If you’re going on a vacation, you plan your trip. Especially if a family is involved, hours are spent determining where to go, what to do, how to get there, how much you can spend and what to do with the mail and the pets while you’re gone. If you’re getting married, you not only spend countless hours planning every detail of the ceremony, but you’ll often hire a wedding planner to help with that planning.
Planning for daily lives can involve a desk calendar, smartphone with calendar apps and email notifications of important events, daily Internet reading of planning blogs and attending periodic planning seminars.
But for some reason, the thought of being in the wild (or a wild situation), either by choice or necessity, doesn’t always trigger such planning efforts. That’s a confusing conundrum, because outdoors, away from constant electronic support and contact and with your own life and possibly the lives of others at risk, the lack of planning can be catastrophic.
Cody Lundin, survivalist and co-star of Discovery Channel’s Dual Survival, listed five steps of planning for outdoor excursions in his book, 98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive! In a chapter that deals with the “Seven Ps” of the military saying, “Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance,” Lundin stresses the need for Physical Preparation, Mental and Emotional Preparation, Materials Preparation, Dangerous Scenario Preparation and Spiritual Preparation.
- Physical Preparation: Outdoor activities are synonymous with physical stress and unique sanitary conditions. Maintaining a proper level of physical fitness, health and hygiene is strongly recommended.
This is one of those truths you encounter in life that is so obvious, you forget about it. It’s clear that if getting up from the easy chair for a refrigerator run tires you out, there’s no hope in a situation that requires extreme or prolonged physical exertion. It’s just so much easier to tune to another channel and put off conditioning until another day. Peter Drucker, also known as “The Man Who Invented Management,” said, “Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes, but no plans.” Make a commitment to get in shape and stay in shape.
- Mental and Emotional Preparation: Self-confidence is the key and is the result of proper prior planning, skills practice, personal belief systems and your overall backcountry experience.
Drucker also said, “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately generate into hard work.” Pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone during training results in a mental and emotional attitude that will recognize a dangerous situation and act accordingly. Your attitude changes from that of panic to that of, “I can handle this.”
- Materials Preparation: Pack the right equipment for the job (maintained and in proper working order) and know how to use it. Having back-up equipment for critical goods is wise in case of loss or failure.
The noted philosopher Winnie the Pooh once said, “Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” No matter how much training you do or mental fortitude you possess, you’ll do much better in an emergency with an organized supply of survival gear.
You can buy a ready-made kit, start with a purchased kit and add to it or construct your own from scratch. Amazon has a great source list of survival supplies, hurricane survival supplies, and an emergency disaster kit. In addition, Popular Mechanics has a guide on “How to Disaster-Proof Your Life.”
- Dangerous Scenario Preparation: Weird stuff happens. Play out possible nightmare scenarios with others in your party, including travel routes, leadership roles and relevant environmental emergencies.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower had this to say about battle plans: “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” In most emergency situations, the plans you’ve made won’t unfold exactly the way you expect (an emergency is a series of extreme variables), but preparing for worst-case scenarios will allow you to deal with the inevitable snags that do arise. Don’t allow yourself to go into a “doubt spiral” of increasingly worse scenarios, but do plan how to deal with scenarios unique to your situation. If you’re in a hurricane-prone area, you’ll prepare differently than someone who lives in the mountains.
- Spiritual Preparation: A strong grounding in a presence larger than oneself is an extremely powerful force and imparts the gift of a positive, holistic eagle’s-eye view of the current situation and life in general. I have been fortunate enough to witness “atheists” praying during a compromised wilderness scenario, and it is a profound sight to behold.
King Canute (c. 994-1035) once ruled England, Denmark and Norway. It’s said that Canute, fed up with fawning members of his court who claimed he was so powerful that even the tide would obey his command, had his throne carried to the edge of the sea. There, he commanded that the advancing tide stop in its tracks. When it didn’t, he told his courtiers that, “the power of kings is vain and trivial, and that none is worthy of the name of king but He whose command the heaven, earth and sea obey by eternal laws.”
Canute couldn’t command the waves, and you can’t command your circumstances. You’re not in control, and you don’t have to be. The sooner you realize this, the more likely you’ll be to remain calm when things get out of hand.