Humans have a way of courting accidents. What separates survivors from victims is preparation and spirit—but also sheer dumb luck.
“To survive,” writes novelist/journalist Gonzales (One Zero Charlie, 1993, etc.), “you must first be annealed in the fires of peril.” Well, yes: and peril, though sometimes in the eye of the beholder, is a constant companion of many folks, whether they court it or not—one reason, Gonzales observes, that inner-city kids tend to do better in outdoor survival training than do suburbanites, who have far less experience with predators. Thrill-seekers who put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of the adrenaline rush may have all the right gear and even a little know-how, but most of them are just ordinary Joes who, “when put under stress, are unable to think clearly or solve simple problems. They get rattled. They panic. They freeze.” Cataloguing, often by way of personal anecdote, the dazzling array of possibilities by which gnarly outdoor experiences can become annihilating ones—a body surfer hits the wrong tide and gets dashed against the rocks, a snowmobiler gets chewed up in an avalanche, a hang glider augers into a mountain or a parachutist into the waiting earth—Gonzales ponders just what traits, and just what training, can increase such an ordinary person’s odds of survival in tight situations, short of simply staying home. (But even then, he reckons, we get snuffed. Given that one person dies in this country every minute in a transportation accident, the death of only a dozen-odd climbers every year makes mountaineering seem a safe bet by comparison.) This work, oddly delightful for all its gruesome moments, closes with a compendium of tips for staying alive in the wild, among them the necessity of staying calm when danger rises, waiting for the fear to pass, planning what to do next, and believing that the odds are with you against all evidence to the contrary.
A superb, entertaining addition to a nature buff’s library—or for anyone not tucked safely away in a bunker.