Lost in the Fog on the far side of Anywhere

Perry "sleeps" under a rock on the end of the Great Blasket Island

If you go as far west in Ireland as you can possibly go, you’ll find yourself on the Dingle Peninsula, the westernmost land in all of Europe.

Three miles beyond, in the Atlantic, is the Great Blasket Island, the most westerly place you can visit on the entire continent.

The Great Blasket is heartbreakingly beautiful. Having visited 35 countries, I’ve never discovered a more alluring locale.

“Perry, no email could ever do this place justice,” my companions said when they visited. No picture can either. Forty shades of green and then some.

A sunset from the edge of the Blasket is a bucket-list life experience.

The isle is shaped like a giant loaf of bread in the middle of the ocean. Half-mile wide and four miles long, peaked down the center with 800-foot cliffs on each side.

Billy O’Connor’s hostel is in the abandoned village on the east end.

Beyond that, nothing but rocks, grass, donkeys, sheep, rabbits and birds.

Perry's Rock (GPS Location)

The Great Blasket Island off the west coast of Ireland, photo by Liam Higgins

It takes 3-4 hours to walk from the village to the end of the Great Blasket island and back.

On the day I traveled there, it was misty. I asked Killian, who runs the hostel, if it was safe to hike to the end.

“Yeah, should be good. It’ll get foggy towards evening but should be a great trip.”

We exchanged phone numbers. Off I went.


Perry Marshall on the Blasket

I was dressed as you see here – sandals, shorts and a T-shirt under my long sleeve shirt.

Temperature was a tick over 60 degrees (15ºC). I took a bottle of water, phone and some snacks. I’d just arrived that morning, slept for maybe two hours on the plane.

I should have been exhausted. But having just landed in a foreign country I was revved. Thrilled to be there. Adrenaline surge.

Mist came and went. The island is surrounded by other islands, but you could only see one. A well-worn path carries you halfway. Past that, only sheep trails meandering this way and that.

I headed west down the main trail. I walked for a couple of hours, eventually arriving at the far end. I turned around and headed back.

About the time I turned back, I ran out of both water and cell phone battery. My phone had recently been exchanged under warranty. For some reason the new phone ran hot and ate batteries.

Otherwise it surely would have been good for a few more hours.

I thought I had solved it with the usual battery-saver tricks… but apparently NOT.

Battery charger was in my bag back at the hostel.

On the way back I grew very, very tired. Hadn’t eaten much that day. Running on almost no sleep. Hills were steep. Hundreds of feet up and down.

I’m conserving energy. Instead of heading straight up slopes, I’m curving around the sides of hills and unfortunately getting caught in the middle of rocky inclines.

Going is slow. Should I fall, it’s an 800-foot tumble into the Atlantic ocean, bouncing down the 60-degree incline.

A blister is forming on my right foot. My left leg is starting to cramp every now and then. These crags and hills and wide open spaces seem vast when you’re all alone.

This is taking a long time. (Why???) And I’m getting REALLY thirsty.

It’s also growing hazy. It was almost clear around 5:30 or so, but it’s been getting steadily mistier.

Now it’s downright foggy. I can see maybe a quarter of a mile.

At one point, I wonder if I’ve gotten myself turned around. But I’m too tired to entertain the thought. I speed up.

Suddenly….

I’m at the end of the island. AGAIN.

Oh no. I look at my watch. It is starting to get DARK. It’s 9:30!!!

Uh-oh. This is very, very bad.

Oh no.

Perry, don’t tell me you got yourself turned around and now you’re right back where you were three hours ago.

Yessir, Perry, you are right back where you were three hours ago.

“I am at the far end of the Great Blasket Island off the west coast of Ireland. Killian is a two-hour trek back east. There are a handful of people on that end of the island, not a soul anywhere near, it’s almost dusk and no sane person would EVER try to walk along those cliffs in the dark. Ever.”

Can I call Killian?

I try to turn on my phone. No dice.

Whoah… looks like I’m gonna be sleeping HERE tonight.

At the west end of an island…. 4 miles from the nearest humans, 7 miles from the mainland… jutting into the Atlantic with 3000 miles of water between me and the United States… and I’m going to be sleeping somewhere around here. All night.

In 53 degree damp weather wearing two shirts, shorts, sandals, and no water.

