Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Survival Hikes

7 reasons why you should plan and go on a survival hike

The title “survival hikes” to some readers may imply hikes that involve surviving, possibly bushcraft, possible food deprivation, or some form of military/survivalist type of activity. This, of course, is true in some cases, but not in this case. When I teach self-defense, I tell the students that self-defense starts internally in a person’s psychological or emotional state of being. I would ask the students, “what good is self-defense in the context of external threats such as defending against thugs, or how to defend against a punch when the real self-defense starts with your own mental health?”

And in this context, we can define self-defense as defending yourself against yourself. The root of any successful self-defense is your psychological state. The chances of a person killing themselves as a result of depression followed by suicide are higher than the chances of a person becoming a victim of a crime, whereby they would have to use self-defense karate style techniques.

In addition to depression, chronic stress is associated with one of the six leading causes of a person’s death. According to the American psychological association chronic stress-related deaths come in forms such as suicide, heart disease, cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, lung ailments, and accidents. And so, self-defense here is article is defined as “defending yourself against yourself.”

I hear it said many times “that a person's worst enemy is themselves.” If this is truly the case, it must also be logical that we must recognize the threats that we bring on ourselves.
Too many people hike to train the body to be tough or in some cases, hikes and trekking events train others in bushcraft skills to learn how to survive outdoors.
Survival hikes in this context will be hiking for mental survival against threats such as depression, loneliness, anxiety, and so on. The benefit in survival, hikes will be to develop a mentally healthy lifestyle that impacts other aspects of your life such as home, family, community, and friends and lastly work and education.

1. Get out and breathe. Many people spend the majority of their day indoors. In Finland for example, it was reported in research posted by the news that many Finns spend most of their days sitting (YLE news, 2018). As I smiled at myself reading the story, I could not help myself from asking, why are they sitting on their butts inside? And not outside breathing fresh air. I would bet that they spent most of their days inside breathing in air that is full of indoor pollution from other coworkers, dust, chemicals, and other localized pollutants. I can't’ help but think about how this polluted indoor air affects health in a negative way.

Many people don't realize that breathing in this indoor polluted air makes some people feel claustrophobic due to a lack of fresh air getting to their lungs, blood, and brain cells. Some may even feel that they have difficulty breathing, thereby affecting their work productivity. Not getting fresh air into the body does terrible harm to the brain. The body was made to breathe in fresh air for maximum health and performance. In the past what seems like a lifetime ago, I spent many hours working indoors teaching seminars on security-related topics, in addition, I would compile my indoors life with indoor activities such as self-defense classes, sports such as judo, jiu-jitsu, Boxing and kickboxing. If there were moments of outdoors, they were spent in shooting ranges sitting and breathing in gun powder and beating away mosquitoes and black flies or having to go outdoors to get to my car (indoor) to drive to the store (more indoor).
Survival hikes contribute to your survival and “self-defense”. We all need air to survive, so a major benefit of survival hikes is putting fresh the air into your body and brain for maximum health benefits.

2. Your focus will be sharpened. Many times we lose focus and our memory seems to be getting worse. How many times did you forget such things as keys, wallets, purses or even where the kids and dog are? When on survival hikes we emphasize to others as well as ourselves to “manage our space” or as we bark out orders like a military man, “manage your equipment”.

Due to the fact that many hikers and even professional military people in the field may at times carelessly lose vital equipment such as water holders, knives, firefighters, and so on. We emphasize the concept of inspecting the grounds. Before we set camp, we look around and take note of dangers such as anthills, bee or wasp hives, animal tracks such as bear trails, or other animals that may be a danger to us while we camp out. In some sad cases, hikers have been murdered due to a lack of paying attention to criminals or terrorists watching them so they can attack them at a weak moment.

Being forgetful and losing track of equipment and people can have a devastating outcome, such as when people actually forget their children or pets strapped into their hot car, as can been read in many news articles for example in the USA. You can Google this and see how often this happens. The numbers are staggering and frightening.

When you do a survival hike and focus on equipment management as well as pre-camping danger management, you find that in your everyday life you start employing the same thinking. For example, on the trekking campsite, we would say, “do a dangers inspection”. On packing up we say “do a departure inspection” or “do an inspection”. These inspections are enforced to make sure we did not leave any equipment behind only to be regretted later. In addition, if we travel on mountain bikes or kayaks, on the road or trail or water, we do amount inspection. This is where we visually inspect our partner's backpack and equipment on their back or transportation for losing equipment, unzipped or unsecured zippers, and so on. In turn, they inspect us for the same. Our survival trekking starts and ends with self and area inspections always and without exception.

This inspection mentality gets forced into your psyche by constant repetition, and so it becomes conditioning that leads to developing a skill that will soon be second nature. Members of our groups reported that it has effects on their daily life in positive yet funny ways. For example, this mental conditioning for detail inspection affect them in situations such as when they go into their homes, their mind and eyes start scanning for what is different, when they see their spouses or children, they start inspecting their clothes and bags, this also applies to others as well, and when they leave premises, they start doing a quick self and area inspection. This operational conditioning reaction is now part of their lives and they find that their mind is more sensitive to change and so this new mental behavior that was conditioned into them, aids in fighting forgetfulness and complacent mentality.

