“The first time I bivvied on an exposed hillside a couple of days walk from civilisation I remembered to weigh down my bivy bag when I got up for a midnight ‘leak’. Only because, on a windy night, some months before I had done the same without placing my rucksack on it when I got up: to then snatch a glimpse my bivvy bag, sleeping bag and sleeping mat fly off into the infinite darkness when I stepped off of it. Fortunately, that time, I was close enough to a house to go knocking for sanctuary.”
Gosh. How many times have I failed?
How many times have I rushed to light my campfire? Not taken enough time or care in collecting its tinder or kindling. Not been attentive enough preparing my bow-drill set. How often has this resulted in abject failure? And a very cold night.
How often have I lost the trail when out tracking? Frustration and anger clouding my vision, creating so much internal noise that I could not see the wood for the trees?
How many times have I managed to get disorientated through over-confidence in thinking I knew where I was?
But failure is not necessarily the end point to endeavour. It gives you an opportunity to learn and improve – to understand yourself, your environment and how you react to it. Studying failure is a key to success. Its okay to fail. Its good. You are not a failure if you fail. Failure teaches patience, respect, resolve, humility, determination and to questions things in an unvarnished way. It allows you to truly enquire what went wrong and why and what went right. Failure gives you an opportunity to reflect on things. And we all know how powerful this can be.
Of course failure in extreme situations can be a one-way ticket. This is why we should aim to fail in tamer ones. It is alright to practice, test, attempt, experiment, try and push yourself to the point of failure in familiar environments. In fact it is one of the best ways to ensure that you can try and ‘perfect’ the things you cannot afford to fail at when deep in the wilderness – far from help and home. Its just no good learning to light a fire in your back yard on a sunny day with good tinder and plentiful materials. Get the real experience by lighting it at twilight, in cold, driving rain with the materials you can find close to hand.
Your back yard, the woods you can see from your window, the scrubland over your hedge – these are the places to start to test your mettle. Be proud not ashamed that this is where your adventure starts. But don’t make the mistake of believing that the tame places are just for tame activities. They are training arenas for the wild places. Use them wisely. See if you can get out of your comfort zone in these comfortable places before your pass the point of no return in the wild, desolate ones. You want to sub-zero camp with little bedding and just a fire to keep warm? Then do it first in your back yard. You want to really understand what the cold can do to your judgement and performance? Then get cold in sight of home. You want to really feel what it is like without food for several days and just forage for it? Then stick to your neighbourood and learn what is to hand here. Whatever it is to want to try and test beyond your comfort zone then your familiar places are the natural places to start. Don’t just read a book and head off into the badlands.
But, please remember, if we always set ourselves to succeed in the familiar places then we are unlikely to learn some of the most important lessons. There is little point in camping in summer as a practice for what drill you will take if your tent is blown away in a storm, in the middle of the night, whilst you slumber on the slopes of Mount Hood.
Once you have failed enough, learned from it, then it may be time to think about how you feel about failing, and what it might means to fail, in more distant lands.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Theordore Roosevelt, 1910.