There were a number of things that I did when I was much younger that tended to get me in a little bit of trouble now and then. But then there were those few moments in my life where I wonder how I managed to avoid getting seriously hurt... or worse.
One of the most memorable moments happened while I was a young airman stationed at Eielson Air Force Base, located about 25 miles from Fairbanks in interior Alaska. When I first arrived there, I was warned at least once that when you left the confines of the installation, you were essentially part of the "food chain."
Simply put, if you didn't respect nature, it wouldn't respect you. Many times, it meant that people ended up getting maimed by a moose or mauled by a very angry bear. In fact, there were books available in most stores that outlined in very graphic detail those who didn't survive these encounters.
But that was the last thing on my mind when a friend and I were driving back to the base one memorable afternoon following our normal routine of hitting the stores in downtown Fairbanks followed by lunch at one of our favorite stops. The weather was still fairly mild, but we still needed our winter coats to fight off the chill.
Once we got back on base, we suddenly decided to take an unscheduled drive to one of the decommissioned Nike missile sites located in the training range many miles behind the installation. I had been there a few times in the past, and they were something that piqued my youthful curiosity. It's probably the same thing that draws people to explore haunted houses.
Instead of stopping by the dorm to at least pack some water, food and a few other supplies first, we simply continued our drive past the ski lodge and up into the foothills. It was the first in a series of mistakes we made that afternoon.
Heading up into the mountains while driving my 1978 Chrysler Cordoba, everything went exactly as planned. That's when my car -- which weighed about as much as an M-1 Abrams tank by the way -- ended up hitting the only patch of soft ground on the road and bottomed out. Despite our best efforts, we were literally stuck in the mud.
"Great. Just great," I told myself. Actually, the exact words I said are ones I can't repeat in polite company.
To this day, I'm still not sure how far we were from the base. Someone later told me it was about 20 miles, but it didn't sound quite right.
In any case, we did what we thought was best at the time. Instead of staying put and waiting for someone to come find us, my friend and I walked all the way back to base using the road as our guide. It was well past sunset before we got back to our dorm.
About the only positive memory that I have from that trek was that I saw my first shooting star that evening. Other than that, I think I was pretty much terrified that I was going to end up in a chapter of the latest edition of "Alaska Bear Tales."
Since then, I've made it a point to avoid making that same series of mistakes. Anytime I decide to go somewhere, I always let my wife or family know before I head out the door. If plans change, or if I'm running late, I either call them or send them a text message -- a luxury I didn't have during that memorable day in 1987.
However, there are many others in this state that end up learning the same lesson I did. Each year around this time, the chatter coming from the police scanner in my office starts picking up as our county search and rescue team repeatedly ends up heading into the mountains having to look for people that got lost in the wilderness or simply got stranded.
In a number of these cases, the individuals forgot to let their families know where they were going and, more important, when they were expected to return home. Other times, their plans go awry when they set out for one destination in the mountains but change their plans at the last second without letting anyone back home know.
Over the last six years with the newspaper, I've lost count how many times those last-minute decisions ended up leaving these people stranded longer because our search and rescue teams were told to look in the area they were originally supposed to be.
Ironically, our annual "search and rescue season" each fall typically involves seasoned outdoorsmen and women who allow one moment of distraction to put them somewhere they didn't plan. As a small consolation, most of them come fully prepared to deal with the situation, but that's not always the case.
While advances in cell phone technology have helped in these searches, they do have their limits. Although search teams can "ping" a phone to help find someone, it only works if the cell phone battery hasn't conked out.
With people across southern Idaho gearing up for this year's hunting season, it's only a matter of time before the first calls for search and rescue come in. However, let's see if we can cut down those statistics a bit this year.
Before you leave home on your outdoor excursion, make sure at least one person knows where you're going and when you expect to return. By the way, make sure that person isn't going on the trip with you, which I've seen happen.
Next, be sure you have everything you need just in case you end up getting lost or stranded. Food and water are good ideas, but so are other essentials, including extra clothing, blankets and supplies to build a fire to stay warm once the sun sets.
Above all else, don't leave your vehicle behind and try to get home on foot. Statistically, you're better off staying with the vehicle, especially since it serves as a temporary shelter from the elements until help arrives.
Enjoy the great outdoors this fall, but remember to do it safely.
-- Brian S. Orban