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comment by kleinbl00
kleinbl00  ·  2392 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: The Hunt for the Death Valley Germans [Tom Mahood, otherhand.org]

I've been lost in the woods. It's the opposite of fun.

I've been forced to go overland when my car broke down (my own damn fault). 10 miles without a trail, without water, in Arizona, around Prescott/Sedona, in the summer. I brought back a deer skull as a ward against misfortune.

And I've driven through the area being discussed, as much as you can. Hell, further south down by Quartzite you get a real sense of bad news when you're on a motorcycle.

And I grew up in the desert. Getting stuck is what we did for fun. So maybe that's a little bit of innoculation but... I mean, damn.

- Foreign country

- Plymouth Voyager

- Dirt road in the desert

- 11 and 4 year old

...I mean, I'm good for two of four. Maybe three. The author is right - a series of small mistakes quickly becomes more dire than one big one and once you've made one small mistake, another one is that much easier.

I just finished a book on the Dyatlov Pass Incident which lays out all the stuff the Internet rarely does - namely, that a bunch of young enthusiastic hikers venturing three days' hike deep into the Urals in February can find all sorts of mundane ways to die. Jack London had the right of it - when you're hanging it all out somewhere beyond the bounds of civilization, death comes as a slow inevitability.

Thanks for making me blow an hour reading the adventures of finding dead idiots 15 years after the fact. Now I'm gonna go hug my kid.





deepflows  ·  2391 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Maybe it's just my empathy being on overdrive again but... imagining what these people and their kids must have gone through for their mistakes... calling them "dead idiots" doesn't sound right.

Yeah, maybe they are dead idiots. But as Germans, they would have little to no experience with the actual concept of "huge places with extremely hostile conditions which will kill you if you take a wrong turn in the wrong car." This kind of thing just doesn't exist here. Worst case, you can get lost in the woods for a few days - but you'd really have to search hard for a forrest big enough to get lost in. The author of the piece also noted that their behavior afterwards consisted of honest mistakes which even a more experienced and knowledgeable person might have made.

So... dead idiots? No, still don't like it.

P.S: No hard feelings, kleinbl00 - I usually greatly enjoy your posts.

kleinbl00  ·  2391 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Okay, let's talk about my discomfort with your discomfort.

We all take on varying degrees of risk in our lives, and we all generally mitigate it to the best of our abilities. Some people are better at it than others, and some people have more capacity for it than others.

It's likely that I have a higher level of acceptable risk than you. As mentioned, I've done the desert hikes. I ride a motorcycle in heinous traffic, I scuba dive, I set off professional pyrotechnics. I do not do any of these things lightly, and I do not do them without mitigating the risks they entail to my satisfaction.

I have also been caught unaware by unforeseen risks, and it has radically increased my level of jeopardy. I've done the "lost in the woods above freezing" thing. I've gotten stuck on a desert road in the middle of the summer with nobody knowing where I am. I've ridden into freeway traffic with raw gasoline dripping on the back tire of my motorcycle, with all that entails.

I've also had risk stacked against me. Hiking buddies that let go of the wrong rope and require me to free-climb to safety 200 feet up at sunset. Parents that let me wander free as a small child near flash-flood-level arroyos. Drunk drivers that decide to play frozen tree slalom at midnight while I'm in the back of the pickup.

And I've seen risk escalate to the point of tragedy. Drunk people who couldn't swim laughing it up on the boat until they fell off and drowned. Off-roaders tumble end-over-end and send people to the hospital. Friends of friends who always assumed that their first and second falls were fine, until that one time their primary wasn't good and they fell 140 feet to their death.

Tragedy is risk un-respected.

As someone who has selected a level of risk greater than the larger populace, it is important to me that the world understands risk. It is important to me that I be allowed to take my daughter hiking without raising eyebrows because I have enough water, people know where I'm going and I'm not venturing out of the safety net of easy society. It is important to me that I be allowed to ride my motorcycle because I have the training, I have the judgement and I have the situational awareness to keep myself safe under conditions of normal risk. It is important to me that I be allowed to set off pyrotechnics because I know what's safe and what isn't, I know how to handle mishaps and I do not take my task or responsibilities lightly.

Those of us who engage in risky pursuits need the ability to comment when someone underestimates the risks. It is necessary to be able to honestly discuss risk, preparedness and behavior that increases peril. It is necessary, in short, to call a spade a spade and an idiot an idiot.

I've driven roads very similar to the victims in conditions very similar to theirs. Lots of people have. The overwhelming majority of them know what they're in for - I certainly did, and I never drove further than I could walk out. Despite being more than 18 miles outside of town when I drove my Scirocco off the road in the Sonora Desert, I was never not within line-of-sight to a half-dozen desert communities. Despite venturing off-road for 5 miles of the return hike (which turned it from 18 miles to 12), there was less than a mile when my destination was not in full view. It was far and away the scariest portion of the trip. And I had made a mistake, and I had been stupid, and I was stacking risk... but I wasn't being an idiot.

