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What is it that makes a visit to the Adirondack Park so special?

What is it about the outdoors that we love and keeps us coming back?

Hopefully you’ve had many outdoor experiences that were so perfect they stick in your memory, re-emerging when triggered by a scene, a smell, a blowing breeze, a person or an event.

When you smell the smoke of burning brush, you remember sitting around a campfire making smores as a child.

When you get together with old friends, you think back to a fishing trip and the big fish you caught or the one that got away.

When you fill your bird feeder you think of the first time you saw a bald eagle in the wild.

As summer gives way to fall and the leaves start to turn color you think of the first deer you shot.

When the snow starts to fall, perhaps a memory of a favorite snowmobile ride or a thrilling cross-country ski trip that tested your abilities comes to mind.

Our outdoor adventures help us build relationships with our family and friends, teach us about nature, develop our skills of independence and provide memories that enrich our lives.

In this article we’ll take a look at the elements that make travel in the outdoors fun and safe, and keep us coming back.

First things first - protect yourself

No one goes into the outdoors intending to have an unsafe experience, yet many people wind up at risk sometimes without even realizing it. Ultimately, safety is about personal responsibility. You are responsible for your safety because by and large you are in control of it. No matter what the outdoor activity, we have to keep in mind four Forest Preserve principles:

¯ Protect the Park — Plan Ahead and Prepare to assure safe, enjoyable and environmentally sound outdoor travel.

¯ Protect Yourself — Have the Proper Clothing and Equipment to protect yourself and the environment.

¯ Protect Yourself — Know Where You are Going, have a map, travel only in areas where you know how to navigate.

¯ Protect Yourself — Maintain Health through adequate hydration, balanced diet, good hygiene, and knowledge of first aid.

Let’s take a look at each principle in more depth.

Protect the Park

Planning ahead and being prepared means you’ll have more fun and be safer than you would otherwise. Being prepared means matching your physical ability, your available clothing and equipment, and other planning factors to the level of difficulty and remoteness of your intended excursion. In other words, if you are going for a motorboat ride for an hour on a small, highly populated lake, you may just grab a fleece layer, your rain jacket, a bottle of water and perhaps your cell phone.

On the other hand if you are planning a one-week backpacking trip to one of the more remote state wilderness areas in the Park you need to; get in shape, acquire food, clothing and equipment, determine what wilderness area you are going, possibly acquire a permit, etc.

It is recommended that you give yourself plenty of time to plan your trip. Although many people plan trips spontaneously, 3-6 months may be necessary to prepare yourself physically for the challenge, gather and consult resources about your trip’s route, learn where you can legally camp, what the regulations are, where available water sources are, learn about environmental conditions and contingency routes, and to gain the skills needed to have a safe trip.

If the ideal length of planning time is not available, then be sure not to overextend yourself. Match your physical ability, your available clothing and equipment, and other planning factors to the level of difficulty and remoteness of your intended excursion.

Clarify why you are going. There often is a variety of reasons people go on trips in the Adirondacks. If these reasons aren’t clear in your group, there may be conflicts between people with competing personal goals. Fun, relaxation, physical challenge, reaching a particular destination and observing or harvesting wildlife are all common reasons for going on trips to the Adirondacks.

Anticipate what could go wrong and plan for it. Learn the historical weather patterns in the area and get a short-term weather forecast before you start your trip. Research potential Adirondack hazards you may not be aware of, including insects, hazardous vegetation, wildlife encounters, mud, blowdowns, etc. Be prepared to deal with emergency situations by gaining first aid training and carrying a well-stocked medical kit.

Be sure that you have the necessary clothing, equipment, food and supplies to safely complete your trip and that you know and employ outdoor recreation practices that comply with New York State regulations at www.dec.ny.gov/regs/ 2493.html. You may want to contact the local Forest Ranger and consult the principles of Leave No Trace (www.lnt.org). Be responsible — be self-reliant and try not to depend on others for your well-being.

Much of the Forest Preserve is isolated, is subject to rapidly changing weather and has limited cell-phone coverage. So even when going on a short excursion, YOU SHOULD BE PREPARED TO SURVIVE A NIGHT.

Anticipate an emergency — have a plan in case you do not return on time. Leave a list of people who are on your trip as well as your itinerary with a responsible person and make sure the person knows what to do if you do not return by a certain time.

For emergencies on Forest Preserve land, contact the local Forest Ranger or NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Emergency Dispatch number, 518-891-0235.

