Just a little brain

I need some brain. I’m really tired. I’ve taken on a lot more physical stuff this week than is my norm… well, ok, my norm for the last couple of years. I’m sadly out of shape. That, and my hiking gear is scattered to heck and gone. I went out yesterday with a friend and it was only ninety minutes but I didn’t have water. I forgot a hat (thank goodness I have sunscreen stashed everywhere). This morning, preparatory to a field trip for the Master Naturalist class, I’m pulling my gear and checking it. I’ll have to replace some stuff… like the little candle that melted in my survival kit and sealed it shut (great waterproofing?). Texas is not the same as Ohio is not the same as Alaska…

Which is where I’ll bring this back to writing. When you have a character going somewhere, and they have time to prepare, they still won’t be able to anticipate everything, unless they have a lot of experience in the region. Even then, unexpected things happen. Sudden storms. Earthquakes, tornadoes, and bears, oh my! I was watching a video made by a hiker (who does stuff I don’t want to do, like through-hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail, for instance) and he mentioned that bear ‘incidents’ on the Appalachian Trail are on the upswing. Well, yeah. The AT is practically a highway, easily accessible to inexperienced hikers who don’t know how to handle food storage, and to add to that, the Eastern Seaboard is becoming more and more populated. Bears, at least black bears, adapt to using human trash and so forth as food sources quite readily. More people, more bears.

When you’re sending that character out into an unknown territory – say, exploring an alien planet – it’s very difficult to anticipate everything that can happen. What you can plan for will be based on how much foreknowledge you have. For me, I have a tiny kit I carry in a waist pack when I’m hiking, but I’m not in wilderness areas any longer: I have a candle, and matches for firestarting. I always have a knife, often more than one (a belt knife if I’m way out there), and usually a multitool. I’ve got cord for fishing or tying together a shelter, and safety pins for more of the same. If I were making up a big kit, I’d have other things, but this is all in an altoid type tin, tucked into the waist pack.

Moreover, you want your character to have practiced doing the things that might save their life. Can they light a fire when it’s cold and their hands are stiff? Can they build a shelter when there’s three feet of snow on the ground covering all the easy debris that you’d use in summer? Fire and shelter will get you through a lot. Food and water are distant third and fourth, unless you’re not going to have a hope of rescue (or getting out yourself) in a reasonable amount of time. Planning helps you keep your head when things are going to the crapper all around you. Having done it, and more than once! helps with the muscle memory that might save you in a true emergency. Training is important, and there’s a reason a lot of books use this with character building. You don’t necessarily need to follow the character through that, but at least mention it. And if you plan to get out in the woods, you do it. Backyard camping is a good way to start, where you can run for the house when there’s a thunderstorm and the tent goes flat. Or when it’s 50 below zero and you’re setting up the Baker half for the first time to see if you can sleep out in it – because if you try it overnight before you’re sure, you can wake up dead.

There’s a reason that an entire sub-genre of book plots is ‘Man v. Nature’ because sometimes you wonder just how someone survived back in the day. Heck, even now. There are a lot of ‘mysterious disappearances’ here in the contiguous US, often in the big National Parks, that pop culture is saying ‘wooooo’ and I’m over here saying ‘do you have any idea how easy it is to die out there, even right off a traveled trail, and how small a space a human body occupies? You can search for months and never step on it, and that’s a known thing, too…’ Plan, prepare, and don’t let your guard down.

And now, I’ve got to pour more coffee in myself. This class is good for me, body and soul. I’ve missed being out in nature (can’t say the woods, anymore, not really a thing in this part of Texas). But ow! That adjustment back to the shape I used to be is painful!

30 thoughts on “Just a little brain

  1. Julian Sands still has not been found, to my knowledge. I don’t think he will be found till the snow melts, and maybe not even then…

    1. Poor fellow, only just heard about this. I’m not actually sure if I’ve seen any of his stuff, but it seemed like ads for his b-movies were in all the newspapers when I was young.

  2. Hero is about to climb a tree to attempt to escape a bear.

    I think I need to allude to their existence earlier. Fairy tales can just have a bear enter, but a retelling can not.

  3. There are a lot of ‘mysterious disappearances’ here in the contiguous US, often in the big National Parks, that pop culture is saying ‘wooooo’ and I’m over here saying ‘do you have any idea how easy it is to die out there, even right off a traveled trail, and how small a space a human body occupies?

    There’s also the known issue of coming over the top of a hill into the middle of something that people don’t want found, so you disappear.

    Biggest pot bust in Washington state, last I knew, was in easy hiking distance of a HUGE tourist place. Someone took the wrong corner on a hiking trail and, thank God, it was not occupied.

