In honor of the Red Bull Flugtag in Nashville this weekend, I wanted to share five reckless mistakes that can be avoided while you’re having fun outdoors. While none of these are launching homemade, human-powered flying machines off a pier about 30 ft/9 m high into the Cumberland River, they are just as reckless.
[Side note: my boyfriend is the pilot for the Vanderbilt LifeFlight flugtag team, so cheer them on for the popular vote today by using the #votevandylifeflight and #redbullflugtag hashtags on all your social media. Each mention is one point to their overall goal of winning and supporting the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt!]
Reckless mistake #1: Ignoring the amount of tread left on your boots
I “loved with a love that was more than love” my Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boots that I scored at an REI yard sale many moons ago. They took me all over the Rockies, the Flatirons, Tennessee trails, and all the way to Kent, Connecticut, on the Appalachian Trail. I loved them so much that I just purchased another pair of them to replace the Keen Voyageur Mid Boots I had to buy in Kent (not a fan).
I loved them so much that I ignored the loss of tread, the chunks of the sole that were lost across Pennsylvania (where boots go to die) and the general extreme wear. I kept them hobbled together with shoe goo, super glue, and even duct tape at times.
Nostalgia made me reckless, and I slipped several times, once gashing my knee on a sharp rock, several times bruising my palms and thighs. Towards the end, I ended up slipping down a 10-ft damp granite slab. I found myself on my side, Rosie still attached even though my hip belt had unbuckled (and my SPOT Gen3 GPS still within reach in the hip belt pocket!), and my trekking poles just slightly below me on a lower ledge. After the initial wiggle fingers-wiggle toes-make sure nothing’s broken body check, I vowed to replace those soles ASAP.
Reckless mistake #2: Leaving food and other smellables in your tent
“It’s raining too hard/it’s too cold outside my tent/I’m already in my sleeping bag.” “I haven’t seen a bear in days.” “There’s a lot of other people here, so it should all be good.” “All the critters are hibernating.”
At one time or another, we all try to rationalize not hanging our food and other smellables (trash, cook pots, toothpaste, etc.) on a bear bag line. But hanging your food isn’t just to inconvenience you, or even to protect your food. It serves to keep you and the people around you safe. If food is left in tents, then animals – bears, mice, raccoons, other critters – come to associate deliciousness with the inside of tents. If it’s early spring or late fall, those hungry, hungry hippos are starving enough to take risks, like going where a lot of people are and ripping open or chewing their way through a tent.
If that still isn’t enough for you to take responsibility and hang your food, know that if there are repeated bear encounters in a certain area (as they are enticed by all the food), that bear will, at best case, be relocated away from its home, or at worst case, be captured and euthanized. Don’t kill a bear with your recklessness.
[Side tip: if you are in a shelter, unzip all the pockets on your pack hanging/sitting in the shelter. That way if a mouse wants to get to that forgotten Clif bar wrapper, it gets direct access instead of chewing through your pack. Also, keep your nasty socks and pack straps out of reach of hungry porcupines, who love anything salty.]
Reckless mistake #3: Day hiking without the 10 essentials
Sure, you’re just going for a day hike. It’s a trail you’ve done before. The weather doesn’t look too bad… but one wrong turn, one sudden thunderstorm, one sprained ankle can keep you out a lot longer than you expected. Bring along the 10 Essentials every time.
Reckless mistake #4: Neglecting your body
Outdoor folks often have pretty big egos. We’re badassess, living in the woods, climbing that awesome wall, chasing those Class IV rapids, and considering ourselves worthy of Chuck Norris facts.
Egos also make us stupid. We ignore the things our body is telling us, making excuses for all of them.
- I’m not going to take care of that hot spot forming on my outer left heel because I’m already behind on the miles I want to do for today = killer painful blister you have to lance two days later, inviting fun infection and at least a sore spot.
- Ugh, I’m already hiking and sweating so I’m not going to put on any sunscreen, and my head is so hot and sweaty that a cap would be torture = the amazing lobster girl that night.
- Putting on rain pants is too much of a hassle, and this rain storm should pass soon = stumbling through the woods soaking wet for five miles and developing mild hypothermia, completely with violent shaking, disorientation, slurred speech, numbness in extremities, exhaustion, and stripping all your clothes off when you reach a shelter and crawling in your sleeping bag in front of 15 other hikers huddling out of the rain.
- It’s 90 degrees and it’s 20 miles of PUDs (pointless ups and downs) and I don’t have time to stop right now for a snack/filter my water/brief rest = headaches, nausea, muscle aches, and total fatigue, which slows you down way more than those few breaks you should’ve taken.
Reckless mistake #5: Not having a safety plan
I get it. You’re escaping into nature to get away from people and problems and flushing toilets. Believe me, I’ve been there. But I always make sure that someone (or multiple people) know where I am and plan to be. For short weekend backpacking trips, I let my boyfriend and sister know where I plan to be and the rough time estimates of arrival/exit. I check in at the ranger station. I carry my SPOT Gen3 GPS and hit the coordinates button every night so folks know where I’ve been in at least the last 24 hours. (There’s an option on the SPOT GPS for tracking all your steps/progress, but that’s a little too invasive for me, plus it runs down the batteries faster. And it needs to face the sky, which means I can’t have it in my hip belt pocket, so good luck if I fall and can’t get my pack off…)
Make sure you know the location of a few road crossings around you. And brush up on basic survival skills. If you are hiking with a group, make sure you make a quick plan before heading out. If you get separated, are you staying in place or going back to the car? Is there easy access to medical information for your group? (I have folks fill out a little 3×5 index card with relevant emergency contact info, medication info, etc. that I keep in the first aid bag and then return to them at the end of the hike.)
I know these items might seem to take a bit of fun out of the thrill of being outdoors, but trust me, there’s nothing thrilling about blisters, animals taking your food, getting lost without supplies, hypothermia, or needing an evacuation and not having options.
Enjoy your recklessness responsibly. 🙂