I've got a kid. I've been in that desert. I've even driven a Plymouth Voyager and I'm here to tell you that you have to stack risks like poker chips to end up in the position that family was in. Half of them are absolutely blameless victims, which makes it far worse. That makes the other two selfish idiots.

Look - You can make it from Los Angeles to Vegas for lunch. I've done it. It's a day-trip - a grueling day-trip, but a day-trip nonetheless. The desert you drive through to get to death valley is no joke, and there are warnings in many languages (as if being called Death Valley wasn't enough). And I understand the false sense of self-confidence you get by pulling through by the skin of your teeth - the weekend I got lost in the woods and nearly died was the weekend after I NEARLY got lost in the woods and nearly died.

But I was an idiot.

And anybody can call me one.

And when we aren't allowed to even casually point out the idiocy of people who do colossally stupid things, as part of a larger point, we mask the true risks of our lives.

I grew up in the desert. The first time I went to Hawaii I found beaches where the undertow will suck you to Japan. They kill a half dozen people a year. They're well-marked, despite being at the end of a two-day hike. It wouldn't take much of a misstep to drown within sight of a Hawaiian beach, but it would take a deliberate commitment to disregarding risk.

And I've never been hiking in Germany but if I saw something marked "Tod Wald" on the map I'd stick to well-marked trails and travel with a group at a bare minimum. If my kid was with me I'd probably see it via tour bus.

We need to be able to comment on idiocy when we see it because it's that factor that keeps us safe. I need to be able to call this poor misbegotten erroneous family of risk takers, may they rest in peace, idiots for taking risk after risk after risk after risk after risk in order to end up dead. It doesn't mitigate the tragedy, it doesn't diminish their suffering, and it doesn't impact their fate one iota... but it serves as a useful goalpost when separating the people who can reasonably expect to come out the other side of Death Valley alive from those who really should know better.

If you have ended up somewhere they want to fly dogs in to find you when two days previous you were on the Las Vegas strip in a minivan, you have committed either idiocy or suicidal behavior. And this wasn't a story about idiocy, and my comment wasn't about idiocy, but do please be careful how much disparagement you put behind the term "idiot" when it is being used flippantly (but accurately).

What separates me from them is idiocy. What separates them from the guy who found them is idiocy. We, as a culture, need the free ability to call idiocy when we see it, or else we'll all have to abandon anything but the most idiotic pursuits.

Do you understand?

deepflows  ·  2391 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Yes, I think I do. Your calling them idiots meant something quite different than I thought it did. I think we can we agree on "Dead idiots and their kids"?

In any case, thank you for this explanation. Looked at it this way, the Dead Valley Germans might still be alive if they had learned to ask themselves: Are we being idiots right now?

This also is making me think about my own relationship to risk. It's safe to say that I'm actively averse to any risk which could potentially lead to injury or death. I still have allowed myself to get into situations where both were a real possibility. But my point is, I don't really practice how to deal with risk, how to assess it or how to manage it. I just avoid it. Your post makes me wonder... Should I find myself in an extreme situation - might my lack of risk management experience make me act like a (dead) idiot?

kleinbl00  ·  2391 days ago  ·  link  ·  

"Dead idiots and their dead kids" is accurate, but far bleaker than I wanted to go. Again, wasn't what I wanted to talk about. Still don't. There's something horrific about imagining a four year old dying of thirst in Death Valley.

My suggestion on risk management is not to engage in any risks you don't understand, and not to partake in any risks you can't mitigate. There are all sorts of crazy dangerous things you can do in a completely safe fashion - think about it: the act of driving to work involves jockeying for position amongst hundreds of explosively-powered devices weighing multiple tons all of which are traveling faster than 90% of the animals on earth can. Yet we do it every day because we have seat belts, and driving classes, and airbags, and engineering, and traffic laws and all the rest.

There are people who travel from all over the world to Death Valley and they don't die every year, despite doing some demonstrably dangerous things. The difference is - they're not idiots. At least, they're not idiots whose lives are threatened by their idiocy...

lumpygnome  ·  2391 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I'm heading to Sedona this summer am possibly doing some camping. I'm from a different climate all together. Anything I should know?

kleinbl00  ·  2391 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Yeah, bring a lot more water than you think you need, make sure someone knows where you are at all times, and the odds of you being better off moving than staying put are slim to none.

Always follow water (or even arroyos) and know that roads eventually lead to civilization, although it may take a while.

There will be few places in and around Sedona when you aren't in view of Sedona, Cottonwood, Jerome or some of the other communities. Don't venture forth on 50-mile excursions and you'll be fine.

Take pictures and post them. Trip Reports are a Hubski thing.

kleinbl00  ·  2391 days ago  ·  link  ·  
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