap into my skin, and let my inner Sasquatch out of the cage. Now it’s time to start surveying the surroundings. This takes a conscious effort. Every so often along the trail, I make sure to stop, look, listen, and smell. During this time, I’m gathering information on weather conditions, signs of animals, and any curiosities in the area. Additionally, I might try to identify future camp spots, hunting or fishing grounds, as well as plants and animals. One thing I like to carry is a laminated pocket guide that contains the regional species, so I can identify the ones I see from the trail. Finally, these periodic breaks are a good time to break out the map, adjust it to the terrain, and familiarize myself with the local mountain and creek names.
What is grit? According to an internet meme, whose source I can’t identify but otherwise nails the definition on the head, grit is bravery, pluck, mettle, backbone, spirit, strength of character, strength of will, moral fiber, steel, nerve, fortitude, toughness, hardiness, resolve, resolution, determination, tenacity, perseverance, endurance. Moreover, grit is the ability to resist griping if the temperature dips below 50, or if bugs are in the air, or if the climb is tough and the brush is thick. Grit is a very desirable quality to say the least, and from my perspective, the best place to cultivate it, along with anything else, is in the outdoors. So get out there!
If you’d like to read more about my military experience, I encourage you to check out my book titled, My War: In Truth, In Fiction, linked here....www.westofthemissouri.com/shop.html