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Survival of the Fittest: Surviving Black Ice

When you’re heading for the back country in late fall or early spring, you prepare for the weather by wearing hiking boots that have traction, carrying a warm jacket and bringing a first aid kit.

Do the same thing for the vehicle you take to the trailhead. One of the greatest dangers of driving in those seasons is black ice. Black ice is clear water that’s frozen onto blacktop, making a slick patch that’s hard to see before you hit it. You should be just as prepared for that as you are for the outdoor adventure.

The most treacherous spots are areas that look dry but are darker than surrounding pavement; low-lying areas that may have caught some run-off water; and bridges and underpasses, which tend to freeze before the rest of the highway. Black ice can occur when the temperature drops to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, above freezing. As the temperature drops, the ice spreads.

Make sure your tires have the traction you’ll need; use snow tires if necessary. Winterize your car like you would your clothing. If you have four-wheel drive, use it, but don’t assume it will save you from black ice. Slow down, and don’t tailgate – that’s just asking for an accident. Anticipate traffic lights and exits, and start to gradually slow down before you would in better weather. Keep an emergency kit (think car first aid) in your car, with items like a folding shovel, sand, and a flashlight.

If you hit black ice, slow down but do NOT hit your brakes quickly or hard, or you’ll skid. Take your foot off the accelerator and change gears to neutral. Try to maneuver smoothly, and if your car spins, turn the steering wheel in the direction of the spin. If you skid, turn in the direction you want to go. If you have anti-lock brakes, don’t pump them; the system should kick in and let you slow down and steer.

With some planning, you can survive black ice after your wilderness adventure. Care for your vehicle like you do for yourself.

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Survival of the Fittest: Surviving a Deer Collision

If you think the deadliest wild animal is a grizzly bear, a wolf, or a cougar, you’re wrong. Each year, deer kill more humans than any other animal in North America. Deer range almost everywhere in North America, except for northern Canada and Alaska, and parts of Utah. They don’t attack humans as prey; they cause car accidents.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are about 1.5 million car-deer accidents each year, and that number is rising. Those accidents kill about 150 people each year, although the number was higher in 2008 and the NHTSA expects it to be still higher in 2009. They cost at least $1.1 billion in property damage; in 1990, the cost was estimated to be over $100 million in Wisconsin alone, and Wisconsin isn’t in the top ten states for deer accidents.

Most deer-car accidents occur between October and December, which partly coincides with deer hunting season. It’s not hunting that causes the accidents, though; those three months are deer mating season. During the rest of the year, groups of deer have a fairly small home territory, and stay within it. In mating season, or “rut,” deer head out to find mates, and are more likely to stray onto roads.

So, what does that have to do with wilderness adventures? If you’ve been in the back country in the fall, you’ll probably be driving home. And you’ll probably see deer crossing signs on your route. Some drivers ignore them; a smart driver slows down, especially in the evening, and watches for deer. If you see one deer cross the road, expect more to follow and slow down accordingly. Insurance companies advise using your brights, and warn that deer whistles don’t work. Don’t swerve if a collision is unavoidable; you may hit another vehicle or a tree and cause more damage.

During the fall, wear a bright jacket to avoid becoming a hunter’s target. Good sturdy boots are also a must, and a bright flashlight of your own will help keep deer from your path. And drive carefully when heading home!

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Survival of the Fittest: Surviving a Moose Attack

Many people think of the cartoon “Bullwinkle” when they think of a moose. Hikers in the northern U.S. and Canada who’ve actually encountered moose have an entirely different view. If you’re hiking where they both live, you’re much more likely to be attacked by a moose than a bear.

Moose aren’t shy, like deer. They’re territorial and aggressive, and their size – up to 6 ½ feet at the shoulder – and weight – as much as 1500 pounds – make them extremely dangerous. They have sharp hooves and impressive antlers. The two likeliest times of year for moose encounters are spring, when females have calves, and fall, when bull moose are looking for mates.

Never get between a female moose and her calf. If you come upon them on the trail, back up slowly and wait for them to move on; generally, they will. If a mother and calf wander into your camp, again, try to back away. Moose show aggression in several ways. They may toss or swing their heads, stamp the ground, lay their ears back, or actually charge you. Some of these charges are bluffs, and the moose will veer away at the last moment. But since most of us can’t read their minds, you need to take a charge seriously, and try to get behind a large boulder. The moose will then, hopefully, decide you’re not a threat.

