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On getting lost.


Dear Jim,

Today I got lost.

I don't think I've ever been lost like this before.

I've lost my way in cities, parks, airports, on roads, on foot, but there has always been someone to ask, a phone to pull out and check, some form of giving in and admitting failure.

But this was different.

There is no path.

There is no phone reception.

There is no one around to ask.

In fact, I could pretty much guarantee that if I stayed in the spot I was lost all day, no one would pass by.

It was a really interesting experience.

There was no real fear, as there is nothing exceptionally dangerous on this island that could come along and kill me.

There was still at least 8hrs worth of full daylight.

And there wasn't anywhere I needed to be.

But I did have to resolve the situation on my own.

Which, in its truest form, is quite unusual these days.

Of course, we have to solve all problems on out own, in all sorts of contexts.

But more often than not, we have the option to ask for help, even if it feels like we can't.

Here, in the middle of the arctic, on a beach, surrounded by swamp and mountains, there was NO ONE to ask.

Absolutely no one.

And in my life time, that is unusual.

I knew where I was geographically on the island, but I didn't know how to get there.

Let me give it some context.

I had hiked from our base about an hour and a half (approx. 4km) up a mountain to reach a beach that has an incredibly steep sand dune - so steep and incredible that is a noted attraction of the landscape.

It's difficult to capture how steep this sand mountain is.

Standing at the top, looking down to the beach, you get vertigo.

It's probably a little over 50m down to the base, but it's so steep that you sort of have to place your feet sideways. Even then, you sink into the sand up to your ankles with each step.

Climbing up the mountain would be incredibly difficult without walking poles or help.

You would essentially have to crawl on all fours to navigate the incredibly steep, shifting surface.

So once you're down, you have to cross the beach, find the road, and loop around another couple of mountains that take you on a 7km hike back to the port.

From the top of the sand mountain, you can see the road quite clearly, and reaching it seems straight forward. But once you've descended to the beach, the road mysteriously disappears like a weird mirage. No matter which way you turn, it seem to have completely vanished.

And you keep looking back at the giant sand mountain, knowing how to find the path home on the other side, but knowing that the minute you start trying to climb it, you will realise what a terrible idea it is.

I wasn't worried about being lost, as one of the other residents here had done this walk a few days before, and warned me that she had trouble finding the road.

So, alone in the arctic wilderness, I had to work out what to do when there are no kind strangers to ask for directions.

I lie, I wasn't totally alone.

I was accompanied by many quite judgemental, and equally unhelpful, arctic sheep.

I knew vaguely which direction the road was, as I had seen it before descending sand mountain, but it was much further than it looked from the peak. After a few frustrating attempts at following what I thought were small walking trails (turns out they were just sheep tracks) I decided I had two choices:

- follow the power lines

- follow the river

Now, normally, power lines would suggest a path to civilisation, perhaps even a road?

But these power lines led exactly the opposite direction to where I had seen the small stretch of road from above. The river, one the hand, looked like it led to where I wanted to go.

So, with a reckless attitude and a sense of adventure, I chose the river.

Definitely the more rugged path.

Definitely the wetter path.

But, as it turns out, the most direct route to the road.

I'm not really telling you about this experience to prove I can find my way out, or boast of an adventure.

Really, it wasn't that big a feat. There was no real danger, and apart from being frustrated at the sheep, and incredibly wet, I quite enjoyed the experience.

The most interesting thing I found about it, is how it made me think about being lost.

Most of us, it seems, are lost a lot of the time.

And most of the time, we could ask for direction.

Often if we are brave enough to ask, we aren't given a clear answer, and still have to make a final decision on our own.

The power lines, as it turns out, would have led me to the road eventually, probably on less rugged terrain, but further distance.

I think this is often the case when we are lost - physically or emotionally - we can see the road from the top of sand mountain, but once we descend into the heart of the beach, it is much harder to find the path out.

Very metaphorical...

Intuition, frustration, determination, doubt, discomfort, fear of failure, something to prove, necessity, recklessness.

All things that contribute to becoming un-lost.

Not found necessarily, but finding a way back.

There was a recklessness in myself that I enjoyed rediscovering, that seems to get pushed to the side in day to day functioning and expectation.

Perhaps if I didn't have a gps, or google, or the option to ask people for directions easily at hand, I would be better at making decisions and finding my way back in the real world.


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© Alisa Tanaka-King 2020