Dang.

This is really, REALLY bad.

How did this happen??

So here I am on the Great Blasket Island, which may be the most enchanting place on earth. It’s foggy and I’ve hiked 4 miles to the end, turned around, gotten lost, and suddenly and abruptly found myself back again at the END of the island.

It’s 9:30 at night.

No sane person would EVER try to walk back in the dark - or even almost dark. You would tumble off an 800-foot cliff and never be seen again. Certain death.

Many have fallen off those cliffs. Including islanders who lived here and herded sheep 100+ years ago. Heck, even sheep get blown off these cliffs sometimes.

Here I am. Stuck.

No cell phone. No water. I’m extremely tired, desperately thirsty. I’ve hiked at least 12 miles today plus jet lagged from the overnight flight from Chicago to Ireland.

My homing instinct says, Perry, find a place where you can settle down and try to go to sleep. NOW - before it gets any darker.

Where?

I head down the side of a hill. Just over there. Under that rock.

Dang. I can’t believe this is happening.

I recall Killian and the handful of guests back at the hostel. They are undoubtedly wondering where that guy from Chicago disappeared to – if not now, they will soon.

Sooner or later Killian will start calling me and getting voice mail.

Could anyone come looking for me?

Not any time soon.

If I were somehow stuck, would they ever find me?

It would take DAYS.

Can I find my way back?

I’m not even 100% certain I’m even where I think I am! What if I’m on some other little peninsula?

It’s foggy and getting foggier. I can see maybe a quarter mile. I can see just well past the edge to see the churning waters of the Atlantic.

I have a terrifying thought: What if I’m halfway back and I only THINK I’m at the end right now? What will happen if I try to ‘go back’ from the wrong place? The wrong direction?

24 hours from now I’m supposed to meet my fellow travelers in Dingle for dinner. What if they all get there… and Perry doesn’t show up?

What starts to happen after Killian tracks down my wife on his cell phone and she finds out I’ve already been missing for 24 hours?

And if I don’t show up, where will I be stranded? Along with no water, no food and no cell phone?

Fortunately: there are no animal predators. So at least I’m safe on that count. If I can stay alive. But not only is it getting dark… it’s cold.

60 degrees (15ºC) is just fine for hiking if you’re wearing shorts and two shirts. And if you’re moving.

But now it’s more like 13ºC / 55ºF - and I’m not going to be hiking ‘til morning. Temp is dropping.

I’m going to attempt to sleep on the dirt under this rock.

So… how about that rock? It’s sticking out of the side of the hill. It offers about three feet of shelter.

Just past its edge on the ground is another rock with a nice hunk of moss about three inches thick the size of a large pancake. That hunk of moss is going to make a nice pillow.

Perry Marshall’s West Blasket B&B.

Perry's Rock

After fussing with my arrangement, I manage to prepare a moderately acceptable place to sleep. I don’t normally go to bed at 9:45 but I can’t go anywhere now. It’s too dark.

I can see the outline of the last hill on the island in the fog.

I can’t see the ocean, but I can hear it.

I’m wondering if I’m where I think I am. What if I think I’m at the end but I’m actually somewhere else?

The fog thins… only for about fifteen minutes. Just long enough that I can see Inishnabro and Inishvickillane, adjacent islands about a mile offshore… so thankfully I do know exactly where I am.

Oh my goodness you can’t imagine how glad I am that the fog thinned so I’m not TOTALLY lost.

I know I really am at the end of the island. Dude. I am freaking seven miles into the Atlantic, surrounded by ocean on three sides, sleeping under a rock!

(How did this happen?????????)

Did I mention it was cold? I recall Billy’s email just a couple of days ago:

“Bring warm clothes, the nights have been chilly!”

I have no warm clothes. Shorts and two shirts. Which are kind of wet, because it’s so misty and foggy. No jacket.

Dang.

I lay on my moss pillow. I wonder: 

How exactly did I get turned around and wind up here in the first place? 

Near where Perry slept on the Great Blasket Island

My head is spinning. I have no idea when this fog might clear… how am I going find my way back?

One wouldn’t think you could get lost on a 4-mile long, half-mile wide loaf of bread with cliffs on both sides.

But you can get lost any place if you can only see a quarter mile.

