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Outdoors Outpost
And the Winner Is
Wednesday, January 7, 2009 • Posted January 7, 2009

The results are pretty much in, so it’s time once again for the annual Darwin Awards Column. Every year I write a story about the people who have, during the past 12 months, removed themselves from the gene pool in the most ridiculous and humorous manners possible. This is probably the most popular column I write, which says something about my readership.

This year, like last year, some idiots removed the pad from some ski lift poles at an Italian ski resort and then used the pads to slide down the hill until some of them ran into the poles the pads had been removed from. Killing yourself in the same stupid way others have already used demonstrates poor style.

People often steal metal to sell for scrap, and a Czech man managed to off himself that way last March. He went into the bottom of an elevator shaft in an abandoned building near Prague and sawed the cable in two, whereupon the elevator was released to slide down the shaft in an unchecked manner, resulting in a cancelled Czech.

Once again a balloonist made the list this past year, a Brazilian priest. He wanted to set a new record for time aloft (19 hours), and outfitted himself with a satellite phone and a GPS receiver. Winds, unfortunately, swept him out to sea, so he called rescuers on his sat phone. That would have worked, except he didn’t know how to use the GPS, so he was unable to identify his location. His body washed ashore a few days later, along with bits of his balloons.

One of my favorite awards this year goes to the man who rented a large limb shredder to deal with an oak tree in his backyard, the top third of which had been killed by lightning. His idea was to place the shredder right beside the bole of the tree and turn it on, so he could cut limbs and drop them directly down the machine’s maw. It was just bad luck that he slipped as he tried to step from the ladder to a tree limb. That’s all I got to say about that.

We’re not sure if alcohol was involved in the death of a snowmobile rider early last year, but it’s likely. Several friends were out having fun on snow machines when they spotted a rabbit and gave chase. After a few near crashes they all gave up the chase except one fellow. He was doing pretty well until the rabbit ran into a culvert under a road. Witnesses said the man never hit his brakes. The fuel tank was located near the front of the machine, and was ruptured when the snowmobile proved too large to fit in the culvert. The rider was blown 20 feet.

Second place for the year, I believe, should go to the fellow who cut down a large tree and needed to haul it up a steep embankment. Now, barring the use of a winch, which would be the easiest way to handle a job like that, the man could probably have found a come-along, or at least a block & tackle. He did none of the above.

Our Einstein decided to use his pickup to pull the log up, and he got a brilliant idea. He jacked up the rear end and removed one wheel, replacing it with a bare rim. He attached a rope from the tree to the rim, cranked up the vehicle, put it in gear, and revved the engine. Unfortunately the tree was much heavier than the pickup, which shot over the embankment, taking Paul Bunyan with it.

My favorite award for 2008 goes to three army privates who had just completed basic training, and were visiting one’s grandmother for a few days. In an attempt to cut down a pine tree in her backyard, the three immortalized themselves.

There were three tall pines in Granny’s yard, and our heroes planned to cut down the middle one. They tied a rope high in the tree and then ran it around the tree next to it, and then to the ground. This was so they could control which direction the tree fell, and keep it from hitting the house. Smart fellows.

Two of the privates tied the rope around themselves, but the tree was much heavier then they assumed. When it was cut they were both yanked off their feet into the air and dragged through the limbs of the next tree over. Emerging from the foliage thirty feet in the air, the two were then jerked back toward earth by the weight of the falling tree.

No one knows exactly when these two privates expired, whether on the way up or when they hit the ground. All we know is that they earned a richly deserved, and very rare, Double Darwin Award.

So 2008 was a banner year for the Darwins but, as Frank Zappa said, “It’s not getting any smarter out there.” My advice for 2009 is stay away from trees . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who never assaults wood unless it is lying on the ground. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or

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