There is something out there beyond backpacking.
Beyond the simple task of walking and camping there is also something else that draws us out in the nature. Something that drives us to abandon the modern comforts of our lives for a moment in search of something beyond our every day lives. Many don’t bother thinking of it too much, the important thing is just to go out and have fun. Some think of it more and try to understand what motivates them. Some really try to connect with the nature and few take this to somewhat extreme levels. I am not that kind of person but I’m always fascinated by the topic.
Huck sitting by a Bushbuddy campfire.
A good friend of mine, fellow wilderness guide and founder of NordicByNature, Huck, is truly one of a kind of person when in comes to connection with nature. I heart he was planning to do a two-day vision quest, a solo trip without any gear, I insisted him to call me before and after to make sure he is ok. Could one actually survive a few days without any gear? Even though it’s summer in Finland it can still be quite cold and at least the bugs would make life a hell. But I trusted that Huck knew what he was doing and when he called afterwards I asked if he’d like to share his experience as
he has written a quest post to my blog before.
And here it is!
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Jaakko invited me to write a guest post after I told him that I had been on a slightly different solo “trip”.
Well, there is not much to write, really.
Length of trip:
Two nights and a bit (about 40 hours)
Time of year:
Finland, North-Karelia, Ilomantsi
13-15°C, lots of wind and rain
Back up gear:
DIY Poly-Cotton Sarong (great piece of kit), a shirt, survival belt
(1st aid, space blanket, DIY poncho, ID, knife, whistle, 1L water bottle, fire steel and tinder)
Gear used, all skin out:
No gear, 0 g
Very little walking, lots of sitting, laying, shivering and thinking
No eating, no drinking, no sleeping
Pine branches, some berries
My general attitude towards the UL-approach has changed since I stopped replacing heavy gear with lighter gear and heavy approach with lighter approach.
Instead, I started replacing gear with knowledge and skills, replaced fragile with durable and found happiness whenever I found a way to recycle something instead of buying something new.
Also the motivation to go light has changed from faster, longer and lighter towards more silent, less impact and more maneuverable.
When looking at the brief overview above, you can easily figure out that this trip was not without risks, with hypothermia and dehydration on top of the list. Being known to be a safety-conscious person, some of you might wonder about my motivation for doing something as ultra stupid as this, while others want to know what I learned, which by the way was a lot and I strongly encourage everybody to read “lessons for life” further below. At least I learned more than on a 32kg backpack 5-day North to South Alps crossing.
But before I explain what I learned and why I did it, I want to give you a summary of this trip.
And before you continue reading, please be aware that this is about a very personal experience and I will not write about everything I experienced. But below I explain what I thought and realized, which is the more important aspect.
Also I would not generally recommend “going into the nature” without anything.
Further down I will also write a little about solos, vision quests and rites of passage in general.
After leaving the sauna at my parents-in law’s cottage, I started out into the late afternoon. Since the area is close to the Russian border and also popular by local hunters, mushroom and berry pickers, I faced a real risk to meet other people.
This and the fact that my parents in law might already think that I am a bit weird at times, I decided to take at least some cloth and some gear. It was also as some kind of backup since I have a family and a future.
I chose an area not too far away but isolated enough. After a walk through some bogs and forests, I took a seat on a rock at a lake. There I sat until after sunset, when fog covered the lake and the rock started to cool down.
During this time my cloth and belt laid on a rock nearby and I discovered the feeling of mäkärä (black fly) biting my anus and once again received a full-body acupuncture by mosquitoes. Fish was eating insects from the water surface and water birds came to be nearby.
Sitting still was not a challenge. Feeling the sounds of nature returning to silence was the reward.
I moved on in the growing darkness.
Walking along the shore of the lake I disturbed some pikes, which apparently were resting in the shallow water. In return for being disturbed, they scared me with their sudden moves half a meter away from me.
Shortly I came to a place near the lakeshore, where the wind had recently uprooted some pines.
Uprooted trees can be an easy place to find stones in the forest but can also create part of a natural shelter with the roots forming one of the shelter walls and sometimes also part of the roof.
One of the pines however had only fallen half, leaning up against a slope and was thus not totally uprooted. This provided me with an almost closed, while very thin-walled, shelter.
