I have an appointment on September 6th to discuss a new date for my surgery. It’s a big step and to be honest, I am still not sure if I am ready to wake up post op without Nick standing next to me. I am not sure who will be standing next to me. I am not certain how I am going to feel when I wake up. One thing I do know, however, is that as I work towards moving forward from the pain caused by my grief, I have realized, I also need to move forward from the pain caused by my endometriosis, as this is something I have lived with for 15 years, but I am terrified.
Yesterday my beautiful friend Shanda came over to photograph my house for the listing. When she arrived my kitchen was in shambles. Do you want to know what death does? Death makes you look at your belongings and say, “Why in the fuck do we have so much dumb shit?”
As we went through the cupboards in my kitchen, I felt empowered. I told Shanda we were going to do the joy test as we go through everything. If I look at it, and it doesn’t bring me joy, it has to go. We had a garbage bag, a giveaway box, and a smash box. The smash box is for stuff I don’t want anymore but that I am going to break into a million different pieces for a form of therapy. Hence why it’s called the smash box. It’s probably a good thing Shanda was with me because otherwise I probably would have only kept one plate, one bowl, one glass, and ten popeye shaker cups. I kept looking at everything thinking; I use the same damn mug every morning, but I have 25 of them. I have 17 pots and pans, but I only have one stove. In my opinion, if it’s not in the dishwasher, it has to go.
The kitchen went smoothly. Shanda was very proud of me, but the kitchen was easy. As we moved over to a different part of the room, I began staring at my vision board on the wall, and the white board that has Nick’s writing that says, “Good morning fiancée. Hope you have a great day. Love you.”
My feeling of empowerment disappeared and I was aggressively reminded of what I was doing. Reality still hurts. I have moved a million times in the last eight years, but this time, it was so different. I only managed to get the kitchen done yesterday. I was exhausted by the end of it but Shanda you were such a huge help, and I know you said you love this kind of stuff, but under these circumstances, it’s a horribly shitty job for a friend. Thank you so much for being there during the not so glamorous parts of my grief.
Yesterday while I was pacing back and forth in my house trying to figure out what to do next I had a weird thought pop into my head. The thought was, “I wonder if I still have the book, “Sharpening The Warriors Edge.” It was so random I decided I better try and find it.
I have had this book for almost nine years, and it’s falling apart but within the first eighteen pages, I realized why I needed to read it again.
I know I have been preaching a lot about safety in the backcountry. For some, it may be getting old, but I for one have never been so passionate about something than I am about this, and I will not stop talking about it until I feel like people are truly listening. There is a difference between reading someone’s story and learning from someone’s story. Learning requires action.
I do want to make one thing clear; I am not a snowmobiler. Not yet at least, and I will never claim to know anything about riding and or reading avalanche terrain. I have no skill in those two areas, and I will never pretend that I do. When I am talking about safety in the backcountry, I am mostly referring to the mental preparedness for if and when shit gets fucked.
As far as I am concerned, Nick was a dead man when he left the parking lot that day. Not only did he play in an area that was known to be unsafe territory, and one that he had told me just a few weeks prior that he had no interest in exploring; he also went unprepared for worst case scenario, as I have mentioned before.
As a person who is learning and understands the psychology of human behavior and the reaction to high-stress situations, I am here to tell you this; if you are a snowmobiler, playing in areas that have the potential for an avalanche, AST 1 is NOT ENOUGH.
Seriously, it’s not enough, and if you are only going to count on AST 1, you better make sure you are taking a high-quality course from someone who passionately cares about the survival of their students. Nick and his friends had AST 1, they had beacons, they had shovels, they had Avi bags, they had all the things you are told to have, but IT’S NOT ENOUGH. Call them stupid for being in the area they were, sure, but I know those boys are not the only ones who have made that mistake. It was a mistake, and Nick paid the ultimate price. If we can all learn from these avalanche fatalities, talk about them, and make a change, Nick and all of the others death’s will not be in vain, and those who survived when their buddies didn’t, can free themselves from that guilt.
