[Excerpt from a piece I did after a failed attempt to reach Humphrey’s Peak. This piece got me rejected from a Meetup group for hikers. Seriously.]
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved by the author.
“Here’s the problem,” I counseled. “This permit is totally superfluous for the skilled climber – he knows all about avalanches, what to bring to the mountain to aid in his survival should he be caught in one, and how to use it.
“So really, the audience you’re trying to reach with the instructions printed on the back of this permit is the guy like me, who arrives at the trailhead from far away, completely unprepared for the hazards he is certain to encounter.”
“I suppose so, sir. But, hadn’t you read the website?”
“Jack, in preparation for this hike I read three different websites that told me, in no uncertain terms, that a Backcountry Permit was required to hike the trail. Do you know what my reaction was when I got all the way up to the trailhead and read that a Backcountry Permit was required to be on my person before I’d be allowed to hike the trail?”
“I do not, sir.”
I leaned over the counter. “Surprise, Jack. I was surprised.”
“Surprised that we require a permit?”
“Surprised that you meant it. There’s a difference.”
He struggled trying to discern the difference. I went on.
“So I can tell you, I will not read your silly piece of paper, no matter how many miles I have to drive out of my way to obtain it – fifteen, by the way, thirty for the round trip. What you need is something to motivate me, and my people, so to speak, the Underprepared, the Walking Imminent Statistic, to read the excellent instructions you’ve printed here. You gotta hit us with a frying pan in the face, know what I’m saying?”
I could see by his expression he didn’t. So I tried being helpful. “Say, you got a piece of paper back there I can borrow?”
“I just might.” Jack rolled to the copier, grabbed a sheet from the copier’s tray, rolled back to me at the counter. “I guess I do,” he said, pushing the sheet across the counter. He watched interestedly while I scratched out a couple inspired paragraphs I’d composed while I’d been fuming on my way from the trailhead to the office. A message I knew would yield better compliance from the intended audience of the Forest Service’s wonderful instructions: adventurers like me.
Presently, I finished. I pushed the sheet back to him, grinning with condescending triumph. “I bet if you put this up on a sign right at the trailhead, you’d get better compliance, and even save more lives, at lower cost to you, and by inciting lower frustration for the likes of me. Instead of staffing this desk, you could go out into the wilderness, once a week or so, on a horse even, to distribute these life-saving instructions to the various trailheads with complete confidence that they will be read by exactly the sort of people who ought to be reading them. Doesn’t that sound better, more efficient and cost-effective, than manning this desk eight hours a day just to give a piece of paper to somebody who is quite likely to ignore it?”
Jack regarded me skeptically, but cleared his throat, raised the sheet, then read my own words to me in a dry, monotonous recitation meant to convey he was feeling put-upon to indulge me when he had many other important things he’d rather be doing.
“Welcome, Foolhardy Weekend Adventurer!
If you are reading this sign during the winter months, then the most likely outcome of your recreational pursuit today is Gruesome Death. In the likely event you are crushed to death and your corpse is ground into shards of bone suspended in bloody pulp by the tons of snow and heavy debris of an avalanche, so that we may expeditiously notify your loved ones of your disappearance, and accurately identify your remains when another Foolhardy Weekend Adventurer, or perhaps his dog, discovers them at the bottom of a mudslide the spring following your tragic but predictable demise, please fill out each of the two forms we’ve placed into this box, at great taxpayer expense and irritation. Leave the completed yellow form on the dashboard of your automobile. Carry the completed green form on your person at all times while you are on the trail.
Thanks to the cuts inflicted on our funding by your elected representatives who see no value in the maintenance of this wilderness, there are no rangers patrolling this trail. So when you are buried beneath the snow and jagged rock, with your body mutilated into a paralytic state while your brain remains alive and cognizant of the pain and hopelessness of your circumstance, save your breath, do not bother to scream for help because there is nobody near to help you. Contrary to your intuition, your GPS will be useless to you, and there is no cell phone coverage under a ton of snow. Instead, enjoy your last moments on Earth in complete peace and serenity for knowing that you’ve done all you could have possibly done to reduce the inconvenience your departure will present to your loved ones and to the American taxpayer!
Or, read the instructions on the back of the permit. One or more of them could make your trek more satisfactory than death under a heap of snow. Up to you.
Enjoy your hike!”
By the time he’d reached the end of it, Jack seemed genuinely impressed with the genius of my work. “That could work!” he boomed, thumping the reception desk with long-dormant animation.
“Hell yeah, Jack, it could.”