Dave: Where the hell are we? I don’t recognize this place at all.
Philip: According to the map the stadium should be just about here.
Dave: Yeah, well, I don’t see anything that looks remotely like a stadium. All I see are old people grocery shopping and a group of loitering teenagers.
Philip: We should probably ask for directions. Go ask someone would you.
Dave: Me? You’re the navigator, the man with the map.
Philip: Fine. Hold on a second. (Philip goes to ask for directions, and returns) Ok, it’s official: we’re idiots. We’re in Exmouth, not Exeter.
Dave: Great. Nice job Shackleton.
Philip: Oh, shut up and drive.
Samantha: I don’t get it: how did we end up back here? The directions said take a left after the crossroads, drive down the road for twenty minutes, then turn left again.
Anna: Do you want to retrace our steps, see where we screwed up? Maybe we drove past it.
Samantha: There’s no point retracing our steps: we’re already back where we started. And it’s a countryside hotel; we would have to be pretty dense not to notice one of those. Plus, the guy on the phone said we can’t miss it.
Anna: I reckon we call them again. Maybe we copied down the directions wrong.
Samantha: Maybe. Here, let me see the paper, see what you wrote. (takes paper) ‘At the crossroads, turn left’. ‘At’, not ‘after’, you twit.
Anna: Really? God, I’m sorry. First round of drinks are on me.
Samantha: It’s a wedding: I think they have an open bar. Anyway, let’s just get there. We’re already 10 minutes late.
Anna: Fashionably late, surely? Anyway, the thing lasts for 6 hours. We’re hardly missing much.
Samantha: The wedding lasts for 6 hours, but the service starts at 3 and if we don’t see that Chloe will crucify us.
Anna: Good point, well made. Step on it.
When I was young I read a folktale about a monster called a Kelpie that roamed the moors and lochs, and lured (in the guise of a beautiful young maid or a horse) lost and unsuspecting travellers to a quiet lake where it would kill and eat them. I remember the story well because at that time I was living in the countryside, and the idea of being eaten on my way home from school was not a jolly one.
Anyway, the monster had one weakness: it could not cross running water (I have no idea why, but that is what the story said), and so any potential victim who managed to cross a river or stream would be able to escape. As it happened, there was a small creek that ran beneath an old stone bridge on my way home, and as I walked back I sometimes hurried a little in case I was being followed by this evil beast. The moment I crossed the babbling water, a sense of relief briefly came over me, quickly followed by a sense of dread: what if I had not crossed over away from the monster, but crossed over into its territory? I would then begin to walk even faster.
If you are lost in the wilderness, the first thing to remember is not to panic. If you are on a road, don’t wander off it, and if you are driving don’t leave your vehicle unless you have a good idea of where you are going. Vehicles are easier for others to notice, and provide shelter against the elements (most deaths of those stuck in the baking desert or frozen north come from people who try to walk their way out).
Remember that modern technology is your friend. Obviously mobile phones (many of which have a GPS system and compass) can easily help you contact and locate civilization, but also bear in mind that rescue teams can trace some electronic signals, so if you are going off the beaten track make sure you bring something that can help the emergency services. If, for some reason, you do need to walk out by yourself, don’t forget that whilst finding one’s way using the sun or stars is very intelligent, following the sounds of a horn, a light from a building, or things that are used by people (such as power cables, roads, pipes, fences etc.) will significantly increase your chances of finding help.
If you do somehow end up in a situation in which you have no technology, no vehicle, and see no signs of human life, use your head. Very few places on Earth have no signs of life, so think of the water, food and shelter that is making existence possible. Remember that clothing can be used for more than just warmth: tying things together, makeshift bags and even water filters can all be made from cloth.
All that said, the number one rule for survival remains simple: tell someone where you are going before you set out. Nobody will try to find you if nobody knows you’re missing.