A great article from the San Francisco Chronicle – perhaps applicable to “staying alive” in this “wild” recession??? – Solitaire
You ever face a life-or-death predicament in the outdoors? Yes? Then you already know to never assume you’ll rise to the challenge. And “If you live on the edge,” as the late Waylon Jennings said, then you know “you can be subject to a fall.”
These lessons come to mind after Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper and two friends were lost at sea when their boat capsized on an offshore fishing trip last weekend, and a Squaw Valley ski patroller was killed Tuesday by an avalanche as he tried to clear the resort of exactly that danger. Like many who followed these stories, my heart goes out to the families and friends of the victims.
Last April, I wrote about a similar siege of tragedies, and it seems calamities in the outdoors are reported virtually every week. These stories remind me of the close calls I’ve had and the advice my mentors and friends have provided on trips.
Here’s that collected wisdom. I hope you clip it, save it, and stay safe:
1. Never hope: When you face a crisis, never try to hope your way through it. Take complete command of the outcome, even if this means immediate withdrawal for your safety. Rusty Ballinger, my flight instructor, repeated this so many times that it is practically branded on my forehead. This is the opposite of what Waylon called “Going to the Bank of Chances.” One night at South Lake Tahoe, he said: “If you keep going to the Bank of Chances, you’ll find you’re overdrawn.”
2. Get your ego out of the way: Most athletes and successful professionals are hard-wired to believe they can handle anything, no matter what they face and how little training they actually have. “You do not rise to the occasion,” said Il Ling New, firearms and self-defense instructor. “You default to your level of training.” Remember that. So get trained to the highest skill levels in everything you do.
3. Know the danger: “Mountains wait for you to make a mistake, then punish you, but water comes after you, attacking you. You have to be ready for both.” Jeffrey Patty, photographer and wilderness explorer, said that one night at camp. The moment was memorable, after we’d nearly drowned trying to cross a river at flood stage amid a six-week off-trail wilderness expedition where we’d been hired to look for Bigfoot (really).
4. Learn your lessons: The first time we hiked the John Muir Trail, a few miles north of Forester Pass, we crossed paths with some know-it-all greenhorns, and my brother Rambob said: “Smarts in the outdoors has nothing to do with intelligence. It has to do with learning your lessons.” Never forgot that moment. Personal expertise often comes from having failed in small ways, then using those experiences to get it right.
5. Get it right: “Know what the hell you’re doing,” commanded Ed Dunckel, my Little League baseball coach, who in the next 40 years shared all his fishing secrets with me. In my travels, he advised always seeking out the top experts I could find and then learning everything they knew. I’ve always done that. I still have mentors for everything.
6. Have a plan: Many crises develop when members of a group do not work out a clear plan that they agree to share. This can be true even for a mild vacation. “Start every trip by having a meeting of the minds on how you’re going to spend your time, especially husbands and wives,” advised rafting guide Diane Strachan. “The problems start when people have a different idea of what is supposed to happen.” In a crisis, this is amplified a hundred fold, when your life can depend on swift, coordinated action.
7. Be decisive: “Have an idea, then move forward.” This was the motto of legendary woodsman Davy Crockett. Guides still teach it. “If you execute your plan, be decisive,” New said. “A mediocre plan executed assertively will serve you better than a perfect plan executed poorly or too late.”
8. Trust yourself: If you are the type of person who is perpetually disappointed when others let you down, as Bob Dylan wrote, then instead “trust yourself.” To take it a step further, “Trust your intuition,” says scientist and trekker Michael Furniss. Once, trekking off-trail in the Trinity Alps, we decided against a planned route up to Sawtooth Ridge when he said, “This doesn’t feel right in my gut.” We reconvened and developed a new plan. Way better.
9. Leave yourself an out: The “surprise factor” is often common in outdoor tragedies. “Most people don’t see it coming,” said Bob Simms, one of California’s top woodsmen, “so always leave yourself an out no matter what happens.” Of course, before heading out, assemble all the information available for your trip. Prevent and avoid rather than confront. This is the opposite of hoping you’ll make it, and in that case, see No. 1 about the Bank of Chances.
10. Pay attention: This recent trend, where people simply don’t pay any attention to what’s going on, shocks us old-school guys. We see people tune out from nature and reality as it occurs, where they instead plug into iPods, cell phones, radios or talk too much. I really don’t understand it. The greatest pleasure of the outdoors comes by unplugging from technology and heightening and taking in the sight, sound, smell, touch, taste and how you feel inside. Those with heightened awareness not only have a better time, but they tend to stay out of trouble.