Every year a large number of tourists come to the Adirondack Mountains. One of the popular things to do is to take a canoe trip. There are a number of canoe routes, parts of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. Some people choose a section to be done in a day or two, while others choose longer journeys. It’s a chance to enjoy nature, to paddle through the lakes and streams, to see nature. Most of them do this without problems, beyond the usual insect bites, sore muscles, and occasional rain. Every now and then, someone runs into serious problems.
Over the Memorial Day weekend, I ran into just such a group. The weather was, to put it mildly, miserable. Heavy rains, freezing temperatures, and snow in spots. No, that is not the typical Memorial Day weather. A group of young teenagers were attempting to do the route to Saranac Lake when the weather hit with full force, and that’s when the problem arose. One of the students had decided that he didn’t need to pack all the “junk” that his teachers had told him to pack, which included … rain gear and cold weather clothing. The result? Severe hypothermia. Fortunately for him, the adult trip leaders immediately recognized the problem, and took action to treat him. The next morning, one of the group leaders flagged down one of my people, and we were able to help them arrange for transportation out of there, as well as provide some items to help them while waiting. They’ll have “a story” to tell, and hopefully a lesson learned.
What was also apparent was that even the trip leaders had certain “expectations” about the trip, with the principal one being that there was help just a phone call away. It’s an easy mistake to make. All along the route, there are a number of small towns, state campgrounds, and summer camps. It looks like civilization is just a short distance away on most parts. The other assumption is based on their experience at home, that cell phones always work.
In reality, those towns are 10 to 15 miles apart, and even when closer, a few miles is a long way when you’re in trouble. The other reality is that cell phones don’t always – or even mostly – work here in the Adirondacks. Even when they do, it’s provider dependent. One town has great service if you’re on Verizon, while in the next town over, you can’t get a signal unless you’re on AT&T. That’s if you can get a signal in the first place. So depending on your cell phone in case of emergency can mean you have serious problems.
Fortunately for this group, it worked out. They were able to handle the medical issue, and they were able to get to a place to call. But they won’t be the only ones who run into trouble this year. The lessons? When you’re told to pack certain items, it means pack them. Second, be aware that you may – and probably will – be “out of reach” for a good portion of your time here. Third, civilization looks a lot closer on a map than it is when you have to travel that by canoe or on foot. The final lesson? Nature is not your friend. Your defense is to be prepared, because the “wilderness” is not always very forgiving.