Active Outdoors: Thoughts on appropriate caution

  • Helmet? Check! PFD? Check! WetSuit for cold water? Check! This paddler is demonstrating appropriate caution for paddling a cold river. RIGHT: Cycling is a helmet sport. You’ll appreciate that helmet if your head ever comes in contact with the pavement! TIM JONES photos / For the Monitor

  • Cycling is a helmet sport. You’ll appreciate that helmet if your head ever comes in contact with the pavement! TIM JONES / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Sunday, October 29, 2017

Anyone who’s read this column more than once knows that I’m something of a fanatic about safety no matter what outdoor sport I’m participating in.

It seems I’m always harping on it. Call me a wuss, if you wish, but the fact that I’ve enthusiastically participated in so-called “risk sports” for 60 years with only one broken bone to show for it proves (to me, at least) that a little extra concern for safety can be a good thing.

It’s called, “appropriate caution.”

For example, it’s hunting season across the northeast and will be for another month or two. Hunting accidents in general are extremely rare and the “mistaken for game” shootings that most non-hunters fear are so rare as to be statistically almost non-existent.

Truth is, most of the very few hunting accidents that do happen are self-inflicted or within a hunting party; hunters shoot themselves or one of their hunting partners, or they fall out of treestands. Both of these are easily avoided by practicing safe gun handling and wearing a safety harness.

The rare instance of you being mistaken for game can be entirely avoided simply by wearing a blaze (hunter) orange cap and vest when in the woods at this time of year. I always do (because I’m cautious) and yes, I think you should, too. There’s no downside.

Another example of appropriate caution: Whether you are on rivers, lakes, or the ocean in a canoe, kayak or SUP, we’ve had an absolutely lovely stretch of paddling weather this October. And one of the hardest things to remember when you are paddling is that you need to dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature.

As nice as the weather has been, the water is getting colder and colder. By wearing a wetsuit or a dry suit when you are out at this time of year, you insure that your body will continue to function should you unexpectedly find yourself in the water.

Remember that scene in the movie “Titanic” when the sun came up on all those dead people floating in the life vests? Cold water, not drowning killed them and it could happen to you if you aren’t appropriately careful.

My latest “risk sport” is whitewater kayak paddling. I came to it late and have been my typical safety-conscious self, taking lots of lessons and slowly progressing. I have no desire to drown, but missing out on the fun of paddling whitewater for fear of injury or drowning would be even worse.

Of course I dress for the water temperature. Of course I paddle with other people (you should, too, even on flatwater). Of course I always wear a PFD (life vest) when I’m in any canoe or kayak or on a SUP (you should, too). Of course I wear a helmet when I’m paddling down a rocky, fast-flowing river. And of course I do my research ahead of time so I know what I’m getting into for difficulty.

This latter is important: situational awareness is a big part of appropriate caution. It’s raining as I write this and a friend and I had talked about paddling what is normally a Class II (easy) section of the Saco river today. But we got more rain than expected and the river flow went from 300 cubic feet per second (too low to paddle) yesterday morning to just shy of 9000 cfs as I write this.

That put the river way above recommended paddling level and we decided not to go. That’s just common sense. Good companions and all the safety gear in the world won’t keep you safe if you tackle something you can’t handle.

Speaking of common sense ... it’s still bike season and ski season will soon be upon us. Both of those are helmet sports. Period, end of discussion.

That said, I simply can’t believe the number of people I see riding bikes or on the slopes who aren’t wearing helmets. With all the recent news about the long-term health impacts of concussions, why would anyone take a risk like that, especially when today’s sports helmets are so lightweight and comfortable? There’s no downside to wearing a helmet.

The only time I’ve ever had a serious accident in an outdoor sport was when I broke my collar bone while riding an unfamiliar mountainbike across a parking lot to get to a bike trail.

I touched the front brakes, they grabbed more than I expected, and I went over the handlebars and slammed down on the pavement. The impact not only broke my collarbone but cracked my helmet. If I hadn’t been wearing the helmet, it would have been my skull that cracked.

If you are biking on the road, anything you can do to make yourself seen will make you safer. That means wearing bright colors. Outfitting your road bike with these ultra-bright LED lights is also appropriate caution, even during daylight. Distracted drivers are today’s reality

As I final reminder to use appropriate caution: we are now on the edge of winter. The days are short and getting shorter, and the weather can turn in a heartbeat.

If you go out hiking at this time of year, carry extra clothing and a headlamp along with all the other stuff you’d normally carry to keep you safe.

Don’t try to hike farther than you have time for. Use good boots and trekking poles as fallen leaves can be slippery. Carry a map and a compass and keep track of where you are as those fallen leaves can make a trail hard to follow.

With a little appropriate caution you can participate in all the outdoor activities you want and still be around, uninjured, and ready to go out another day. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!