Hiking With Cold-Weather Asthma

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Ice crystals on a Saw Palmetto

Ice crystals on a Saw Palmetto in Florida

 

As I write this, it is 32 degrees in my corner of Florida, with an expected high of 56. The forecast calls for sunny skies and a mild breeze. Perfect hiking weather – if you don’t have cold-weather induced asthma.

Hiking in cool weather is one of the great experiences that most hikers look forward to all year long. That first caress of cool, crisp air on your face as you inhale those first few breaths of clean air, but for asthma sufferers that same experience is intensified and that first breath of air can launch us into a coughing fit as the muscles around our lungs constrict, sometimes doubling us over as we gasp, wheeze and struggle for breath. In describing the sensation, it’s a feeling that I imagine is akin to a python squeezing the life out of its prey.

Hiking in Skagway, AK.

Hiking in Skagway, AK.

I used to hike like that for years until my family doctor finally diagnosed my condition and put me on a daily asthma medication along with a bronchial inhaler to use before I exercised, particularly when outside in cooler temperatures. I’m almost embarrassed to say that I lived my entire life with this condition before my family doctor started questioning why the allergy medications prescribed by my allergy specialist weren’t helping me. He sent me in for a respiratory test and discovered that I had asthma and allergies, specifically, cold-weather/exercise-induced asthma.

Alaskan Klondike

Alaskan Klondike

Despite my condition, I didn’t let it sideline me. Heck, in September I took a trip to Alaska and did some hiking in the home of cold temperatures. So how did I manage to go hiking and combat my cold-weather asthma? A definitive diagnosis by my doctor was the first step in getting me headed in the right path with necessary medications. Next, I focused on my clothes and added a scarf to loosely cover my nose and mouth, thereby allowing air to warm against my skin before inhaling it. Lastly, I slowed down my hiking pace so I wouldn’t be drawing in breaths as quickly as I would by walking at a brisk pace.

Lower Dewey Lake Hiking Trail, Skagway, AK

Lower Dewey Lake Hiking Trail, Skagway, AK

In the winter months I start out a little later in the morning once temperatures begin to rise. I generally don’t start any earlier than 10 a.m. and no later than 1 p.m. If it’s bitterly cold out I will add gloves, earmuffs and a hat to my arsenal. I also gauge my distance and stay under 5 mile hikes in winter since my hiking pace is slower. On the plus side it gives me plenty of opportunity to take in the scenery and get photos of any wildlife that might be out foraging for food.

After reading this, if you find that you may be experiencing some or all of these same difficulties, I urge you to follow up with your doctor. You may find your situation to be similarly manageable. Don’t let cold-weather asthma sideline you from outdoor activity when the temperatures drop.

*This article is not intended to provide medical advice and opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author.

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Low Impact Adventure After an Illness

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Rainy days make great research days

Rainy days make great research days

 

Occasionally there comes a time, perhaps due to illness, weather, equipment or the like where an outdoor activity may need to be scaled back to accommodate the capability of the participant. I recently experienced this while recovering from a minor surgical procedure accompanied with anemia. I was literally going stir crazy from not being able to do much. When I was finally able to get outdoors I really had to scale things back while I recovered because I would still tire and get out of breath quickly.

During the couch-bound portion of my recovery I spent a lot of time researching new destinations and gathering updates for old favorites. I even helped spread news on Twitter about upcoming events or legislation that might impact paddlers. I inventoried equipment and stalked the Amazon Lightning Deals to score new or improved equipment. It’s how I scored an inflatable kayak to keep in the truck for spontaneous paddling.*

Spotted sunfish at Snapper Hole on Chassahowitzka River.

Spotted sunfish at Snapper Hole on Chassahowitzka River.

Once I could venture outside, the fishing bug bit me. Fortunately fishing is only as hard as you make it, but naturally I wanted to fish from the kayak that I could no longer load and unload by myself so I enlisted some manpower to do the heavy lifting. Once launched, I paddled upstream so the current would push me back downstream after I got too tired to paddle. Heading upstream I stopped frequently to rest and wet a line in promising spots. I was rewarded with a few Spotted sunfish for my efforts and it was enough to take the edge off of my fishing fever. After a couple of hours I slowly drifted back to the launch at the Chassahowitzka River Campground and once again obtained assistance with reloading my kayak. Hooray for volunteers & small victories!