I am cold. And thirsty. Haven’t had anything to drink for three hours and I’ve been climbing the whole time.

As I lay down, the birds decide they are NOT happy about my presence. They fly around in circles above me. Squawking and squeaking. For hours.

Three birds smacked into me. Along with three rabbits. A couple of times I yelled at them which caused them to back off for a while.

I had just repaired an old watch before the trip. I hadn’t worn that watch in ages. It had glow in the dark hands and markers. The hands glowed the whole night. So, I always knew what time it was.

That’s how I knew the birds stopped squawking at about 1am. (As I feigned sleep.)

Hopefully I would be able to get some actual z’s.

While I was laying there listening to the birds (not sleeping) for three hours, I worked out that the reason I got lost was from trying to conserve energy by taking “short cuts” around the sides of hills.

I had gotten lazy and followed sheep trails, which apparently curved around and started going the other way…

I reasoned that if I always stay on the highest possible elevation as I head back east, it should be almost impossible for me to walk around in circles and get lost.

Now it was getting cold. 53 degrees F. 12°C or so. I curled up, holding my forearms over my face, conserving my heat, warming my skin with every breath. My moss pillow thankfully retained heat from the side of my head. I hoped with the birds quiet I would finally be able to get some actual sleep.

I can’t believe I am actually on the west end of the Blaskets off the Irish coast, 3000 miles from America, sleeping under a rock overlooking the mighty Atlantic in shorts, temps in the low 50s with angry birds…

I don’t know how this is going to turn out…

If I make it OK this is going to make a great story…

…but there is no guarantee this is gonna turn out well at all, and dude you better know EXACTLY where you’re headed when you crawl out from under this rock. Exactly.

I lay there. Minutes drag by. The wind picks up. Every time that breeze blows, it cuts right through my shirt to the bone. I wrap my arms around my knees and head and breathe on my knees to keep warm.

The sand drips s-l-o-w through the hourglass when you’re freezing cold, sitting upright under a rock seven miles into the north Atlantic.

But wait, there’s more:

SHIVERING.

I had never known the full extent the human body can shiver.

When I tensed my muscles just a little bit, my whole upper body would break out into full throttle shudders for extended periods. My arms and shoulders would shake violently. That shaking was comforting because it kept me warm. This was no mere teeth chattering, this was all my muscles revving like a vibrator.

This went on for hours, this violent shuddering and shaking.

But wait, there’s more:

At 1:30 am it starts… raining.

 

My head is sticking out past the rock. My warm moss pillow is exposed to the elements. Can’t stay in the rain.

So, I must sit up under the rock to stay dry. I move my things (wallet, phone, contents of my pockets) under the rock. I sit upright in a fetal position trying to stay warm. I wrap arms around my head and knees. I keep my knees and arms warm with every breath.

Boy does every minute drag slowly when you can’t sleep and you’re sitting under a rock shivering violently, thirsty and exhausted beyond belief.

How crazy is this? What kind of convo were the other people at the hostel having about me before they retired to their soft warm beds?

I can’t believe this happened. What’s it like in my own soft warm bed on the 2nd floor of the hostel next to my luggage and water bottles and phone charger?

Why didn’t I bring more water? How about a jacket? Perry, you KNEW your phone was eating batteries so why didn’t you bring your freaking battery charger? Why didn’t you grab it before you left? Or how about your flashlight? You had ALL that stuff in your bag, so why didn’t you bring ANY of it to where you would actually NEED it?

Perry’s irrepressible optimism: “Nothing can go wrong. I can always work things out.”

Yeah right, you’re always lucky. You know what’s lucky right now? You’re terrifyingly lucky that west Atlantic wind is not blowing 30 miles per hour, that’s what’s lucky for you today. You know full well the wind here can get up to 70 MPH. You saw that shattered cement wall at Dunquin pier from the storm last winter.

Nobody knows better than YOU there ain’t a single tree in ten miles cuz it’s so windy. You better thank God it’s 54 degrees tonight and not 45. Five degrees could spell life and death under this rock.

You’re lucky you brought two shirts instead of one, and one of them thank God has long sleeves.

You’re lucky you found a rock on THIS side of the hill, facing AWAY from the wind.

