4 Lessons I Learned From Hiking Aimlessly
In the age of Google, GPS, Siri and detailed maps of all types and scales, is there anything left to explore?
The open country with its many wonders can speak with a countless number of accents. Some thick and obvious, some soft and subtle, but the language and meaning are clear to all who can hear it. To me, it’s the fine balance between the sense of belonging and detachment from the daily grind, beautiful open vistas and the rush of excitement that comes with not knowing what’s waiting for me around the corner.
To you it may be a sense of absolute freedom, maple leaves getting caught in your hair on an autumn evening or watching thunderstorms from the porch of your log cabin. No doubt, the adventures we embark upon are all fuelled by a myriad of unique motives and desires, not the least of which is the thrilling uncertainty of their outcome. Because, while most of the time we (have to) settle for rather easily attainable and safe experiences, how many of us, given half a chance, would not rather set off for a journey like the ones undertaken and penned by Saint-Exupéry, Cherry-Gerrard, Newby or Thesiger?
The preying eyes of satellites have mapped the planet far and wide and bar a handful of underwater and underground places, little remains to human imagination and to some it may seem like only the most experienced, best-funded few can now boast the privilege of charting the uncharted and seeing the unseen. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
For a long time I, too, was waiting for a chance to go on a journey the account of which would get translated to 30 languages and sold in a billion copies. A journey where I could be the first one. The first one to discover, the first one to see, the first one to describe. But the more I read about far-away places and unaccomplished feats, the more difficult it seemed. The time, the money and the effort were (and still are) simply beyond me and even though many successful expeditions have been led against greater odds, I didn’t feel ready for this type of commitment. And then I thought: “What if I started small? What if I could replicate the feeling of that old-school, red-blooded, out-of-the-novel-pages adventure in my own nick of the woods? If there are no blank spots left on the map, why not just leave the map behind?”
So I did. Here are a few things that I’ve learnt:
1) It’s safe! - I lived to tell the story.
As long as you’re well prepared to spend a given amount of time on the go and roughly know which way leads back to civilization, you’ll be fine. Stick to an area closer to home at first, or a place that you know will be easy to come back from. Know beforehand whether the spot of your choice is not on somebody’s private land or if you’re likely to encounter any dangerous wildlife. Even though you’re ditching your map, taking your compass with you won’t be a bad idea in case you get truly and hopelessly lost. And be prepared to hitch-hike!
2) It’s fun! - let the hike surprise you.
How refreshing it feels not to know where you’re going! You’re in the moment; your eyes catch the smallest details, your ears discern the sounds they have previously ignored, your nose picks up a wealth of country scents. Since you’ve found yourself in an unfamiliar place without any way to pinpoint your exact location, chances are your senses will naturally get sharper and you’ll subconsciously tune in to all the beautiful things that would normally make for an irrelevant blur in the background.
Forget about the purpose or destination. Go backpacking without a cause and hand yourself over to the journey, and soon enough you’ll find that simply by pressing onwards and upwards the purpose of your adventure will reveal itself to you.
3) It’s humbling! - get ready to learn your place.
We’re so used to the world that instantly responds to the tap of a finger, twist of a key or flick of a switch, we lull ourselves into a false sense of control that phones and GPS units only seem to deepen. But once you decide to power your gadgets off, leave them behind and venture out all on your own, it will soon become obvious who really holds the reins on this ride.
Instead of relying on a moving dot on your screen, you’ll have to learn how to pick up navigational cues from the ever-changing surroundings. Instead of reading a detailed minute-by-minute weather forecast off your phone, you’ll have to learn how to predict weather based on what you see and hear around you. Instead of following a string of wooden signs leading to a popular campsite, you’ll have to make a call on where is the best spot to pitch your tent. It’s tough, but it feels damn good once you start getting it right. And it goes to prove that…
4) It’s possible! - the golden age of exploration is not past.
Thankfully, you don’t have to launch a private Moon landing Kickstarter project in order to reach a new frontier, for the new frontier lies beyond every border you have ever reached and it’s up to no one but yourself how mad of an adventure you want to jump into. Embrace the idea of aimlessness in your travels and you’ll witness an epic storyline unravel itself in front of your eyes in a way that blows pre-scripted, over-researched escapades out of the water!
Make no mistake, this is by no means an open invitation to forsake all of your navigational aids and carelessly set off bare-foot into the jungle - caution and good preparation should underpin all of your outings. But when you’re putting your next adventure book back on the shelf and the nagging wanderlust starts crumbling under the doubt of your ability to match the romance and the grandeur contained on the pages, don’t give in! Just remember that a bit of imagination and boldness is everything you need to find yourself wandering places that few have seen before.
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.