A couple of months ago, I got the opportunity to help out on a Year 13 PE camp. Four days of hiking doing one of NZ’s Great Walks. Flights booked for me, no RAMS forms to complete, just rock up and hike. Pretty much living the dream. Until I messed up. I got lost.
It was the first evening of the camp and our group was staying at a small hut a wee way out from the main Great Walk track. According to a sign by the hut, there was a viewing point only 700m away. Thinking it wouldn’t be that hard to get to, I fussed around after dinner getting my gear ready for the next day before setting off along the track in my hiking boots (thank goodness) carrying nothing but my fleece, phone and head torch (again, thank goodness).
As I was making my way up the hill, I passed the other teacher on the camp who gave me a few tips for getting to the viewing point as the track wasn’t particularly clear. Hearing this, it crossed my mind to make a joke about sending out a search party if I wasn’t back in half an hour. Oh the irony.
Jump forward half an hour, and there I was; lost. And not on the track. I’d made it up to the viewing point, taken a few photos and spent a few minutes appreciating the sunset. Knowing that it was getting dark, I didn’t stay long and decided that I needed to make haste to get back to the hut. But in that rush, I missed the track that I’d come up.
Looking around, I saw some fluoro pink markers on trees so I had a go at following them. I knew with 100% certainty that I hadn’t come up that way but it was the closest thing to a track I could see. Coming to a clearing, the markers stopped so I backtracked to the first marker. I still couldn’t see the track I’d come up on though so I decided to follow the markers a second time.
The whole situation was still salvageable at this point. I could have returned to the viewing point where there was cellphone reception and tried to get in touch with the other teacher. I could’ve been the damsel in distress who waited in the tower and got rescued. But I didn’t want to be that person. And that led me to make the poor decision of resorting to bush-bashing. I could hear the students’ voices in the distance so I made a beeline towards the noise.
Adrenaline pumping, determined to get myself back to the hut in short time, I charged through the bush. It didn’t seem that bad until I started tracking downhill, the remaining natural light became masked by the dense bush, and the voices stopped. Insert expletive. I was in a bad situation. Throwing caution to the wind, I tried to move even faster through the bush but even with my head torch, each footstep was swallowed up in a cascade of bush and I couldn’t tell whether each step would be met with solid ground, mud or a drop. Imagine if they did have to send in a search party for me. I couldn’t have that happen. It took falling down a drop almost my height (don’t worry it was a soft landing on bush) to bring me to my senses. This approach was not working.
Then came the part I was most proud of myself for. I stopped. I stood. I waited. And I decided to yell for help.
Every fibre of my body wanted to ‘fight’ but trying to be a hero wasn’t worth it. It’s then that I realised the real beauty of an acronym I’d learnt at least a decade ago. It’s for when you’re in a bad situation. It’s called S.H.I.T.
Have a cuppa
Initiate a plan
If this acronym isn’t already in your repertoire, I recommend you add it right away.
So I stood there in the pitch black and had a cup of tea, metaphorically. I let my body relax. I weighed up my options and took considered action. I was definitely going to continue yelling to try and get the attention of someone back at camp, but aside from that, I could: a) Stay put; b) Make my way back up the hill and to the viewing point to get reception; or c). Follow the stream to find the track crossing.
Finally acknowledging the advice I’d learnt at Outward Bound “when you don’t know where you are, return to your last known point”, I decided heading uphill was the ideal option but after a short attempt, I realised that this was going to be insanely difficult in the dark and with the thick bush in the direction I needed to go.
Next I tried the stream option. I knew that I had crossed over a tiny stream on the way up the track and that I was more than likely upstream from that crossing due to following the pink markers to the west earlier. The stream turned out to be pretty patchy and seemed to disappear off in places but I had some confidence that it was leading me back to where I needed to be.
In the end though, my calling out was the solution that worked. After finally getting a reply back and fifteen minutes of intermittent Marco-Polo yelling between myself and the other teacher, they eventually managed to find me and figure out a way to guide me up the hill and back to the track. Cuts, bruises and a bashed-up ego aside, I was alright.
It’s going to take a while to get over this experience; I’ve found myself lying awake at night replaying the scenario in my head; where I’d gone wrong and wishing that I’d just followed the advice that I knew. That ugly over-inflated bubble of pride that I’d let take over me.
The week after this experience, I opened up to one of my Year 7/8 classes and told them about what happened. How I went out alone. How I got lost. How I had to yell for help. And how did they react?
No one laughed at me for getting in a flap. No one judged me, called me incompetent or weak. It was okay to have messed up.
It’s easy for us to get so caught up in creating a facade of competence that we don’t ask for help when we really need it. I hope that in sharing this story that it’s a reminder that it’s okay not to be okay and that it’s okay not to be a superhero all the time. You being okay is more important than your pride. Remember that.
But also remember to S.H.I.T. It might just save your skin someday.