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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Sports >  Outdoors

Ammi Midstokke: How to know what you don’t know

By Ammi Midstokke Correspondent

My naivety in things outdoor is sometimes so blatant that I am convinced I have a veritable army of guardian angels working overtime to keep me alive.

At least once per adventure – often for a consistent period of several hours – I think to myself, “This is the stuff I read about in ‘Real Life Dramas’ where you watch someone make a series of poor decisions leading to a catastrophic event, and everyone sees it coming from miles away.”

The thing is, I spend a lot of time outdoors so I think I know what I am doing. But as a friend said it so eloquently over coffee while I explained the statistical anomaly of me still being alive: You don’t know what you don’t know.

The more you do the things, the more you know about the things and the more aware you become of how limited your knowledge of things actually is.

More often than not, we just watch a tutorial on YouTube, consider ourselves knowledgeable, and go do the thing anyway.

In my experience, the best option is to surround yourself with other people who do know what you don’t know. If you are lucky, they are compassionate, tolerant, and eager to mentor your arrogant rookie attitude through your failures without letting you die. If you’re really lucky, they might even be kind about it.

In order to familiarize yourself with the reality that you don’t know, you may need to set aside the ego a little and remember once simple rule: Ask what you don’t know.

Ask questions that make you feel stupid. Ask questions that make it obvious to experienced people that you have no darn clue about what you are getting yourself into. Ask the hard questions, the easy questions, and remember to ask yourself questions, too.

Many times when I am preparing for an excursion or adventure with a group, there will be much discussion about equipment and gear and little about physical preparedness. In fact, most of us are bragging about some new rad water filter, pack, ultra light bag, boots, etc. that we have added to our Outdoor Arsenal. We thus consider ourselves prepared. We think we know.

The equipment we often fail to assess is our own body. If you are going out to do the thing, is your body ready to do the thing? Do you know what the thing is? Is your body going to show up at the base of some 40-foot cliff with a 50-pound pack and say, “You didn’t tell me we were going to do this thing.”

Of the few things I know, it is that convincing my body to do a thing it is not ready to do makes it rather rebellious. Sometimes it has tantrums, leaks from the eyes, or just downright refuses.

Bodies are less sympathetic than our adventure buddies. Mine used to be a little cocky and assume that if other bodies could do the thing, it could also do the thing.

This had me nearly fainting in the middle of a 200-foot rappel in a Patagonian canyon, dangling from a rope and begging my belay to hoist me back up. He merely chuckled and asked, “Didn’t you know?” before I drifted over the edge and out of sight.

Now it is safe for me to assume I don’t know a lot, so I start my adventures by assessing what I don’t know rather than focusing on what I do know. If we can prepare ourselves to respond to the unknown eventualities, we’ll have safer trips, better experiences, and potentially even a little less suffering. But that, you never know.

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