Five Mistakes I've Made in the Great Outdoors

Mistakes in the backcountry, or anywhere outdoors - we’ve all made them. Whether it's bringing lip balm without SPF, packing the wrong kind of sleeping bag, or something truly dire,  we can all learn from the mistakes we've made and the mistakes others have made. From my experience, mistakes in the outdoors fall into or in between three categories:
  1. "Well That's Just Silly" - These little, inconsequential mistakes are laughable soon after you realize you've made them. They cause minimal short-term harm, if any, and no long-term harm.
  2. "Uh Oh" - You might not be happy about these kinds of mistakes, but you'll survive, and after you've recovered from any minor bodily harm or embarrassment, they make great stories.
  3. "Oh Sh*t" - This self-explanatory category is one I hope I never find myself in. 
Though I've made my fair share of mistakes in the outdoors, for the purpose of this article, I'll share a handful of those that make the best stories from the above categories. For example, forgetting to bring enough tampons on a backpacking trip and having to turn around would fit into the "Well That's Just Silly" category while the first story I'll share could've easily been an "Oh Sh*t" mistake.

The stream that helped me find my way back to camp.
Getting Lost Close to Home  
("Well That's Just Silly" in this case, but could've been "Oh Sh*t)
If you're into the outdoors long enough, especially hiking and backpacking, odds are you'll hear about someone who made a wrong turn and ended up in serious trouble. I almost found myself in a situation like that on what should've been an uneventful car camping trip.

A coworker and I planned a weekend away and after we got camp set up, I went for a walk. My curiosity got the best of me and I wandered around off the beaten path to explore. I thought I'd be able to find the trail again. I was wrong. Though I did find my way back using a survival technique I'd learned - following a stream I'd spotted earlier - it could've easily been really, really bad. It's a mistake I don't intend to make again! (Read the full story here.)

Bringing Gear Without Testing it Properly
(Somewhere between "Well That's Just Silly" and "Uh Oh")
In addition to making assumptions about being okay if we wander off trail for a bit like I did in Maryland, making assumptions about gear working when you haven't tested it can be dangerous. Just prior to the 160-mile supported Bike MS City to Shore Ride a few years ago, I switched out my road bike's platform pedals for clipless pedals. I went on a few training rides to get comfortable clipping in and out, and mostly did, but didn't adjust anything else on the bike. By the end of the ride, my Achilles tendons, calves and feet were a complete mess. Turns out you're supposed to properly fit your bike before you ride it! Assuming I could get away without knowing if the cleats and shoes were properly fitted for a ride like that left me in a good bit of temporary pain. I recovered, but you can bet I won't do that again. (Read the full story here.) 

A "selfie" on a solo adventure in Denali. The camera timer gave me 10 seconds to get into position and I didn't have enough time to face the lens before it took without falling off the bridge. Good times!
Biting Off More Than You Can Chew 
("Well That's Just Silly," in this case)
Early on in my outdoor life, I was eager to get out and challenge myself as much as I could. The ultimate challenge at the time was a solo overnight in Denali National Park's smallest campground. (At least I was smart enough not to go into Denali's backcountry on my own, right?) The plan was to take my mountain bike and gear on a hiker shuttle to the Sanctuary River campground, spend the night, and bike back the next day. Everything went according to plan, except as it turns out, I wasn't mentally ready to spend a night alone like that. My biggest mistake of the adventure was underestimating how hard it would be to ride 30 miles on a gravel/dirt road with 30 pounds of gear tied to my bike! (Read the full story here.) 

Lack of Acclimatization 
("Uh Oh," but could've easily been "Oh Sh*t)
Prior to climbing Mount Rainier in 2010, I'd never been above 6,000'. I thought a trip up a 14er in Colorado would help me understand what being at altitude felt like. Less than 24 hours after I arrived in the Centennial State, I was on my way up Quandary Peak. I experienced shortness of breath and dizziness, but generally thought I was fine.

Man do I wish I'd stopped to reapply sunscreen
when I stopped for this photo!
On the way down, I got one of the worst migraines I'd ever had. Migraines are a familiar part of life at sea level, unfortunately, so I had prescription drugs to knock it out, but I was out of commission for the rest of the day. Had I acclimatized for a day instead of going right up to 14,000', the result might've been more pleasant. As it turns out, I'm extremely sensitive to altitude changes and feel the effects as low as 7,000'. I'm lucky I wasn't worse off on that hike. (Read the full story here.)

Forgetting or Neglecting Key Protection 
(Between "Uh Oh" and "Oh Sh*t")
In addition to underestimating the effects of altitude on my first hike in Colorado, I severely underestimated the effects of the sun. I'm fair skinned and usually lather on the sunscreen, but I didn't realize how strong the sun can be at altitude on my hike up Quandary Peak. I got my face well-protected with sunscreen, but without enough SPF or reapplication after sweating, my arms and shoulders were absolutely fried. I spent the next week dealing with painful burns, blisters, and the fear that I'd done irreversible damage to my skin. I'm definitely more careful now! 

Do any of these sound familiar? What are some of your small and big mistakes?


Heidi Nicole said…
Oooh - the rather of the sun at altitude! My poor shoulders (and only enough, calves) have fallen victim a few times! It's so easy to forget when you're leaving the car in the dark!