Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Hypothermia season: "I know what I'm doing"
When I got back last night I read Bryan Hansel's post in Paddling Light. The age old dilemma, as 'Groundhog Day' as the Bark Bay event, of what to do when we spot the woefully unprepared person heading out in dangerous conditions. Be advised people, it is the absolute peak of hypothermia season on Superior. Balmy days and sub 40F water in many cases. I thought Bryan handled it well and speaking from experience I think the outcome was as good as could be expected. But will anything be learned from the experience? Will she do the same thing tomorrow? Will the fact that she had a decent outcome create the belief that she now knows what she is doing? One key issue is whether we come off as Cliff Claven's or as concerned paddlers trying to help and educate. I've written about a fellow preparing to venture out to the mainland sea caves in the Apostles, the spot where a couple of people have paid for their unpreparedness with their lives in the past few years. I had on a drysuit and he was wearing shorts and flip flops. What caused the danger finally sunk in was when I invited him to continue the discussion while standing in Lake Superior. It was a very short 30 second discussion before I helped him carry his 12' rec boat back up the steps, directions to Bark Slough scribbled on the back of an envelope. Many, many other times I've been told, "Don't worry, I know what I'm doing". I've not perfected the ideal response to that yet because its usually patently obvious that they have no idea what the hell they are doing. What can also fuel this unwarranted confidence is benign neglect from the people who rent these boats to people. As Bryan pointed out there are a couple of outfitters in Grand Marais that are less than forthcoming with their rental clients. There is an outfitter in the Apostles that rents sit on tops. I've seen firsthand the results of that policy with some poor college aged guys freezing their asses off on Oak Island, both them and their gear soaked to the bone. In the AINL there are now people at the Little Sand Bay launch during the busy season, Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteers I believe, that gently instruct people about safety. Same thing at Meyers Beach. The fact that becomes very clear to these volunteers however, is many people have the attitude that they indeed 'know what they are doing' and don't have to listen.