For the record, you cannot learn how to survive in an avalanche from doing fill in the blank quizzes, and you cannot learn survival in avalanche terrain from a classroom and minimal hands-on practice. It has been proven time and time again that this is not adequate training for adult learners.
Let me ask you something. If you are on a mountain and a slide occurs, do you think you need to enter warrior mode? Damn rights. Everything you do from the moment this happens is survival, and if you are in a life or death situation, you NEED to enter warrior mode.
“It is a level of performance where physical skills are precisely executed with little effort. Cognitive processing becomes so efficient that the perception of time distorts and the warrior experiences virtually no fear or anxiety” (Bruce K. Siddle, 1995)
If I am doing anything, that may result in danger; I am going to be making sure the people I am with are ready and prepared to act as a warrior if things go bad. Let me ask you something? When you evaluate those you ride with, how many would become a warrior at the moment you need them the most? Would you if your friends were counting on you?
If you haven’t taken an AST 1 course for fuck sakes, take one, and make sure it’s one that is conducive to your sport. That is your responsibility as a learner. Checking the box is not good enough.
If you have taken AST 1, did you leave feeling skilled and confident? Do you think you need to advance your skills (maybe some first aid) or does it really matter if you can check the box and say you did it? Ask your loved ones what they think. I will go to my grave regretting not talking to Nick more about advancing his skills. After he took his AST 1 and told me what the training consisted of I thought, how in the hell are you supposed to learn how to survive in avalanche terrain in a classroom, minimal hands on and fill in the blank quizzes?
“A skill consists of the ability to bring about some end result with maximum certainty and minimum outlay of energy, or of time and energy” (Psychologist E.R Guthrie, 1952)
Immediately following an avalanche, time is NOT on your side if someone has been buried. You need to respond effectively, confidently, and quickly.
I know people might read this and be offended and tell me I have no right to critique particular teaching methods or curriculum. But guess what? My fiancé is dead, and I am the one who has to live with the consequences of his lack of training, lack of practice, and lack of realization that he could potentially wind up dead.
These fatalities are not one person’s fault or one organization’s fault or one group’s fault. These deaths rest on all of us because the less we talk about proper training, preparedness, and the basic psychology of humans, the more people are going to die. This is a community problem, and it’s time people ask themselves, how badly do I want to live?
“Creating a need for a skill in survival training can be accomplished by showing the students reports or studies of how the skills will be used to control specific threat behavior” (Bruce K. Siddle, 1995).
These skills may potentially prevent you from being dead. What more do you need? Learn to prevent yourself from being in an avalanche as best you can and learn to react in times that you can’t always avoid. This specific threat is Mother Nature, and as I have said before, you can’t always prevent her from coming at you, but you have to be prepared.
“This motivator can be especially strong when the “need” relates to the survival of the student. Too many times instructors attempt to teach a survival skill that the average student cannot visualize ever needing in the field. Subsequently, the students must be able to visualize the skill’s real life applications” (Bruce K. Siddle, 1995).
I am not a psychologist yet, and I am still trying to figure out how to best pay for my continued education now because Nick is dead and I have been hit hard financially as a result. I can’t claim to be an expert in this area, but I can confidently say, if you are playing in the backcountry, you need to visualize being caught in an avalanche. You need to prepare yourself mentally. Bottom line.
As the season approaches, I want you to ask yourself how confident you are in your own skills and the skills of the members in your group. There are conversations that need to be had and sometimes it can be uncomfortable, but I can tell you from personal experience, this particular conversation will be less shitty than the alternative.
I am going to leave you with this:
“Identifying a training psychology which centers on enhancing survival performance through a systematic learning cycle is key. The ultimate goal of this training psychology is to develop the student’s confidence at a subconscious level. The relationship between motivation, practice intensity, skill competence, and skill confidence are inseparable and linked to one another” (Bruce K. Siddle, 1995).
Be safe out there and please prepare yourself the best you can so that you can come home to the people who love you so much.
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and feelings. I am so sorry for your loss of Nick. I wish I could hug you. My son died in an ATV accident near Golden in May 2016. His girlfriend showed me your blog. Your words are so close to my heart. They help in my grief. Thank you.