Thursday, April 26, 2018

How to Survive a Trip to the Wilderness (With or Without a Madman): Guest Post by Jenny Milchman

How to Survive a Trip to the Wilderness (With or Without a Madman) 

If you plan on taking a camping trip this summer, it’s unlikely that it will get as hairy as the one the couple in my new novel, Wicked River, sets out on. Natalie and Doug have to face, in no particular order (except that this actually follows the plot of the book)—

• Getting lost
• Dehydration
• Starvation (or at least real bad hunger)
• Injuries suffered after trying to accomplish near impossible physical feats
• An encounter with a survivalist madman

In addition to offering stunning beauty, peace, quiet, and nature, the wilderness can be a scary place. It’s the setting for a lot of great fiction; Heart of Darkness and Deliverance were just two of the works that influenced me.

Although it took only a few months to pen my feverish first draft, Wicked River was actually a story over two decades in the making.

It began when my husband and I set off on our own backcountry honeymoon in the Adirondacks, only to emerge after one day instead of the intended three weeks.

The reason we had to leave early is less important than the question that kept nagging at me as my new marriage was built, welded, and soldered.

What if we hadn’t turned back when we did?

Something draws us—human us, personkind—to the wilderness. “I went to the woods to live deliberately,” wrote Thoreau. It’s the perfect set of circumstances in which to celebrate and cultivate a new marriage—an event that deserves thought, reflection, and consideration if ever there was one.

But there’s a darker level to this as well, and it’s one that may especially resonate with mystery readers. The wilderness, whether we are newly married or not, impresses upon us the essential isolation of the human condition. Nature is bigger than any of us, and in many ways we are at its mercy. The civilized lives we have concocted conceal this fact. Our air is conditioned, made temperate. Food exists in a sealed contraption that preserves it; clean water runs from a spout. Closets offer an array of clothes that provide, depending on what we wish, warmth from the wind or protection from the searing sun. In our daily lives, we can nearly forget that we have the same base needs as any winter-skinny deer.

Nature whittles away at us, if it so chooses, until not even a close companion can reach us anymore. Even marriage, an institution that belies our central state of solitude much as the refrigerator masquerades the perishability of our food, can shrivel in the face of the worst that nature doles out.

That is what Natalie and Doug, the couple in Wicked River, discover. It’s the realization that my husband and I managed to escape by leaving early, but which haunts me to this day.

Would our bond have grown stronger if we’d faced a truly dire situation instead of the hoards of cannibalistic black flies that basically annoyed us out of the woods? Or might we not have lasted; could one of us—or both—have simply perished, unable to do what needed to be done to survive?

Natalie and Doug don’t just survive—they triumph in the woods. As for me, I can only hope that my husband and I would’ve met such challenges then, and would meet them today if necessary. That the cosseted, refrigerated, heated and cooled lives we’ve gotten to live are something to be grateful for, but not all that has allowed us to last.

It’s an uncomfortable question.

And not one, thankfully, most of us will ever have to answer.

In case you go on a camping trip, here are a few tips to keep you from that wicked river:

• Do bring a backup water purification solution, and a backup for the backup—even if you have to leave something less crucial behind to make weight.
• Don’t expect to go from sitting at a desk to walking ten miles. Condition in advance and take time to build up your strength and skills.
• Do feel free to travel at a reasonable pace, even if you’re with companions who move faster. Everybody hikes their own trail and paddles their own river.
• Don’t recriminate in the event of a mishap. Come up with a workaround and enact it.
• Do lay out a plan for your whole trip, and at the same time, do be flexible with the plan as needed.
• Don’t forget to listen to the silence, to look up at the stars. They’ll make up for a whole lot of blisters.

And remember to bring a good book.

Jenny Milchman is the author of the Mary Higgins Clark award-winning Cover of Snow, plus two other acclaimed novels set in the same fictional Adirondack town. Jenny sits on the board of directors of International Thriller Writers and is a member of the Sisters in Crime speakers bureau. Her fourth novel, Wicked River, is a Publishers Marketplace Buzz Book and a spring 2018 release.


Marja said...

What a wonderful post, Jenny! It reminds me of a lot of things from my husband's and my past. I shouldn't say a lot, but there are some interesting memories. I have a feeling your book is going to be a great read.

Jenny Milchman said...

Thank you, Marja! It's great to see you here. And I really hope you enjoy riding the river--unless 'enjoy' is the wrong word :)