There I was, miles from the car with an injured dog and no water or food. How could I be so stupid and not pack a sandwich or grab the extra bottle of water that was now sitting on the passenger seat of the car? As I berated myself, Pico sat down and started licking his unmentionable areas. Alright, so maybe the situation wasn’t all that dire.
In fact, I was less than 2 miles from the car, and Pico just had a slight limp from a torn paw pad. We were going to be just fine. But what if something serious did go wrong? What if I twisted an ankle and had to spend the night out there?
I am one of those people that bring a backpack with me on every hike. Whether it’s a mile or 15, I carry a first-aid kit (and I know how to use it), an emergency bag with essential equipment, extra food and water, as well as a guide book and map, and extra clothes. I take pride in the fact that I am prepared to spend the night in the woods, regardless of the situation.
But here I was, coming down from hiking two of New York’s highest mountains, and I had already eaten my food and drank my water. Pico still had a small bag of food in his backpack, and there is rarely a shortage of water sources in the Adirondacks, but still, I was not happy with myself.
Being prepared is the one thing that you have absolute control over. There are a few basic rules that a person should follow if they intend on heading into the woods, and those who don’t risk suffering the consequences.
The first and most important thing to do when you plan on going hiking is to put together an itinerary and give it to someone who cares about you. Not the bartender you met last night who gave you a six-digit phone number, but a relative or responsible friend. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. I usually text my itineraries to my uncle, who only lives a few minutes away. They say something like: “Hiking Whiteface and Esther from Reservoir Lane trailhead. I’ll call by 7pm.”
By sending this, someone trust worthy now knows where I’ll be, and when to expect me to get back. And I know that if I don’t call by 7:00, Uncle Brad will be calling the Forest Rangers at 7:01, letting them know where I am and what trail I am on. This is the closest you can get to having backcountry insurance, and the best part is, it’s free (minus the 10 cents for the text)!
The second, but equally important step is to stick to your itinerary. What’s the point of leaving an itinerary if you don’t follow it?
The best known itinerary breaker is probably Aron Ralston, who came to fame when he was forced to amputate his own arm. Ralston had left an itinerary with a friend, but then decided to take a different route. When he failed to show up, the authorities were notified, but started searching the area where he was supposed to be. Meanwhile, Ralston was sawing through his own arm with a pocket knife to free himself from underneath a large boulder. I, for one, will learn this lesson the easy way… Because learning it the hard way had to really suck.