I got an email from the Boss-founder of the Scorpions Trail crew with whom I work.  He sent an attachment out containing a Facebook video of horseback riders in the Brice Creek drainage, where we have spent collectively nearly 1500 hours, probably near 100 for me alone, removing logs, rebuilding the trail, digging in the mud, moving rocks, often in rain, snow, in rather cold temperatures.

The video, taken from a horse, showed two women riding on a narrow rocky trail on a steep hill 75-100 feet above Brice Creek. A pair of dogs were running along, too.  As the video progressed, I could see more of the familiar trail to me, as the women went between the two parts where we had cut out a log, the horses barely fitting through.  The one woman showed was not wearing a helmet.  

Being somewhat impulsive, I immediately posted a comment, despite my exile from FB commenting.  Then I deleted it.  Then I wrote the Boss.  Then I deleted that email, too. I wish more commenters would follow my lead. OK to write, get it out of your system. Then delete it, unless you really feel the same way a day later. You probably won’t.

The women had no business being out there, despite the plethora of positive comments from other riders discussing the difficulty of the trail. This trail is marked as dangerous at the entry points, because there is still a lot of instability and holes from where trees fell, and what was once a known trail to the Forest Service has changed significantly.  In short, we don’t know where all the danger points may be.  Some may be in spots we thought were safe. 

Not wearing a helmet when riding a trail horse is astoundingly poor judgment.  My wife, who has ridden for more than sixty years, always wears a helmet as well as a chest protector.  She has fallen from a horse before, has been kicked by one, and has been slammed by one.  

Having dogs loose on the trail is not only against the rules, which says dogs must be leashed, but creates another form of danger.  Yes, horses can be good and sound, deal with dogs properly, and all that, but horses are animals, and we all know the “He never did that before,” comment, which usually is said as an apology to others or as an answer given when one arrives in an emergency department.  

What if the two, horse and rider, met a mountain biker coming full tilt the other way? I’ve had that happen hiking and had to jump off the trail. What if the trail collapses? “It never collapsed there before”?  The horse and rider’s going down the cliff is going to lead to at least one death, maybe two.  What is the chance that might happen?  I don’t know. But I bet if they rode that area 25 times, something bad probably would have happened.  That’s a 4% risk of serious injury.  If the Scorpions had that sort of risk, we wouldn’t be allowed in the Forest.

What disturbed me equally were the comments were a mixture of “Wow, great trail to ride” and “not me.”  There was not one comment that took the rider to task the way I did above.  

“We got away with it, so it was OK.”  Yes, many said that just before Challenger, which 34 years ago last January blew up 73 seconds after lift off.  O-ring fraying had occurred before and without problem until that day.  The engineers were against a liftoff in cold weather, because they knew the properties of the rubber O-rings.  They were overruled.  “We have had leakage of gasses before,” said others, “and nothing bad happened.”  

* * *

Earlier in the week, I attended a Club meeting, the officers looking for ways to get new hiking leaders. Safety and accident prevention came up, and one of my colleagues spoke to a picture posted on FB by one of the hikers with whom I was with on Mt. Hood, crossing a log bridge, the log 7 feet off the water.  Six of seven went across the log, some walking, others straddling it with their legs and scooting across.  I looked and looked for a safe place, finally facing upstream, used my hiking pool as a prop, and was across in 10 seconds, minimally wet. Had I not done that, I would have turned around and gone back. We have had a hike once in the area where someone fell in a similar situation and needed to be evacuated.  “We can do it.  We can do anything,” has been said by some of the members. No, we can’t and shouldn’t.

* * *

The head of the trail maintenance committee for the Club is not shy about criticizing those of us who do not have his expert trail maintenance skills. I was working with him well up the west side of the Butte when there was ice on the trail, putting in wood markers. I slipped once on a hill but caught myself.  Coming back down, I started to slide on the trail and only a tree’s being in the right place stopped me.  We shouldn’t have been up there, and I didn’t speak up because while there was a chance I might get hurt, there was a certainty if I spoke up that I would be yelled at.  This is not a safety culture.

  • The 1979 jet crash in Oregon was basically due to junior crew members who failed to convince the captain that the plane was running out of fuel and that his fixation with the landing gear was secondary.
  • I once was given a chest tube in the OR by a cardiac surgeon and told how to put it in. When he asked me if I understood, I nodded. I didn’t understand, but to me, winging it might work; admitting I didn’t know, “No, I don’t understand,” would not have. He had already driven me to tears in the OR once. I ended up placing the tube wrong, it bonked the surgeon in the mask, contaminating the tube.  He swore, threw the tube on the floor, thereby contaminating his gloves, too.  He had his OR nurse, a toady, do it for him. She smirked at me.
  • I still have trouble telling senior people on the trail crew when I see something unsafe, the classic one being not lifting properly. The culture is not adequate so long as I feel that way.

* * *\

When I was in the Navy, my corpsmen once treated a drug overdose with Narcan, saving the man, but didn’t tell me until days later.  I was ashore overnight when it happened.  They were afraid I would write them up for being quiet about a sailor who used drugs. I thanked my men for what they did and told them quietly they had to tell me about everything that happened in sick bay when I was not there.  Everything. No yelling, no write-ups.  I simply had to know.

We have to look out for ourselves and each other on the trail.  We do it with respect and caring, not to score points, not to get even with someone else, not to be angry that someone is doing something unsafe.  I am new to trail work, unlike many others with whom I work.  I want to learn, but I don’t learn by being yelled at, and I remember those times. I teach math, and I teach it to many who are new to the concepts they are learning, whereas I have known those concepts for more than half a century. I try to be patient, find ways to explain it better, the rules, the shortcuts, the need for practice, and reinforce them when they are doing it right.  Students often say they understand my math help when their body language says they don’t have a clue.  I have to address that safely. “You look like you aren’t quite seeing that, correct?” In the right tone of voice. It’s my job to help them. I want them to learn, not to suffer.

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