Stupid Is as Stupid Does: Mishaps on the Trail and in the Water

This is the time of year Daniel Boone wannabes emerge from hibernation, lace up their hiking boots or hop into canoes and kayaks — an annual migration occasionally marked by stupid decisions that result in lost souls wandering off marked trails, tumbling off ledges or flipping over in rapids.

Just the other day Rhode Island firefighters fished a guy from the rain-swollen Pawcatuck River after he and some buddies decided to head out after dark — naturally, none of them wearing lifejackets.

After some boats turtled somebody called 911, and while most scrambled ashore one hapless, sodden wretch clung to a tree branch for an hour until rescuers arrived. A happy ending; perhaps, a valuable lesson.

Not a week goes by that a hiker gets lost in the woods somewhere in Connecticut — particularly shameful considering it's almost impossible to be farther than a couple miles from a Dunkin Donuts, Golden Arches or Motel 6 anywhere in the state.

At least when I've become disoriented I've had the self-respect to do so in the deep woods of Maine or the mountains of New Hampshire.

Full disclosure: In my extensive wilderness forays I've been guilty of a few missteps, due to my predilection for exploring uncharted turf and willingness to endure an occasional bramble patch. That might explain why some friends always seem to have other plans ("Gee, I'd love to go, except the dog needs a bath") whenever I call to suggest an expedition.

Still, just as the burned hand teaches best, there's nothing like being forced to spend a night or two in the rain to encourage the navigationally challenged hiker to carry maps and learn how to read a compass.

Failing that, the wayward wander risks "naturing out," using a phrase often employed by a friend who delights in nominating people for Darwin Awards. These tongue-in-cheek honors are bestowed on individuals who have contributed to human evolution by self-selecting themselves out of the gene pool via death or sterilization after unnecessarily foolish actions.

So far I've managed to avoid qualifying for a Darwin by taking a few precautions: I always wear a personal flotation device while kayaking, and before venturing out on water or land tell my wife or some other responsible person where I'm going and when I'll be back.

Such simple, basic rules by no means guarantee anyone will avoid peril in the great outdoors, but at least they may help improve the odds of survival.

I usually carry a water bottle, even on short hikes, and pack snacks, a rain jacket and other gear if the itinerary calls for being out for more than a few hours.

I've previously outlined my objections to cellphones on the trail so won't belabor the point other than to say it's not so much because one-way electronic conversations are intrusive, but because having a phone can instill a false sense of security. Too many people take chances or don't pay attention to conditions, incorrectly figuring they can always call for help in an emergency.

Anyway, it's a great time to enjoy the outdoors (actually, it's always a great time), so get out there, enjoy yourself, and try not to earn a Darwin Award.

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