I Bailed Out: Another Successful Failure of a Camping Trip

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Recently I realized that I haven’t had any alone time in the woods in months. In need of a little nature therapy, I parked my car at a trail head here in the Black Hills National Forest, set off on foot along a motorized trail, and searched for a spot to set up a shelter. Despite hiking for seven miles, I ended up setting up camp less than a mile from the trailhead, 100 feet off the trail. As the spoiler in the title might suggest, my night of camping ended in failure.

Hiking in the Black Hills

Although the day sure started pretty enough!

What happened?

The forecast called for a light dusting of snow, but we got several inches of wet, heavy snow. My inexperience with tarp shelters showed when it collapsed under the weight of the precipitation. I remade the shelter, but then the wind shifted, catching my tarp and coating me and my possessions in snow. As I started to get wet, and couldn’t get my tarp rehung, I made the call to bail out.

Snow, the source of my failure

Here’s a shot from when the snow really picked up. It didn’t take long to accumulate and take on almost white-out conditions! I had to trade the headlamp for a flashlight to see anything ahead of me.

It was the right call. When in doubt, bail out. But I only consider this trip a failure in the sense that I didn’t stay in that shelter overnight. In every other way, it was a success. I spent a few hours hiking several miles. The cold mountain air cleared my head, and I felt great. My winter gear stood up to the elements very well, and I came home safe and sound. If that day was a failure, it was a very successful failure.

I had a great time in a place I love. Should that really be considered failure?

I had a great time in a place I love. Should that really be considered failure?

I learned that I need to invest in some lighter gear, that a walking stick or trekking pole is incredibly helpful on some of this topography, and that I have a lot of practice to do making shelters. That’s good information to have, and I enjoyed getting it. Again, if that’s failure, I can’t complain about it.

The slightly crazed face of successful failure.

The slightly crazed face of successful failure.

Things never go entirely as planned, and sometimes things just don’t work out. I’ve never regretted bailing out. I’ve been a little disappointed, sure, but I’ve never doubted it was the right call. Not once. You won’t always achieve your objective. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time or effort. It’s only a failure by one narrow definition. What you need to ask yourself is this;

How is this failure a success?

While it’s always disappointing when things don’t go the way we’d like, that doesn’t always mean that we didn’t enjoy the ride. It doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from the experience. We just have to open ourselves up to re-framing our perspective.

So let’s do that.