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.

Reader Comments


The Continental Divide Trail: 'Overall It's Amazing, But You Have To Be OK With Getting Lost'

After tramping more than a month some 700 miles along the fabled Continental Divide Trail, Mystic native Hilary Sueoka and her boyfriend, Dan Stedman, who started hiking April 22 at the U.S.-Mexican border, finally rambled from the...

The Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon: Racing Is The Easy Part.

By the time Phil Warner and I hit the water in his lightning-fast tandem kayak last Sunday for our team’s leg in the Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon in Lenox, Mass., we had already spent a good part of the morning lugging gear...

There’s No Accounting For Taste When It Comes To Favorite Mountains, Or Tacos

En route to a hiking expedition in Nepal’s Himalayas a number of years ago, my wife and I took a detour to India and spent a day bouncing along on a bus from New Delhi to Agra to tour the Taj Mahal.

Mount McKinley Renamed Denali: Better Than Mount Reagan

Three cheers for the Obama Administration’s decision this week to officially restore the name of North America’s tallest mountain to Denali, which is what early inhabitants called the 20,310-foot peak in the Alaska Range.

The Endless Summer: Too Much Of A Good Thing?

Remember when you were a kid how your mom wouldn’t let you have ice cream every day even though nothing in the world tasted better on a hot day than a double scoop of butter crunch?

My Favorite Kayak Race: The T.I.A.G.A.T.I.N.M.R. In Rangeley, Maine

Paddling like the dickens last Sunday on Maine’s Rangeley Lake, we competitors had two choices: steer clockwise or counter-clockwise around Maneskootuk Island.

Selden Island: Once A Bustling Quarry, Now A Quiet Haven

More than 40 years ago, Dave Wordell of Salem took his then-10-year-old son, Dave Junior, on a boat ride up Selden Creek, a narrow, secluded tributary of the Connecticut River in Lyme.

Life As A Lumbersexual

I can never remember – do you apply facial cleanser before or after the exfoliating scrub, and then finish up with healing balm and moisturizer, or should you start with the scrub, work your way through the cleanser and then top...

R.I.P. Cecil the Lion: Let's Make the Trophy Hunter an Endangered Species

The international outrage sparked by an American trophy hunter’s killing of Cecil, Zimbabwe’s beloved lion, justifiably vilifies the despicable practice of slaughtering wildlife for sport – but it also exposes the human...

All Who Wander Are Not Lost: Searching For The Elusive South Bog Stream In Rangeley, Maine

"Head for that tree stump," I instructed authoritatively one afternoon earlier this week, as if I knew for sure where we should be heading. I have learned to exude confidence when giving directions on any expedition, even...

Scott Jurek's 'Reward' For Breaking Appalachian Trail Speed Record: Three Summonses

When internationally celebrated speedster Scott Jurek scrambled last Sunday to the 5,269-foot summit of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, he broke the record for the fastest assisted hike of the 2,189-mile...

No Swimming at Seaside: What’s Next? No Hiking at Bluff Point?

Most of the time I’m reasonably scrupulous about abiding by government regulations.