In the fall, bull moose are just as deadly as females in the spring. Anything that moves is a potential rival. They’ve even charged locomotives, so if they charge you, don’t assume they’ll back off. If you can’t get away, roll yourself into a ball, cover your head, and don’t try to get up. You’ll probably get kicked, but if you don’t move at all until the moose has left the area, you’ll survive. A broken rib is better than a smashed skull. If you have time, swing your backpack over your head to protect it. Pull your hiking boots up to protect your groin if possible.

Remember that you’re in their territory, show them respect, and you’ll survive a moose encounter.

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Outdoor Movies: The Core

“Spelunking” refers to the outdoor activity of exploring caves and caverns, either for fun or research. In the 2003 adventure called The Core, however, a team of specialists take spelunking to the ultimate level by drilling down to the very center of the Earth.

A secret government experiment has caused the planet’s molten core to stop its natural rotation, which affects the Earth’s electromagnetic field. Without this protective energy layer, people with pacemakers start dropping dead, birds fly off-course and the Sun’s rays start burning people and buildings to a crisp.

The quickest way to get the core moving again is by sending a submersible ship through the layers of rock and molten lava and then detonating a series of nuclear warheads. In order to survive the heat, Dr. Ed “Brazz” Brazzleton (*Delroy Lindo*) creates a substance that he calls “unobtanium,” which resists extreme temperatures and pressure. The good doctor also has a laser drill capable of drilling through the toughest rock.

In a ship outfitted with Dr. Brazzleton’s inventions, the team, led by Commander Robert Iverson (*Bruce Greenwood*), drills through the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. As the first humans to go deep below the surface of the Earth, they see amazing things, such as huge diamonds formed from the tremendous heat and pressure. The deeper they drill, however, the greater the danger becomes.

An entertaining scientific fantasy, The Core takes cave exploration to new depths. It also shows what could theoretically happen if the Earth’s electromagnetic field did start to erode. In one early scene, for instance, Major Rebecca Childs (*Hilary Swank*) has to find a safe place to land a space shuttle when magnetic interference wipes out her guidance system.

The Core does get a little grisly at times, showing in graphic detail what happens when unfiltered solar radiation hits the Earth. Even the best sunscreens can’t help you when nothing stands between your face and the rays of the Sun.

A fun, but sometimes unbelievable adventure, The Core is one way to heat up a night of movie watching at home.

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Survival of the Fittest: Surviving an Earthquake Outdoors

If you think earthquakes only happen in California, think again. It’s true that most earthquakes happen west of the Rockies, and California has had plenty, but Alaska has had the most in recent history. But looking farther back, the most earthquakes have occurred in the central U.S., and the worst earthquake in U.S. history was along the New Madrid fault in Missouri over three months in 1811-1812. The effects were felt over 2 million square miles, and three quakes registered over an 8 on the Richter scale.

While geologists are working towards it, they still can’t predict when or where an earthquake will strike. They do know that if a quake has hit an area in the past, it will happen again. So, it’s possible that you’ll encounter an earthquake when you’re out hiking, camping, boating, or even skiing.

The first warning you’ll have is a feeling of rolling ground, then the real shaking starts. Find the nearest open space, something treeless and not downhill from a rocky slope, and stay there. Most injuries outdoors, just like indoors, come from falling debris and in your case, that means trees, rocks, and even snow. Earthquakes can trigger some phenomenal avalanches. Curl up into a fetal position to make yourself a smaller target.

There will be aftershocks, so stay put. If you’re hiking along the coast, though, know earthquakes often trigger tsunamis, so move inland and up, then find open space. When the movement stops, check yourself and the rest of your party for injuries, and treat what you can with your first aid kit.

Wear sturdy but comfortable boots like these new Ledge boots from Timberland. Sick of your old pack? This Ultimatum Gear backpack from Nike is brand new, and along with pockets for everything, it has Max Air straps to take the weight off your shoulders. This waterproof watch from Freestyle has an altimeter, a barometer, and a compass.

Know the history of the area you’re hiking, travel prepared, and you can survive even an earthquake in the backcountry.

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Survival of the Fittest: Quicksand and Sinkholes

Quicksand and sinkholes. Many hikers and climbers think those are movie props, and while the way they’re used in movies doesn’t match reality, they are out there, and you need to be prepared for them.

You can find quicksand, liquified soil or sand, nearly anywhere that water meets sand, including ponds, marshes, sloughs, beaches and river deltas. It’s found in places as diverse as New Jersey and North Carolina, but it’s most common in Florida. You could encounter it in any marshy area after a heavy rain.

Natural sinkholes are found in karst, land where the bedrock is limestone, salt beds, or any rock easily dissolved by water. Again, most are in Florida, though you’ll also find them in Texas, Kentucky, Missouri or anywhere limestone lies beneath the soil. They can appear very suddenly; Lake Jackson in Florida took only a few days to completely disappear into a sinkhole in 1999. The beautiful “blue hole” off the coast of Belize is an underwater sinkhole.

