Friday, June 25, 2010

Opinion vs Expertise

I LOVE Backpacker Magazine, I mean I LOVE it. This magazine sure gets my blood flowing, my imagination racing, and helps me justify why my wallet is always empty - not Backpackers fault, they just have too much good information. My wife makes fun of me for how many times I will read an issue before putting it up on the shelf: First time - flip through the thing to see what the current issue has to offer, Second time - read the smaller articles which are interesting, Third time - make sure ALL the articles have been read, and the Final time - flip through it again to make sure I didn't miss anything. Like I said, too much good information to just flip through it once to give a look at the pics and then throw it on the coffee table...I know, I'm a freak...

My ONLY complaint with the magazine are the times that I have felt deceived by an author throwing out their opinion to make it sound like fact. In one issue I read an author stating that high-cut boots are a "must" if you are going to carry a load heavier than 30 pounds. A few issues later a reader wrote in asking if he has to really wear high-cut boots when carrying a 50 pound bag as they tend to cut into his shins and ankles (which I have experienced first-hand). The writer who responded told the reader to wear whatever cut of boots he felt comfortable with, as long as he isn't putting his ankles at risk.

The on-line article I read today was about water filters. The reader who wrote in wanted to know how to tell when your filter needs to be cleaned. The author gave some half-effort of an unbiased answer which took a total of three sentences, and then went into a long paragraph about how the reader shouldn't even hassle with a filter when he could just as easily use tablets. She said that tablets don't leave a taste (not true, although some more expensive ones are better about this), are easier (maybe), and fool-proof (maybe for the fool who would mistake a puddle of pee for clear water I guess). Although I don't usually leave comments underneath on-line articles, I chose to this one can read it if you follow the link at the top of this paragraph.

The bottom line: do your own research when it comes to which products you chose to buy. Whether it be a debate between low-cut, mid-cut, or high-cut boots, a conflict between using a filter vs tablets, or even which handle is best when it comes to trekking poles; use your head and try to stretch your brain a little instead of just taking someone for their word.
P.S. I still LOVE Backpacker Magazine:)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

To sleep under the Stars? or in a Tent?

Why do we sleep in tents when the weather is nice? What kind of false security do tents, a thin piece of fabric, give us when in the outdoors? Maybe it's the security that a raccoon can't gnaw at our face, and that maybe a bear will have to work REALLY hard to get us?????? Hmmm....

Personally, I prefer to sleep under the stars, that is, unless there is a good chance of rain during the middle of the night. No one, and I mean NO ONE, likes to wake up in the middle of the night to a serious downpour. Waking up to a wet sleeping bag and equipment and realizing that you now have to put up your tent in the middle of a rain storm is not the most pleasant experience at two o'clock a.m. After watching this video you will be able to see that sleeping outdoors is a must...   

Timescapes Timelapse: Mountain Light from Tom Lowe @ Timescapes on Vimeo.

There is something so refreshing about sleeping out in the middle of nowhere, far away from the city lights, and where thousands of stars are visible; all while feeling the night-time breeze on your face. This is about the time that I wife would say that I'm starting to get "cheesy" and I doubt that the couple of you who are going to read this actually brought crackers to eat up all that I could dish out - for another time maybe.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Inspired by Iceland

"Inspired By Iceland" is a website dedicated to inspiring people to plan a trip to Iceland. There are live feeds to main attractions on the island, photos of wildlife, reports from others trips, accommodations, transportation, tours, and culture/shopping. In essence, it has EVERYTHING you could ever want and need to know about the country, and since the country's economy continues to struggle, the least we can do is go see this beautiful place:)

I LOVE Iceland. I may have never actually been there, but I love it nonetheless. My family's name actually comes from Leif Ericson, the famous Viking who landed in North America 500 years before Columbus. I have relatives who go to Iceland every couple of years, and one day I hope to go myself.

Although I have always wanted to go to Iceland, after seeing Sigur Ros' DVD Heima I was sold. I can't imagine how beautiful that place is in real life, just seeing it on a television screen is overwhelming enough...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cranial Malfunction

With the ever increasing improvements in technology, we enjoy the comforts of simplicity. We are no longer "required" to work as we once were. Instead of being "obligated" to use a map and compass, individuals choose, instead, to rely on hand-held GPS units which provide a detailed map of a desired destination - in addition to seeing the exact progress one makes during the actual journey itself. It is hard to argue that we are not making advances in technology, but the question I constantly ask myself remains - what are we advancing towards?

My first story comes from MULTIPLE sites. A couple from Nevada go on a road trip during the middle of winter (just before Christmas, to be exact) relying on their car's GPS unit to get them to their destination. It only makes sense to pick the "quickest route" - that is unless the road happens to be the most remote route at the same time. Weather conditions were poor, and the couple ended up stranded for three days. After the storm was over, their cell phone was able to get a strong enough signal to place a call to the local sheriffs office.

Second story: A little less than a month after the first story took place a woman was hit by a car while going on a walk in Park City, UT. She used Google maps before going on the walk to see how to get to her destination. The directions included using a road which had no sidewalks, and which was unsafe for someone to walk on as cars using this road travel at high speeds (and I'm sure drivers assume no one is stupid enough to walk on it). The lady is claiming that Google did not specify that the road was unsafe for someone to walk on, and she is suing for $100,000 due to her physical and emotional damages. Apparently she couldn't see that the road was unsafe once she started walking next to the speeding cars???

The topper: 16 Adults and 10 children go on a trip to southern Utah and decide to travel from Bryce Canyon Nat Park to the Grand Canyon, using only their car's GPS. They are directed to use some rough roads, and AFTER traveling 25 miles in the wrong direction, one car got stuck, and the other two cars were too low on fuel to try to backtrack. Children are crying, and they have very little water and food. They were so lost that they didn't know how to retrace the turns they took, and ended up waiting until the next day (thankfully) when a plane spotted them and sent for help.

