Monday, June 28, 2010

Expect The Unexpected

The problem with history is that we can tend to take it for granted. When we do that, we expect certain things to happen, and other things NOT to happen. And that can lead to problems. A hiker named Tim Scott found out that just because, historically, an event has never happened is no reason to assume that it won't happen. In his case, it was a bear attack.

According to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, the black bear attack that put Scott in the hospital over this past weekend was the first recorded bear attack on a human in the state's history. That being the case, avid hikers like Scott have always felt fairly immune to bear attacks while trekking in Kentucky. And that, my friends, is a mistake.

Ordinarily, black bears are not very aggressive. Unless you come between a sow and her cub, or just totally surprise one of these bears, they normally run from human contact. That kind of "historical" behavior can lead us to feel fairly safe, even when we know black bears are somewhere in the area.

But in this case, the black bear actually pursued Tim Scott — very unexpeccted behavior.

The lesson to learn from all this is that we should expect the unexpected. Just because something never happened in the past is no reason to think it won't happen in the future. The moment we start begin too sure that a particular thing can't happen (because it never has before), we leave ourselves vulnerable.

This is exactly what leads to Day-Hike Syndrome. You casually engage in a short hike in familiar territory, feeling totally assured that nothing can go wrong — because you have done this same hike a dozen times before, and nothing ever went wrong in the past. Ka-Boom! That's when something happens that leaves you stranded. Maybe you become injured, or lost, or a hellacious storm suddenly sweeps in out of nowhere. And there you are, unprepared to spend extra time (maybe a few nights and days) living in the woods with no shelter, food, water, fire, first aid kit, or means of summoning help.

This happens all the time, by the way. It's because the victims of such incidents were over-confident, thinking that nothing could possibly go wrong. That's what Tim Scott thought about his chances of being attacked by a black bear on that trail. Even though this was known to be bear country, the bears always left people alone and an attack had never happened before … so he could feel safe; right?

Okay, here's the deal. Forget history. You must always expect that anything can happen, and be prepared to deal with it. A good place to start your preparation is by reading the final chapter of my book Rich Johnson's Guide to Wilderness Survival. Then give some thought to all the possibilities and how you would handle different circumstances that might crop up.

Be safe out there.


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