Mather Gorge, Great Falls, Virginia
A long way to fall...
Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Words and pictures
I decided to spend a little time talking about preparedness. As I said, I'm new to this hiking thing and each time I go, a little more education is acquired. On this last trek through Riverbend Park, I took a tumble backwards down a steep slope after banging my noggin into a low-hanging limb. I ended up with only a couple of gashes on my hands. It could have been much worse.
I thought about that a lot today, and how important it was to remember my old Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared." So I put together a small first aid kit which will accompany me on future trips. The contents consist of two types of bandages, a roll of gauze, a roll of medical tape, a bottle of anti-bacterial spray, a small bottle of iodine-based wound cleaner, a pair of scissors, and a small roll of duct tape. The last might seem to be a bit odd, but I think with duct tape and a couple of sturdy sticks, I could make a serviceable splint, should the need arise.
Right now, I travel light, carrying only a Camelbak 2 liter reservoir, which is fine for safe trails in relatively populated areas. But if my plans...or goals, if you will...come to fruition, then I will be tackling trails this summer in the Shenandoah and parts of the Appalachian Trail where it winds through Virginia. A big part of the preparation involves gathering information on the character of those trails before I go, and selecting the appropriate equipment to take along. Obviously, Virginia being a "buggy" locale, insect repellent, salve for bites and stings, and since I was at least at one time allergic to bee stings, probably an Epi pen as well. This may be overkill, since I survived my last encounter with a bee when the little bugger flew inside my motorcycle helmet during a ride, and proceeded to take his errant navigation out on my head. Other than the stinging pain, I suffered no anaphylactic emergency.
Still, laying prostrate on the trail with my head perfectly framed by two pointy rocks, either of which could have done serious damage to my skull, I realized that I had assumed too much, and I really needed to plan in order to be safe.
I plan on an equipment upgrade, going to a water pack with some extra space for rations, bug spray, first aid, spare socks, etc. Camelbak's catalog is full of such items, ranging in price from the lower 60's to well into three figures. I don't need anything too technical, after all I'm only hiking, not hunting terrorists. My new Altitude IV boots were a wise and well-considered purchase. Not only are they comfortable to walk in, they are surprisingly light in weight, but rugged in build. As the temperatures climb, I will at some point transition from jeans to shorts, and I'll have to consider the durability of what I have and whether I will need to get some more.
The trail guides for the Appalachian Trail are filled with ominous warnings. I expected cautionaries about terrain, insects, and poison ivy. But I hadn't considered that I might be sharing the trail with persons of a violent state of mind. Or bears. Or both. The guides reminded me that there are long stretches of the trail well isolated from any cell tower, and my expensive and vastly capable smart phone could be useless as a communications device. I was also warned to let someone else know where I would be hiking, how far I intended to go, and when I expected to return. Knowing my luck, I could well imagine taking another, more serious tumble somewhere and suffering alone until someone happened along. Perhaps the following spring.
I am not ashamed to admit that these were considerations I hadn't...considered. Clearly, hiking, even in the NPS properties, is not a...um..."walk in the park."
Part of the humility of taking on new hobbies is being willing to admit that we possess less-than-perfect knowledge, particularly in an undertaking filled with so many vital -- and potentially mortal -- nuances as hiking. But learning is part of the game, and really, a big part of the fun. There will be risks, but I have always operated under the maxim that "Life without risk is no life at all."
So onward I will go, albeit a much more cautious, thoughtful, and humble man.
The world awaits. See you on the trail.