Ten thousand hours does not necessarily make you an expert.
It just means you’ve spent a lot of time doing something. While I read a lot of outdoor writers in an attempt to improve my writing skills even after writing a column since 2008, I have given up on being an outdoor expert. In addition to the dangerous arrogance of believing I have Nature mastered, there is always recent evidence that suggests I should just focus on enjoying the experiences, and making sure I’ve packed what I need.
On a backpacking trip into a lake in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness of Colorado in 2018, I forgot the flies in the car — five miles and 2,000 feet of elevation back down the trail. It was the first date with my girlfriend.
I forgot the release for my bow on a deer hunt last October. I’ve been three miles from the truck at a perfect spot to set up a game camera, only to dig through my pack and find I had two bottles of water and zero cameras.
I’ve packed a toothbrush but no paste, which isn’t as bad as paste with no toothbrush. However, I’ve done that, too. Sure, you can use your finger, but while a finger may take the shape of a brush, it lacks the critical scrubbing attributes that make brushing, brushing.
I don’t think I’ve ever forgotten to bring fuel for my camping stove, but I have forgotten a lighter. In that case, I was lucky, because I did have some waterproof matches in my truck.
While I much prefer backcountry camping to truck or boat camping, there is something to be said for being able to bring anything you could ever want or need. Still, I’ve opened cans of chili with a hatchet because I was sure I kept an opener in my truck. I have a lot of stuff in my truck, but it’s not always the right stuff. At one point, I had three Torx screwdrivers, but not a single Phillips.
My backpacking gear has improved drastically since I was a kid. I’ve accumulated lighter, compact stuff that makes camping easier and maybe even more enjoyable. I bought one of those squeeze pump water filters after the handle on my old one broke on an Etolin Island elk hunt and I improved the squeeze game even more with just a simple bag that you fill with water and squeeze through the filter. No pump. Easy. Light.
It’s hard to imagine a time in which I didn’t have a water filter, but there is. My brother, cousin and I were camping on the north end of Prince of Wales and all we had was Spam, Triscuits and two gallons of Gatorade. I was just a few years out of college then, but my body is still processing all that sodium.
Technology has birthed a proliferation of advantageous tools for the backcountry. The OnXmaps app allows you to track your progress, or figure out where you want to go, as long as you downloaded the map before you left service. I talked about scouting a mountain goat spot for weeks and when the old logging road turned to trail and I turned to my phone for the map, I had nothing. I still made it though, thanks to woodsmanship skills learned as a kid…and my buddy who had downloaded the map.
I’d like to say that when at home I’ve got it covered, but I’ve opened a bottle of wine with an 18-volt screw driver, a two-inch deck screw and plyers.
An optimist might misconstrue this as innovative or resourceful.
• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in Outdoors twice a month.