Uh-Oh Here Comes the Easy Part

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Adventure Found, January 1998

Uh-Oh ù Here Comes the Easy Part
When traveling, danger lurks at the most innocuous moments

By Bucky McMahon

The first law of safety for scuba divers, counterintuitive but verified by statistics, has it that most accidents occur on the surface. You're a sitting duck there, an easy target for boat propellers and other divers raining down on you with about 50 pounds of metal strapped to their backs. You learn to get underwater pronto, to where the sharks are, where it's safe.

There's a corollary rule for adventure travel in general. It has to do with down time, with the easy, idle, most benign-seeming activities. My own worst travel-related injury occurred during a river-rafting trip on the Salmon River. We had beached to reconnoiter a tricky bit of water. My opinion about how best to run the rapids being wisely unsought, I decided to do a little bouldering in my river sandals. Ten feet up, a piece of rock came off in my hand and I tested the abrasive properties of shale on human flesh. While I sat in a world of hurt, one of the guides came over. "Looks safe," he said, staring up before glancing pointedly at my feet. "If you have on crampons."

OK, I was dumb. I should have borne in mind the old proverb about the killing nature of "easy" climbs. When the work seems rote, vigilance slackens, mistakes occur, and, sometimes, widows are made. Ask the hiker who, gazing back at the hazardous terrain he has just conquered, steps into a cattle grate and breaks his ankle. Or the trekker who, videotaping the final moments of a successful safari, tumbles into a road-construction ditch. They now understand this essential law of adventure travel safety: "The dangerous part is past, so prepare yourself."

"We're in Alaska, flying to the start of a raft trip with one of the best pilots in the bush. He's an older gentleman, though, so he tends to doze off. We're in the backseat and we see him rest his right hand on the dash. Then his eyes close and he starts to nod off. We're about to panic when his hand slides off the dash and he jolts awake. That was his system for waking himself up. I hope it keeps working."
ù Dan Pickard, Wildland Adventures

Illustration by Tim Bower

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