Getting Lost in Nature is Fine…As Long as it’s On Purpose

"waves" amongst the dunes

There are so many lovely quotes by wonderful people about losing yourself in a hike or the wilderness:

“The old school of thought would have you believe that you’d be a fool to take on nature without arming yourself with every conceivable measure of safety and comfort under the sun. But that isn’t what being in nature is all about. Rather, it’s about feeling free, unbounded, shedding the distractions and barriers of our civilization—not bringing them with us.”
― Ryel KestenbaumThe Ultralight Backpacker: The Complete Guide to Simplicity and Comfort on the Trail

“How do you distinguish between being off-route and putting up a first ascent ?” — Bruce Bindner

“The contented person enjoys the scenery of a detour.” — Unknown

“The place where you lose the trail is not necessarily the place where it ends.” — Tom Brown, Jr.

“All that glitters is not gold. All who wander are not lost.” –William Shakespeare

To some extent, I agree.  Nature is a wild, wonderful thing, and nothing delights me more than setting off and having an experience I never could have predicted, whether it’s a last-minute, new-to-me trail decision, an up-close encounter with wildlife, or accidentally veering off the beaten path and discovering new, exhilarating adventures.

However…I would be remiss if I don’t add one caveat: You need to be prepared to be spontaneous.

Recently, I had a bit of a jolt when I read online that two French tourists died hiking  in White Sands National Monument earlier this month.  The family of three set out among the dunes with only 2 20oz bottles of water (total), got lost surrounded by all the brilliant blinding sand, and, running out of water, the parents make the courageous decision to give their young son the majority of what they had, saving his life at the expense of their own.

I’ve hiked the exact same trail as that French family.  I stepped where they stepped. I saw what they saw.  Reading of their deaths disturbed me on multiple levels.

I’m all for losing yourself metaphorically and philosophically on the trail, but it never ceases to blow my mind when I see people setting out on a hike woefully under prepared.  Years ago as a novice experienced hiker, I almost got heat stroke from not carrying enough water in the mountains, and that is a mistake I have never made again.  Now, as a seasoned hiker, I know to always carry more water than I think I’ll need – that way I’m prepared for heat, humidity, elevation, and/or trails that might not match up exactly with whatever map I’ve looked at.  Plus I have the option to make last minute changes, like scrapping the originally planned hike for one with more mileage, or finishing my hike, feeling great, and deciding to tackle another trail afterwards.  Some of the most memorable hikes I’ve done have been results of spontaneity, from Balcony House at Mesa Verde National Park to the Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon to the Elkmont Historical District, and each time I had my hydration pack and backpack, which made the experience so much more easy and enjoyable.

There are more items I carry religiously with me when I hike other than a surplus of water (i.e. snacks high in protein, first aid kit, etc.), but my point is don’t be afraid to get lost, as long as you’re prepared to get lost.

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