High In The Wilderness

A recent Yahoo News story raised a number of interesting questions. It begins as follows:

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Two teen hikers lost for days in a California forest might have to pay for part or all of the $160,000 search after a small amount of drugs was found in their car, authorities said.

Officials initially said Nicolas Cendoya, 19, and Kyndall Jack, 18, wouldn’t be responsible. But Cendoya was charged this week with drug possession because methamphetamine was allegedly found in the car the pair parked before going on a hike last month in Cleveland National Forest.

“The recent drug charge on Cendoya may change things,” said Gail Krause, a spokeswoman with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

To begin with, there’s a case to be made that anyone who wanders off into the wilderness unprepared or takes off on a ski trip in the face of avalanche warnings should have to take responsibility for the consequences, whatever they might be. In this case, Orange County, California paid $160,000 to rescue these two people who were apparently high on meth and became disoriented as a result. Now, it appears, they may have to pay all or part of the cost of the rescue — but only because drugs were involved. In other words, it’s not because these two did something incredibly stupid making it necessary for others to risk their lives coming to their rescue that they will have to pay the piper. It’s because authorities happened to find drugs in their abandoned car. In this case, the authorities got it half right. In my view, these people should have to pay for the rescue even if the drugs hadn’t been found.

I heard tell of a man who served for a number of years on a search and rescue team in Montana who finally quit because he decided that the people they were rescuing really shouldn’t  be kept in the gene pool. I love it! This is why they give out the Darwin Awards each year, because people do incredibly dumb things and somehow manage to survive — usually — while others often have to risk their lives to save them. But when people do dumb things that require that others risk their lives or spend thousands of dollars rescuing them the very least that fairness demands is that those who were rescued pay the bill.

I wrote a blog some time ago about a man who fell through the ice while fishing on thin ice after being warned not to do so. His rescue cost the country a great deal of money and it was decided that the rescued man should pay the cost. He insisted that he would not pay because it would discourage others from calling for help when in trouble. Now THERE’S a rationalization for you! Instead of accepting responsibility for his actions, he determined to make someone else pay for his blunder on rational grounds as weak as the ice he fell through — and didn’t even have the decency to thank those who pulled him from the icy waters. Ingratitude coupled with smallness of mind. In the end it is all about accepting responsibility for our actions, or, at the very least, thinking our way through the actions to imagine possible outcomes. But we as a people and a nation don’t seem to be very good at that sort of thing. And we’re getting worse as each of us is learning that we can hide, secure behind the word “victim.”