3. You will feel how much mental and physical pressure you can take.
Taking the time to give yourself challenges in the context of these survival hikes gives you time to reflect on life and other issues. Many times in our long survival hikes thoughts of work and home life crop up.  On the silent march up the hill and through the bush, we reflect and plan on what we will do when we get back. But as hours turn into a full day, and a full day turns into two, three, four, or even five days, thoughts of home life, work-life begin to disappear. And the thoughts of body discomfort creeps into the forefront of our thoughts. Thoughts such as hurting feet, lower back pain, damn these mosquitoes, when will we rest, and so on take on first priority, and thoughts of normal life fade into the background.

Homelife and work-life now seem a long distance away due to the more immediate concerns of black flies, misquotes and the dreaded ticks consume your mind as you march. Hunger kicks in, thirst kicks in and soon the only thoughts you have are the joint pains you may at times feel.

These thoughts at times of rest are soon followed by the appreciation of the beauty of the surroundings, the quiet nature, and the lack of the crowd followed by the panic of getting things done on time at work or in the home. Ahhh, the bliss of not knowing that rat race life for the short moment.

Although the mental and physical pressure in survival hikes are not as extremes mountaineering or cross country trekking, say 100k to 1000k. But short 2, 3, or 5 days 15 to 40k hikes or treks can offer quite a bit of physical challenge with a full backpack loaded with equipment, camping gear, and few liters of water. You will quickly appreciate the challenge without a doubt.

After being pressure tested in this way, home and work life just does not seem to bother us as much. This pressure testing resets the priorities of life from a “naked perspective”, meaning back to the basics in addition this “naked” also can be seen as free from technology, work-life, debtors, or anything like that. If you thought those were the important things in life, survival hikes will re-prioritize your thinking. Survival in taking care of your mind and body becomes the priority, just like the priorities of life in the old and ancient of days our ancestors had to deal with. You will truly appreciate life and simple things.

When you get back home, you will truly appreciate your simple bed, the current things you own and slowly the need for more junk in your home will fade. You will be put on a life priority “reset”, understanding that in nature being free is the hardest thing people can deal with. Being truly free is a hard and daunting task both mentally and physically.

The restrictions and being a slave to modern life does not seem so hard after all. I personally prefer free life balanced with technology by doing many weeks of survival trekking in every season every year. And so I developed my own philosophy of “own less do more lifestyle”.

4. You will learn to be resourceful from a perspective nor common to you.
Survival hikes will also challenge you to think outside of your comfort zone and make life a bit easier and fun. If you are willing to take the safe challenge that is an approach this with an open mind. Thinking outside the comfort zone in itself is a challenge and one common challenge is the proper use of time. I never thought time can hurt, but in this case, time does hurt. What kind of time hurts? The one that says you have to do it again time. How many of us have taken a few hours to complete a task, just to find out that there was an obstacle that made you do a project again from scratch? How did you feel now? How did you feel knowing it took you hours to get to where you are in your project, just too be forced to do it all over again and lose another two or three or even half a day’s worth of time? Now you know what I mean by “time hurts”. Damn! I got to do it all over again, the lost time! Grrrr. This now calls for innovative thinking, to complete a project without starting from scratch.

This is the exact challenge we were faced with when we hiked 3 hours just to get to a cliff that had a bridge collapsed and the now gone bridge was out for repairs. What do we do now? We ask each other. It took us 3 bloody hours to hike here and the base camp is just across the slow-moving of water below.

If we cross, how do we cross with all our stuff? Or should we hike back another 3 hours to the starting point? A total of a 6-hour hike in all. Time for the brains to come up with a safe solution. Swim for it! I thought and yelled to the group, as the group looked at each other with confusion, yes I said, we swim.
Time to construct a makeshift raft and swim across chilly waters and save 3 hours of hiking with a 15 min chili swim? The choice was easy, make a makeshift raft to carry the packs and swim across!

One poor old soul from another hiking group went into a panic attack and started fighting that he can’t make it back; he was desperately looking for someone who had access to a motorboat from people that were camping in the area, only to find no one with boat access. So this poor soul had to simply walk back the same way he came for the last 3 hours, another 3 on top of that.

And so we made an innovative imaginative choice, it was safe and the choice was right. But fear and panic struck the other group of hikers and so, they lost time and gained a lot of ankle and back pain in addition to their frustration levels. Thinking outside the box if it is safe, go for it.

5. Overcoming challenges, step by step.
Short hikes, longer hikes, and very long hikes. Like many others before us, we started our survival hikes with kayaking, or can we say “survival kayaking”? We started off with small 6 k kayaking trips that took a few hours, and slowly graduated up to 11-hour nonstop kayaking trips. We slept on some of the many Finnish islands at times from 2-day ventures to full 5-day ventures. One success led to another, and each kayaking camping trip they became more pleasurable than the last. The kayaking trips had special excitements with amazing sights of animals, birds, and landscapes, to inner deep thoughts of life and future goals.