A little crawling hole gave me access to a space, which turned out to be almost big enough for two people to sit with their heads inside the roots of the dying tree. I was aware that this might already be the home of some other being and after taking off my cloth and belt I carefully entered the almost total darkness within.
The floor was sandy and cold but almost dry. I took in the space with my senses, feeling around with my hands, listening and sniffing, trying to see.
There was no other smell than the smell of earth, rocks and composting roots.
I felt that this place was to be found by me and I knew that this was the place for me to be.
I tried to take a seat, hunched down on my buttocks, and my head resting on my knees. My hair was in the roots of the tree, which still crisscrossed the whole space. All the time, warm sand was running down my head and my body, like a gentle touch in contrast to the air, which was slowly getting colder.
Soon I realized that the cooling air would also eventually release some the stones, which were held by the roots on top of me. Some of the stones were as big as my own head and the thought of lying down felt suddenly less appealing.
The night went by very slowly. It was cold. And I was shivering and thinking.
At sunrise the wind picked up and I went outside. It felt good to move and I enjoyed the new day. I walked around “my tree”, which was lying on the side, tip facing to North-East.
On my walk I allowed myself some blueberries, crowberries and lingonberries. The taste was amazing.
For some time I was sitting on a little rock in the lake a few steps from my cave. I watched, listened, smelled and felt the new day. I felt how the earth rotated, turning the place where I was sitting towards the sun.
Soon the sun was covered with clouds and I knew it wouldn’t be long until it rained. I was still cold but felt very energetic.
At some point I made the decision to take some of the branches from the dying tree, to add some comfort and wind protection. On the one hand I somehow felt bad about doing this, since I did not want it to be a comfortable experience in the first place. On the other hand I have practiced survival and bushcraft skills for many years and it felt like a natural thing to do.
In the end however I decided to allow myself to do it. If I had wanted, I could have built myself a proper and warm shelter.
I then returned into my cave and spend another long time there.
Shivering and thinking and shivering and not thinking.
At some point it started to rain. Drops of water found their way through the soil on top of me. They dripped on my body and ran down my skin. With my fingertips I collected some drops from my skin and from the roots around me. These water drops were the only water I drank during the whole time.
Later that day I thought that I should move on to another spot. Even though I was still cold, it was already warmer than during the night and certainly drier and less windy than “outside”.
On the other hand I enjoyed the fact that I was so cut off from my surroundings. I heard a big heavy bird landing on a tree nearby and I was sure that it was a capercaillie, even though I could not see it. In the night I had heard some bigger animal moving branches and leaves nearby and at times I heard fishes eating at the lake surface.
And I certainly enjoyed being in the roots of a tree and being as down to Earth as I have never been before in my life.
I moved on. I put on my sarong, my shirt and my belt.
I moved very silently and slowly. My ears and eyes were on the horizon and once again I enjoyed the benefits of “splatter vision”, which I think everybody who moves on this planet should use, not only when moving outside of the cities.
While I walked I warmed up and I decided that I should walk barefoot more often. Not only does it make me feel the ground and the Earth in more detail, but it also slows me down to a better pace. And of course it is the most silent way of walking and provides excellent grip on most surfaces. Not to forget that I was born without shoes into a world that originally was without “trails” made of asphalt, cement and gravel.
At the edge of a bog stood a pine that was strangely twisted. I went to touch the pine and sat down next to it. A strong pain in my left lower leg made me jump up and I saw four red ants sitting on leg. The skin around them was red and I carefully but quickly brushed them off.
I moved on.
I came to a place on an island in the bog. It was a little hill with pines, rowan, birches and some juniper growing on it. At the edges of the island, reaching into the bog grew labrador tea and the ground was covered with rocks, mosses and berries.
On the very top of the island was a single place where nothing grew: a sandy area, barely big enough for me to lie down. Close to the place stood a mushroom that was unknown to me. It looked good but not good to eat.
I accepted the invitation, took of my cloth and belt and lay down.
I felt the planet behind my back and the cold wind on my body, which was now blowing strong over the hill. I closed my eyes and hoped for something to happen. By now I had only one night left and I was worried that this solo would not become what I had hoped for.
