Growing up in an active family, I was accustomed to being outdoors. My family played many different games on the trails and at the campgrounds. My parents used every opportunity to teach us how to thrive in the natural world. It wasn't until I was older that I understood that the depth and breadth of my outdoor experiences exceeded the average city dweller. Some parents find ways to sneak vegetables into their children's food; my parents found ways to sneak survival into our hikes and camping trips.
My favorite campground game was and still is "Gourd Ball," it is similar to bocce in that it is played with a "p," small rock or something that is the target. Instead of bocce balls, we would use gourds, and instead of a court, we would use the entire campground. Whoever was closest to the p would get to throw it for the next round; they could throw it anywhere they liked. Our games usually wound through the campground, twisting and turning through empty campsites and along the roadways. Eventually, we would find ourselves far away from camp, and it was up to us, the children, to successfully navigate our way back to camp. That game taught me to pay attention to my surroundings while still having fun. I still find myself noting landmarks, not just in front of me but also turning around and noting what boulders or snags I should look for on my way back.
We would play a game we called "G.I. Joe" on the hiking trails, based on our favorite Sunday morning cartoon, of course. Each person would pick their character to play, and we could come up with scenarios that required us to find solutions. A lot of the game motivated us to move faster on the trail and probably farther than we wanted to. When we stopped for lunch, we would run around and save the world from evildoers. At the end of it all, when we were tired and ready to collapse, we would end the game with our favorite tag line, "knowing is half the battle." Of course, that wouldn't be the end of it. We still had to hike back to the van.
With all the games my family played, I never knew there was a set of equipment called the 10 Essentials. It wasn't until I was older that I learned about the 10 Essentials, but ironically enough, I always had the ten packed. I remember the day that I felt a responsibility to trail safety. It was the day after a group of my friends, and I hiked a trail in Montecito. The trail went through a steep-walled canyon and ended at a dry waterfall. We used trees along the trail to pull ourselves up the most vertical sections. We laughed and played all the way up and down the trail, teasing each other and playing silly games.
The following day I read about a fatality on the trail; it happened the same day we were up there goofing off. Two high-school-aged kids were on the trail after sunset and got caught in the dark. Their cell phone flashlights were not enough. One was rescued the following day and sent to the hospital, and the other was recovered later that afternoon. My heart broke when I heard the news. I talked about it with one of the professors on campus, and we both decided we had to do what we could to impart some survival skills to the students who never had the opportunity to learn.
That was the day we started the "Adventure Club" at Ventura Community College. Our mission was to give outdoor skills and experience to students that previously lacked the opportunity. We set up weekly meetings for the club and invited everyone we knew. We let the members choose what they wanted to learn. We asked them to take turns researching and presenting survival skills and outdoor ethics to the club. And we organized monthly outings to give them a chance to practice what they learned. Through the Adventure Club, I first learned about the Ten Essentials and the many different ways to wrap an ankle. As with most small campus clubs, the Adventure Club has faded out of existence, but at least we helped a few students be better prepared for life's adventures.
This blog is an introduction to a series of blogs where I will be focusing on safety. In this series, I will be sharing safety kits from my friends and people I meet along the way. I will include the stories behind why they have certain items in their safety kits with the hope that by the end of this series you will be motivated to create your own trail safety kit. Pictures included with this blog are a sampling of safety kits that I came across over the holidays. I met a kind gentleman with an overland rig that was very happy to let me take pictures of the safety kit for his overland rig. My great friend Alicyn Gitlin was gracious enough to share her kit with me, and I’ve included my very small backpack basics kit. May your new year bring many fun adventures and safe returns.