My micro-camper aka Teeter-Tot

My micro-camper aka Teeter-Tot

Basic camping was pretty easy since I have a micro-camper. I would just pull into my spot, unhitch, drop the stabilizing support on the camper and plug in. I think if there had been any more effort involved I might not have been able to do it. I took frequent naps and only built a fire once. Instead of normal hiking, I would walk down to the river and pick a shady spot to watch the river drift by. In the evening I would count fireflies and smile when I heard owls calling.

Mother Manatee and calf on the Chassahowitzka River

Mother Manatee and calf on the Chassahowitzka River

I’m still working up to being able to hike again, so in the meantime I’m taking advantage of benches along the hiking trails at the state parks. Slowing down has given me a new perspective on the nature of adventure, for instance, now I’ve had time to lie in wait with my camera for the perfect shot of a manatee surfacing for a breath of air or a Heron taking flight. Slowing down has presented unique moments of their own – fireflies after dark, a deer swimming across the river and even a squirrel stealing an Oreo.

So if you’ve had to scale back your adventure, don’t despair. Listen to the advice of your doctor, take your time, ease back into it slowly and just enjoy the view. Don’t overdo it and take frequent breaks. And yes, it’s okay to take a nap if you’re tired. The trail will still be there tomorrow.

*Based on my personal experience with the product, I cannot recommend the Intex Challenger K1 Kayak

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Hiking for the Beginner

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One would think that there wouldn’t be a need for a how-to-hike article, but surprisingly there is. Every day a would-be hiker sets off onto the trail woefully unprepared. A handful of those would-be adventurers encounter trouble and wind up in need of rescue, an effort that can be costly, time-consuming and potentially place others at risk.

A Heavily Bandaged Foot With Hiking Blisters

A Heavily Bandaged Foot From Hiking Blisters

So what should a spur-of-the-moment hiker do before hitting the trail? First, make sure that you have the proper footwear and wicking socks to pull moisture away from your skin. Your feet are the most valuable asset you have on a hike and essential for getting you back out. Many a hike has been cut short by debilitating blisters or a sprained ankle. Proper footwear is a must. If you enjoy hiking, keep a spare pair of boots and socks in your vehicle for those spontaneous hikes.

Before hitting the trail, make sure you have plenty of water, even if you think you’ll only be gone for an hour. Exercise coupled with heat can dehydrate you quickly, causing confusion and disorientation. Humidity, direct sun exposure and wind can accelerate dehydration.

Map of Oak Tree Nature Park in Mary Esther, Florida

Map of Oak Tree Nature Park in Mary Esther, Florida

Familiarize yourself with the trail map. If there aren’t any handouts available at the trailhead/kiosk, take a picture of the map for reference. If you are using your phone as a compass or GPS, be sure to calibrate it before setting off. As for your phone, don’t rely on it solely to get you out of an emergency. Oftentimes there is spotty or no reception in wilderness areas.

You’ve heard it a dozen times, tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. If you run into trouble, you want to know that someone will eventually start looking for you. If you are hiking alone, leave a note on the front seat of your car in case rescuers need to gather more information.

Stay on the trail. No, really. Bears, bees, briars and bitey things abound off of the trail. Cliffs, crevasses and sink holes may also lie in wait just out of sight. Staying on the trail helps prevent unnecessary trail erosion and is the first place you’ll be found if you get injured.

Hikers on the Florida Trail

Hikers on the Florida Trail

Give yourself plenty of time to complete your hike and don’t start a hike right before dark. The sunset may look awesome from the lookout point, but trying to find your way back down the trail in the dark is the quickest way to become lost or injured. Nightfall is also when a lot of animals emerge and go on the prowl.

Be prepared for weather changes. Inclement weather can always pop up at the least convenient time. If you are in a low-lying area, try to get to higher ground and wait it out. Parts of your trail could get washed out or become a raging river. Don’t try to cross rising water because you could get swept downstream making it harder for rescuers to find you.

If you do become lost, S.T.O.P. That stands for Stop where you are. Don’t panic. The best course of action is usually to stay put and wait for rescue. Think about what you need to do and your options. Observe your surroundings and resources. Make a Plan and proceed. At all times keep calm and stay focused.

