The camping trip started off like most others: kids screaming, music blaring, cellphone ringing — so I didn't hear the sport-utility vehicle's rear hatch open and the gear hit the street.
Merely three minutes into my drive, I glanced in the rearview mirror and noticed the open door. I did a U-turn and retraced my path, getting all the way home without recovering anything and discovering essential equipment had fallen out.
I lost a tent, cooler and backpack full of my personal gear. My mind raced as I tried to think of each item in the backpack: jeans, hiking socks and my beloved Boy Scout jacket.
Then I remembered: Oh, no! My Ranger knife!
The Gerber locking blade was a present from my friend Jim Wilson, chief ranger at Fort De Soto County Park. The knife, which bears the insignia of the U.S. Army Rangers, had been given to him by his son-in-law, Lt. Col. Rob Boone of the 82nd Airborne. Boone, a descendant of the legendary frontiersman Daniel Boone, had carried the knife with him in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I was devastated. How could I explain to my friend that I had lost such an important gift? I felt like I had let down Wilson, Boone and his famous ancestor. Feeling sorry for myself I continued on to the county park and set up camp.
As I was stacking wood for a fire, I remembered something that happened earlier in the day.
I woke up dreaming about Clint Eastwood. Actually, I had been dreaming about one of his movies, Heartbreak Ridge. In the film Eastwood's character, a U.S. Marine gunnery sergeant, tells his squad that they must "improvise, adapt and overcome."
The movie star did not coin the phrase. It is the unofficial mantra of the Corps, the smallest and most poorly funded branch of the military, for decades. As a result, Marines are accustomed to doing more with less.
So I went to work, printed out those three words in big, bold, block letters and showed them to my boss. "This is going to be my mantra for 2012," I said. He just smiled and shook his head like he always does when he wonders if I've finally stepped over the edge.
Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. Good advice for everybody in these trying times.
I am sure that is what old Dan Boone must have thought when he was captured by the Shawnees only to escape and lead his captors on a four-day, 160-mile footrace through the wilderness. Boone never faltered. He never gave up. The frontiersman continued on against all odds and arrived in time to warn his family and friends of an impending Indian attack.
The vision of this buckskin buccaneer barreling through the woods, day after day, made me stop and think about what I "want" verses what I "need."
As an outdoors writer, I love to get the latest gear and gadgets, because high-tech equipment certainly makes my adventures in the great outdoors more enjoyable. I love my new, propane-powered coffee maker, but I wonder sometimes, is it essential?
Probably not. When it comes right down to it, there are only a few things that I could never go without. Here's my short list: waterproof matches, compass, space blanket and, of course, a good, trusty knife.
I'm not saying that you should stop shopping at your favorite sporting goods store. On the contrary, buy quality gear and take good care of it.
In 2012, I plan to get back to basics. I hope to do more with less. But I'm not going to go overboard. I plan to buy new underwear at least once a year. However, as much as I want to buy a buckskin jacket and knee-high moccasins to wear to work, I will resist the urge and make do with what I have.
I will improvise. I will adapt. I will overcome.
With that in mind, my recent loss of a few material items, although sentimental, doesn't really seem like that big of a deal.
I made my peace in the woods that night and returned home the following morning ready to follow my new mantra. Then, unloading the gear in the garage, I saw my Ranger knife on my workbench next to the sharpening stone.
Had I forgotten to pack it? Or had a gear angel found the missing item and returned it? We'll never know. But the loss, albeit temporary, made me better, stronger and wiser. And for that I am thankful.