When I first answered the call of the wild, I knew it would be the wrong number.
The threat of daily hikes, heavy breathing, dust and heat and bugs seemed vaguely obscene.
Thus, the joys onto which I stumbled out-of-doors were all the more pleasant. In wilderness there is beauty, fresh air, freedom from routine. Days seem more honest, nights more spangled.
But I had a lot to learn. From my notes on how to cope with the real world:
Don't sit at the front of a rubber shore boat, such as a Zodiac. In a choppy sea that position gets the most splash.
Beware of smiling people who graciously say "After you" when it's time to descend the ladder from ship to boat. The first in the boat often lands in the front. The boatman doesn't stand in the rear for nothing. Exception: On a hot day of rafting through white water, that cold bow spray can be as welcome as a broken fire hydrant to kids in a sizzling city.
Comb Versus Cholla
Pack a rattail comb for hikes through cactus country. Balls of cholla cactus jump at the chance to ride on your boots. If you try to flick them off, they stick to your hand. Any comb will lift them away; a rattail gives you a safe margin.
Carry a small mirror in self-defense. The woods are full of motes. If you get one in your eye, it is maddening not to be able to remove it yourself. A stranger's finger is not the same. Nor is a friend's. There are mirrors that clip onto pens, lipsticks, Chapsticks or flashlights. A larger mirror can be glued inside the crown of a straw or canvas hat, or slipped into a camera case.
In snake country, never walk where you can't see your feet. Don't picnic next to shady brambles. Limit your curiosity to the top sides of rocks, and let your eyes sweep the trail ahead. I, for one, like to walk in the middle of a pack of explorers.
Unless you have tested the earth as mattress and found it to your spine's liking, take an inch-thick pad of foam rubber to put under your sleeping bag. You'll still be roughing it, but your case won't seem terminal. My week in the Grand Canyon would have been less grand without that cushion.
Hooray for a Hood
A hood on a windbreaker has uses beyond basic protection against cold or showers. It helps shade your neck and face if the overcast burns off in mid-hike and your sun hat is back at camp or on the boat. It's a safety factor on a windy climb if you have long hair that blows across your view of the path. Above all, when touring rookeries, a hood is a shield against rude, low-flying birds.
You'll be glad for extra sweatbands and cotton kerchiefs. Old tennis shoes, old T-shirts and old swimsuits are good companions.
I was wearing all of the above one day on a Mexican island near San Martin. From a rocky ledge I watched a male elephant seal haul his gleaming 7,000-pound body out of the sea and onto the beach. Round and firm females, weighing a ton a piece, moved aside.
I admired their grace as I finished a hearty sack lunch. Maybe, I mused as I downed my third cookie, just maybe Charles Darwin was misquoted.
Maybe he meant survival of the fattest.