Pilots have a rule called “the three strikes rule”. The concept is simple. If you are getting ready to go flying (or already flying for that matter) and three things go wrong then cancel the flight. It doesn’t matter what the problem is. It can be anything from a blown light bulb to marginal weather for the day. Three strikes and you’re done. This is especially the case for recreational flying. Commercial pilots have a little more pressure to complete a flight but even they think through the three strikes rule when it applies. They may not cancel the flight but they will often take a “timeout” and think things through from end to end. For recreational pilots it’s (usually) easier because we don’t HAVE to make any particular flight. You might disappoint someone that you’re meeting or you might miss a perfect day of flying but you might also avoid an emergency. As the saying goes, “it’s better to be on the ground wishing that you were in the air than in the air wishing you were on the ground.”
The three strikes rule can be applied to non-aviation tasks as well. Yesterday I had plans to go out to the hunting lease and set up some stands. I invited Rob along to help with one of the larger stands and he decided to bring his son and daughter with us for a day in the woods.
Strike one: I had bought a new stand the day before and started putting it together late in the evening. I ran out of daylight and thought I only had a few minutes left to finish it up so left it for the next day. The next morning when I went out to finish things off I realized that I actually had a lot more left to do than I had intended and was running very late. At the last minute I found that I had assembled one piece incorrectly and had to redo it. Now I’m a stickler for doing things slowly and correctly so by the time I finished putting it all together and loaded everything in the truck I was well over two hours late.
Strike two: I was already late and kept catching every stop light on my way to pick up Rob and crew. This was frustrating. As I approached the only train crossing between our houses the signal lights started flashing and the guard arms began to lower. I had a brief moment of thinking, “I can make it”, considered punching the gas and then slammed on the brakes. I really could have made it, I was probably 30 feet from the tracks when the lights and bells came on and the arms had just started moving but it’s one of those things that’s just not worth it. After living in Chicago for 10 years and seeing monthly news reports of people getting hit by trains for trying exactly that I’m not really one to tempt fate. I stopped, waited… patiently… for a very long time… *sigh*
Strike three: After the train passed I was even more late and starting to feel the pressure of scheduling someones time and then causing delays for them as well as me. As soon as the gates came up I floored it and made it about 200 yards to the next stoplight where I, again, waited patiently. The light turned green, I turned left, went about 200 yards and was met by a police officer… traveling in my lane with his lights on. I pulled off of the road and he eased past with a house behind him. Now, we’re not talking about someones double-wide getting delivered. We’re talking about a 2000 square foot house. As the house approached I thought, man, that’s big and moved a little further off of the road. Then I thought, man, that’s REALLY big and moved still further away. At this point I realized that I was parked in the middle of someones lawn and that the approaching house might still hit me. I backed back onto the road and kept going until I found an open driveway where I promptly pulled in and waited for him to pass. And waited… and waited… and… *sigh*
After the house finally passed I made it to Rob’s without further incident. We loaded up the carseat, the kids and ourselves and were on the way. On the way out to the lease I was, of course, telling the story of my day and mentioned the three strike rule. Rob, who doesn’t fly, asked about it and I spent a few minutes explaining the rule and how superstitious pilots can be. It’s about an hour drive out to the lease which, while not quite what one would call wilderness is a good ways out in the country. On the way we stopped at a waffle house and had lunch. We eventually made it out to the lease and it was turning into a great day. Way out in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do but enjoy the day.
We had been there about 30 minutes when Rob called over to me that we needed to take his daughter to the Doctor… huh?
Now, I’ve known Rob a long time. He’s not one to panic (mostly) and if he says we need to take a kid to the doctor I assume that he knows what he’s talking about. As I walked over he told me that she had stepped on a nail… in the woods… 30 miles from the nearest source of nails. Not that I didn’t believe him, of course, but I did a quick evaluation of the problem and the kid did, indeed, have a hole in her foot. I made her a quick bandage out of a folded bit of (premium quality, extra soft) Toilet Paper and resolved to get a real first aid kit for the truck.
We loaded everyone up and headed back to town. I dropped Rob and daughter off at the Urgent Care clinic and took his 4 year old home to mommy. She promised to pick them up from the clinic and I headed off for home. On the way home, I considered, briefly, going back out to the lease and hanging out by myself. At that point though the idea seemed about as inviting as trying to beat the train across the tracks so I gave in to the three strikes rule and called it a day. Superstition or not the rule is a good one. Think I’ll listen next time.