I was thinking about the mushroom. There it stood, just an arm’s length from me, and it could maybe provide me with the vision or hallucination I was hoping for.
What do we know about mushrooms? We know which to eat and which not. What did shamans and witches know? And what knew the traditional healers and masters of medicine, who cured our ancestors and made them survive to become our ancestors?
The wind was so cold. I was shivering all over my body. Knowing that I could just pull my legs to my body to prevent heat loss I still continued lying outstretched on my back.
I opened my eyes and saw the clouds rushing over the sky. One cloud after the other passed by but something was wrong. There was one cloud on top of me, which was just there, standing still, as if not affected by the wind. I was aware that the cloud could just be higher up, where less or different wind was blowing.
I closed my eyes. I was shivering strongly. Always when I heard in the trees that a new gust of wind was coming up towards me, the shivering increased automatically and my body calmed down after the gust went by.
I saw some black and white dots, like big pixels, forming blurry pictures against my closed eyelids. Different pictures but nothing that I could understand. I tried to see clear like one tries to see the hidden 3D image behind one of those colorful magic pictures.
The wind was so cold.
I opened my eyes and the cloud was gone.
I could not stand in this place. It was too cold and the rain would come back. Not wanting to return to the cave, I went looking for place on the leeward side of another bog-island. On one island I found a rock, which was almost white, and I also found some more wind-felled pines.
When it got darker and started to rain, I decided to go back to the cave.
The sandy place on the hill was the only alternative and it was just so cold there. With the rain and an even colder night coming up, it felt like a poor choice.
Also I could not see how I would be able to think anything when I was shivering so badly and hypothermia would be a real threat.
And of course, the little home-improvement from earlier should not be done for nothing.
I reached the cave, took off my cloth and belt and crawled in.
The root-end of the tree was facing straight into the wind and the roof had become a lot thinner and with a lot more holes since I had left the cave.
Sand was now falling all the time, sticking to my wet skin and hair. Every now and then stones fell down next and down onto me and I felt along the roof to get an idea where bigger stones might come down. Near to the entrance was a big hole on the roof and I crawled as deep into the cave as possible.
Rain was coming in through the soil, even though I could not see the sky. Underground rain.
I felt exhausted and cold but still very positive and somehow also good and full of energy. The night went by almost like the first one. Every now and then I also lay down, crunched together like an embryo. This time I didn’t mind to sleep, hoping to maybe see some dreams.
Laying naked on cold, hard and partly wet soil, which I had “softened” with branches, did not allow me to have any longer naps and I changed between laying on my right and left side, with lots of sitting times in between.
Often I wanted to cut of my long hair, because it got all wrapped up into the roots and painfully stopped me from moving. But I was not to use my knife and the only alternative would’ve been ripping it out, which felt as appealing as senseless.
The night was cold and when the morning came I hoped for the sun. But the sun did not show and it was to be a rainy day.
My son was at the cottage with my parents in law and we were to leave the next day. At some point I decided to leave the cave.
Very slowly I went back to the cottage.
When I arrived I heated the sauna. I washed myself drank about a liter of blueberry soup, dressed properly, ate and drank.
It was my fourth day without food and suddenly I felt hungry. The whole time I had not felt tired, or hungry or thirsty. Only cold.
After doing the dishes, I got a headache and went to lie on the sofa. I could not sleep.
In the next night in the cottage, I woke up with the sunrise and lay awake for long time, further thinking.
Now, at the time of writing it’s only two nights since I came back from the forest and I am still deep in thoughts. Before the solo I did not have a clear idea what it would be like and I do expect more thoughts to come.
Lessons for life
To keep the post from getting too much longer, the Lessons for Life (by Huck) are available from here as separate .pdf file. (Just klick the text!)
If you agree with Huck’s points above you might want to sign his petition: Save the world. Seriously. At least it won’t hurt trying to do the right thing.
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Note that the text in Italic and the photos are by Jaakko Heikka. All the rest is courtesy and property of Huck.
If you have any thoughts, questions or opinions you would like to share, please feel free to contact Huck directly or comment below. Huck will be answering your comments here.