Ive been thinking and talking about risk and reward a lot this summer and have found the conversations always lead to the same issue: what is reasonable risk? Obviously the idea isnt to exterminate all risk from our lives or wed all be playing Tetris instead of spending our days outside. But in our society the level of acceptable risk seems to be on a steady decline, and I cant quite figure out why.
When I was a kid I refused to wear a bicycle helmet, not because it looked uncool (my helmet was a very cool shade of neon green), but because when I put that helmet on I felt like some element of my freedom was being taken away from me. These days, I would feel naked climbing or biking without a helmet, especially with crazy animals like this running around! So what’s changed?
Inevitably, no matter how much you try to pad yourself to avoid disaster, it will strike. Earlier in the month my climbing partner Zeno and I ended up marooned in an alpine cirque. Being out of cell range and without a radio, the best we could hope for was that someone would eventually notice our absence and decide to come looking for us.
After three days, someone did notice, but not before things got a little desperate (we spent our nights sleeping on someone’s old stash of gear that we found, which was comprised of old socks, PowerBar wrappers, and stuff sacks).
Obviously, taking precautions will never completely eliminate the chance for an accident. So, where do we draw the line? Does having a helmet, a radio, a SPOT or a can of bear spray actually reduce the likelihood of an unfortunate circumstance arising? Is there such a thing as being too prepared?
At the very least, unexpected and adverse experiences like the one Zeno and I endured, offer some time for reflection on the subject. Looking back, it definitely would have been nice to have a radio, although it certainly makes for a better story when you live through three nights with PowerBar wrappers for a pillow!