when to give up - an ill-fated camping trip

Perseverance and commitment are awesome. But as an ill-fated camping trip in March taught me, sometimes we just need to know when to quit.

Cold-induced mini convulsions wracked my body as a large branch jabbed me in the ribs. Woodpiles make awful beds. I’m all for roughing it, but this camping trip was taking things a bit too far.

I finally worked up the courage to remove my hands from my armpits and crawled out from under the pile of thin blankets to add the piece of wood to the fire. It needed it. The feeble flames struggled to say lit under increasing bombardment from fat flakes of wet snow.

Looking around, I started to seriously question the wisdom of our March Break camping trip. Two other shivering bodies encircled the pitiful fire: my brother Nicholas and cousin Matt. At least they had sleeping bags. We didn’t have enough for everyone, so I ended up bringing a bunch of threadbare blankets for my bedding.

We had set up camp a few hours earlier in the woods next to a farmer’s field a few clicks from home. In fact, a few hours earlier things were peachy. Well, peachier at least. The day started out unseasonably warm — we’re talking t-shirt weather — which prompted the decision to go on an impromptu outdoor adventure.

But this is March in Canada. And as the afternoon wore on, Mother Nature flipped us the bird and sent temperatures plummeting. Of course, Mother Nature wasn’t the only one to blame. The shredded remains of our tent, flapping in the wind, were proof of that.

Earlier in the day, Nicholas had been gathering firewood and found a dead tree nearby. Grabbing the sizable log by one end, he started dragging it through the long grass back to camp. Unfortunately he failed to notice the jagged branch jutting out on one side, which snagged the side of our tent, slicing the entire side open.

Thank you, Nicholas.

With the tent no longer offering any sort of protection from the worsening elements, we decided that our best bet was sleeping as close to the fire as possible to try to stay warm. We crowded around, and I chose the woodpile so I’d at least be off the wet ground.

By now we realized what a colossal mistake we had made. But the “I told you so’s” waiting for us at home made us dig our heels in and refuse to pack it in. Instead, we lay there shivering in the woods as the snow piled higher.

It took far longer than it should have, but eventually the very real possibility of freezing to death won over our stubborn pride. Thankfully, Dad had loaned us his massive 90’s-era cell phone to use in case of emergencies and we begrudgingly made the “please rescue us” call.

After a glorious sleep in a warm bed, we returned to the ruins of our campsite to collect our things. My blankets and pillow were frozen stiff and I shuddered to think what would have happened to us if we had stuck it out. Going forward, we decided that perhaps March Breaks were best spent playing video games and watching reruns of Darkwing Duck.

And if we did go camping, taking Nicholas off firewood duty was a must.

Knowing when to quit

Simple(ton) Living by Josh MartinKnowing when to quit can be hard. Nobody likes the idea of giving up, especially when it’s something we’ve invested a lot of blood, sweat and tears into. No surrender! Balls to wall! These are common refrains in a society that trumpets success at any cost.

And don’t get me wrong: perseverance and commitment are wonderful qualities. In fact, I think those are two things the world needs more of these days. But I also think we need to develop greater self-awareness to know the difference between healthy and unhealthy resolve.

For example, during my cancer treatment, I was determined to do everything myself and had a hard time asking for help. I had no intention of giving up my independence and self-reliance. But the more the chemo took its toll on me, the more I realized I’d need a hand. Having Mom come down from Ottawa to take care of me after my bone marrow transplant meant swallowing my pride. But in hindsight, putting my ego aside was the right decision for my health.

For some things, the benefits of quitting are obvious. Few would argue with someone who wants to give up smoking. Other times though, it’s not as clear. Fear of failure, emotions, personal investment and societal pressures complicate letting go. But whether it’s an abusive marriage, a soul-sucking job or an unworkable project that’s sending you spiralling into debt, there are times when giving up is exactly the right thing to do.

It boils down to understanding your motivation. Ask yourself why you’re clinging to something. And if it’s out of stubbornness, pride, hubris, fear or concern over what others will think if you give up, then it might be time to consider letting go. After all, leaving a frozen corpse on a pile of wood because you were too proud to go home is a sign of stupidity, not stick-to-itiveness.

Like these stories? You’ll find a whole whack of them — more than 50 in fact — in my book Simple(ton) Living: Lessons in balance from life’s absurd moments.

One response to “Why “Never give up” can be awful advice: Lessons learned from sleeping on a woodpile in a snowstorm”

  1. For the intrepid outdoorsperson, hypothermia in the companion of many, and the friend of none. Last March Break, a friend and I slept on the ice of a frozen lake just south of Bon Echo Park. While we were also under the stars, neither of us was sleeping on a wood pile and we had more than a few threadbare blankets to stave off death. Still, very uncomfortable. Great drawing, by the way, at the top of your post.