prepared for the outdoors

Going alone is a great way to enjoy the woods, but you better be well prepared, lest you wind up paying the full price plus tax. 

By Mark Rackay

There is a special spiritual awakening that one achieves when being alone in the great outdoors. It does not matter what your passion might be; hiking, fishing, hunting, camping, ATVing, all have a special rush when you tackle it by yourself.

I head into the outback alone for numerous reasons. Sometimes, a partner cancels at the last minute, while other activities are just more enjoyable by yourself. In the old days, it was because I was ditching school.

Take hiking, for instance. When hiking alone, you set the pace, stop when you want and view everything at your own pace. Short detours off the trail to investigate something can be accomplished without prior approval or notification to your partners. Going alone creates a great time to meditate, if you get into that sort of thing.

My wife says I have to go alone because nobody can stand to go with me. I pointed out that often times I have a hunting guide along on my trips. She retorted, “For a hundred bucks a day, guides can put up with anyone.”

I realized there is no talking to her when she is in one of those moods, so I retreated to the woods for a long hike, by myself.

The buddy system, at the very least, is the safest way to recreate outdoors. When there are other participants, someone is available to, deliver first aid, summon help, discuss alternate routes, help maintain your course, help be alert for danger, and talk you out of doing something stupid.

The last one is something I need on a regular basis. For some reason, I live under the illusion that I am still in my 20s. My body keeps trying to tell me otherwise, but I never seem to get the message as I continue to commit mind boggling acts of idiocy.

Each year search and rescue people have missions to save people who have chosen to go it alone in the outdoors. These people were hunting, hiking, and riding an ATV or snowmobiling. Some of these people suffered injuries while others just got lost. While there are dangers with anything we do outdoors, that danger increases when we are alone.

I do want to point out that one of the major attractions of an outdoor lifestyle is the ever-present element of danger. The presence of danger causes an adrenaline rush that many of us seek. Just remember, sometimes the mountain wins, and the odds are not stacked in your favor, and you wind up in an aromatic pine box.

Injuries are the biggest problem. No matter how careful you are, an injury is a real possibility when doing anything outdoors. By yourself, you are more apt to attempt a trail that is to lose, jump a creek; try a hill you normally would not. All of these things can lead to an injury.

If you go it alone, you better have a plan to get help. You should also have some necessary first aid equipment to care for yourself until help arrives. I would recommend a class in advanced wilderness first aid for everyone.

Weather is always a concern, but more so when you are alone. You must have with you the extra clothes, supplies and skills to ride out any adverse weather conditions that may pop up. Thunderstorms and cold fronts seem to come out of nowhere in the mountains. While alone, be extra vigilant.

Animal attacks are rare but the chance increases when you are alone. Animals will avoid groups of people far more than a lone hiker. Personally, I am more afraid of an attack from a two-legged animal, especially if you are a female hiking alone. Seems that population is encroaching into our wilderness areas more and more, bringing with it the ever-present bad guys. In today’s world, things like that are real possibilities.

When you run into someone on the trail, leave him or her with the impression that you are not alone. Let them think you have a partner who should be along any minute. Be polite to people you meet on the trail but don’t be overly outgoing.

Another problem alone outdoor folk face is getting lost. You have no one with you to double-check your map reading or navigation skills. Here is a time when a GPS and the skills to use it really come in handy.

As I have always said, never rely completely on the GPS. Use the old-fashioned skills at the same time. A compass and landmarks will always get you home, if you keep track of them. The secret to not getting lost is to stay found.

Carry a cell phone with you when you go. Even if you are in an area of no service, a text message may still go out. If you need help, remember the saying, “Call when you can and text when you can’t call.” I carry a backup power supply with me and keep the phone off when not needed to conserve power.

Fish, hunt, ATV or hike only in areas that you are very familiar with, when heading out alone. Know all of the trails, water sources, and bailout points. Always stay on the trail and don’t go cross-country. Make a detailed plan before you go and stick to that plan.

I like to go through a series of “what if” scenarios in my mind before a trip. Mentally going through an adversity, such as a sudden storm, helps me to prepare and be certain I have the necessary supplies with me to survive. Remember, you can’t properly prepare unless you have given some thought about all the things that can go wrong.

Whenever you are in the backcountry, be sure you have someone back home who knows your plans and itinerary, including all the information about your vehicle and parking area. This is the person who will call for help in the event you are overdue. Any change you make in your plans should be immediately relayed to this contact person. This is even more important when you decide to hit it alone.

An important consideration when doing the solo thing is that you are never really alone. Somewhere behind you, just down the trail a way, is someone who came along on the trip. Murphy is back there, even if you don’t see him, and he just can’t wait to wreak havoc on your parade.

In the meantime, I am going to enjoy my hike alone. Maybe the wife will be in a better mood when I get back.

Mark Rackay is a columnist for several newspapers and has been a feature writer for numerous sporting magazines. A world-class saltwater angler and an avid hunter promoting ethical and fair chase hunting and fishing, he travels the world in search of adventure. Feel free to contact him on his personal email for questions, comments or story ideas:

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