You’re lucky it’s June 19 which is nearly the longest day and shortest night of the year, so you can escape from this rock at stupid o’clock in the morning instead of six or seven.

You’re lucky there’s any moonlight at all, so you’re not staring into absolute inky black. You’re lucky you saw those two islands so you could calm your mind and not spend the whole night escalating into a full panic.

What do you do when you’re feeling that lucky?

You pray, that’s what you do.

I don’t know if you’ve ever prayed literally the night through or not, but I did.

I did not flagellate myself. I did not panic. (Though I was tempted a couple of times.) Yes, I was very tired, very hungry, very thirsty and very cold, but I did keep my cool. I planned my exit.

How did this happen anyway? I thought I was just going for a long leisurely walk in the most beautiful place on earth. But when you’re in this much danger you don’t care about pretty scenery anymore. Plus, you can’t see it in the dark.

I recall a couple of times the evening before where the path looked a little odd… a little backwards… I remember thinking the steeper cliff ought to be on my left but it was on my right. But I hadn’t even been open to the idea that I might already be lost. Until it was too late.

I entertained whimsical thoughts:

“Hello, is this Wing-Wah Chinese Food to Take Out? I would like to order some chicken chow mein, extra rice, sautéed almond green beans and a fortune cookie. Can I get some orange soda with that? With two extra bottled waters?

“Oh, and by the way, do you deliver to the southwest corner of the Great Blasket Island off the west coast of Ireland? The nearest city is Dingle.”

“Sorry, Blasket outside our delivery area, sir.”

“Is there any way you can expedite some fried rice and orange drink? I’m really friggin’ hungry and thirsty here under this rock.”

“Ah yes, we send drone for you. We send drone for carry Chinese food.”

“Thank you, sir, that’s terrific. So, I’m crouched under the big jutting rock, the one about six hundred feet from the very end. And by the way, what time will your drone be arriving at the island? I need you to tell me so I can keep an eye peeled for it. I promise to leave your drone a generous tip, and yes, I will be paying with MasterCard. The number is 5416…”

The hours drag by in the gloom. I can still make out the outline of the last slope at the end of the island.

I’m grateful there’s a moon shining above those clouds. No sign of the other islands, the fog is so thick. It’s two forty-five… it’s three fifteen… breathing on my knees, keeping warm…. it’s three thirty, it’s three forty-five, it’s four.

Just because you’re dehydrated doesn't mean nature doesn’t call. Twice, I’ve gotta relieve myself. Do you ever argue with yourself about potty breaks from your warm bed at home? Consider how much more you argue with your bladder when you’re huddled under your rock, a stone’s throw from the Atlantic and must climb out to take a pee.

“Hey bladder, my mouth and brain and some of us other parts are dehydrated and thirsty up here near the top of our body. Do you think you could recycle some of that urine back into the system while we try to sleep for awhile?”

Finally, at 4:15 there’s enough daylight to make out where I’m going. I stuff items back into my pockets and head east.

Perry, if you get lost once more, you are finished. For good.

I’ve gotten maybe three hours of sleep in the last 48 hours. Oh, I am so tired. I give myself a pep talk:

Mr. Perry, this is just gonna be UN-comfortable until you get back. And you must ALWAYS pay attention, your mind cannot wander, your awareness cannot lapse, you must point yourself to the HIGHEST elevation spot you can find.

You cannot let yourself be seduced by any trail or “easy path” because you would get lost again and that would spell doom.

You could get disoriented or turned around. You’re on the verge of dehydration, you can get hypothermia. Focus, focus, focus. You will march straight up every single hill even if it’s marshy or full of bushes or tall grass or whatever.

I press ahead through the misty grey. One foot in front of the other. Next step, next step, next step. Up the hills.

Sheep glimpse me and hurry away. I notice a steady wind from the west at my back. It’s not wavering. A welcome sanity check, because if I feel that wind to the left side of my back I know I’m OK. I lumber up and down the hills, passing familiar landmarks – landmarks I had now seen at least twice.

At the crests of the hills, that west wind is brisk and strong. At least 20 miles per hour.

It’s so foggy my glasses are saturated with water droplets. (Ironic considering how thirsty I am.) I keep licking them off.

I don’t care if I’m stepping in sheep droppings. I just want to get home.

