~Post by Claire Cameron, Author of The Bear: A Novel
Getting lost in the wilderness is a scary idea: just you, the vast wilderness and…what if your cell phone doesn’t work? Even in our connected world, this still happens.
To be human is to get lost. An environmental psychologist, Colin Ellard, in his book You Are Here points out that a black bear can find its way back home from hundreds of miles away, but a human can’t. We aren’t wired that way. What’s more, we don’t even understand how a bear navigates.
I’ve been lost and I’ve searched for lost people. I used these experiences to write the young narrator of my novel, The Bear. She only has internal thoughts to rely on, but as adults we have more options (though fewer than bears).
Before setting out on a hike, long bike or a remote drive, you need to think about getting lost as a likely scenario. If you confront the idea of getting lost, then you’ll be more ready to be found if it happens.
Here are a few things that will help you be found:
Wear a whistle — A voice can blend in with the wind or water. It is hard work to shout for help. Your voice might carry a few hundred yards, where a safety whistle can, for example, carry up to 2 miles in some conditions. A search party has a much better chance of hearing three blasts on a whistle, which is an internationally recognized distress signal.
But, a whistle only works if you have one. This means that you need to think ‘I need to carry my whistle in case I get lost,’ when it is much easier to think, ‘nah, I won’t get lost today.’
Leave an itinerary — Some people don’t like to leave an itinerary with their family or friends because it’s like admitting that you might get lost. Like, ‘hey Mom, I’m going hiking and maybe I’ll get lost so don’t worry, okay bye!’
But, if you write down your itinerary with a date, an approximate time of your return and leave it with responsible people, your chances of getting found become much, much better. Mostly because then someone might notice that you are lost in the first place.
Think water not food — If you are lost, after the initial shock of your situation sets in, your mind will turn to food. Most humans are stomach-led creatures. This is normal, but it’s not what you should focus on.
The human body can generally go for up to 30 or 40 days without food depending on the person and the conditions she is in. A woman recently survived for nearly 50 days in Nevada with very little food. That is a long time.
Water should be your focus. A human body can only go without water for 3 or 4 days, depending on conditions.
Stay put — Have I told you about the time a woman in my group got lost? She was an elite runner. Her instinct was to run. Most people will naturally travel downhill as gravity pulls in that direction. She was in such good shape that she went uphill. She also travelled in a gradual circle, which is something that most people will do (it is extremely hard to walk in a straight line in the woods). All this made her much harder to find.
A search party will use a map to organize a search. They will track the areas that they have searched and still need to search. If you start moving around, this map becomes useless. Stay put as best you can. If you’ve left an itinerary, you will hopefully be found.
Try to relax — This is counter-intuitive and it’s the most important. Upon realizing they are lost, many people will get nervous and want to take immediate action. The best thing you can do is sit down, take a breath and try to relax.
Your body will use water and food more efficiently if you are relaxed. And you will stay warmer. You will have more energy. A calm mind will have clear thoughts. Less is often more in survival situations. A steady mind is your best survival tool.
Claire Cameron’s second novel, The Bear, is now on shelves. It’s a powerful suspense story narrated by a young girl who must fend for herself and her little brother after a brutal bear attack. Read more about the book right over here.
Cameron’s first novel, The Line Painter, was published in 2007 by HarperCollins Canada. It won the Northern Lit Award from the Ontario Library Service and was nominated for an Arthur Ellis Crime Writing Award for best first novel. Claire’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Globe & Mail, The Millions, Los Angeles Review of Books and The Rumpus.