One of my favorite parts about living in North America is the wilderness. Access to true wilderness, untouched by human hands. It's not impossible to get elsewhere, but rarely do you find it as untouched and in as large quantities as you do in the United States and Canada.
People use the word "unspoiled" to describe it sometimes. Unspoiled by human presence, as if humans can't help but to ruin the places we occupy. And honestly, we kind of do. As much as there is to be said about living in harmony with nature, in practice the only way to keep a patch of land truly wild is to keep humans out as much as possible. Save for some brave few urban wildlife who can brave close contact with us savages, the rest of them are better off staying far far away from our settlements. Visiting their homes as tourists doesn't hurt too much as long as you keep your grubby fingers off of their things. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.
And for the record, places like farms and orchards and villages nestled in pristine meadow valleys aren't true wilderness. They are natural, but a refined safe kind of nature with all the sharp edges sanded off. Nothing wrong with enjoying these places, but they are not what I mean. Sadly, long time populated places like Europe and China have, whether intentionally or not, eroded away at these wild patches of land in their quest for food and shelter. Understandable, but regrettable.
Being drawn to the true outdoors sometimes feels kind of irrational. Going out there is like going back in time. The rules of civilization are slowly unwritten. Each step away from civilization erases yet more lines from the great social contract that governs all humans. Eventually, it becomes just you and the animals. And the trees, and the rocks, and the rivers, and the mountains. Every comfort and safety we've spent millenia putting together is all cast away, exchanged for rocks and dirt and rivers.
It feels different. Worrying about bears and whether you've lost the trail feels like it activates different parts of your brain than worrying about muggers and whether you've taken the wrong exit. There's a primal part of your brain that awakens, sensing it to be in an environment similar to the one we humans inhabited for tens of thousands of years before we accidently spilled some seeds in some dirt and invented farming. It connect you to your roots. It's freeing.
There's a self-sufficiency aspect of it that I really enjoy. When you're out there you can't call for help or get food delivered. You need to pack like your life depends on it, because it does. There's often external structure to your days. You are the one who needs to decide where and when to sleep. You have to prepare all your food in advance, and ration it wisely so that you don't run out. You need to keep to safe trails and keep aware for animals, or else they might decide that they're a little too aware of you. The decisions you make here are life and death, but that lends a certain simplicity to them as well.
It's hard to believe that people really did live like this once upon a time. That they faced these dangers every day and that was their life. There was no helicopter they could call for rescue, or town they could easily go to for a hot shower and a resupply. Tales of nomadic peoples have always fascinated me because of this reason. Native American tribes, central Asian steppe societies, even the Airbenders from The Last Airbender cartoon.
They would have had to source everything, from their snacks to their clothes to their toys, from the land. I suppose in a sense they appeal to my instincts because I've always liked the idea knowing a large variety of skills rather than being a master of one. Living in a situation like that must force you to pick up bits of tailoring, butchering, cobbling, climbing, and more. I like that every time I go out there I return with ideas for new skills to develop and new bits of gear to acquire.
Most of all though, what might have sparked this was growing up near the great outdoors. Going to scout camps when I was younger. Hiking. Perhaps the biggest singular influence might have been reading the youth fiction novel Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. This singular work has likely inspired millions like me to go out into the wilderness and see it with their own eyes. There were a smattering of other children's novels that I really also enjoyed (such as Brian's Winter, a sequel to Hatchet) but I think Hatchet was probably the first.
The protagonist in this book manages to survive by himself alone in the Canadian wilderness armed with only a few scraps of survival knowledge and a trusty Hatchet. When I'm out there in the woods with all my gear I like to imagine myself as the protagonist of my own novel, prepared for any situation. I like the process of researching the best outdoor gear, putting it together and making it a part of my toolkit, and then entrusting myself to it during my excursions. I feel like iron man sometimes, safely contained within my suit of armor. After all, with good boots, a good jacket, and a good pack what could I possibly be afraid of.
I wonder how far I'll decide to progress down the skill tree of outdoor activities. Beyond just hiking there's camping, either with a car in designated campsites or camping truly in the middle of nowhere. Beyond that there's wilderness backpacking, which is surviving for long amounts of time in the outdoors with everything you need (including food, shelter, and water) carried with you on your back.
I'm sure I will hit some practical barriers to all of these activities. I don't have a car, and not all of this stuff can be taken on a plane. But right now it feels like I'm in that really satisfying middle part of a video game. I'm levelling up my skills, discovering new areas, and overall becoming more capable and skilled. It's very cool.