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Wilderness survival, anyone?

November 23, 2013

wildernessI’ve always thought it would be entertaining if, at the end of a ho-hum talk, a world-wide expert on the topic rose to his or her feet and shared some wisdom. Well, it happened today, at the end of a presentation about wilderness survival.

The presentation was rather bland. Any kid who has read Hatchet or Reader’s Digest survival stories would know the stuff presented. (Hey, planning, fire and water are really important when planning a wilderness trek, folks!) Then a woman rose and said André Francois Bourbeau, a Quebec professor of wilderness survival, just happened to be in the audience.

Bourbeau said he has researched wilderness survival for 30 years. That was an understatement. He didn’t tell us that he holds the Guinness record for voluntary survival in the wilderness. (He was dropped into the wilderness with just his street clothes and survived for 31 days using his wits.) He didn’t mention that he’s written books about wilderness survival.

What he did share was this: Pessimistic thinking before your wilderness trip is essential. (I love this justification for my obsessive planning and packing before an adventure.) Plan for the loss of your transport, be that a canoe, plane or your walking ability. Plan for the loss of your most treasured gear. Control what you can, but know that decision making at the time of your crisis is key to surviving.

Bourbeau has developed an acronym to help with decision-making in a crisis: SERA (Think about “Que sera, sera” to remember his acronym.). S is for search and rescue. Will whatever you do next make it easier or harder for search and rescue to find you? E is for energy. Is whatever you do next worth the energy expended? R is for risk. Is your next task worth the risk involved? A is for assets. How will your assets—your remaining gear, say–be affected by your next action?

What I admired about Bourbeau was that he didn’t brag or list all his credentials. He just cut to the chase and told us what could save our lives: SERA. I’m thinking his message also relates to many decisions in life on terra common, not just in the wilderness.

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