Sinkholes can also be caused by people. They’re common in areas with underground mining, whether of coal, like that in Pennsylvania, or of gold, as in parts of Nevada. When the burden of soil and vegetation becomes too heavy over the tunnels, it caves in and becomes a sinkhole.

Your best approach is to avoid them. Use a walking stick or trekking poles to test the ground ahead of you in swampy areas. If it slides down, you just found quicksand. If you’re unfortunate enough to fall in, don’t panic; you’ll float on quicksand. Relax, lie back, and let your trekking partners pull you out, either with the poles or climbing rope carried in a rope pack .

If you’re caving, you should already have a helmet and a headlamp. The danger from sinkholes is both below you and above you; you could fall in, or the rock above you could collapse. Test the ground ahead of you and the rock above you. If your pole can go in, it’s time for you to get out.

Pay attention and watch where you walk, and you’ll survive quicksand and sinkholes!

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Survival of the Fittest: Surviving a Thunderstorm While Hiking or Camping

Summer hiking in mountain ranges is often threatened by afternoon rain. Those showers can become thunderstorms with dangerous lightning. Whether you’re on a day hike or a back-packing camping trip, be prepared to survive thunderstorms.

Although the odds of being struck by lightning aren’t high, it’s still a possibility. Stay aware of the weather around you. If clouds start to build up, study them. Are they just rain clouds, or are they turning into tall black storm clouds that bring thunder and lighting along with rain? If those clouds are moving in your direction, find a shelter. And remember, lightning can strike well outside the area of rain.

Tents aren’t the best shelters in a thunderstorm. If your camp is in an open area, your tent is probably the highest structure, and the most likely to be hit by lightning. If your tent is under trees, you’re safer, but still at risk both from lightning hitting the trees around you and from ground currents. If you’re in your tent, don’t lie down; instead, be a small target: pull your knees up to your chest, put your head down, and wrap your arms around your head.

If you’re hiking, look for the lowest area you can before the storm arrives. Consider building a shelter of brush at the base of a rock face, and covering it with a tarp. No time to make a shelter? Drop your pack, and make yourself a small target.

Pack for rain as well. A flashlight and a battery-operated radio are musts; also, carry a lightweight tarp or rain cloth. Pack a light-weight rain jacket with a hood, and wear lightweight boots . Carry a first aid kit too, in case someone is injured. If someone in your group is actually struck by lightning, their heart may stop; use CPR to get their heart and lungs working again, and get them to a medical facility as soon as possible. Your first aid kit should have burn ointment and bandages if there are burns as well.

If the forecast is for severe thunderstorms, then put off your hike, or stay with your car. FEMA’s general rule for safety is that 30 minutes after you hear the last thunder, it’s safe to leave your shelter and head on, or head home.

(Source: http://fema.gov/hazard/thunderstorm/index.shtm )

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Television Shows with an Outdoor Setting: Gilligan's Island

In many ways, “Gilligan’s Island“ was the prototype for the popular reality show “Survivor.” During this now-classic 1960’s sitcom, seven people from different backgrounds were stranded together on an island during a terrible storm and, like the reality show, they had to work together in order to survive.

After spending 14 years in almost total seclusion before finally making it back home, however, some things just didn’t add up:

Practically every week, Gilligan messed up an opportunity for the castaways to leave the island for good. After about a dozen foul-ups, in real life, one of his shipmates would probably tied up Gilligan in his sleep so he couldn’t cause more mischief.

Bob Denver, who played the title role in the series, made an appearance in the 1987 movie “Back to the Beach.” In character as Gilligan, Denver lamented the fact that he spent years on an island with a guy who could make a nuclear reactor out of two coconut shells and a piece of string, but he couldn’t fix a two-foot hole in a boat.

Though Skipper Jonas Grumby‘s first love was his boat, the Minnow, Gilligan and Professor Roy Hinkley were young, single guys. How come, in 14 years, neither one of them married Ginger Grant or Mary Ann Summers?

Despite the fact that most of the Minnow’s passengers overpacked for a “three-hour tour”, after 14 years of salt-water washings, even the sturdiest fabrics are going to fade and fall apart. When they were finally rescued, though, Gilligan and the Skipper were wearing fresh-looking clothes.

What exactly did the castaways use for toilet paper, toothpaste and other hygiene products?

Despite the lack of logic, “Gilligan’s Island” remains one of the funniest outdoor television shows ever made. Even 45 years after its debut, it still is fun to lace up a pair of deck shoes and watch one of the episodes on satellite.