Imagine filling out a form on the website of a travel company, telling them some personal details, your geographic preferences for adventuring, and how much money you can afford to spend, then that company whisks you away, your destination unknown.
You arrive…somewhere, with just enough gear to get you through two nights in the wilderness, a satellite communicator if you must call for help, and a vague destination. You’re helplessly lost. You must find your way to the mystery destination using only what’s in your pack and your wits. A team of expedition pros are watching your every move, though you never see them.
Sound fun? Have about $15,000 lying around? Well, head on over to Black Tomato to sign up.
While this sounds vaguely like the premise of the Michael Douglas film, The Game, it is very real. We’d love to tell you more about it, including some first-hand reporting, and heck, maybe some day we will. But for now, you can read this New Yorker article all about the program, and one man’s experience.
Here’s a taste:
One recent afternoon in Morocco, a fifty-nine-year-old former Royal Marine Commando named Phil Asher walked me into a desolate valley in the Atlas Mountains, shook my hand, and abandoned me. Asher, whom I had met only the previous evening, has a gray beard, a piercing gaze, and a bone-dry sense of humor. He teaches survival skills to people who have never fast-roped from a helicopter or killed their dinner. That morning, he had spent several hours educating me on the rudiments of living in the wilderness, alone. Now I was in the wilderness, alone.
The travel firm that organized my trip, Black Tomato, calls this experience Get Lost—a playful misnomer, since the idea is to do the opposite. A client is dropped somewhere spectacular and scantly populated, and challenged to find his or her way out within a given time period. From the moment that Asher left me in the valley, I was allotted two days to walk to a rendezvous point eighteen miles away, over and around mountains.
I had stuffed my backpack with everything that I thought I might need, within strict guidelines set by Asher: no matches, no tent, no phone. My pack contained clothes, paper maps, a compass, two G.P.S. trackers, spare batteries, notepads and pens, a big knife, a sleeping bag, flashlights, fire-lighting equipment, dried food, a few energy-rich snacks, three litres of water, a mosquito shelter, a roll mat, and a tarpaulin. I also carried an old Samsung handset with its sim card removed, so that I could take photographs. Asher reckoned that my bag weighed fifty pounds. I was going to trek for two days, at altitude, with the equivalent of my six-year-old daughter strapped to my back.
You might be wondering: dude, why not just go backpacking?
It’s a good question. Maybe it’s the thrill of the unknown, like, the truly unknown, just arriving at a place you didn’t pick yourself, with no planning whatsoever done on your part. The thrill of being lost-adjacent: not really lost, but near enough to light up the animal panic part of your brain.
Anyway, a fascinating if borderline dystopian idea.