Trudging, trudging. Past 800-foot cliffs, past stone sheep pens hundreds of years old, ancient landmarks and stone circles placed there by ancient people whom the world has long forgotten.

You pass a pile of stones and you can’t tell whether it was built in 1947 or 1497.

I finally get to… the “traffic light.” The traffic light is the name comically given to the spot where two wide trails come together from the east side of the island.

I was gloriously relieved now that I was back to where I could not get lost.


Great Blasket Island on a misty morning

Finally, at 6:15 I roll back into the village, open the door and stride into the hostel.

Mary, the lady from Tarbert whom I’d met on the boat the day before, is making tea.

“What happened to YOU???!!!???” she exclaims.

I tell my precarious misadventure. She looks me hard in the eye. “We prayed a lot of Rosaries for you, buddy!”

“Three rabbits and three birds even smacked into me in the dark,” I offer.

“Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, my friend, that was your sign right there,” she replied. “Somebody was looking out for you.”

Dang, she sounds like an old-time Blasket lady right out of one of those Islander books that Irish kids read in middle school.

She boils me some tea. I gulp it down along with bottles of water and granola bars.

I slept like a rock until Billy ferried me back to the mainland.

Never, ever, E-V-E-R, has a warm bed felt so good.


Black Head AKA Ceann Dubh - Finding Perry's Rock at the west end of the Great Blasket Island

This was taken on the way to finding "Perry's Rock." In the summer of 2015, Perry got lost in the fog on the way back from the far west end of the Great Blasket Island. Only wearing a shirt, shorts, and shoes for a long hike alone is not something any travel agent would recommend for an American tourist taking a hike on a large, windy, unpredictable island off the Dingle Peninsula in western Ireland. Despite that, Perry had gotten lost after a thick fog had settled upon the island. Perry's phone had just run out of battery so he had no other recourse but to hunker down and wait for the fog to pass. He found a rock that jutted out from the side of the steep cliffside of Black Head. This seemed suitable enough as a shelter to sleep under so he huddled and shivered until the fog lifted. Perry is very lucky to be alive and we're quite happy to have him! Where he slept, we have setup a rock with the engraving "Perry Marshall's West Blasket B&B" If anyone would like to stay there, Bring Your Own Breakfast but the whiskey, (placed at the rock in 2019) is free.


A Postmortem on My Blasket Misadventure

Where Perry Slept on the Great Blasket Island

I shared my Blasket scrape-with-death story in my Renaissance Club paid newsletter the very next month.

I got two kinds of calls and emails about it.

The first kind was friends reaching out, almost as though to make certain I’m OK.

The other kind was from experienced outdoors people. (Of which I am obviously not a member.)

One guy emailed from Scotland:

“DUDE - that was CLOSE. Oh man, Perry…. I lived near a national park here in Scotland, and all summer long, once a week, some American would get carried out of there in a body bag, lost in the fog just like you did. Duuuuuuude…”

A scrape with death that close leaves a mark on you. It reverberated in my mind for months. Still does.

What did I learn from this?

1. When I got back to my room in the hostel, I surveyed my luggage strewn across the floor. The suitcase was laying wide open, dirty clothes tossed around.

I thought, “Here lies the luggage of the American man who died of hypothermia and dehydration on the Blasket last night. Here were his granola bars, here are his extra water bottles. Here’s his jacket… let’s see, here’s his extra cell phone charger and charging cords. Flashlight, check. Here’s his jeans.”

I pictured the headline:

AMERICAN BUSINESS AUTHOR DIES OF HYPOTHERMIA ON BLASKET ISLAND

Think how ridiculous that would’ve been. While my wife is arranging for my body to be flown back to Chicago from the tiny airport in Killarney.

Point being:

The Great Blasket Island isn’t Disney. (Neither is business, contrary to what the Pickup Artists might tell you.)

I went on my long leisurely walk TOTALLY unprepared. NO phone charger, no jacket, only one bottle of water (should have brought three), no extra food. Shorts not jeans.

As though I thought nothing could go wrong!

Battery charger alone would have prevented the whole mess.

Any of those other items would have made my night under that rock far more tolerable and less dangerous. With a jacket and jeans, it would be darn near impossible to freeze to death.

But shorts and sandals made for a terrifying night on the jagged edge.

How unnecessary.

And STUPID.

