Three Little Words

There are many things that get people in trouble when they venture into the outdoors, lack of preparedness, not paying attention to the weather, accidents, etc. More commonly, it is our attitude towards our safety that is the precursor to a life threatening event occurring. How many times have you said to yourself or have heard others say, “I am just………”  as in “I’m just going to walk up the ridge and see if I can see a deer,” or “I’m just going to be out for fifteen minutes,” or perhaps “I’m just going to run down to the store.” I believe these three little words “I am just” get more people into trouble than any other three little words I can think of!  Most commonly you don’t verbalize these words out loud, but say them to yourself, silently ─ which is even more dangerous.  Many times you are not even conscious of your decision to leave your gear behind. Unconsciously you already have made the decision to leave it because “I am just…….”

It is easy to convince yourself that nothing life threatening will happen ─ after all you are “just……………”   When you use the word “just,” you are convincing yourself that the weather will remain pleasant, that no accident will happen, that you will not get lost, or that you will be able to get back before dark!  You are saying to yourself that you don’t need to carry your daypack with your emergency gear and warm clothing because I won’t need it after all  “I am “just…………….” It is easy to rationalize away the need to always carry your backup clothing and emergency equipment.

As the years ago by, and you have yet to spend that unplanned night out, the temptation to reduce the weight of the daypack you are carrying by leaving your survival kit at home, can be very attractive.  As you look to the mountains in anticipation of having to ascend on foot and hunt at higher altitudes, it is natural to want to lighten your load and leave behind those pieces of equipment that you have seldom, if ever, used.  Sometimes it is “space” or the lack of it, which causes you to decide to leave items behind that you should take.  Most often, it’s the short trips that get you in trouble!  After all, “I am just………”  You get complacent.  Nothing life threatening ever has happened in the past and so it is easy to  convince yourself that it won’t happen in the future and if it does you can handle it ─ whatever “it” is!   Ignoring the possibility of finding yourself in a survival situation is like playing Russian roulette.  Falling victim to the “I am just” syndrome is like playing Russian roulette with five out of six chambers loaded!

History is replete with examples of those finding themselves in trouble who, after being rescued from some horrendous situation, said “I was just……..”  Several years ago in Oregon an older man left his camp one evening ─ he was “just” going to walk down to the end of the ridge and see if he could spot an elk.  The following morning was the opening day of elk season.  He never returned and despite an extensive search he was not found alive. Ten days later his body, partially buried under snow, was discovered by other hunters.  His emergency gear consisted of a .357 Magnum pistol and thirty seven rounds of ammunition, which he had used to try to signal his hunting partners.   Thirty-six of the thirty-seven cartridges had been fired, but were never heard by either his partners or those that searched for him.  He had tried to shelter himself by drawing two log ends together and laying slabs of bark on top of the logs to provide a crude roof.  His clothing, a mixture of cotton and wool, failed to provide the protection he needed from the environmental conditions he encountered. Physiologically he died from hypothermia, but it also could be said that he died because he had rationalized away the need to carry any additional emergency gear.  Equipment that might have prevented the situation from developing in the first place – a map, compass or a GPS Receiver.  Equipment that he could have used to increase his protection from cold temperatures, precipitation and wind-chill.  Equipment that he could have used to attract the attention of the rescuers that were looking for him – a mirror, whistle, survival radio or 406 MHz emergency beacon.  He was “just going to walk to the end of the ridge, look for an elk and then return to camp!”

The words “I am just” when spoken out loud or silently should be considered a red flag warning!  When you say them yourself or hear others say them ─ STOP!  The trap is being set! Continuing on will only spring the trap and once you are in it, there may be no escape.   Without adequate clothing, without basic survival equipment (reliable fire starting devices, waterproof, windproof sheltering materials, a signal mirror and whistle), without the ability to build a fire or signal to others, survival depends on an individuals tenacity to live, their ability to improvise what they need and luck – sometimes that’s not enough!

When spoken out loud there always is the chance that someone, upon hearing you say, “I am just……….” will step in and remind you of the importance of always taking your emergency clothing and equipment with you even though the possibility of having to spend an unplanned night out is remote.
NEVER SAY “I am just…………..”  going to do anything!

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