Have the proper clothing and equipment

When venturing outdoors, the proper clothing and equipment can mean the difference between life and death, will help lighten your impact on the land and will help keep you comfortable. Whether going on Forest Preserve lands for a two-hour hike or a month-long expedition, the following items are considered essential: matches and/or lighter with fire starter, flashlight, extra food & water, rain gear/extra clothes, pocket knife/multi-purpose tool, map, compass, first-aid kit, whistle, pencil and paper.

Staying dry usually means staying warm. Employ the concept of layering to avoid overheating, which dampens clothing with perspiration. Take thin layers off when exercising and put thin layers back on when resting. In general, top clothing layers protect against wind and rain while inner layers provide warmth and insulation.

Leave your cotton behind — it’s cold when wet and you will get wet in the Adirondacks! Outdoor clothing fabrics should be durable, quick drying and should provide good warmth while remaining light weight. Synthetic fibers, wool and silk insulate your body effectively even when they are wet. Cotton steals your body’s heat when it’s wet. Cotton is the heat thief and it is recommended that you only use it in fair weather conditions and replace it when the weather deteriorates.

Cover your body. Outdoor clothing should protect your body from exposure to moisture, cold, wind, sun, insects and vegetation. Remember to bring a hat with visor, neck protection, covering for your arms, legs, feet and hands, to protect your skin from the sun. If you are hiking, two layers of wool or polyester socks protect your feet from blisters. Rugged footwear is preferred that covers your toes and protects your feet from sharp objects, sprains, insects and general Adirondack conditions. Pack a wool hat and extra layers of clothing for unanticipated conditions or for other travelers in need.

For overnight ventures, make sure you have a shelter (waterproof tent or rain fly), insulation from the ground (sleeping pad) and synthetic-fill sleeping bag rated for your season of travel. For day trips, make sure you have enough food, clothing and equipment to spend an unexpected night or more.

Make sure you have equipment that can provide you with a safe and enjoyable recreational experience that doesn’t compromise the environment. Backpacks, canoes/kayaks, life jackets, snowshoes, skis and motorized recreational equipment should be well maintained, durable and easy to service.

Ask the experts. Don’t be reluctant to ask seasoned professionals at outdoor equipment stores for advice. You also can gain a great deal of knowledge and have a wonderful experience if you take a trip with a reputable NYS Licensed Guide, outfitter, outdoor education center or college.

Know where you are going

Know where you are and keep your group together on the trails and waterways. Good travel technique involves good group organization, conserving energy and safe maneuvering over varied terrain or water conditions.

Stay together — Getting separated from their group is the number one cause for people getting into trouble. If hiking, skiing/snowshoeing or canoeing/kayaking, don’t allow your group to get out of voice range of each other. If you are traveling by motor vehicle, have regularly planned rendezvous points.

Have a leader. The leader takes overall responsibility for the well-being of the group and helps make and communicate decisions along the way.

Have a person in your group responsible for scouting the way. The “scout” sets the pace, consults with the leader to determine the route and is at the front of the line.

Use a sweep with your group, a person who stays as the last person in line and lets no one behind him or her. If the sweep feels the group is getting too far apart, he or she tells the scout to slow the group down.

Utilize a guide book and map of the area in which you are traveling.

Consult with the experts to get an estimate of the distance and approximate time to your destination.

Off-trail hiking is for the experts. Only hike off trail if you have the skills to do so.

Learn to read a topographic map and use a compass so you can have a sense of the direction you are traveling and what the terrain around you should look like.

Be observant — keep an eye out for trail markers, the obvious pathway or landmarks that will help you know where you are. Occasionally stop and figure out exactly where you are.

If traveling under you own power, keep a moderate pace so you will conserve energy and not get over tired.

Exercise extra caution around potentially dangerous areas like cliffs, rapids, waterfalls and areas prone to avalanche.

Maintain health

Food and water keeps us warm, helps us fight illness, allows the body to maintain itself properly and helps us to keep a positive attitude. Good hygiene helps prevent wound infections and avoid stomach illness caused by food spoilage, poor food handling and waste contamination.

Although water is plentiful throughout the Adirondack Park, no water source can be guaranteed to be safe. It is essential to carry some water and/or a method to treat the water.

Food is what gives you the energy to work and keeps you warm. Carry more food than you need, especially on day trips. In wet, cold and windy weather, try to eat continuously rather than rely on a few big meals throughout the day.

Most illnesses in the outdoor are due to poor hygiene practices. Three things will drastically minimize your chances of getting sick when traveling outdoors: clean your hands frequently (with soap and water or antiseptic hand cleaners); do not share eating and drinking utensils; and pour snacks rather than letting people reach into your bags of food.

