You need certain bits of gear and a modicum of planning to succeed in an expedition, but the real key to success in any long-term wilderness excursion comes down to your mental approach.
In short, attitude is everything.
I find it takes about two weeks to shed the mental and physical softness of society and fully engage with the trip experience—to get into a state where your city-self is gone and you exist simply to move through time and space in the wilderness. So I consider a long wilderness journey to be at least three weeks: two weeks of breaking in and then at least a week of being in the groove tacked onto the end of that.
Here are five keys to getting into that Zen state of tripping—to attain your black belt in “Trip-Fu:”
1. Keep it Simple
The longest journey begins with a single step, so don’t clutter your mind with a million different things that you think may help you on trip. Needs, not wants, are what you should focus on. You’re there for the experience, not for stuff.
When planning your journey, keep in mind that all you require is food, shelter and transportation. Once you have that, you’re set. Everything else is extraneous. Think of it as a weekend trip with more food. The gear is the same, you just have to carry more food with you or pick it up along the way in remote communities.
Oats, PB&J and a freeze-dried dinner will be your daily ration of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Supplement with wild berries and fish. There’s your food. Tent is your shelter. A canoe, kayak, skis or your feet are your transportation. OK, you’re good to go. All you have to do now is take that first stride or paddle-stroke and you’re on your way for as long as you like.
2. Stay in the Present
On an expedition, everything is fresh and new—you’re travelling through terrain you’ve never experienced before and most likely will never experience again. Don’t think of the next trip—the only important trip to you should be the one you are on. You will never pass this way again so stay in the present and drink it all in.
3. Embrace Difficulty
There are no easy days on a true expedition. Every day will present challenges. For example, a canoe expedition will involve travel across lakes, down rivers, up rivers and portaging. Each of these phases is part of a chess match of sorts as you match your mind and body with whatever nature throws your way.
Windy lakes can be a grind or potentially dangerous, calm lakes a monotony. Downstream travel brings on the decision-making and skill to safely navigate rapids. Upstream travel involves finding the path of least resistance as you work against the current. Portaging involves navigating through bush if there is no trail, and even if there is a trail, the physical effort involved is always engaging. Embrace every challenge, revel in the toil, get high on endorphins. This is what expedition travel is all about.
4. Tune Into Nature
Don’t listen to music, podcasts, e-books or anything that involves a set of earbuds. If you do, it means you’re not engaged with the journey—you’re somewhere else. Listening to anything other than the wind, water and wildlife cuts you off from the experience you’re there for. Constantly listening and looking at the ever-changing surroundings, no matter how subtle, will heighten your senses—allowing you to catch glimpses of the natural camouflage the beasts of the wilderness possess.
Be the animal to see the animal. You won’t spot a herd of caribou, a lone muskox on the horizon or a wandering polar bear if you’re head is down and you’re blasting Iron Maiden.
5. Have Fun
If there’s a cliff, jump it. If there’s a flume of water, ride down it. Jump naked from your canoe. Howl at the moon. Grow a beard if you’re a guy; grow leg hair if you’re a gal. You’re on a weeks or months-long journey in the wilderness, master of your own domain, wild and free as you’ll ever be. Go make the most of it and have a blast.