In the beginning, the goal was kayaking as far and as many places we can. Always a new place to kayak and rarely did we return to the same place twice on the many lakes in Finland. This adventure mindset graduated us up to cross country hiking, slowly starting with 1 day 15k hikes to 2-day 15k hikes, to 5 days 500-3000 meter high mountain or hill hikes. Each time graduating further up the scale of challenges as our bodies developed more strength and resilience to pain. Not to mention the psychology of overcoming quitting mindset.

This, in turn, let to the next phase to cross country biking with bike packs and camping gear. Starting again slowly with 35k rides and camping, to 130k rides, and some few overnight camping. Surely and slowly progressing on to our triathlon mode of survival hikes and adventures. Foot hikes, cross country kayaking to cross country bike challenges we overcame each challenge with pain and excitement. As we started on foot, in a few years took us to greater challenges like kayaking and biking as a survival trekking adventure. Overcoming each challenge and hardship that we in our inner thought would claim “this is the last one” just to find out we were addicted and continued with more challenging adventures.

Each new challenge that we overcame, set our spirits up for the next challenge. Slowly escalating from easy to the extreme. The need to continually outdo the last trek just kept fueling us to raise the bar to the next level. Normal life challenges and problems did not look so hard or scary after these challenges. Our brains were no rewired to overcome hardships both physically and mentally.

6. Out of the box goal setting mentality.
Nothing seems as tedious and never-ending than just walking to an unknown destination point. Your brain starts doing Kid things such as asking questions, how much longer? When are we going to get there? My back hurts, my legs hurt, and on and on and on.

With a well-defined destination point such as distance, landmarks, maps, and so on, comes the spirit to over the boardroom of time, distance, and some normal trekking related physical pains. When one destination or objective is has been met, the mind and body prepare to take on the next destination challenge with a more positive outlook. Even though we may feel discomfort we know from past or recent experience that the success of each attained goal brings its own rewards. As we strive through one discomfort and success, other discomforts may be more tolerable and even predictable. 

Not only are these discomforts predictable but expected. When the group members expected a certain level of tolerated pain such as slight lower back discomfort, shoulder discomfort, and foot aches, we were better at managing them and overcome the fear and anxiety of uncertainty, by understanding and drawing on past experiences to understand that even this pain challenge will be overcome and it is perfectly normal. And so it went with every goal met and ever new goal planned and reached.
Going back to a previous example of running into what seemed to be a dead-end in our adventure in northern Finland, we were faced with a choice after we came across a hanging bridge that was out and down for maintenance by the national parks service. We were faced with hours of trekking back to the starting point or to continue our trek. We could turn back or we could improvise.

We decided to make the improvised choice as we weighed the risk and benefits and in this case, the benefits outweighed the risks. Do we build a wooden float from the logs we could find, use shoestrings to bind it together, and swim naked across the chilly waters? When we got to the other side, we got warms, put on our warm clothes, and preceded forward with our adventure happily ever after.

We did some basic out of the box thinking and we built a small raft and survivalist would have been proud of, saving time, more pain, and misery.
Point a to point b goal achievement Out of the box innovative thinking becomes more of a natural option when faced with unforeseen challenges, given the fact we weighted each challenge with risk, loss benefit, and always kept it safe. This “operant conditioning” that we developed become natural in this way of life, and translated well back in the so-called civilized world with its own problems and challenges. And so out of the box thinking or using the imagination to its fullest became part of our thinking as well as a second nature behavioral pattern.

7. A feeling of success without the need for the praise of others.
Intrinsic self-esteem development to positive self-esteem where being judged by others becomes less and less important is also a big benefit when it comes to survival hikes A feeling of success no one can strip from you, you own it. Once the survival hikes were complete, the group felt we have done it yet again! A sense of pride and accomplishment warmed us like a warm blanket. We have done it! You’ve done it! You may or may not feel the pain on your body, but in the end, you have done it! This sense of accomplishment sets the mood for the next hike and the next adventure, as well as possible for you to make the next hike a bit more challenging if you chose.

When we head out with our group, be it winter or summer or any the season actually, we keep raising the bar of the challenge to new heights and give ourselves higher expectations for a successful survival hike. With every success, we raised the bar of difficulty and challenge, and raising the bar kept things interesting and fun.
The adrenaline rush of adventure and success is the level of an intrinsic high that is felt as your hormones pump out the feel-good chemicals that comes with overcoming one challenge after another and the feeling of success. With every success, our group celebrated with handshakes, high fives, or fist bumps. We did it, I DID IT. We have earned the bragging rights of success and we looked forward and discussed with high enthusiasm the next adventure or survival trekking.

Even though we did many of these so-called survival trekking with a partner or a small group for safety and security reasons, you can still claim the success of the survival as your own and the fact that you had the drive and commitment to succeed. And with much success, you did it without your hand being held at every kilometer, challenge, problem, or whatever came up along the way. You can actually claim it, YOU did it, and your team did it. You will have a sense of feeling that in an emergency, you have the mental and physical stamina to get to safety or get to help. This feeling of primitive success is translatable to any if not most life challenges. You now have an understanding of the psychological ability to overcome, you are a survival hiker.

By Shamuel Kohen