I recently returned from a trip to a mountainous part of the Pacific Northwest where I spent a good part of my time driving off the beaten path on forest service and other remote roads. A recent news story about a woman who was found alive in her van after being stranded for seven weeks on a remote road in a Nevada wilderness brought to mind the countless survivor stories I uncovered while researching my book Getting Out Alive. Though the scenarios I explored included a broad spectrum of environments such as deserts, open sea, jungle and mountains, the recurring theme in so many of these stories was that of an individual, couple or family venturing out in some kind of motorized vehicle or boat to a remote place they would not normally be willing or able to walk into (or back out of). Trusting fully in technology to get them there and back, they strike out with little in the way of extra gear or supplies, fully expecting to return to the comfort of civilization after their brief foray into the wild.
The trouble begins when the vehicle either breaks down or gets stuck or somehow disabled. Imagine being 20 miles from the nearest paved road in the desert with only a couple bottles of water, or stranded on a snowy mountain pass with no means of starting a fire and no sleeping bag or adequate warm clothing for the extreme-low temperatures of the nighttime hours. Such scenarios unfold time and time again, no matter how many stories are published or make the evening news — all because people put too much trust in technology and fail to take the “what-ifs” into consideration.
To be fully prepared to go into a remote place, you have to imagine what you would do without the vehicle that takes you there and what you would need if circumstances extended your stay much longer than expected. A lifetime of hiking with a backpack, riding into remote places on motorcycles and mountain bikes and traveling by sea kayak, canoe and sailboat has reinforced this idea in my consciousness time and time again. As a result, I always have extra food and water, even for the shortest excursions. And a sleeping bag, Therm-a-Rest® pad, tarp, machete, fire-starting tools and other essentials are as much a part of my vehicle’s equipment as a spare tire and jack. There have been times when having these extras has saved me from great discomfort. If you travel off the beaten path enough, there will come a time when you will need them, too.