Group photo: L-R Mark, Kris, Zac, Maria, Daniel

Group photo: L-R Mark, Kris, Zac, Maria, Daniel

Ideally, you will be more prepared and knowledgeable about your upcoming hike than the average person. It is your responsibility to make adequate preparations for your trip. Do your research. Have fun and hike on.

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Local Area Tubing Rescue Ends Successfully

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High Bluffs Along the Blackwater River

High Bluffs Along the Blackwater River

Inadequate planning is believed to be the cause behind a recent float trip that became a search and rescue mission on the Blackwater River in the Florida panhandle this past week. In a joint effort by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Forestry Service, the Coast Guard, EMS, Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and Okaloosa County Beach Safety, eight people had to be rescued after being missing for 25 hours on the river.

Details are scant on the identities of the people rescued, but it was revealed that the group had not properly planned for their trip nor filed float plans with anyone before venturing out. The total length of the river is 56.6, but only 31 miles of it is listed as navigable. The upper portion can have numerous snags at times while the lower portion is completely unnavigable past Deaton Bridge in Blackwater River State Park.

McMurdo FastFind200 Personal Locator Beacon

McMurdo FastFind200 Personal Locator Beacon

Fortunately this case had a successful conclusion, but not all search and rescue missions are as lucky. There are far too many stories of float trips ending in tragedy because people didn’t take the proper precautions. There are numerous variables involved in planning a float trip from the route itself, safety equipment, weather and remembering to file a float plan with friends or family. One must remember though, that even with the best planning, unforseen events can still happen and its best to have a way to get help.

The Florida DEP Greenways and Trails has a growing list of maps and details of many of the paddling trails in Florida available for free on their website. Another good source of information is from local paddling clubs and outfitters that may be more up-to-date on current river and creek details. Finally, many river levels can be found at the USGS Current Water Data website. While helpful, these sources do not cover all waterways in Florida and it is up to the individual to do their due diligence and research their intended destination.

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Wondering if a Personal Locator Beacon is Right for You?

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McMurdo FastFind200 Personal Locator Beacon

McMurdo FastFind220 Personal Locator Beacon

People who spend any amount of time exploring the great outdoors should definitely consider adding a personal locator beacon to their equipment list. Besides adding peace of mind, this handy device can literally save your life in case of an accident or other unforseen complication. PLBs can be pricey, but the security they provide is well worth it if you are going to be spending any amount of time in a remote or dangerous location.

I recently purchased the lightweight and easy to use McMurdo FastFind220 Personal Locator Beacon because I do a lot of solo kayaking and hiking. I also had an upcoming trip to the Caribbean where I would be participating in a drift snorkel in a strong current over the Palancar Reef in Cozumel. The FastFind220 was perfect for my needs because it is waterproof to 30′, has a 6-year battery life and would do me well in a variety of situations. In the event of an emergency, upon manual activation, the FastFind220 PLB will transmit a unique ID and current GPS coordinates to the COSPAS-SARSAT global search and rescue satellite network allowing rescuers to find and assist you. It also activates a bright LED SOS light to help rescuers pinpoint your location.

Snorkeling over the Palancar Reef. Depths 80+.

Snorkeling over the Palancar Reef. Depths of 80’+.

Fortunately, I never had to deploy my device during my trip, but it gave me an added sense of security just to know that if I got into trouble I had a way to summon help. It was easy enough to keep with me; I simply placed the device into its flotation pouch and used a carabiner to clip it onto my snorkeling vest and swam away. When hiking or kayaking, I attach it to a belt loop or to my hydration pack. The device has held up well, showing no signs of leakage and continues to test well.

There are several types of PLBs out there to choose from, but do your research. Some require a yearly activation fee (the McMurdo Fastfind220 does not.) They all must be registered with NOAA Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking, which is a simple process and will help rescuers get to you more quickly by eliminating an unknown signal on their resources. Because the FastFind220 PLB is primarily a distress beacon, it does not support a messaging system to alert friends and family of your status or location.

The author on Two Penny Bridge, Ecofina Creek.

The author on Two Penny Bridge, Econfina Creek.

If peace of mind and the ability to summon help when necessary seems like something that appeals to you, consider adding a PLB to your outdoor arsenal. It may be the best investment you’ve ever made.

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