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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Don't be an idiot

I could have titled this a couple of different ways. Here's a few that were in contention:

Be prepared

This ain’t Disneyland folks!

Does sh*t just seem to "happen" to you?

Unlucky or unprepared?

The ignorance of people to very real physical danger astounds me. To be fair, it’s probably not their fault. Less and less people are growing up on farms and other places where there is a very real danger of being maimed or killed. From an early age, they learn that the stove is hot, be careful going down stairs, and perhaps not to play behind the SUV because mommy might be backing out .

Perhaps I’m not giving enough credit. Perhaps today’s children and young adults do have a good handle on the reality that there are many things in this world that can kill and maim through your carelessness. Maybe they do realize that sometimes there are no safety guards, people to sue, or rescuers standing by to save your sorry….err…bottom.

If so, than I’ll be generous and assume what I’ve seen over the summer is the exception.

From a very early age I was aware of the dangers of living and knew there were some things that even my parents couldn’t save me from. By age of 5 I knew better than to lean across the tractor PTO, or where loose clothing or my hair down. My uncle (not really an uncle, but I thought of him that way) was missing an arm due to a machine accident, and another relative that got kicked in the head by a horse. I didn’t have any illusions that there is always a happy ending and I understood the clear connection between my decisions and actions, and my wellbeing. Even in novel situations I understood it was my responsibility to access and determine what dangers may exist.

So how then do I explain the parents of little children that stood and watched with tolerant smiles as their kids darted around carriages, tried to climb on cannons hooked to a limber and horse team, and placed their bodies in front of carriage wheels, where one movement of the team would have made for a very flat child – or rather one that had a rather nasty flat channel running through its body where the iron rimmed wheel had made it’s path.

Sometimes I think people are used to doing whatever they want without thought, because “nothing ever happens”. And they are right – I’ve never ran over or injured someone – in part because there are a ton of volunteers around me that are trying to herd the cats – errr…I mean public – without hurting feelings, and it helps that I have the best horses in the world hitched up, who I can trust. But if those parents had an inkling of how many dead and maimed children and adults are part of our history books because of carriage accidents, I have a feeling that the napping Nellie hooked up to the carriage would evoke the same caution as a car that has been put into reverse while you are walking nearby in the parking lot – not necessarily fear, but caution and responsibility.

Climbing a 14er such as Pikes Peak is no joke, even though a VERY nicely maintained trail will take you all the way up to the top if you wish. It was amazing to me the number of people that didn’t bring water. Or a way of treating it. Or a container to put the water in. Or the cash to rent a filter at Barr camp. Or the people who were continuing up the peak above tree line in the middle of a (well predicted) lightening storm. The thing is – most of those people make it through OK. They have an exciting story to tell and they may or may not have gotten the “point”. That they were warned. That they were ill-prepared. That people more experienced than they strongly advised trying to peak that day. That walking up and down 13 miles of a 14er isn’t a Disneyland ride.

I realize that sometimes you end up in a perilous situation regardless of preparation or experience. And often, as a novice you can’t know all the dangers, and sometimes, sh*t happens. If a well prepared person goes out to sea in a single person sailboat, determined to do solo sailing on the Atlantic, and he ends up in a lifeboat, (I just finished “Adrift”), then I feel like that person knowingly evaluated the risk, decided that it was worth the risk of death, and did it. What about another story I heard while on Pikes Peak of a hiker, determined to reach the summit during a snow storm and continued past Barr Camp, even though the locals strongly advised that is attire, supplies, and experience was not up the task once he reached the half way point? (if he had been a horse at an endurance ride, the ride vets would have pulled him). He continued anyways, stashed his duffle ~6 miles from the peak and continued onward Fortunately, a local was worried, went looking for him, found him and a helicopter life flight was called in or he would probably be dead. This is an example of a person who potentially put many more lives than his own at risk because of his inability/unwillingness/ to recognize the hazards. Probably 100’s of people just like him reach the peak every year, each one of them equally unprepared…..but sometimes things don’t work out – and then it’s an ugly situation you’ve gotten yourself into.

It’s wonderfully gratifying to save a life or be a first responder to a tragedy adverted….but how many times did the person not have any business being there in the first place? How many people get themselves into tragic circumstances because of being naive to the real dangers of the activity, who never make the distinction between what they see in movies or amusement parks, and what the natural world is like?

Endurance riding, especially rides that carry more risk for horse and rider like Tevis, is a sport that I hope is full of people who consciously weigh the risks and make informed decisions. Endurance riding is not the show ring where all variables are known before hand (as much as the horse variable can be predicted….). I think that one reason this sport rises above the rest is the willingness of the community to support new riders, to be honest, and to lend a helping hand on the trail. It is not my belief that endurance riding should ever be so controlled that is basically a rail class with better scenery or a Disneyland amusement park – but I appreciate the regulations and control judging that is in place to help all of us make better decisions during a ride, and help us to weigh the benefits of continuing versus “calling it day”.

Danger in life is not negative – it is the spice that when accounted for in our thought processes makes us sharper, more focused, and more alive. Just keep in mind, there are not necessarily safety guards and warning signs for all the hazards of this world. Live accordingly.


  1. Excellent post.

    I think a lot of people lack forethought. Some just do not think. "What ever happens, happens" is only a good phrase to live by if nothing terrible occurs. Why risk it?

  2. Great post, Mel.

    Years ago, I read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer about the author's experiences on Mt Everest during the disasterous 1997 climbing season. The author holds himself partly responsible for the deaths of eight people--of course, he didn't frog march them onto the mountain, they took themselves there. Still, it was by action and inaction related to preparedness (and lack of) that those people are dead.

    Reading the book made me think. What I thought was: "some people do not belong on a mountain, putting themselves and other people in peril...and I am one of them what shouldn't be there. I gave away my climbing gear the day I finished the book, and have stuck to lowland adventures better suited to my skillset ever since.

    Extreme? Maybe. But I haven't got anybody killed, either.

  3. I recently read that book! It was really interesting and definitely gave me a healthily dose of reality when it comes to expeditions - not all risks can be minimized. It s obvious that the author got more than he bargained for and is daily living with his decisions and regrets, and frustrations of other people's actions. It was a fascinating book.

  4. Getting someone else killed or hurt because of my actions would be a terrible thing. And probably a good litmus test for my further activities....


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