Safety, Stupidity, and Good Practices

Moms have a peculiar 6th sense whenever you’re about to do things that are stupid and will end with you in the hospital. I’ve watched my mother stop in the middle of washing dishes to run outside and yell at my sister who had just put on her roller skates and was going to let a dog that was bigger than she was tow her. While this is great and has probably saved my life more than once, anytime I go backpacking, kayaking, or rock climbing, there is an assumed degree of risk which makes her worry. Over the years, I’ve started taking precautions so she doesn’t have to worry as much.

Whether I am going for 4 hours or 4 days, I always make sure I let someone know where I’m going. If you’ve seen the movie “127 Hours” you’ve probably realized if he had just let someone know where he was going, he’d still be able to type with both hands; Aron Ralston has publicly stated the same. Just a simple text message that says “Hey, I’m going to Crowders and might try to find those old tunnels” is enough to help Search and Rescue help find you if you get into trouble. If going for more than several days, I take the added precaution of leaving an itinerary in my car of where I plan to be going and how long I expect it to take me. If I’m feeling especially paranoid, I’ll even take a sheet of tinfoil and step on it with the shoes I’m wearing and leave it in the vehicle as well to help S&R follow my tracks.

Another thing to worry about is what all you’re taking with you. I hate to be burdened down as much as anyone, but yes, it is important you carry that First Aid kit and actually know how to use the stuff inside it. Pack that extra 20oz of water just in case; I’ve found the most dangerous words I can say are “Oh, we’ll be fine without it”. I’m not saying that you should be packing every single thing into the woods, but when it comes to water, a rain jacket on a possibly stormy day, or a first aid kit on any day, quit being a little princess and put it in your bag.

With kayaking, there are additional considerations. First, you should always wear your life jacket. I don’t care if you’re Michael Phelps; if you’re paddling with me you’re wearing a life jacket. Paddling by yourself also raises the question of what will happen if you fall out of your boat. Unless you’re in a sit-on-top, you’re in for a long swim back to shore with your boat unless you have practiced re-entry techniques using a paddle float or a stirrup, and will also need a bilge pump to empty your kayak of water. If you have no idea what I’m talking about but think that “Well, it can’t be that hard”, I recommend you try it next time you go paddling. If nothing else, you’ll provide plenty of entertainment for those that watch you try. Even in a group setting, getting a person back into a kayak can be taxing and tiring even in warm weather; in cold weather, it’s downright dangerous. Moral of the story? Don’t do anything stupid and fall out of your kayak.

One of the biggest concerns is always hypothermia which can occur anytime the ambient temperature drops below 75degrees. Hypothermia is caused by a drop in core temperature, and has the symptoms of shivering, blue lips, and mild stupidity; I believe some people I know are in a constant state of it. The easiest prevention is to dress appropriately for the weather, don’t wear clothing that traps water against your body (cotton), and to change into dry clothing if your clothes do get wet. All of this is rather basic, but it’s getting into good habits that is the hard part.

And, really, most outdoor accidents are preventable by simply not doing stupid things. You KNOW you shouldn’t jump from rock to rock in the river…especially when the rocks are soaked, you’ve got a pack on your back, and that old football injury in your knee has been acting up. By the same token, you should KNOW whether you can really hike all 12 of those miles in a day, especially when it has 8000’ of elevation change. Being honest about yourself, and your abilities is the easiest way to avoid having to call a helicopter.

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