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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Survival Mode

A couple of days ago, rescuers found, too late, James Kim, a CNET editor who, 11 days earlier, with his wife and two small daughters, made a wrong turn in the wilds of Oregon and became bogged down in snow and cold. They weren't prepared to do a life-and-death survival bit, and after a week of fighting the cold by running their car heater, and then, when the gas ran out, burning their tires, Mr. Kim decided to strike out alone to find help. Not long after he left the car, searchers in a helicopter found the car with his wife and daughters, but he didn't make it. His body was found in a creek not far from the car, though he had wandered around for several times that distance before hypothermia got him.

I don't know know whether it was by chance, but in this same period the Discovery Channel ran a story called "We Shouldn't Be Alive" about an eerily similar incident in California. A couple with a 6-month-old baby tried to drive across the mountains to attend a family funeral in Idaho. They, too, took a wrong turn and ended up in deep survival mode in the snow, with little in the way of helpful gear or know-how. After a number of days of struggling to stay warm with no sign of rescuers, they reached a different answer to that burning question of whether tis best to stay or not to stay. They left their car and tried to fight their way out.

But the snow was too deep on the mountain plains and after flailing for a long distance day and night, they decided to return to the car. Along the way the wife's feet got too frostbitten for her to continue, and they found a piece of shelter in a crack in the forest while this husband, too, decided to strike out on his own for help. He was luckier and found a road with a passing truck on it.

Of the three of them, the one you would worry about most, the newborn baby, despite having had nothing in real food for a long time, just kept bopping along and came out none the worse for the wear. It seems that babies are adapted to live off their fat cells for a while when times get tough.

It's always great to hear how things are arranged in such ways.

I have become a fan of the "Survivorman" series on the Discovery Channel. Les Stroud, a Canadian, has developed a thing where he is dropped into a wide variety of extreme climes with just the clothes on his back, a knife, a harmonica, and 30 or 40 pounds of camera gear but with no food and hardly anything else to help him tough it out for seven days while photographing himself doing that.

I think he generally advises that the best thing to do is to stay with the vehicle, but I've noticed that he himself will leave the (fake) crashed plane or whatever and take a long hike out of there -- hindered by having to carry all the camera gear and occasionally to stop and set up things so he can take pictures of himself from far off on the move. This must be for the sake of drama, variety, and covering all the possible strategies of survival.

There is a whole genre of movies on surviving in the wild. Usually it's the result of a plane crash, and almost always the people stay with the plane, sometimes, as in "Flight of the Phoenix," even devising wild ways to get the wrecked plane airborne again and out of there in the nick of time before evil-doers can get them.

In a more realistic film that I especially liked, "The Snow Walkers," a Canadian Anglo bush pilot and an Inuit woman crash-land on the tundra. The pilot eventually decides to leave, and he escapes death days later only because the young woman follows and rescues him and they return to the plane.

I like to watch these things because I believe in being up on survival strategies, though whether or not I actually am is another question. I have practically no chance of ever finding out, because those sorts of messes never seem to happen where I am.


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