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How to Weather a Storm

In other words, how to not lose your mind to boredom, according to polar explorer Eric Larsen.


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Photo by Eric Larsen

On day eight of my 2014 North Pole expedition, my expedition partner and I woke to 50 mph winds and a complete whiteout. With the outside temperature hovering around 80 degrees below zero, there was no way to travel.

This is the norm for Arctic travel. I have literally spent years of my life in a tent, caught in storms, on one adventure or another. During that time, I’ve gained a few insights into the best strategies to overcome the boredom and anxiety that can ensue. After all, learning to deal with delays is just as important as knowing how to tie a figure-eight knot—and these are lessons that apply well beyond a four-by-three-foot nylon space.

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When leaving the tent is suicide, keeping busy is the key to sanity. Photo by Eric Larsen.

#1. Relax and Take a Nap

Too often on expeditions, I’m operating on too little sleep and too little energy. Long travel days and heavy loads take their toll. At some point on every trip, I actually hope a storm blows in so I can rest and recuperate. Sleeping an extra two or three hours is just as important as moving, I’ve learned.

One pro tip: Buy earplugs. The sound of nylon violently flapping in the wind is only one level of hell above fingernails on a chalkboard as far as I’m concerned.

#2. Take a Minute to Organize and Repair

After wearing through both thumbs in my mittens during a month on the trail, I made a whole new pair of handwarmers by sewing together two Granite Gear stuffsacks with dental floss. I used up nearly an hour and half of tent time in the process.

Equally important is staying organized. There is no question that at some point, my gear becomes, shall we say, disheveled: only one glove liner; mismatched, wet socks; weird fungus growing in my food bag. The first thing I do on a storm day is take all my gear out of stuffsacks, make sure everything is in good working order, then repack it in a way that keeps important items accessible.

#3. Don’t Demonize the Smartphone

I once spent nine days in a tent stuck on a small ice sheet off the coast of Siberia with nothing to read and only a small, 512-megabyte MP3 player. By the seventh day, I was so mentally fried that I couldn’t sleep. Had smartphones been around at the time, those nine days would have flown by. Music, games, podcasts, audiobooks, games, digital downloads…the list goes on and on. (I can effortlessly slaughter two hours of storm time with Fruit Ninja.)

Wary of getting too closed off from teammates and adventure buddies by too much earbud alone time, we often listen to podcasts together on a Bluetooth speaker, which often spawns additional conversation.

#4. Read a Book

I don’t think it’s all that hyperbolic to say that nearly every piece of poetry and prose ever written has been read and appreciated on the side of a mountain in a storm. Reading, discussing, and exchanging books is de rigueur at base camp.

#5. Communicate

Now we can text from anywhere in the world. My Garmin InReach goes with me on any expedition or adventure, and downtime is often a chance for me to send messages to friends and supporters. I’ve gotten a few message from friends in the field, too.

#6. ... And Talk to Each Other

I know as much about my expedition partners as I do my wife. At a certain point, everything else becomes boring and being tent-bound is simply hanging out. From my experience, conversations run the gamut from childhood experiences to unrequited love to favorite movies and food. We’ve had some good, gut-busting laughs, too. After a certain number of hours spent sitting, everything becomes ridiculous.

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This post originally appeared on Outside and was published August 1, 2017. This article is republished here with permission.

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