    1. Many years ago, the East Kingdom (SCA) held a war practice at a camp in the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey. I was a scout, meaning I was supposed to get out in the woods and look for the enemy.
      The Pine Barrens are open forests full of scrub – ought to be easy to navigate, right? No, I got five feet off the trail and stopped to look around. And realized right there that every square foot of ground looked exactly like every other square foot of ground. NO landmarks. If I hadn’t carefully kept track of the general direction to the trail I would have been lost and even then I had a little trouble.
      I was fine. But the Chief Scout apparently got more than five feet off the trail, because when the battle was called she was nowhere to be found. They sent out a search party. Fortunately she turned up pretty quickly, swearing she hadn’t been lost, no sirreee! She just…..well, let’s say it was embarrassing for her and leave it at that. But it could have been much worse.

      1. I read some years ago about a pair of ladies who decided to take a ‘short cut’ on a local to them trail, cutting across a shorter section through the woods rather than taking the longer way around. They started out in early morning, and by near-evening were lost, dirty, tired, hungry, and very badly scared, wondering just how many miles they were from the trail and civilization.

        That’s when they hear someone singing nearby. They yell for help and a fisherman pushes through some brush. They found out they’d literally been going in circles all day long and were apparently never more than ten feet from the broad and clearly set out trail the whole time.

        1. Going in circles is a grave danger. Characters in the woods should note it.

          Also the danger of paths that aren’t really paths.

      2. The “gay marriage” supporters were doing similar assaults before they started vandalizing churches in Washington state.

        This is not good….

        1. Wait, what the heck is this doing over here?

          This was supposed to be over at According To Hoyt!

          Well, heads up, the respond to comment drop-down in the interface may add responses to randomly chosen comments over the last day or two.

    2. One Barfly told a story about some moon-shiners who used a “bull-roarer” to warn people away from their still.

      Apparently, it worked. 😉

    3. “Someone took the wrong corner on a hiking trail and, thank God, it was not occupied.”

      And there were no booby traps.

      1. There may have been, they were smart enough to go “oh, wow, what a nice…green… field? Um. That’s not skunk. GTFO!”

  4. When I worked in the upper Midwest, a long-vanished local was finally located in the (aptly named) Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness. He’d gone a few yards from the trail, sat down, and never got up. Local speculation was that he’d had a heart attack, and that the wildlife got to him before any later searchers could. Hikers found a few bones and the frame of his pack and other less-than-edibles at the foot of a tree. Twenty years later.

    1. one that I remember was a guy that was found 200 yards off trail in what is an at times very crowded park outside of Vegas. His buddies speculated foul play because he was just too good a hiker for mistakes. But he was found, off of an easy trail, eventually. He had apparently stumbled and hit his head. If you don’t want to travel with someone, let your friends know where you are going and when you intend to get back. That park has seen a bunch of deaths because people think, rec area by the city, must be safe.

  5. The title makes it sound like you are channelling your inner zombie. More in the way of “I, Zombie” rather than “The Night of the Living Dead”.

    I have recently started listening to “The Survival Show” podcast. It’s pretty good and on topic.

  6. From my perspective, this was the perfect post for the perfect moment. I’m about to start a story about a survivalist in a post-apocalyptic world, and you’ve given me a lot to think about.

    There are a lot of ‘mysterious disappearances’ here in the contiguous US, often in the big National Parks, that pop culture is saying ‘wooooo’ and I’m over here saying ‘do you have any idea how easy it is to die out there, even right off a traveled trail, and how small a space a human body occupies? You can search for months and never step on it, and that’s a known thing, too…’

    I’ve been reading a book about the Bermuda Triangle in odd moments, and maybe I’ll get to some serious “woooo” later, but right now, it feels to me like the main issue that the author is having is “Oh, no! It’s not as safe to traverse the Caribbean Sea as it is to drive from my suburban house to the grocery store. There must be something supernatural going on!”

  7. Six years backpacking with Girl Scouts and Explorer Post in the southern California deserts and mountains and 10-day treks in the Sierras. Even with compasses, topo maps, and experience, Explorer Post got several miles off-trail in the Sierras, above the tree-line and into the permasnow/frost. We were able to figure out where we were, navigate back to the trail (Pac Crest), and got out safely and on time. But it was three days of 20 miles each day to do that. Preparation and shake-down trips are essential.

  8. Just a note: your survivalist can only travel as fast as the slowest member in his party. I’m always surprised at how fast people in books can travel when toddlers and old grandmas are in the group! And, you’re wading through brush and high grass. Even calf-high grass will slow you down, compared to a lawn.

    1. Stick to the path. It goes somewhere where people want to go.

      OTOH, it does open you up to ambush.

      1. “Stick to the road, avoid the orcs.”
        What my then-future boyfriend and husband told me when he was introducing me to my first PC-MMO.

  9. My dad, a long-time police officer, would sometimes talk about how you could count on two groups of people discovering bodies: dog walkers and hunters. Sometimes that body would be decades old and sometimes it would be fresher.

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