As surely as a blister will appear and sweat will roll down your face, one is bound to get lost when participating in long distance events across remote terrain. I have witnessed wild camels eat the bamboo markers, mistakenly followed lichen that looked like a trail marker, and had a crevasse open up where a few hours earlier we had crossed. I have wandered 45 minutes in the wrong direction, only to retrace my steps and ramble off on another fruitless search for the trail. Not my finest few hours and of course it was caught on video for anyone bored enough to search for it. (And for you Gilligan’s Island fans I bet you are wondering why the film crew did not rescue me, or atleast nod in the direction I should head…).
Oh sure, you will try and use your common sense to ensure you do not get lost and promise yourself that certainly if lost you will keep a ‘British chin up’ sense about you. You scoff at the possibility of not remembering the instructions you were verbally given 18 hours prior, “once you pass the abandoned well you will take the middle fork of the dried stream for 2km and then head off towards the tree on the horizon”. Simple enough right. OK, how many people know what a dried up, abandoned well in Morocco looks like? And how does one orient to the tree on the horizon on a moonless night? And did he say go ‘to 2km’ or 22km or two-two kilometers?
And one must learn to temper their exhilaration at the prospects of no longer being lost because they have stumbled upon traces of recent human activity. I still shake my head when I recall the anticipation that built in me when I came across footprints of runners in the sands of the Gobi. My pace quickened as I saw others in the shimmering distance. And how kind of them to be standing waiting for me once I finally arrived. Only to realise I was following nothing more than achingly flawed logic in thinking the growing number of footprints would confirm knowledge of the trail to follow. It was a great photo op though… and one I often think of in the business world.
It is more of a state of being then a skill to become comfortable with being lost. However, I have found that often the clues and tools to get you were you need to be are close at hand. The key is, can we see them. Seriously, you will often see me look up at the sun to check my orientation when a street sign is in front of me, or happily backtrack for a few minutes to ease my questioning mind that I am on the correct trail. Some people subscribe to Luminosity, I tend to memorize a section of a city or forest map before I venture out. And it is free!
And that is one reason why strolling through remote locations is so cool – the amount of ‘new’ information you and your mind acquire. Think about it, even when I just look up at the night sky I will be confused! No Big Dipper or Orion’s belt to comfort me. Instead I will see the Southern Cross(and then have that earwig of a song by Crosby, Steals and Nash in my head) and a splash of constellations I am currently unaware of.
Distances across the earth will be harder to determine without my normal mental-topography ruler and common features of the landscape will be foreign to me. To say nothing about understanding the environmental underpinnings for the location of vegetation or prevailing weather conditions. And the kicker being I will be oblivious to the most obvious danger right before me and fear the harmless routines of benign creatures. Did you know there is a ranking of scariest looking yet harmless creatures in the world. And right there at #10 is the Giant African Millipede. Check out the others.
Is there a high degree of probability that I will get lost or feel out of my typical elements, absolutely. (And I am not just talking about the 60 minute flight connection at Heathrow’s Terminal 3). But do I also know that people will help educate me and somehow keep me from going up that dark alley in heels, absolutely. And what is also guaranteed, is that moving through such events will generate appreciation, learnings and knowledge that can change ones trajectory in life.
So, go fire up Google Night Sky and debate the location of a constellation with a friend or memorize a new section of your city and head out for dinner. Learning and appreciation is everywhere – master the fine art of being lost for a bit, it is amazing what you can find.
BUT WAIT, there is more… Because a Blog Post would not be finished without a fun tidbit. This one was passed along to me by the lovely George Clooney(not his real name, but terribly similar). It captures the learning, lunacy and laughter in a geographically appropriate way! Fake Gnus