IT DOESN’T TAKE MUCH TO DRASTICALLY SLASH THE RISK OF WHATEVER YOU’RE DOING. But you cannot let optimism rule the day. Unrestrained optimism = certain death.

2. Lost people walk around in circles.

When you don’t know where you are – or when you haven’t learned the lesson you’re supposed to learn – the lesson returns with a vengeance. It grows worse with each turn of the merry-go-round.

3. If you don’t know exactly where you are, YOU ARE LOST.

If you’re 80% sure you know where you are but 20% not sure where you are… then you still don’t know whether you’re lost or not.

Not knowing whether you’re lost or not is worse than being lost and knowing it!

Finding out exactly how lost you are is a hard pill to swallow. If you’re in debt, do you know EXACTLY how much you owe? Most folks don’t.

Yeah, I know the exact number is depressing. But the exact number is also liberating. The exact number is the only road to freedom.

4. We all make lousy decisions when we’re tired and hungry.

Stop starting arguments with your spouse at 9:30pm. 9:30 is as good a time as any to realize you’re lost, but it’s a bad time to find your way back. Crummy time of day to solve problems.

Especially in a fog.

5. You can’t see the big picture in fog.

You can only travel from landmark to landmark. On the map...



...you see a clear top ridge running across the island. When I was walking home in the fog, I just had to point myself to the highest altitude spot at all times and follow that ridge. Pretty simple.

Fog is normal in business and in life. Never will you have the luxury of easily seeing the total picture of where you are all the time. Dr. Glenn Livingston says, “Most people overestimate what they can achieve in one year, and underestimate what they can achieve in five years.”

6. Sometimes life is gonna suck for a while.

While I don’t believe in postponing happiness, during some seasons you realize you are just plain stuck under your rock until sunrise. There was absolutely NOTHING I could do there but wait and shiver and keep warm.

I’ve got a friend whose wife filed for divorce in December. One of the most useful things his companions could provide was a road map that said, “Here is what is going to unfold during the next two years of your life.”

7. Sometimes the only thing you can do is put one foot in front of the other.

When it was time to walk, there was no getting around the fact that I was unbelievably tired and terribly thirsty and it didn’t change the mandatory putting one foot in front of the other for four miles all the way home. “This is not terrifying. Just extremely cold and uncomfortable.”

8. Every disaster eventually makes a great story.

Planet Perry members know this. And the faster you realize “I am living the story I will someday tell” the faster you begin relishing the assets that life is naturally giving you, all the time.

There would be no great story if I were not pressing the edge. There’s a reason I was staying overnight on a remote island in a hostel with no electricity, instead of the Marriott.

9. What you’re learning isn’t what you think you’re learning.

I was 100% occupied with staying alive and getting home safe. The warning about Perry’s irrepressible optimism had already been driven home, thank you very much.

Far more was going on in the background. I found myself dreaming about it night after night, rolling around the experience in my mind. Asking what it all meant. Did that really happen? Did I really get lost in the fog and sleep under a cold rock on the far side of anywhere?

When a guy climbs Everest, he has in some sense become one with the mountain. The mountain has become one with him. It changes him. He carries that experience forward. He OWNS it.

While my physical body and conscious mind were fully occupied with battling the resistance, the world around me was supplying a rich set of lessons and metaphors for my heart and soul.

This became a major life parable for me. Lost in the fog & shivering under a rock could be a phase of your business… a rough patch in your marriage… two years of grad school far away from home and family… almost anything.

10. This could never happen apart from being in nature.

Nature is vast and powerful. It’s far greater than all of us. You cannot understand or connect to nature until you fully respect it and fear it. Most people do not. This is not a trivial point.

Our world is packaged, plasticized, sterilized, pasteurized, compartmentalized, secularized. The Dilbert Cube existence is a plastic world where you never experience anything real. Dilbert Cube occupants lack common sense.

“What can go wrong?”

(Hey buddy, I know one way you can find out :^)

One of the reasons you build a business in the first place is so you can venture out and have experiences like these.

My father never got to go places like Ireland, let alone head there a day early to decompress by himself on a wild, sparsely populated island with 800-foot cliffs.

Free yourself so you can experience this amazing world we’ve been given.

And carpe diem – seize the day. With Providence your guide.

Perry Marshall