The other day I read yet another story about someone who got themselves lost in the woods and had to rely on professional rescue teams to extract them from their plight. That rescue came with a $25,000 bill and had a happy ending. Some don’t.
Getting lost invokes some of our most primal emotions of fear and helplessness. Being lost in the wilderness can range from a temporary inconvenience to a miserable and lonely death.
When you choose to immerse yourself in nature you need to think about what kind of trouble you might get in and how you’re going to get out of it by yourself. It isn’t fair to risk the lives of rescue teams because you didn’t have the personal resources at hand or a plan to get yourself out of the woods.
Despite growing up the son of a rough- and- tumble guy like “Jungle Larry,” I didn’t spend as much time as I should have in the woods. Sure, I hung around the zoo and the wild animals but I remained clueless about our local swamps and flatwoods. Dad had walked Florida’s wild lands since the 1930s. I should have taken up more of his invites to soak up some of that knowledge but skateboards took priority back in the 1970s. My loss entirely.
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I have only been seriously trudging our local woods and swamps for fifteen years. I doubt I will ever earn the title of “woodsman” from my peers. I can’t identify every plant or bug, tie a plethora of knots, read the stars very well, fix a broke down buggy, or shoot a 2” group at 200 yards. But so far I haven’t gotten myself lost. I have as we say “got turned around” a time or two. I learned quickly to know my position using the sun and as long as I can see it, I can find my way out.
<img src="http://www.napleszoo.org/news/DLT-FLA-WOODS.jpg" align "left">
Unlike some of my friends, I am no whiz with a compass or a GPS but I have enough of the basics down to figure out where my truck is parked. I am continually amazed by the poor preparation some folks have undertaken before a hike into Florida’s outback. I never step into the woods without what I consider to be my backpack basics:
• glow stick
• fluorescent vest
• rain poncho
• reflecting mirror
• energy bars
• insect repellent
• small first aid kit
• bear spray
Bear spray? Yes. When it comes to our growing black bear and cougar populations, never say never. With a concealed weapons permit, I can legally carry a firearm on state managed lands. And I do. Bear in mind, you can’t currently do this on federally managed lands but the possible dangers are the same. Some believe that our local predators are some laid back Jimmy Buffett versions of the same species out West. I don’t buy it, and even though we haven’t had a documented attack down here, I don’t plan on being the first statistic. A Florida cougar has the same teeth, claws, and brain as the one in Colorado or California.
<img src="http://www.napleszoo.org/news/panthers-ndn.jpg" align "right">
Also remember to have two maps of where you are going: one for you and one for your friends or family. Mark the area you plan to visit and how long you expect to be there so if you don’t come home someone knows where to start looking for you. It’s just like having a flight or boating plan.
I love being out in nature, and I hope you do, too. We just need to understand its potential to hurt us in any number of ways when we fail to respect it.