The Importance of Getting Lost

I’m driving down a steep cliff, in a car that isn’t my own, on a road I’ve never been in Cypress Hills Saskatchewan, over terrain that looks far too rough for the vehicle I’m in. I’m not exactly sure where I am and I’m not exactly sure if I’ll get out. I feel lost.

I have a love/hate relationship with that terrifying feeling of being lost. You know, the one that sits deep in your gut. The uncertain feeling that only comes when you are questioning just about everything. I hate the feeling because it sucks to be in that position. It sucks to have no idea where you are or what’s going to happen or what to do – it’s panic. I love that feeling because it challenges my problem solving skills. I first have to take a deep breath, calm my nerves, and ask myself what’s going on.

In A Field Guide to Getting Lost author Rebecca Solnit writes, “Worry is a way to pretend that you have knowledge or control over what you don’t – and it surprises me, even in myself, how much we prefer ugly scenarios to the pure unknown.”


The feeling of being lost, of the unknown, is an inevitable one but also one we avoid. Being lost goes against our primal instinct of survival – if some things are uncertain than survival is uncertain too; or so we would believe. New York Times best-selling author Dr. Mercola writes, “Anxiety is a natural, normal response to potential threats, which puts your body into a heightened state of awareness.” The problem is that the feeling of general uncertainty alone isn’t a threat, yet we perceive it to be one. Dr. Eliot D. Cohen says we have a, “demand for certainty in a world that is always tentative and uncertain,” and that this demand is where a lot of problems arise.

We are exceptional at problem solving, yet when we are lost we panic and forget this. The trick is to accept this panic as a signal that something may be wrong and unsafe, but not a conclusion that things are definitely that way.

It seems there is a point on every one of The Peakbaggers summit attempts where we feel lost. A few months ago, on our second summit attempt of Ishpatina Ridge, things got pretty tense.  In the dense backcountry we had lost the barely visible trail.  We were 9km from the car and the terrain was wet and uneven. We were repeatedly checking our GPS just to make sure we were on the right path, and once we had come off the path things got worse. Everyone was frustrated, tensions were high, and our confidence was dwindling. I took a deep-breath, calmed my nerves, and focused on what I knew – we weren’t on the trail but were heading in the right direction, if we kept the lake on our right we’d eventually reach camp, we’re wet but we can easily dry our clothes. I tried to instil some of this confidence on the rest of the team by encouragingly shouting, “If we keep moving this way, we will intersect with the path!” And eventually, to our extreme delight, we did.

I reminded myself of this moment while driving to visit some of Saskatchewan’s highest points. In the driver’s seat I took a deep breath and told myself what I knew – we were with a guide who knew the way and if I took things slowly we would be fine. I slowed down, accepted and listened to my nerves as mere a cautionary tale – and not a reason to turn back – and kept going until we saw some of the most incredible views of Saskatchewan.

People are emotional, problem-solving creatures. Sometimes we think we have to push our emotions out of the way in order to think analytically. Getting lost forces you to balance your emotions and problem solving skills. It calls upon our sense of survival and requires focus. Practising getting lost in lower-stake situations can help both in everyday life and when things get more dire. If you’re used to feeling panic and still adapting to solve the problem, you’ll be more calm and collected, whether the situation is dealing with a computer error in a presentation or getting down a mountain.

Need help getting lost just about anywhere? Check out the mobile app Drift – it provides seemingly random instructions to help you loose yourself in familiar places.

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