There are two great teachers in this world: Mother Nature and human nature. I learned a great deal from both this summer and am going to condense and share a few lessons I learned while on a 47-kilometer family hike.
Tip No. 1 – if you are going on a difficult or long hike and must carry everything in a backpack, do not take anything (and I mean anything) that you will not consume or use regularly such as food, toilet paper and a sleeping bag. Excess weight has been known to fatigue experienced hikers, so the only exception to this rule is the inclusion of a small first aid kit. Therefore, it is necessary to search the backpacks of all females before leaving on a long-distance excursion. I have learned from experience that even on a four-day hike, a personal-care bag complete with lotion, creams and a small mirror are considered essential by some women.
No. 2 – if you absolutely need such items or a piece of gear that is relatively heavy, it is best to sneak it into the pack of someone else when they are not looking. The down side is the owner of the item will be forced to carry it once it is discovered. It is then that a well-fabricated story may save a relationship. Of course, if the perpetrator is not a gifted orator or cannot cry on command, avoid telling the story because it will likely be followed by a beating.
No. 3 – if your backpack is heavy, causing discomfort or simply annoying, wait until an opportune moment when no one is looking your way and fake an injury. A spontaneous ankle sprain or ruptured disc is a surefire way to get other people to carry the items in your pack. Painful sound effects or tears (even tears of joy at the thought of no longer having to carry 40 pounds) will convince fellow hikers of the severity of the injury. I recommend sustaining an internal wound since the pain it causes is difficult for others to assess as compared to obvious damage such as a puncture wound to the abdomen or a missing limb.
No. 4 – if fatigue is setting in and you want to stop, but your fellow hikers insist the group must soldier on, there is an easy solution that will satisfy all parties. Pick a couple of dark berries and mash them up in your teeth without swallowing. Then allow some juice to leak out of the corners of your mouth and onto your shirt before declaring, “I don’t feel good.” When your fellow hikers look your way, lean forward and drool on the ground – spitting is too much like Hollywood at this point, so save that tactic for use later. Then ask, “What type of berries are growing beside the trail? I hope they are not Deadly Nightshade. What colour are hemlock berries?”
No. 5 – do not attempt to use Tip No. 4 with a mushroom. No one will believe you ate raw fungus. However, I have heard that licking a large banana slug will cause a person’s tongue to temporarily go numb, so that may be worth trying.
No. 6 – regarding trail snacks, do not carry four pounds of fruit leather on a four-day hike because you will have half of it left at the end of the trail. This is especially true if it is homemade and more closely resembles leather than fruit. Note to self: fruit leather should not be tougher to chew than beef jerky.
No. 7 – there is a definitive course of action to take by anyone (but especially men) who are expected to start a campfire at the day’s end, but are challenged in this area. To avoid having your lack of survival skill exposed, begin complaining about stomach pains about half an hour before the fire is to be started. Then ask where the bathroom is. Before making a hasty departure for an outhouse or large tree, announce that you are leaving your personal roll of toilet paper for someone to use as fire starter. Return after discretely rubbing your hands in wet soil or mud – be sure to get dirt under your fingernails. As you approach the fire that was started in your absence, be sure to tell your fellow hikers about the extreme mess you left behind and how much better you now feel. Details will serve you well in this situation.
No. 8 – to avoid cooking supper after the evening fire has been started, be proactive and tell everyone that you will prepare the meal once you can find a plentiful water source in which to scrub your hands and wash your hiking boots. Trust me when I say someone will quickly volunteer to be the camp cook that evening.
No. 9 – watching whales spout for two consecutive days from a beach on Vancouver Island is a real treat, but make sure they do no have a large, black dorsal fin if you are going surfing. Another visual clue that orcas or killer whales are patrolling the area is when the number of surfboards at the water’s edge exceeds the number of surfers.
No. 10 – when hiking in a treed area that has cell phone service, do not wear a headset or earbuds while making a phone call. Critters can sneak up on an unsuspecting person at the best of time and that is especially true if a person cannot hear nearby sounds such as a curious cougar. I assume it was simply curious since I am now penning this column instead of recovering in hospital or going to my own funeral.
I could go on and on, but the best way to learn about hiking and wilderness survival skills is to experience the great outdoors. Remember to always pack light and don’t worry about bears or cougars, just be sure you are with someone you can outrun!