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Cell Phones: Survival gear in the back country

Brief by Todd Murchison

Outdoor life – September 1997 – Colorado Central Magazine

Once upon a time, people went into the wilderness equipped with the skills and tools to be able to survive on their own. Technology is rapidly changing that. Now people ride into the wilderness on machinery and bring along their cellular phones for survival.

More than a few people have decided that if you have a cellular phone and no shame, there is little need to learn anything about wilderness survival before setting off into the Colorado backcountry.

Get in trouble? Just dial up a rescue chopper. If they are lucky — i.e. the battery is charged, they happen to be in an area the call can get out, and the phone didn’t get wet — they might just make it. The serious outdoor adventurer could get upset about this sort of behavior, but instead of getting upset, perhaps we should turn this into a source of revenue! Consider: is there the owner of a cellular phone who lacks a credit card? I doubt it.

Thus the increasing number of cellular phone pleas for help should go like this:

“Backwood County Sheriff’s Department.”

“Uh, yeah, uh, me and my buddy Jim here, we, uh, got our ATVs stuck in some mud up here near the, uh, west fork of the Buenaventura River, or maybe that’s the east fork, anyway, uh, it’s really cold.”

“I’m sorry sir. How can we help you exactly?”

“Uh, well, uh, we’d like for ya’ll to come and get us, ’cause it’s dark and kind of scary, too.”

“Yes, sir. We can sure do that. Do you have a credit card?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Okay. Will you be using MasterCard, Visa or American Express?”

“Well, uh.”


“Ah, Visa.”

“Thank you, sir. Would you read me the 16-digit account number please?”

“Well, I can’t see it.”

“Do you still have fuel in your ATV, sir?”

“Ah, yes.”

“Start it up please, sir, and use the headlight to read me the number.”

Vrooooooooooom, putt, putt, putt.

“Okay, here it is: 2556234400907162.”

“Thank you, sir, and the expiration date?”

“Four-nine, 98.”

“Now sir, would you like our Executive service — a helicopter rescue, costing $1,416.44; our Coach service — an ATV rescue priced at only $725.67; or our Budget service — my buddy Chuck heads out in his 4×4 and hollers into the woods for you to come on out, special this week only, at $69.95.”

“Heck, I don’t know. Let me talk to my buddy… Okay, we’ll take the Coach rescue.”

“Very good, sir. Now, do you know exactly where you are?”

“We ain’t got a clue.”

“Okay, that’s fine, sir. Hold on while I talk to my boss… Okay, this week only, he says there’s a special deal on our ILO, that’s the Idiot Locator Over-flight. For only $247 per hour we can have a light plane airborne and searching for you within minutes. ”

“Please, yes. I guess we got no choice, my fingers are really cold.”

“Very good, sir. The plane will be in the air momentarily. Do you have a fire to keep you warm until help arrives?”

“Naw, we don’t, and we’re cold.”

“Okay, sir. For another $79, I can arrange for the plane to drop you our deluxe fire-starting kit complete with lighter, wood and a commercially manufactured FireLog anyone can light. Or, if you would prefer, we can drop the basic fire-starting kit with some old newspaper, matches, and a couple of logs for only $37.”

“Oh, this is starting to get pretty expensive. We best take the basic kit.”

“Very good, sir. Do you have an ax, a hatchet, a large knife — something with which to reduce one of the logs to kindling?”

“A hatchet? Do you think we’d be out here freezing to death in the wilderness if we had a hatchet and matches?”

“Sorry sir. Might I then suggest the deluxe kit.”

“Okay. Okay. Drop the deluxe kit. Now where’s the airplane?”

“He should be circling somewhere in your area now, sir. Could you start your ATV again and flash your headlight on and off?”

“All right”

Vrooooooooooom, putt, putt, putt.

“Very good, sir. He reports he has you in sight and is preparing to drop the firestarting kit. The ATV rescue team should be there within 30 minutes. Our airplane has determined your location to be one hundred yards northwest of the Mofeta Valley Country Store and Campground. The ATV rescue team will take you from there into town.”

“Now, will you need a place to spend the night? We can arrange for rooms, along with meals and hot-tub treatments for hypothermia if necessary. In addition we can arrange a chauffeured night on the town to help you overcome the shock of your misadventure. Would you like to put this all on the Visa, or would you prefer to use another card?”

Todd Murchison is a professional skier and member of the San Juan Search and Rescue team. This essay was inspired by truth, and a joke sent anonymously to him on the Internet.

It first appeared, in slightly different form, in the Pagosa Adventure Guide, where one of our subscribers saw it and passed it on.