Most of us have read a ton of material about prepping, enough to know how absurd/impractical/expensive some of the advice is. We also know that many folks have offered some incredibly good information for us to consider using ourselves.
There are however, two ideas that I don’t hear much about and that my own experiences have taught me are invaluable. I have become old in part by saving my own life many times, and quite a few folks got another chance to get old because I was involved in saving their lives, often with a little help from my friends.
The inspiration of this article began with the idea of a “Possibles Bag” which, in my mind, need not be a physical thing as it was among Mountain Men trappers of the American past. Hugh Glass and John “Liver-Eating” Johnson, or any trapper of the era certainly had an actual Possibles Bag. The way I read it, a possibles bag contained items that a man might possibly need to have handy during the course of his travels. Those things he would not want buried deep in a pack, saddle bags or pannier. They might include tools for trapping, black powder, flint, patches and ball, tobacco, sugar, and coffee, or items for trade with Indians and so on. I also think of “possibles” as a problem solving mindset, or a MacGyver like flexibility to make do with what is available at the moment.
Nowhere was this more apparent than aboard a ship in the middle of a gigantic and nasty ocean. A ship can be a very big thing, but it cannot carry spares for all the crazy equipment needed to keep the thing running. Sailors learn to “jury-rig” things, which is another way to say that we became good at combining things that were not meant to be combined, in such a way that the ship stayed afloat and underway. My dad taught me to fix all sorts of things on land, but becoming a sailor also taught me how to jury rig things, and at sea that happened all the time.
Later in life I was a member of a well-known and internationally certified Mountain Rescue Team, and again was faced with being in merciless places with only what you and your teammates could carry on their backs. Sometimes we had horses, ATV’s, snowmobiles or choppers to help carry gear, but mostly, all we had was our backpack filled with the things we thought we might “possibly” need for ourselves and for those we were trying to rescue. Once again the need to find a way to make do with what was “on-board” was the reality. A knot of rope, wedged in the crack of a rock or in the fork of a tree can be used as an effective anchor, as can using a pack buried in the snow. The point is, to be open to thinking about solving problems in non-routine ways by using the things or knowledge at hand. Your best resource is your brain and humans have big brains. You can think of your brain as the “Possibles Bag” that you always have with you.
“Getting Real” is my way of saying that one should think about, and be honest about, knowing your limits. I used to be a technical rock and ice climber and I can still climb things many would not attempt, but those abilities are nowhere near what they once were. I know and accept that I have lower limits than I used to. Dirty Harry that said it well when he said, “Mans got to know his limitations”.
I taught new rescue team members to be honest about their abilities before stepping forward for any mission. Just because they were capable last month does not mean they are just as capable today. Maybe they just lost a job or a spouse and their head is not on straight. Maybe their allergies are kicking their butt. Maybe last year’s broken ankle is still not up to side hilling on snowshoes with the heavy pack. Being real about how deep and cold the water is’ before you do a gung-ho jump in, may save your life and the lives of those around you.
The same honest self-assessment also applies to equipment. If you carry a map and compass but you can’t remember how to use them, who are you fooling? If you haven’t practiced your fire starting skills in a while, how confident can you be that you can do it under bad circumstances? If you can’t correctly tie the half-dozen essential knots to use a rope effectively, you may be falling for the rest of your life. Or maybe your child is the one falling.
Try to choose your gear thoughtfully with care given to weight, to doing more than one thing, and to simplicity. And then, haul it out and use it once in a while. A good way to refresh your skill set is to teach someone else.
To wrap it up, I have been out and about for a long time and these two things continue to have relevance for me and for what I see in others. Whether you are surviving in the city, or in the desert, the prairies, and the forests or on the water, these same ideas are useful.
Use that “Possibles Bag” called your brain often and realistically and you will have learned yet another, important survival skill.
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