The Searchers: Editor’s Letter, August 2012

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The things that cause Outside employees to be late to work, or absent altogether, are the ones you might expect. In the winter, many of us are conspicuously tardy after a midnight snowstorm blows through. In the spring, when daylight pushes past 5 p.m. and Friday-night camping becomes a possibility, the parking lot empties in the early afternoon. And every so often, no matter what the season, I receive an early-morning email with another kind of excuse: “Sorry, I'm gonna be late this morning. I got the call to search for a missing hiker last night and was out until 3 a.m.”

Several Outside editors have moonlighted with local search-and-rescue organizations that will come to your aid if your adventure goes awry in this part of the world. These staffers, who include senior editor Grayson Schaffer and former associate editor Justin Nyberg, have spent more than 600 hours training at their own expense to improve their lifesaving skills and earn the privilege of jumping out of bed at one in the morning to help complete strangers. Their only reward is a few excused absences from work.

I was thinking about this kind of commitment while reading an early draft of “Catch Me If You Can”, Dean King's riveting story about an eight-year-old autistic boy who went missing in Virginia for five days. Hundreds of volunteers showed up to assist with that search. We humans seem to have an innate desire to help others in need. In a story Outside published online this spring, about the search for ultrarunner Micah True, a.k.a. Caballo Blano, in the Gila Wilderness, author Christopher McDougall described how more than a dozen of the best athletes in the ultrarunning community dropped everything and traveled to remote New Mexico to join in the search.

Every couple of years, an expensive SAR operation makes national headlines and revives the predictable debate about who should foot the bill for large-scale rescues. Indeed, inexperienced people sometimes do foolish and inexcusable things in pursuit of adventure. But more often than not, the people who need help have just made simple mistakes that any one of us could make, and the stories that focus on the monetary cost miss the point. The real story is the fact that so many volunteers come together to help, free of charge.

Christopher Keyes

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