If you understand the concept already then you know why it is so important not just for back country adventures, but in all aspects of life. If not, then let me bend your ear (eyes?) for a few minutes and see if I can’t help you become a bit more aware of your own level of awareness. This concept is perhaps the most important thing when adventuring off the beaten path as far as I’m concerned. Everything else we do is predicated on awareness from the planning stage to the arrival back home safe and sound.
Only by being conscious of where we stand in the context of what is around us can we make the best choices along what ever path we take. That works on a cosmic level if you enjoy a little navel gazing heh, but has concrete application in the real world pretty much all of the time. I applied the concept often in my work and find it extremely useful today whether I’m trying to anticipate my tot’s next move or I am soloing in the deep woods. When we head out on the trail each step takes us farther from the safety nets of “civilization.” A miscalculation can mean a lot worse than a trip to the ER if you screw up days deep into the back country, especially if you are alone. Being careful starts with being aware. Getting into trouble usually starts with a lack of awareness and can quickly snowball out of control.
Awareness scales up to a macro level such as knowing long range weather forecasts before heading out on a short trip or what is on the other side of that mountain you aren’t planning on going over. It also scales down to a micro level such as looking where your foot will land on your next step. If we move through the world consciously we’re constantly collecting a myriad of data points; the color of the sky, the feel of the breeze, the sound of water flowing. Only by being aware of these things can we expect to notice when they change. A sudden weather change or a flash flood need not be a total surprise if you’ve been paying attention. If we are just blindly trampling through the woods then we’ve given up our chance to have control of our fate and have to rely on dumb luck.
Some people like to listen to music while they hike. Most such people will use headphones though last Fall I ran into a late season thru hiker headed towards the 100 Mile blaring thrash metal from speakers hanging out of his pack. As was his likely intention I gave him a wide berth, but it struck me how much of a distraction all that noise would be. I enjoy good thrash metal just as much as the next guy, but on the trail I want my senses to be uncluttered. With music in your ears you are deaf to the sound of nature all around you. I will admit to a penchant for belting out a little Danny Boy or maybe an old Springsteen song when I haven’t seen another human for a few days and think its safe heh.
This post is foundation work for many other posts to come. As I said I really do consider being aware of where you are, what you are doing and what the impact of your actions will be to the most important skill you can develop if you are interested in getting out there into the wilds. It will come up again and again I am sure.
While situational awareness is vital to so many of the technical considerations of our adventures I think it is also vital to our enjoyment as well. For me at least the amazing places I find myself are the reward for the efforts I put into getting there and I darn well want to absorb them as fully and as purely as I can. Being in those moments is only as fulfilling as we allow it to be. Keeping the experiences focused and uncluttered can only improve our adventures. If we’re doing it right the situations we experience can not only be safe, but also precious time well spent on the path less traveled by.
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