The Dunes on Snake River below Lower Granite Dam
Scouting for a spot: The dunes on the Snake River below Lower Granite Dam

7 Rules for Reconnaissance, aka Adventure Recon 101

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Obviously we’re not talking about special forces reconnaissance behind enemy lines here.

The Dunes on Snake River below Lower Granite Dam
Scouting for a spot: The dunes on the Snake River below Lower Granite Dam

We’re talking about everyday adventure recon, that is, checking out your world so you can more fully enjoy it later. I recently stumbled upon this notion of recon — of using it as an organizing principle. The problem with everyday adventure is that it takes time. There’s an element of risk, and it rises exponentially with each new person you add to come along. High expectations, you know. Puts a little stress on the leadership.

Everyone from small children on to grandma and grandpa expect you to know what you’re doing and where you’re going. I’ve been on more than a few trips that haven’t gone well. Fishing trips with no fish. Trails to hike that were too hard or too easy or too full of trees and no view. Swimming holes that turned out to be muddy, slimy messes. And here’s the thing: A lot of places are seasonal. Lakes that are great fishing in April and May are murky with algae in June. Swimming spots that are dangerous and cold in June are perfect in July and just a trickle in August. How do you know where to go and when?

You don’t. Not for sure. Not all the time. So you’ve got to do a little recon, and even if you’re going with friends and family, you can set expectations in the right way: You might say, “I’m not sure exactly where we’re going or how great it will be, but we’re going on an adventure, and we’re going to find a new place and check it out — see what we see and learn what we learn.”

Recon, it turns out, is a great way to think about your summer. Here’s an example. On one weekend, we went camping in McCall, Idaho. I don’t know the area all that well, and we were getting there Friday night, so I reserved a camping spot in a campground online. Not my typical best camping experience, but hey, it was a “base camp.” That reset expectations for everyone — a base camp. When we got there, we knew we’d be tooling around looking for cool places to see. Turns out, once we arrived, the only spot available was a group spot for $30 a night instead of $10. Still pretty cheap in the big scheme of things. More importantly, the group spot was secluded and made for a great base camp, and as such it’s filed away as a possible future destination . . . for up to 50 people. Besides, that little trip led to one of my all-time favorite camping photos.

panasonic lumix ts5 waterproof camera
A great rugged and waterproof camera is an adventure must-have.

7 Tips for Adventure Recon

  1. Fill Your Tank — top off the fuel tank since you’re not sure exactly how far or how long you’ll be gone.
  2. Pack Snacks — you’ll need something to eat and drink.
  3. Shoes, Socks, Shirts — flip flops are not right for everything. Case in point: Navigating steep and very hot sand dunes with a cooler full of beer.
  4. Ask Around — best before you go, but don’t hesitate to ask people you meet along the way.
  5. Map It First — also, before you go, take a look at the area with something like Google Maps or Google Earth. Check out the roads, the terrain, the satellite views. Print. If you’ve got a smartphone, load up the maps or use a mapping program so you have the maps before you’re stuck out on the middle of nowhere with zero cell service.
  6. Keep It Light — don’t let imperfection with any portion of the trip get you down or make you irritable and snappy at your fellow adventurers; in fact, as a man, you might have to optimistically remind everyone that this is an adventure, a recon trip, a spy mission to find the best spot and a new place to go.
  7. Tell Someone Where You’re Going — be sure to mention your trip before you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere acting out your own private version of Man vs. Wild. Another option: Leave a note on your kitchen table.

And don’t forget the photos — see also:

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