When venturing out in the wilderness, you always hope things go smoothly. You hope for temperate weather, wish for clear skies, and pray that all of your gear holds up to the uncertainties of trekking through the outdoors. However, no trip outdoors trip is complete without some sort of mishap, whether it be relatively minor or quite severe. Dealing with these issues defines how successful one will be in thriving in the natural environment, and equally importantly, how enjoyable the overall experience is.
Imagine this: you’ve set out on a flat-water canoe trip, and have prepped all of your gear for the seven days out. The second day brings rolling thunder clouds, which force a mid-day evacuation to the riverbank in order to avoid giving the incoming lightning several exposed lightning rods sitting on the open water. Having safely set up a rain tarp and huddled beneath it to stay out of the downpour, the natural tendency is to lament the situation – why us, why now, on our long-awaited trip?
No one can honestly say they truly relish sitting in such conditions – damp, cramped, and stationary – but the right attitude can make it less miserable, maybe even enjoyable. There are a lot of things that are out of one’s control in the backcountry, but the one thing that remains in control at all times is one’s attitude and outlook. Choosing your attitude (“C.Y.A.” for short) reminds us that we control our daily destiny.
Some of my favorite moments in the outdoors have come from such sub-optimal conditions. I clearly remember a “lightning drill” – crouching low to the ground in sheets of biting rain, everyone twenty yards apart from everyone else, waiting for the storm to pass – that turned into a sing-along and joke-telling extravaganza, despite being soaked to the bone. We intentionally made the best of the situation, and I remember genuinely enjoying the hour we spent huddled in the mud.
Debriefing the trip afterwards, many of the participants mentioned that specific instance as the moment when the group bonded. Choosing to incorporate the discomfort as a part of the trip, rather than hoping for it to end or allowing it to dampen spirits, helped everyone to embrace the experience and enjoy it as much as possible.
The concept of choosing your own attitude is helpful in reminding others to own their experience. On trips with kids familiar with the Choose Your Attitude ethos, a quick “C.Y.A.” in their direction can remind them that they are making the active choice to be unhappy and can quickly and easily reverse the process.
Unfortunate events happen, and successful people are the ones who best deal with misfortune. Having the mental strength to make the best out of situations, celebrating the good and the bad, is a skill that is valuable in all different contexts, both in and out of the backcountry.