If modern “overlanding” is anything, it’s becoming a game of gear. Where the rock-crawlers get away with a supercenter cooler for four hours’ worth of beer, the overlander buys a roto-molded version that’s bear-proof. Or gets a 12V fridge that costs more than their tires. While a hunter packs a set of snow chains for the trek into elk country just in case things get slippery, an overlander brings traction boards to supplement the winch. In an arms race to see who can pack out the most recovery and campsite gear into a five foot bed, the overlanding community has become the most self-reliant demographic of offroad drivers this side of an armored division. Or so we’d like to think.
Our weak link is not exclusive to the community. It’s a byproduct of our modern lives in general. Recently, I was reading through a horror story from a Redditor who despite front and rear lockers, a winch, 33” tires, and a travel companion, had managed to get themselves into what can best be described as “some shit”. They managed to make it out; down one tire and a winch with as-yet-to-be-determined damage from the line jumping off the drum. However, someone else raised an excellent point: what would you have done if you couldn’t get the rig out? In wet, cold weather, what would be the next course of action? What if things really went tits up and the winch lacerated one of you?
Some of you think you know where this is going. But you might be surprised. No, this is not a post about IFAKs. It’s not a PSA to remind you to pack out food. It’s not an advertisement for GPS emergency beacons. It’s about the one thing no amount of gear can replicate or replace: your fitness. The lack of it can not only be a day-to-day nuisance, but put you in harm’s way, to boot.
You might be saying to yourself, “I’ve got a GPS emergency beacon. I always provide a timetable for my return and coordinates for where I’ll be. I’ll stay put, follow my Boy Scout training, and my loved ones will let the Forest Service/Sheriff know where I am and that I haven’t checked in. I’ve got 7 gallons of water, 12 servings each of dehydrated, fat & protein-dense food, and the RTT isn’t affected by a blown up transmission. I don’t travel solo, and I don’t take unnecessary risks. I don’t need to be a triathlete to enjoy the backcountry.” I’m not a big fan of the outlier hypotheticals, or what-ifs. But people do die in the backcountry. And it can often be avoided. So the question I’m raising to you is this: if the rig is stuck or broken down in a valley, are you going to be able to scramble up 300 hard vertical feet at 3 AM when a flash flood goes to town on you?
But I’ll digress further. Let’s be completely realistic here, and think about how this can come into play even when all of the other bases have been covered. You and the significant other have traveled down a spur to see the Anasazi ruins in Beef Basin, UT, for example. You haven’t seen a single soul in 36 hours, and you’re 40 miles from the nearest medical care, on a trail that’ll keep you at 20 MPH at best. And wouldn’t you know it? The love of your life just lost their footing climbing down from a rock shelf, and they have a compound fracture in their ankle. You brought your med and have done what you can, but the truck is still parked two miles back from where the 4×4 road ends, and the hiking trailhead begins.
This is exactly the type of realistic, unsettling, and urgent situation we need our fitness levels to accommodate. No amount of gear can Fireman carry your partner back to the rig for you. No one is coming (certainly not faster than you can zip back into town), and the clock is ticking to avoid shock and other fun. Worse yet, someone in the heavens has cursed you, since that 200 pound mini boulder you noticed right on the slope of the trail on the way in has rolled onto it.
Consider too, that our physical fitness is a manifestation of our mental preparedness. By ensuring we are of sound body, we can help ensure that we’re putting in the dedication and follow through to help ensure a sound mind. The most fit overlander is as useful as a sun chair in a snowstorm if they can’t remain calm, be decisive, and initiate an effective plan. In any survival situation, remaining calm and cerebral is the number one order. So to that end, we are discussing not just being physically capable, but mentally prepared to overcome even the most arduous challenges in emergency situations.
Enough cannot be said for a baseline of physical fitness that incorporates raw strength, endurance, and proprioception. And having the mental fortitude to overcome obstacles small and large will reduce the stress of exploration significantly. Not just in the event of things going FUBAR in the woods, but for life in general. If nothing else, proactively working on your fitness will help you feel better overall. Imagine a weekend with no altitude headaches or early morning fatigue, and the ability to hump half a cord of wood from down the hill without feeling like death incarnate. Don’t get me wrong; you can find me in southwest Colorado eating gummy worms and drinking cheap beer on any weekend from March through November. I just want to encourage you all to consider your personal limitations outside of just computer-driven devices and manufactured goods. The best laid plans of mice and men…
See ya out there,