Yes, I admit it: That is my oversized butt hiking up the side of that valley. I spent the weekend backpacking with friends, although we stayed in a campground (of sorts) this time. But we did go for a hike in Sunday morning. It was my first REAL hike, so we did things semi-easily for me: I didn’t carry a pack, and we kept the distance relatively short and the pace relatively slow. We hiked about two miles down the side of a valley, made lunch atop a slab of limestone at a flat spot in the trail, and hiked back. Round trip, including lunch, was maybe four hours.
Notwithstanding all of that, the experience was an eye-opener for me on a number of levels, and I came away from the experience with a number of lessons that I think apply to armed citizens as well as they do to new backpackers.
The most obvious and exciting threats aren’t always the ones that will get you. The three of us were armed against the possibility of mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and bears, though we didn’t see any of those. What we DID see were tick, and at least one brown recluse spider. Not as exciting as a bear, to be sure, but no less capable of causing you trouble. The self-defense lesson is ample: A severe rainstorm, flat tire, or purse snatching are not as exciting and heroic as an active spree murderer or horde of marauding zombies, but they’re probably much more likely to happen. This is why your self-defense and survival arsenal needs to include more than guns and ammo.
Knowing the threat landscape is a critical part of staying safe in it. I’d never seen a brown recluse, so I didn’t recognize it when I almost stepped on it. Had we come across it in camp, I might not have recognized the danger even if it was crawling on me. The field of military intelligence is all about working out what the threats look like so you can recognize them when you see them, and you need the same kind of intelligence to keep yourself and your family safe – on a street corner, in your home, or in the woods.
Your physical state matters. In all honesty, the hike back out of that valley was hugely more difficult for me physically than I’d have liked it to be. I did it, but I wasn’t fast or graceful about it. Had I been in a situation where a more speedy retreat was necessary, I’m honestly not sure I would have been physically able to do that. We tend to pay a lot of attention to our guns, knives and gear, but we need to pay attention to our bodies too. In a self-defense situation, how far could you run with a child in one arm and your pistol in the other? How far could you carry that five-gallon jug of water? If you had to retreat from an armed bad guy, and your escape route was “out the sliding glass door and over the fence”, do you have the strength and agility to do that? Suffice it to say this is an area I really need to work on.
Teamwork makes things go much easier. Hiking the backcountry was a new experience for me, and it helped a lot that I was able to depend on my friends (and they on me) to get stuff done. When we hiked, we were able to share the load and the duties of watching for threats. When we camped, teamwork meant we didn’t need to carry three camp stoves and the like. If you’re preparing to safeguard yourself and your family in a crisis, think about what you can train your family members to do that will enhance your preparedness or effectiveness. Why be the “lone wolf” when you can get a team helping you?
Despite the challenges – or maybe partly because of them – I’m excited for my next backpacking trip. In the meantime, I’ve identified some holes in my knowledge that I need to fill and some skills that need an upgrade too. How about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.