So, what did all three stories have in common? Crappy directions? Faulty GPS/navigational systems? Nope. All three lacked good judgement. In the first story the couple should have realized that the "quickest" road is only quick if your vehicle is able to travel on the road suggested. The woman in the second story should have taken one look at the road and decided for herself that it was not safe instead of relying on Google to make that decision for her, and the adults in the last story were just plain dumb. I mean, how far should you travel without being absolutely positive that you know where you are headed? Definitely not after 25 miles, especially when kids are with you.

My only compliant with the "advances" in technology is that I feel it makes a certain number of us independent on something other than our own intuition, judgement, and research. Using a GPS in addition to a compass and a topographical map is the perfect combination. I have yet to read one article which states that using a GPS, by itself, is all someone needs. In order for the GPS to work effectively the unit has to be aligned with the proper satellites and have enough battery power. If the individuals in the first and third story would have had a simple road atlas than they would have clearly seen which roads were more frequently traveled, and they would have had the greatest chance of getting them to their destination without harm or incident.

There are a few positive stories I found which show how GPS units have saved individuals from catastrophes such as THIS guy who was on a remote bike ride with some friends and ended up braking his ankle. They simply used their cell phone and gave the GPS coordinates to the authorities who then dispatched a police officer to pick the injured guy up. I'm not sure if this story overshadows the story I read about though where a disgruntled ex-employee of a car manufacturer disabled more than 100 vehicles by accessing the GPS units remotely....

Final word: Plan for the worst, hope for the best, and if you don't know how to use your head to plan ahead, than just stay home...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Book: The Unthinkable

Very rarely do I open a book and, after reading the first couple of pages, feel compelled to write copious notes. Such was the case with "The Unthinkable." It may have been due to the psychological nature of the book, but each page had me gripped to the science behind the stories.

The author, Amanda Ripley, separates the book into three sections. In order to remember them, I saw a correlation with the title for her book and will include them in parenthesis:

Denial (UN)
Amanda starts out by explaining why certain people freeze when presented with would-be traumatic events.

- "Normalcy Biased", as Amanda defines, is the tendency we have to convince ourselves that everything was o.k. before the event, so it must be o.k. during the event. Denial is the easiest way to cope, actually it's the only easy form of coping. She explains that the casualties during Hurricane Katrina were proportionately old - not poor. They felt that since they had lived through several hurricanes already, including Hurricane Camille, than they would be able to survive this hurricane also and thus chose to stay at home even after officials told them to get out.

- Peer Pressure: Afraid of being embarrassed by overreacting to the situation. No one want's to be labeled as the one who "freaked out" in the beginning of a questionable event. She explains that many of those in the twin towers were unnaturally casual after they felt and heard a loud bang and shake. Many looked around at their co-workers, not wanting to be the first to act, and then once they did act, they casually picked up their belongings (afraid of losing their purses or laptops, not their lives).

- The biggest point which stuck out to me in this section - It's like we don't fear death itself but the "how" when it comes to dying not the "what" (this provoking thought will most likely be the title of it's own future posting).

A little math to consider:

Risk = Probability X Consequence X Dread/Optimism
and...(sorry for the science)
Dread = Uncontrollability + Unfamiliarity + Imaginability + Suffering + Scale of Destruction + Unfairness

According to the math above, we decide for ourselves the level of dread that we allow ourselves to feel, but sometimes our emotions are beyond our control. Amanda interviewed firefighters, police officers, and WWII Veterans who reported that some of them and their colleagues experienced a temporary loss of sight and/or memory, or had an out-of-body experience when faced with extreme danger. More embarrassing (in my opinion) is the report of temporary incontinence. 10-20% of U.S. Soldiers reported having defecated in their pants "at least once", but it can be assumed that this number is much higher since some probably reported falsely (I know I would have). The up-side is that dread can actually save us if it is properly controlled.

Deliberation (THINK)
Fear is typically at it's peak when we have come to a realization of the danger we face. Once we come to this realization than comes the time to act or perish. The level of survival depends on how rapidly we decide to act.

-A police Psychologist said "the actual threat is not nearly as important as the level of preparation, the more prepared you are, the more in control you feel, and the less fear you will feel" and a veteran Police Officer recounts that "the single strongest weapon is a mental plan of what you'll do in a certain crisis and an absolute commitment to do it if the crisis comes to pass."

-Controlled breathing - four counts in, hold four counts, four counts out - is the best way to master fear.

The Decisive Moment (ABLE)
The fear of panic may be more dangerous than panic itself (kind of a rip-off of FDR in my opinion, but still true in any case).

-Those who perform heroic acts tend to be those who are "helpers" in everyday life and believe they shape their own abilities.

- Those who are "bystanders" tend to feel buffeted by forces beyond their control and will "concentrate on their own need for survival"

Panic occurs if, and only if -
1- People feel that they MAY be trapped (a perceived threat is actually worse than knowing one is trapped)
2- Sensation of great helplessness (which is magnified by interaction with others who also feel helpless)
3- A sense of profound isolation

This blog was a lot longer than originally planned, but it was hard to pick and choose which of my notes to include.
Why, you may ask, would I include this book when I am supposed to be blogging about the outdoors? One of the reasons I love the outdoors so much is because I see every experience, whether it be a backpacking trip or an afternoon fly-fishing, as an opportunity to show mother nature that I can prepare myself well enough to enjoy any weather she throws at me, and as a way of showing myself that I can be prepared for any misfortune which may befall me.

Anyone wanting to know the psychology behind who perishes, who merely survives, and who end up as heros, should give this book a read. If you know of any similar books which followers of the blog, and myself, would enjoy, than please let us know!!!