I pulled into the campsite completely stoked. We’d scored a fabulous site on a busy holiday weekend. It was my first camping trip with George in years. In fact, it was our first-ever camping trip with just the two of us. It was also my first car-camping trip since moving to Nevada. My camping systems were in complete disarray from the move but I trusted my years of experience to carry me through. After several days of urban exploring in Portland on the first leg of this trip, I was beyond ready for some outdoor therapy.
So I hopped out of the car and chucked the monster-sized family camping tent out onto the ground. I began throwing it together from pure muscle memory. It was just like riding a bike. I was ecstatic to be camping with George again.
He was busy unloading the rest of the gear when he heard my string of f-bombs. He didn’t bat an eyelash. That’s just a normal day with mom. Until I started adding in some further embellishments. He gave me his quizzical look.
“I forgot the fucking tent stakes.”
Turns out it was not the only thing I forgot, just potentially the most crucial. Yep. My “years of experience” had failed me.
Use it or lose it, y’all. It’s that simple.
Whatever the pursuit, all the skills we build throughout life are perishable. We all know it but in the chaos of life we sometimes lose sight of that, right? To complicate matters, the technical skills needed to succeed in our endeavors bleed over into the mental aspects of our comfort zones. They are symbiotic.
So on the plus side, the more we maintain and build our skills, the better we become, and our confidence soars. Our comfort zones blossom with the mastery of those skills. That leads us on the path to do, learn, and achieve more. It’s the cycle of success that makes you feel like a magical fucking unicorn.
The flip side
The things I love to do require some expertise to do well: motorcycling, hiking, camping, photography. And in most of them, there can be very unfortunate consequences if I don’t do them well. If my skills deteriorate, my risk factors increase.
And damn it if those skills don’t disappear like a whistle in the wind when you put them on the shelf. Often without you realizing it.
As 2018 winds down, I find myself more and more philosophical about how much my travel life has changed over the last few years. Change doesn’t bother me. I learned long ago to embrace its benefits. Most of the time it isn’t better or worse, just different. In my case, wonderful travels have morphed into different wonderful travels. No harm no foul, right?
Yes and no. Mostly yes. Certainly I’ve built savviness in other areas of my adventurous life. That’s good. The difficulty is losing grip on things I still love to do but haven’t been doing. Even if I don’t do them as often, I still want to do them. Tragically, by not doing them enough or at all, I’ve created a negative feedback loop. The flabby, sinister step-monster of the gorgeously muscled unicorn of success.
As a life philosophy, I’m not a collector of hobbies. Not that I haven’t had many come and go over the years but, at any given time, I prefer to be better at a few things than a novice at many. So to maintain my tenacity and focus I tend to keep my suite of current pursuits trimmed down. Motorcycling, photography, travel, outdoor adventures, those are my core endeavors. Yet even though I work to make them my lifestyle, something beyond hobbies, I still struggle. My dabblings in some of these efforts of late haven’t been enough to keep my skills and processes well-honed.
I’ve talked about my failings in photography and my languishing solo travel skills recently but really the main victim of my life changes has been my outdoor skills. My attempts to get outside to camp and hike this year have been absurd. Mistakes and lack of preparedness worthy of a total noob have marred my efforts. That’s how good trips go bad. And it’s all completely avoidable.
We’re talking utterly stupid things like the tent stake incident, neglecting to pack adequate water and sun protection and getting us roasted and dehydrated on Lake Tahoe, and making sure my stove is working properly so I can brew the elixir of life at camp in the morning. And now I’m almost a year late for my Wilderness First Aid recertification. Getting back out there has become daunting. My mistakes and deferred skills maintenance have allowed the ugly monster of self-doubt to saddle up on my unicorn.
It’s time to get my shit together. I’m mad enough at myself to fix this, and it is fixable. I’ll kick the ugly monster of entropy off and be a fucking badass outdoor adventure unicorn running free again in the coming year. It’s a matter of deciding how much of the adventure pie I want each area to consume and putting plans in place to make it happen.
And in case you’re wondering about the tent stake snafu, I got lucky. It ended up being a small goof. There was no wind and it’s a free-standing tent design so we were able to camp without much MacGuyvering. It was dumb luck, but luck no less. But that’s not something to rely on in life, especially one lived adventurously.
Adventure on, friends!