Beyond the skills


Here be dragons… (Historic image from GIS)

I volunteered recently to assist with some workshops on one sunny Saturday.

My particular presentation was early, but I stuck around to catch up, chit-chat and just help out where I could.

Upon the completion of the day, I was kiddingly asked if I learned anything.

I said “Always more to learn“.   The reaction from both people was bemused, and they wanted to know what more I had to learn.

I said that it would be arrogant to assume there is nothing more I had to learn when it comes to the outdoors. (The exact phrase I used? “Otherwise it would mean I am a cocky ***hole.”  )

Though I was flattered by remarks, it really is true. I can be a very experienced backpacker, but there is always more to learn when it comes to the outdoors. And it applies to anyone.

It is why I, personally, do not like to use the word expert when it comes to most people.  Experienced? Knowledgeable about an activity? Sure.

But most people have a very narrow skill set in this day and age and will call themselves an “expert” despite their lack of comprehensive knowledge.

To quote Niels Bohr:  “An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field“.  Expert is usually not the correct word in most cases I find. A specialist may be better terminology…  This terminology may be especially true in a past time such as backpacking. Backpacking is a rather large umbrella.  A person who knows winter camping extremely well may not know how to set up a tarp, for example. Or a person who can cover 30 miles a day may know jack shit about cooking scrumptious backcountry meals or how to identify wildflowers.

I think of my late grandfather who could make cabinets, make exquisite brickwork and structures, do carpentry, basic auto maintenance, etc. AND was very well read.  I find myself lacking compared to his much more extensive skill set.

And that is how I feel about the outdoors. I am a very experienced all-around backpacker and outdoors person.

But there is much for me to learn if I don’t want to be a backpacking specialist.

For example:

  • I’m a very competent Nordic backcountry skier. Tele skiing? Not-so-much. I get by more on stubbornness than a proper technique.

But those are two outdoor skill sets that won’t improve dramatically I suspect. Other outdoor activities are too important to me. I don’t want to withdraw too much from my time bank to get better at activities that I am not as passionate about.

But there are outdoor skill sets I’d love to learn or improve upon that would only enhance my outdoor skill set and, more importantly, my enjoyment of the outdoors itself.


Water travel by canoe or kayaking:  It has been almost 30 years since I’ve been on an overnight canoe trip. During my brief Boy Scout days, I remember two overnight trips we did on the Wood River.  Even then, my impressions were how much more remote things seemed when you paddled to a campsite on a river in the woods.  The memories I have of those canoe trips are perhaps tinged with nostalgia, but I remember having a bit of the same feeling of why I love backpacking: It was quite, peaceful and I found myself immersed in the natural world.  Canoes require more space than I currently have available. And, quite frankly, I am in the wrong state for that type of water travel (as opposed to whitewater, done-in-a-day type trips).  Perhaps if I moved near the Yellowstone at some point?

As for why a canoe versus a kayak? Well, since I am still learning and researching, my answer would not be as valid as more experienced people. I will say the canoes strikes me as more versatile versus a kayak for gear, perhaps the New Englander in me just has a natural affinity for canoes and the large French-Canadian population in New England has lent a certain historical bent for wanting a canoe.  Of course, a sit-on-top kayak for fresh water would be tempting for quick and light river trips vs. the more car-camping like potential of canoes. See, I have more to learn…

Packrafting Packrafting would be an adjunct to my backpacking. It could allow me to access something such as The Maze without needing a long ride on a gnarly 4WD road. Or plan a mixed river and mountain trip. The possibilities are abundant. And it is both a skill and equipment I do not have any practical experience with at this time. But I’d like to.

Hunting:  Ever so often, we visit friends of ours in “Wydaho Valley” . We enjoy staying at Kelly and Jay’s house in the foothills near Driggs, ID.  Kelly and Jay both  hunt for the pot. Elk and venison are always available when we visit. And they are nice enough to let us have some elk or venison when we leave. We thank them for our stay by cooking some delicious meals using what they hunted. Kelly and Jay, by their own admission, are not good cooks. I am proud of the culture of food I grew up with and will gladly whip up something as the game meat is delicious.   Someday I would not mind having this hunting skill set myself. A chance to be out in a different way, to have meat that I’ve obtained myself and further enhance both my skill set and love for cooking. The tracking aspect would be useful even when not hunting. Those skills will have to wait until we are in a more rural area. Colorado is too crowded.


Then there are always more flowers and trees to identify, history to learn, geology to know, and even camp recipes to cook up.

Every so-called outdoors expert has more to learn. An accomplished mountaineer may not know how to build retaining walls for trail work or set up a comfortable camp in dispersed BLM land; a thru-hikers main skill set may be managing layers very effectively while moving quick and efficiently.  But not neccessarily be off trail. And so on.

Not having any more to learn..or having a desire to learn something new? That would be a poor life for me personally.

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doug k
8 years ago

“I am in the wrong state for that type of water travel.” not at all.. CO, UT and WY have a number of good river trips. See the Rocky Mt Canoe Club, Yes, a canoe is much better than a kayak 😉 More space, more load capacity, drier, more comfortable.. It’s much like backpacking, except you can bring a cooler, dutch oven, and decent wine. Ha. The sit-on-top kayaks are surprisingly heavy, heavier than a solo canoe. Yet another canoe advantage.. 33lbs for this one, the cheapest and most robust option IMO, There are beautiful light Kevlar canoes,… Read more »

Zach K
Zach K
8 years ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

If you can get around a week off, I’d recommend canoeing the Green River through Labyrinth Canyon in Utah. The put in is in the town of Green River and take out is at Mineral Bottom, just near Moab. This is a nice 65 mile or so stretch of flat water with plenty of beautiful canyons to camp in and explore on day hikes.