Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Stay or Go — Part 1

Worst case scenario: You have driven so far back in the mountains that civilization is only a vague memory.  Without warning, your vehicle breathes its last, leaving you stranded.  This is the stuff of which headlines in tomorrow's newspaper are made.

Regardless of the kind of vehicle we use for mobility in the backcountry, it can be both a blessing and a curse.  On the benefit side, our wheels make it possible to cover a lot more ground in less time, be rested when we arrive at our destination, haul supplies and take passengers along for the ride.

But at the same time, the ability to cover a lot of ground means that we can get ourselves deeper into trouble, faster, than if we were left to foot travel alone.  Not only that, but most of us become almost totally dependent upon the vehicle, complacently expecting it to always work perfectly.  When the vehicle breaks down, it can become an ugly situation if the driver and passengers aren't prepared to face the possibility of either a long-term stay in the wilderness awaiting rescue, or a long hike home.  Preparation is the key to survival in the wilderness, but when it relates to a vehicle breakdown there are a lot of things that need to be considered before any final decisions are made about hiking out for help.

If you have prepared well for the trip, somebody knows exactly where you are and when you are expected to be back home.  If you have failed to notify friends, relatives and local authorities about where you're going and when you expect to be back, shame on you.  Of, if you have violated your "flight plan," double shame.

But we all do, don't we?  Something unexpected comes up and attracts us off in another direction, and Murphy's Law demands that if a breakdown is to occur it must occur in the most unlikely, inaccessible spot, miles from where we're supposed to be.

So, you have things to do and decisions to make.  In our worst case scenario, you are stranded and you aren't going to be able to get the vehicle back in running condition.         

Step One: Take a deep breath, relax and evaluate the situation.  It probably isn't as bad as you think.  Is anyone in your party dead?  Is there an immediate threat to anyone's life? (I'm talking immediate, as in the jaws of a famished grizzly snapped firmly on the tail pockets of your companion who is scrambling up the nearest tree).  In all likelihood, none of these conditions exist, and you should count this as a major blessing.

Step Two: Realize a couple of facts.  The fact that you drove there means that other people can also drive there, and you may end up being accidentally rescued by another passerby.  Also, your vehicle is much more visible than you are.

What this means is that if your decide to leave your vehicle and try to hoof it out, rescue teams in the air and on the ground will have more difficulty finding you.  They may find the truck, but miss seeing you.  This is especially true if you were to hike crosscountry rather than following the road.
Now it's decision time.  Do you stay or go? 

We'll explore the ramifications to answering that question tomorrow.

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