As a child growing up in Montana I was always outside. I hiked the hills by my grandma’s house, found snakes, ran on dirt roads, walked through fields, and climbed trees. I knew my surroundings as well as I knew the lyrics to every song on my Spice Girls tape. If we went to my grandma’s house, which was far from the town I lived in and out in the mountains, I would jump out of my dad’s truck to go explore and come home when I heard him yelling for me to come back. I never considered that I’d get lost or hurt. I never had anything with me except a scrunchy around my wrist and some jolly ranchers in my pocket. This wasn’t weird or worrisome; it was how life was for everyone where I came from. So from a young age this is how I treated the outdoors. I trusted it and I trusted that I knew my surroundings.
Much later as I rounded my teens into my twenties, I took a job in Alaska working in the Tongass National Forest. I hiked, fished and explored my days away. Everything was green and beautiful and new. I’d never seen Devil’s Club, muskeg, or a black bear. I had training courses on First Aid and CPR; I was taught wilderness and survival skills, and learned when to carry a firearm. Despite all of my training, one day I decided to take a walk through the forest, by myself, without any gear, and explore my new surroundings without any distractions.
Let’s just say it could have been worse. I fell and twisted my ankle because my boot was stuck in some muskeg. I tried to catch my fall and grabbed a Devil’s Club stock to catch myself. So now I could barely walk without pain, had a hand filled with barbs, and no way of getting help. I was just glad I wasn’t also being mauled by a black bear. I hiked back out to my car in two hours, even though I was only a half an hour out.
On my way back I started to think about what I would have done had I gotten lost, had a more serious injury, or been stuck out there — and I didn’t have an answer. After that day I have educated myself even further on survival and continued to discover my surroundings. However, I have made sure to be prepared for the hazards to expect while exploring the outdoors.
There are many things that can go wrong when you are getting closer to nature. Being aware of the common hazards and knowing how to prevent them is your first line of defense. Keeping a pack ready for your adventures will aid in your ability to take care of yourself if something unexpected happens. It’s important to understand the realities and dangers involved with the beauty and relaxing nature of being in off-the-grid areas while hiking, camping, or taking part in other outdoor activities. If you are going to be in an area without cell phone reception, it’s important to have other means of communication with you. This could mean packing flares, locator beacons, or a satellite phone. Always tell someone where you will be and how long you will be there.
Minor cuts and scrapes are not the only medical issues you can run into while in the wilderness. A first aid kit will aid in taking care of more serious medical emergencies including lacerations, burns, or insect bites. Many people who die of bee sting anaphylaxis do not know that they had an allergy. Bees of all types are more active during the summer months which also happen to be the time of year most popular for outdoor exploration. Be sure to include a first aid kit with an Epi-Pen, even if you are not allergic to bees.
Be prepared for any unexpected weather changes, have a plan if you need to leave your area fast, and always bring more than you think you’ll need. Pack other necessary survival gear with you that can be the difference between life and death if you are ever stranded. This includes:
· Fire starter
· Space blanket
· Signaling equipment
Being trained in wilderness survival or first aid can be a huge benefit for you even if you aren’t prepared like you should be. You will learn how to treat minor medical issues as well as serious medical emergencies, how to survive without supplies, and how to get help. Animal bites are another common hazard for the outdoor enthusiast, and with the proper training you will know the proper method for treating snake bites, rodent bites, or a larger animal attack. Unfortunately, no matter how trained you are, some situations, like snake bites, require immediate medical attention that is not always readily available. However, in some situations proper training can keep you alive when proper gear cannot. The most common injuries are fractures, sprains, and traumatic brain injury. Without the appropriate treatment, some of these can be fatal. You have the ability to get trained and have skills that can potentially save you or your outdoor companions if you run into an emergency situation without the ability to get help.
Many survival skills are taught to us at a young age or just inherent knowledge that we gain from understanding our surroundings. A wilderness survival class hones in on these skills and leaves you with the knowledge you will need if you are unable to find your way home. Survival classes teach you how to stay calm, build a shelter, start a fire, get water, signal help, and find food. The class will also teach you how to use a compass, natural navigation, lost proofing skills, edible plant identification, and how to react in an animal attack.
The magnificence of our world is one that is a prize to be seen and sometimes we go through great lengths to experience. This includes hiking, biking, rock climbing, surfing, snowboarding, off-roading, paragliding, or any number of ways you choose to experience the world beyond concrete buildings and pavement.
The most important knowledge you can have with you while exploring the beauty of the world around you is to respect its significance. Be aware and rational about how small you are and how easily you can be hurt by the world around you. Even if you are just a few miles from home with a cell phone in your pocket and a first aid kit in your bag, Mother Nature has the ability to rip those things from you with one loose rock, one snow storm, or one gust of wind.
Without the right amount of respect for her power, you might find yourself with a sprained ankle dragging yourself back to safety, or worse.
The best advice I’ve gained from my experience in the outdoors is my understanding for the things that can go wrong no matter how prepared, knowledgeable, and familiar I am with the situation I’m in, things can always go wrong and I need to not be naïve in the power that my surroundings have over me.
Still, my favorite place to be is out in the wilderness away from everyone and everything. I still love being surrounded by the natural noises of the forest, having the smell of the earth envelope my senses, and seeing parts of nature that I’ll never be able to accurately depict in a story or a photo. I still wander off when I’m at my grandma’s house, spend time daydreaming about my time in Alaska, and remember all the words to any Spice Girls song I hear. I’ll never underestimate the power that the wilderness inhabits and I’ll be prepared for what it brings to me.