This is a guest post by Frank B and entry in our non-fiction writing contest – where you could win $100 cash. (This contest ends on June 5 2011 so get busy)
It was my goal to reach Ranch Road and be back home well before dark. I had the help of two able sons and our faithful dog Max. We would be on foot, on ground close to home and traveling the estimated 3 miles without packs. We did however carry flagging ribbon, canteens and my lensatic marching compass. Our mission was simple. We were to follow a single compass heading (east) from the northeastern corner of our 40 acres and flag trees from two sides so that a tractor operator could come through at a later time and knock them down. It was a cool and clear autumn day. We started just after lunch.
We moved quickly, making good headway along the easement line for the marking trees and enjoying the afternoon. Sooner than I expected, the afternoon sky hard turned darker. Looking up and to the west across the high desert we could clearly see a storm front rolling in fast. I had not seen one like this before.
The front line of the storm stretched across the entire horizon and was very low. The kind of ominous dark storm that most people never see first hand but only in movies. Before we knew it, the afternoon sun was entirely blotted out of the sky by the front and total darkness took over. It was clear that we should be headed on back home to the ranch.
I took a quick inventory of the boys, Max, and our limited gear and realized that I had lost my sense of direction in the total darkness. The wind started to pick up and within a few seconds a freezing rain started to fall. Shortly thereafter the lightning and thunder arrived. My first thought was, as you might expect; look at my compass and head west! Well, that is exactly what I started to do but, having not been willing to spend the extra money on a tritium compass, knowing that I would never even remotely be in a situation that would require such a feature, I found that my economically justified, non-tritium, glow-in-the-dark-for-three-seconds-if-held-under-light-for-three-minutes version was completely useless in total darkness.
You would then think any reasonable survivalist/rancher would then use his flashlight to look at the compass. As it happened, this reasonable survivalist/rancher did not bring a flashlight. Why would I bring a flashlight on a daytime project walking through the high desert? After short consideration as to whether or not to ask the boys if they had a flashlight I decided not to ask. Why would they have a flashlight? In fact they have had many flashlights. Too many to even count. I have bought more flashlights than any one private individual in the entire country. For as many flashlights as I have bought my boys you’d think they’d have flashlights spilling out of their pants. This was followed with a search for matches. I had none. Again I asked myself why would I be carrying matches? I had quit smoking several months earlier. Too bad.
I even tried to make out the compass face and get a heading as the lightning flashes illuminated the sky but I could not focus quickly enough in the short space of time the lightning flashed.
With the wind picking up and the freezing rain now getting harder I wished I had a cigarette and turned to the boys and told them I couldn’t read the compass to know which way was home. They both had their own ideas about which direction to head out on but then Jeff suggested that I try to read the compass using his matches.
We all three got down on our knees and huddled together trying to block the wind. Opening the book of matches I felt the sticks and determined that we had three. About 20 too few to keep lit in the wind and rain.
I gave the compass to the boys to let them try to read it by the lightning. They failed as well.
There we were. Lost within three miles of home, in the dark cold freezing rain with only the light of thunderbolts to lead us through the brush.
We did make it home that night. Once we made it to some high ground, I was able to make out the silhouette of a familiar mountain in the flash of the lightning and get a bearing on the closest road. My wife and youngest son had wondered why we were still out on an evening as bad as this and drove our truck around to where they thought we’d be. Our paths crossed about half way home but not before the boys, Max, and I, toured the more of the surrounding 300 acres than we wanted to in the dark.
In my defense, I have read compasses for many years in boats offshore, hiking in the back country and flying small planes. I have never been lost in the brush before or since. (Even at this occasion, I really wasn’t technically lost.)
I can see a day coming soon when many might seek the safety that traveling at night will offer. Travel that might not only be at night, but off the open road and perhaps in the woods where the night can be even darker.
A good tritium compass will be an absolute necessity for this journey. A small flashlight with a IR or red lens will also prove to be a benefit when you need to find something in your gear while in the darkness.
Using a flashlight at night to view a non-tritium compass should be considered as a last resort. The metal in the flashlight may interfere with the compass and your night vision can be compromised by the light itself and remember that it is easy for others to see your light source from great distances at night, so protect what you do within your pack or from other concealment.
Please take my word for it; the tritium compass is a must have item over all other compasses.
I now carry several items as everyday carry items (EDC) that I had previously just left in my BOB (Bug Out Bag). A flashlight (4sevens Quark MiNi), an Aurora Fire Starter and a tritium compass (Cammenga) are with me everywhere I go.
Do you carry a compass or EDC kit? Let us know what you carry in the comments below…8-)