Jul 22 2016

Off the Beaten Track: The Secrets of Survival

Out of the Woods?

Last week, I drew parallels between two stories. In both stories, a woman walked a short way into thick woods and got lost. One story had a happy ending. The other did not. I was the woman in the first story — the one with the happy ending. A 69‑year‑old solo through‑hiker from Tennessee named Geraldine (Gerry) Largay was far less fortunate than I, however. Her story ended in her death from “inanition.” In other words, she starved to death. And she did so at a campsite only a 30‑minute walk from a trail that would have brought her out of the woods.

A tragedy? Certainly. But to make matters worse, it was an avoidable tragedy. Gerry Largay didn’t have to die.

I don’t need to explain why this matters to us, do I? So let’s take a closer look at the story behind the two stories, beginning with the obvious: Read more…


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Jul 14 2016

Off the Beaten Track: Thoughts on a Death in Maine

End of the Trail

Experienced paddlers and hillwalkers take getting lost in stride. We’ve all been “confused” from time to time, belatedly discovering that our mental map was at odds with either the paper quad or the terrain around us, and we’ve learned that if we keep our heads, such episodes are usually short‑lived. They can even prove to be welcome diversions, chances to see places that weren’t on our original itinerary and which haven’t yet been written up in printed guidebooks or someone’s bucket‑list blog.

But not all backcountry travelers are phlegmatic old hands. For a small number of unlucky wayfarers, getting lost can be the last stop on life’s journey. I was reminded of this not long ago, when I chanced on a news story about the fate of solo Appalachian Trail through‑hiker Geraldine (Gerry) Largay. On July 22, 2013, she walked off the trail in Maine to find a private place to answer a call of nature. She never made it back. The sleeping bag containing her skeletal remains was found two years and three months later. Yet entries in her journal confirmed that she’d spent her last days only a 30‑minute walk from a “‘clear logging road’ that led to lodging.”

My first reaction on reading this was to shake my head in disbelief. But then I remembered how I’d once come tolerably close to suffering the same fate, and for much the same reason… Read more…


Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Jul 12 2016

Wild Swimmers Take the Plunge — But Is It Safe?

Wild Swimming

While only a tiny minority of canoeists and kayakers regularly combine cycling and paddling, thereby earning the right to wear the coveted “amphibious paddler” badge, all paddlers are amphibians. We divide our waking hours in the backcountry more or less equally between water and land, and even when we’re under way, we’re not truly aquatic. We keep the wet stuff at arm’s length. Canoeists do this of necessity. Their boats leak at the top, a shortcoming that doesn’t trouble kayakers. But even hair‑shirt creek boaters in buttoned‑up boats prefer to keep their craft right‑side up most of the time.

And yet, few of us can resist the temptation to take a dip during lunch stops — or failing that, at the end of long, hot days — provided, of course, that the water is warm and welcoming. Not only is it delightful to wash the salt crust from our sweaty bodies, but swimming is a pleasure in its own right. So much so, in fact, that some paddlers occasionally leave their boats behind when they go exploring, becoming what the Brits call “wild swimmers.” I must confess that this tag puzzled me when I first encountered it. As a girl, I seldom swam anywhere that had lifeguards, floats, or ropes, let alone the dubious amenities of chlorine and concrete. And as an adult, I never do. But it had never occurred to me to add a prefatory “wild” to my kind of swimming. Surely, I thought, swimming is swimming, whether you’re paddling in a pool in your backyard or emulating Colin Fletcher’s aquatic “portages” in the Grand Canyon.

Subsequent reflection brought me round, however. Wild swimming is indeed a thing apart. There is a real difference in the distinction. Not that I’m suggesting wild swimming is in any way superior to its “domestic” counterpart. Far from it. Nor do I think that lifeguards serve no purpose. They do. Timid swimmers, or parents with small children, will find a lifeguard’s presence reassuring. But for those of us prepared to take responsibility for our own fate, lifeguards are neither necessary nor desirable, and the attractions of wild swimming may indeed prove irresistible. (WARNING: On some bodies of water, even some that might well appear “wild” to the unprejudiced eye, it is now a ticketable offense to swim anywhere other than a supervised swimming area. Caveat natator.)


Anyway, wild swimming is a natural complement to paddling. But as the “wild” in the name suggests, there are dangers in the vast, watery world that stretches out beyond the designated beaches and their roped‑off swimming areas. We are naked apes. The water is not our home. So the first question to ask yourself before taking the plunge is always, “Is it safe?”… Read more…


Questions? Comments? Just click here!

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