Be sure to have a basic first aid kit to at least care for minor injuries. The longer and more remote your excursion, the more complete your first aid kit should be.

Learn to treat and care for the most common injuries, such as blisters and cuts. Acquire emergency care training appropriate to the length and remoteness of your excursion. A basic American Red Cross First Aid course is the recommended minimum training.

Are we having fun yet?

Okay, now that we have explored safety considerations, let’s take a look at fun and enjoyment. Let’s face it, if we don’t have fun at whatever our favorite recreational activity is, we won’t give it very many chances.

For many of us when we think of “fun” we think of comfort. How can we have fun if we aren’t comfortable? There are four things to keep in mind regarding fun and comfort in the outdoors.

Fun and comfort are relative. What is fun or comfortable for one person may make another person miserable. That is why some love to motorboat and some love to canoe and kayak.

Learn to stretch your comfort zone. To enjoy many of life’s adventures we frequently need to learn to become comfortable in environments that once made us uncomfortable. If you are a motorboater, try kayaking some time. If you love to hunt, try hiking through the woods without a rifle occasionally. If you are a cross-country skier, try snowmobiling some time. Learn to expand your recreational horizons as well as your comfort zone.

If you’re uncomfortable or not having fun, you aren’t doing it right. If you are extremely uncomfortable, it probably means you aren’t doing it right. Learn the skills and techniques that bring relative comfort to our outdoor adventures. Hire an outdoor guide, take a course at your local college, read books about outdoor living skills. Learn and practice being comfortable outdoors.

Just because you are uncomfortable doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. Almost all of us have done things that made us uncomfortable but that, upon reflection, we’re glad we did them. Some run miles so they can compete in a marathon. Is that fun? Some spend hours in a duck blind in the freezing cold. Is that fun? Life is full of physically and emotionally challenging experiences that sometimes aren’t fun but we’re glad we “suffered” through them. Why? Because we grow as human beings when we are just outside the edge of our comfort zone.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at the idea that fun and comfort are relative. We must remember that what makes one person comfortable may be extremely uncomfortable for someone else. For some the idea of having to watch a black and white TV is roughing it. Yet others thrive in the “discomfort” of carrying a fifty pound pack. Comfort is relative.

Some think that sitting and waiting for a fish to bite your hook is the most boring thing in the world while others can’t wait to “wet a line.” Some can’t understand why you would want to spend a night in a motorhome when you could stay at a five star hotel. It is important to understand that just because it isn’t fun or comfortable for us, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value.

The idea of stretching our comfort zone is not new. We’ve all done it in one form or another. If you are a skier I bet the first time you skied you were out of your comfort zone. By the third or fourth time you thought, this is really fun and rewarding. Perhaps you even wanted to try more challenging terrain.

Your skills improved and you learned to stretch your comfort zone. The first time someone goes camping in the rain they may be miserable. Not because they are wet but because it is an alien environment that they haven’t encountered before.

Once you’ve learned to wear the right clothing to keep from getting wet, on the rare occasion when you do, you don’t mind. You’ve learned to be comfortable when wet. Do you enjoy getting wet in the outdoors? No, but on the other hand, you’ve learned to “stretch” your comfort zone.

Let’s look at another example. Who likes biting insects? No one. Do they have to keep you from enjoying the outdoors? No. You learn to tolerate them. On your early camping trips mosquitoes and black flies may tend to drive you nuts. After years of experience dealing with bugs, you learn to not let them ruin your trip. You learn to be prepared for bugs. You wear the correct clothing, know the best bug repellents to use, know where to set up camp to minimize their impact, etc.

World renowned mountaineer Paul Petzoldt, when asked why the wilderness is a place you are miserable, laughed and said, “You are miserable only because you aren’t doing it correctly.” It was a wise statement. If you ever get close to being miserable in the outdoors, stop and try to figure out what you are doing wrong that’s preventing you from enjoying yourself. The outdoors is a place to have fun and enjoy oneself. If you aren’t having fun, learn what you need to do differently.

We all have done things we enjoy that aren’t necessarily “comfortable.” Think about it. When you drove seven hours to come up to the Adirondack Park, was that fun? When you stopped along the way for lunch, and had to wait in line for a half-hour to get lunch was that fun? Probably not, but does that mean your vacation was ruined? Of course not.

Fun and enjoyment are determined by the sum total of the experience, not necessarily by the individual elements within the experience. Don’t get all caught up in the moment when something doesn’t appear to be fun. Ride it out. At the very least, whatever you are experiencing will provide some great memories.

Okay, you’ve got an idea how to be safe and have fun. Now let’s go out and enjoy ourselves.