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Double check your knots

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If you ever feel like you need a little more excitement in your life, go into the mountains, find a cliff where you have good cell reception, get yourself stuck and call 9-1-1.

Also, don’t do any of those things. I mean, that would certainly add a great deal of excitement to your life, but there are safer, more reasonable ways to get an adrenaline high and break your 9-to-5 routine.

Like being the dude that saves people who are stuck in the mountains.

I joined Lake County Search and Rescue a few years ago. It was a great experience and they were a lot of fun, but eventually I was forced to choose between the fun volunteer organization and the job that paid the bills.

A few months after joining, they sent me to a high-angle, low-angle rope rescue certification course in the Swan. It was, far and away, the most fun weekend of my life.

Speaking of, if you ever want a fresh perspective on life, go spend a weekend with dudes who hang off 1,000-foot cliffs for a living. Most of the time there’s nothing but a few pieces of stamped steel or aluminum and a half-inch rope between them and certain death, so Type-A personality really doesn’t begin to describe them.

They’re like Special Forces soldiers when it comes to completing a task quickly, efficiently and without incident. Then, as soon as the mission is done, they tell a dirty joke that is as hilarious as it is inappropriate for this publication.

Their personalities really are something to behold, and I think it must come from their vocation of choice more than anything else. They flawlessly balance the duality of life and death within their own persona. They have to; they spend the majority of their working life hanging off a cliff. The view and experience is exhilarating and can only be matched by the sheer terror of knowing that if one thing in the system above you goes wrong, you die.

Most of the weekend was in-classroom instruction on knots and anchors and theory, and I’m sorry to say that I’ve forgotten most of what I learned that day. However, there was one moment I’ll remember until the day I die.

Our instructor was perched at the edge of a cliff and leaning backward, his full weight trusted to a few knots and an old rope. He had to “dress-up” several of the knots beforehand, which means he made them look pretty, like the pictures in the textbook. This was important because a hastily and poorly tied knot doesn’t distribute the load’s weight efficiently, making break-strength and reliability impossible to gauge.

We (the students) had tied the knots, so he made a special point of making sure everyone knew what he was doing, why he was doing it and made us watch him tighten, straighten and re-tie several key components to the system.

In short, we’d screwed up and didn’t do it right. He fixed it, and made us watch him fix it, before he got on.

When he’d finished, he leaned back, his full weight (and life) trusted to the knots once more, and he smiled.

Then he looked at each and every one of us and said, in a clear and calm tone, “I need you to understand something. I need you to understand that if you fall and die, it’s on you. If I fall and die, it’s on me. Even if you tied the knots in the system I’m on — especially if you tied the knots in the system — and I fall and die, it’s on me, because I didn’t double check the system. When your life depends on the rigging, do your own rigging.”

Then he smiled, took a step back and disappeared over the cliff’s edge. The knots held beautifully.

A more perfect metaphor for handling your mistakes in life could not be realized.

If you fall down in life, even if someone else tied the knots, it’s on you.

Always double check the knots.

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