“You did what!?!?” – Anyone who participates in outdoor adventures has probably heard this phrase before. I know I’ve heard it from my parents, friends, and ministry partners quite a few times. This question used to be a big point of frustration for me, but now I’ve made it my goal to help understand the truth about the outdoors.
What we do feels like second nature to us, but most of our outdoor activities are perceived as dangerous to most people. Many people have a skewed view of the outdoor industry. They hear about the radical climbers who scale 2,000 ft. cliffs without ropes or the stories about hikers getting struck by lightning (like my friend did in Glacier National Park 2 years ago), falling off cliffs, or getting swept away by an avalanche. Even though these accidents are actually few and far between, these are the stories that tend to stick in people’s minds.
The Myth of Outdoor Adventure Risk
Would you believe me if I told you that participating in outdoor adventures isn’t really as dangerous as you might think? Let me refer you to a 20 year safety study that was conducted by Project Adventure (Furlong, Jillings, LaRhette, & Ryan, 1995).
This group looked at a number of different activities and the number of accidents that occurred over the course of a million hours of each activity:
- Adventure activities: 4.33 per one million hours (including challenge course)
- Real Estate, Insurance, and Finance Occupations: 4.5 accidents per million hours
- Educational Services: 8 accidents per million hours
- Amusement and Recreational Services: 19 accidents per million hours
- Physical Education Classes: 9.6 accidents per million hours
I’m less likely to have an accident than a person who sells houses
Compared to Physical Education Classes, my line of work in outdoor adventure ministry is twice as safe. I’m less likely to have an accident than a person who sells houses, safer than a number cruncher, and even safer than the person who insures my outdoor ministry!
Perceived Risk versus Actual Risk
The difference between the outdoor enthusiast and the city slicker is that the outdoor enthusiast (if properly trained) knows the difference between Perceived Risk, and Actual Risk. Let me give you an example:
Imagine that an untrained person and myself are both standing on the top of a 100 ft. rock cliff attached to a rope, preparing to rappel down. As the untrained person walks closer to the edge he stops with his toes hanging over the edge, his eyes get wide, and his heart jumps into his throat with fear. His Perceived Risk is that he is going to fall to his death… or at best, break every bone and be in a body cast for the rest of his life.
When I walk to the edge until my toes are hanging over the edge, my heart rate barely rises. I’m enjoying the beauty of my surroundings and the thrill of being safe while I defy gravity thanks to my rope. I know the Actual Risk of what we’re doing. I know that my rope can hold the weight of a Toyota Tundra (around 5,000 pounds.), and the anchor that I am attached to could probably hold 2 of them.
Don’t Let Fear Rule Your Life
If you’re a person that’s interested in the great outdoors, but maybe you’ve been letting your fear get the better of you, know that there is a difference between Perceived Risk and Actual Risk. Next time you see someone doing something that seems crazy to you, take a moment and ask yourself, “Should I try that?” You might be surprised by your own answer. There’s a whole world out there begging to be explored. Don’t let your fears get in the way of what God has in store for you.