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The Outdoors. 2011. A Year for Hiking. The Perils of the Trail.

Nearly thirty years ago, when our son was just a toddler, my wife and I took to camping and hiking quite frequently. We camped mostly in the northeast, but we also made our way to the eastern shore of the Cheasapeake Bay.
There was one night when we slept in a leanto without a tent, somewhere near the Canadian border, by a lake. At Cranberry Lake in the Adirondocks, we rented a canoe and spent a couple of hours getting back to our site simply because we paddled against the wind. In the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a bear cub came running along us in a trail. We explored Acadia National Park in Maine, loved Echo Lake, Bar Harbor, and hiked up to Bubble Rock. All these trips were captured in 3X5 color photographs that may have already melted together over time in a warm closet.

I wish I could clearly remember all the details, but the fog of time and a declining mnemonic ability have robbed me of the specifics. Those were adventurous times by themselves, but even more considering that we had a child in tow.

I poked my wife with the idea of camping and hiking once more. But, she's had enough of sleeping in campgrounds, waking up a bit damp, and using communal showers and toilets. I can't blame her. We are older now and comfort means a lot.

It may not be too late for me. Sleeping on the hard ground, in a dome tent pitched in a small clearing in the forest, still has its appeal to me. I decided to make 2011 my comeback year, targeting day hikes and perhaps an overnight hike or two. My one big goal this year will be to climb Mount Greylock in the Berkshires via the Topper Trail---no technical climbing but one long and steep trail.

In preparation, I have begun brushing up on the perils of the trails. It is wonderful out there, but it isn't without danger. Tripping, losing one's way, thirst or hunger will be the least of your concerns. Can you recognize the plant pictured below if it was on a trail and not on this webpage? Pretty innocuous-looking plant, poison ivy can ruin your day quickly via contact dermatitis. Some people say that even the air around this plant can irritate your skin, but this is untrue. Contact with the plant's oil is required for trouble to begin---itch, giant red sores, all over your body. Within the hour of contact, excessively rinse the affected spot with cold water. Taking a shower could only spread the oil to other parts of your body. See a doctor when it gets worse. The best thing to do is to pay attention to the plants along the trail. Remember this 3-leaf configuration with pointy tips.

Today's hiking boots are wonderfully light and their gripping ability makes you feel like you have suction cups on your feet, but they don't protect you against snake bites. Paranoid? You think the possibility is remote? Considering that you can die from a snake bit, or have your limbs swell to grotesque proportions, that's an awful lot to left to chance. Wearing snake-proof, knee-high boots can be cumbersome, but protecting one's legs with lightweight gaiters is doable. Peace of mind is a wonderful thing when your legs are often exposed to rocks, logs, and underbrush and you can't be sure what lies behind them. I am planning to hike mostly on my own, deeper into the woods, a notch higher on the difficulty scale than the family camping described above. Those gaiters will be a lifesaver in case I meet these guys somewhere along the trails, and they are abundant in the American northeast.

Timber Rattlesnake



Catherine said…
I got poison ivy pulling weeds out of the garden last summer. I now recognize it. I was diagnosed by the pharmacist and several customers standing on line at CVS! Definitely no fun, some over the counter cream helped. I feel itchy just writing about it!

Enjoy getting out in the great outdoors!

P.S. - I got the same reply from the librarian about the circus. Hopefully they'll get the message.

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