2007-02-02

Wilderness Insurance

It is my opinion that the average North American has a warped sense of reality. Most seem to think that, even when bad things happen, everything will be okay. We have auto insurance, fire insurance, flood insurance, earthquake insurance, investment insurance, medical insurance, and the list goes on. If we find that, through some aspect of human error, we’re not insured for something that happens then we expect the powers that be to provide disaster relief; to save us from ourselves. If things go bad we expect the police, ambulance, fire, or rescue departments to save us. We’re protected – nothing will go wrong: Right? It’s not really true; people die all the time, but we hold on to the illusion. If we didn't then we’d be too afraid to leave our homes. We insure ourselves against fear.

But fear can be a good thing; it can protect us more than any insurance policy. In the wilderness, fear can be a friend. Fear of going thirsty makes me pack extra water. Fear of freezing makes me pack extra cloths. Fear of going beyond my capabilities keeps me alive.

The problem being discussed here is not about ignorant people getting into trouble and needing to be rescued. I’m sure everyone has done something stupid at one time or another. Maybe, like me, they got themselves out of it, or maybe they needed help. The problem is that the “everything will be fine” expectation is finding it’s way into the wilderness. There are people out there, a lot of people, that expect to be rescued – anywhere, anytime – if something goes wrong. And, they probably will. Search and Rescue is very good these days. Maybe too good; the fear is gone. It seems like every weekend some unfortunate soul is plucked from the wilderness. Why worry, if you make a mistake they’ll just come and get you. Search and Rescue is a victim of it’s own success.

If you tack on some kind of rescue insurance then it will just get worse. “Hey, that mountain climbing thing looks pretty neat. Let’s go.” “Hey, I paid my dues, my feet hurt – take me home!” Maybe this would work in National parks but in general I think it’s a bad idea. Fear is good. The wilderness is a big, bad place. If you slip and break your leg – you could die. The wilderness is where, every once in a while, the animals get to eat the people. This is a good thing – it makes you careful. It keeps you within your limits.

People go to the wilderness to get back to reality. The reality is – sometimes bad things happen. The more money you spend on Search and Rescue the more money will be needed. Maybe it’s time to set some limits on peoples expectations.