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Tavaputs Plateau • Fall on the Tavaputs is glorious. As the high country east of Price drifts toward a long winter, the canyons are deep green laced with gold. The air is clear and goes forever.

If you suddenly found yourself alone is such a remote and beautiful place, how long would it take for something to eat you?

It's a matter Sonny and I debated as we drove up to the ranch to fix some stuff.

Last week, a bear tore open the side of the meat house at the ranch, crawled in the hole and ate most of a deer.

The bear came back the following night. This time it hoisted an elk carcass far enough out of the semi-repaired hole to eat some more.

As beautiful as the Tavaputs is, it's still just a grocery store to most of its inhabitants. If you aren't prepared to fend for yourself, you could end up being the groceries.

Knowing that the bear was still out there (along with any number of fellow bears), Sonny and I discussed our chances of survival if we were stranded and had to fend for ourselves.

It's easy to dismiss this possibility inside a climate-controlled pickup. Forty miles from anywhere and with winter closing in, I told Sonny I was as prepared as the next guy to survive with just what I had on me. I was wrong.

Just for laughs (and a cash wager), we pulled over and emptied our pockets. Turns out that the guy next to me was way more prepared to survive alone in the wilderness.

Sonny's pockets contained a small tool kit, a compass, a set of truck keys, an energy bar, two knives, matches, a mini-flashlight, a fish hook and a handgun.

Civilized to the point of helplessness, my pockets contained 41 cents, a gas receipt, half a pack of gum, four sunflower seeds, an allergy pill, and two medium-size pieces of lint.

In the middle of beautiful nowhere is not the place to realize just how helpless you would be if someone suddenly drove off and left you. I got back in the truck and turned up Pink Floyd.

My lack of emergency preparedness is not an isolated case. Most people are unprepared to find themselves alone and forced to survive with just the things they have on them at that moment.

Could you? If you're reading this column over breakfast, it's not a happy question. You wouldn't get far in bear country in your underwear and armed with a spoon.

Even at the top of a person's day-to-day game, few of us carry with us the tools of primal survival. My wife's purse weighs more than 30 pounds and there isn't a thing in it that would be useful in an emergency situation.

The vast majority of the things we lug around as essential to our survival — cell phones, laptops, iPods, credit cards and cosmetics — could be rendered useless in the blink of an eye.

It wouldn't take much. You may live in a great neighborhood now, but everywhere is the middle of nowhere when the food is gone or there isn't any clean water.

Ironically, we all understand (at least in theory) just how fragile our environment is, but few of us do much to prepare ourselves for that moment when everything is suddenly gone and we're in bear country.

Robert Kirby can be reached at or

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