Lessons learned from failed 3-day outing

Why was I unable to stay through that last outing?

I think the biggest reason was I overestimated both the range of my comfort zone and my ability to step outside it. Having spent only one night out in a primitive survival situation in winter before, I assumed I could easily extend that to two nights - with less gear!

Almost no gear, in fact. And hardly any experience building primitive shelter when there is no loose debris available. And no food, nor equipment to help cook any food I could find.

I failed to get an even remotely functional shelter together by 4:30 in the afternoon, and the idea of starving, shivering, and feeling totally incompetent for 2 more days was simply too much to handle. Especially since this was not a true survival situation - I could simply hike out at any moment. So I did.

I reflected on this humbling failure for a couple days before going back out. An epiphany occurred: the correct survival strategy in a real emergency would IN FACT be to hike out to the civilization that was just 5 or 10 miles away. That's what I most wanted in my vulnerable state, and was unable to stop myself from doing so.

The more primitive part of my brain doesn't care about the long term benefits of developing survival skills by suffering under an inadequate shelter. That part of my brain drove me to a place where it knew for a fact there was shelter, warmth, food, and hot tea (my girlfriend's apartment). The organism (me) craves these things because it needs them to live, and because it (I) inherited genes from the countless organisms of the distant past who craved these things and lived as a result. Seth Godin calls this the "lizard brain" in his book, Linchpin.

There is a vast mental gulf between a true survival emergency and a simulated one. 

I have to suppress the lizard brain's directives in order to place myself in these situations. The colder it is, the less gear I have, the longer it's been since I've eaten, the stronger my lizard brain's drive will be.

In order to successfully override the lizard brain in these simulated survival emergencies, I'm going to have to eat some humble pie. Take baby steps. Take one type of supporting gear away at a time rather than going at all angles of the task of survival (attitude, shelter, water, fire, food) at once.

This is not something I knew about myself 2 weeks ago. 

I really thought I could make the leap so easily. I can see now that success dictates that I know my limits.

Now, if I was dropped unwittingly into a true survival emergency, that would be a different story. I would have no choice but to do my best to obtain shelter, water, fire, and food to the best of my ability with whatever gear I happened to have. There would be no hiking the few miles out to civilization when I got tired of it - if that were possible, that would be the correct survival strategy though!

In the meantime, I need to find that balance which will allow me to override lizard brain directives to quit. I learned a lot from my failed outing, but I probably would have learned more if I stayed through all 3 days.

By the time I got back out, I had only 1 free night. Before going out, I thought very carefully about my specific goals for the outing.

What did I want to focus on?

Answer: building primitive shelter and finding food in winter. To help focus on that goal, rather than taking on all aspects of survival at the same time, I brought my survival pack, minus the shelter-assisting supplies, and minus food rations.

I dumped out my survival pack, which I've altered quite a bit (more on that in a later post). I sorted out the gear that would make shelter building easy, and left that behind. I left behind a few other unnecessary items as well.

I left behind wool blanket, tarp, saw, hatchet, contractor bag, etc.
I packed in the items that would help me in areas unrelated to my specific goals for this trip - like a cookset. That would enable me to focus on shelter building and food-finding, without having to - for example - figure out how to boil rock tripe with no pot!

I packed in plastic baggies, knife & stone, paracord, first aid kit, emergency blankets, cookset, laminated knot-tying guide, water treatment pills, tackle kit, snare wire, gorilla tape, bandana, headlamp & batteries, compass, fire-making supplies, and water bottle

I felt more self-aware, humble, and (oddly) confident throughout my subsequent 2-day outing. 

This experience will inform all future survival practice outings. I think this approach to learning survival is much more likely to result in eventual competence. We'll see...

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