Been camping? Great, you’re prepared for a hurricane!

Been camping? Great, you’re prepared for a hurricane!

You don’t have to be a skilled survivalist to survive mother nature’s tropical fury. And you don’t have to be a stay-at-home mom with a Suburban to pile mountains of water bottles into either.

 

If you’ve ever been camping, then there is a good chance you already own the gear and skills you need to ride out the storm.

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Problem: NO WATER
Solution: If you have a back country first aid kit, there is a good chance it includes iodine tablets. Water purification iodine tablets are used to kill dangerous bacteria in water. Experienced backpackers use them on trails to kill nastiness in river, stream and lake water. The casual camper may not realize they often come in those ready-to-go first aid kits.

If you are an experienced backpacker, then there is a good chance you may also own a water filtration system like a Lifestraw. You can also fill any portable bladders like a Camelbak with fresh water before the storm hits.

Problem: NO POWER
Solution: Most modern camping enthusiasts own at least one solar powered charging option, but don’t worry if you don’t, this just means you will have to spend your post-hurricane days living off the grid. Isn’t that part of what makes camping fun?

Dig through your camping gear to find items you may have forgotten about like:
– Headlamps and extra flashlights
– Portable fans (I have one for my luxury tent)
– Lanterns
– Extra batteries
– Sun shade

Problem: I’M HUNGRY AND I DIDN’T STOCK UP
Solution: The food in your fridge will start to go bad if the power stays out for any length of time. If you didn’t make it to the grocery store before the hoards of people took all of the dry goods off the shelves, then take a peak at your camping supplies.
– Camp stove: Almost everyone buys one of these before their first camping trip and probably has an extra can or two of fuel to go with it. WARNING: Do not cook with a propane or butane stove indoors!
– Can opener: Remember the old fashioned kind you twist around the top of a can? You probably have one of these from the last time you ate Campbell’s soup on a camping trip.
– Matches/Lighter/Firestarter: If you aren’t a regular camper you may have to dig for this one, but most first aid kits do include matches, so check there first.
– Fishing gear: If worst comes to worst, you can pull out the bait & tackle box and try to catch some bass or catfish from a neighborhood lake or pond (or your living room, God forbid). You won’t go hungry!
– MREs: Experienced backpackers can probably dig in their pack and find an unopened Mountain House meal, but even if you are inexperienced it is possible you grabbed some MREs while grabbing stuff from Bass Pro Shop before your first big adventure. They don’t taste the best, but hey, if you’re hungry?

Other useful items you may find in your camping gear: 
– Tent: can be used as a tarp to block rain if necessary. It can also serve as shelter.
– Bug spray: You are going to need this post-hurricane. No question.
– Raft: If you have a fancy emergency kit it may even include an emergency raft.
– Hatchet and/or machete: If you don’t own a chainsaw or don’t have fuel for a chainsaw, this could become a critical tool if you get trapped.

Where to buy: Almost all of these items are available on Amazon, most outfitters, and many Walmart stores (depending on the season and where you live).

Of course, the best thing to do if you find yourself in the path of a hurricane is evacuate. Take shelter in a safe, dry location. My tips do not take into account risks like storm surge and massive amounts of flooding like people saw after Hurricane Harvey or Katrina.

Did I forget something? Please share your wisdom!

 

 

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Done: 574 Bucket List Miles

Vibrant reds and rich yellows hang from the forest ceiling. A few small leaves flutter slowly to the ground. A dream becomes reality. I am experiencing Fall for the first time.

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A quick history lesson: On August 25th, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed a law establishing the National Park Service. That means this year the agency is celebrating its Centennial. There are a total of 410 sites managed by the National Park Service.  Last week, I chose to explore the most popular one of all. My husband and I drove the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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We started on Skyline Drive in Virginia and drove all the way to Cherokee, NC. That’s a total of 574 miles of winding, breezy, romantic, scenic roadway.  And we chose to take the trip during the peak season of color, Autumn. We don’t have colorful seasonal changes in Florida, so I could only imagine what kind of brilliance I would be met with once we hit the road. The Blue Ridge Mountains did not disappoint.

 

Our journey started in Shenandoah National Park. Skyline Drive is every bit as beautiful as the Blue Ridge Parkway, but unlike its neighbor to the south Skyline is a backpacker’s paradise.  Squiggly trails, including the famous AT, crisscross the highway several times and thru hikers trudge up and down the hills carrying heavy packs. The forest is thick and the leaves are mostly golden. The views from the road are breathtaking and its tempting to stop at every pullout.

Unfortunately, because of a six hour Amtrak delay, we had to rush through this part of our trip. We hiked one short trail in the southern end of Shenandoah Park before hurrying onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. 574 miles doesn’t seem that long until you start to drive it.

I started to get excited about fall leaves around the time we hit the North Carolina line. I thought the yellows and oranges we saw in Virginia would be the best of the trip, but by the time we reached Linville Falls we were in peak color. Crimson red and brilliant gold flanked the roadway with a backdrop of cool gray and blue layers of mountains.

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My soul came alive. And for once all of my stress began to dissipate. Our original plan had us spending the night at a hotel in Asheville, but we decided to camp. I wanted to spend the night in the mountains and wake up to the crisp Autumn air. We stayed at the Linville Falls campground off the Blue Ridge Parkway. We arrived late, but fortunately they had a tents-only site available right next to the river. It was the perfect setting to begin a more relaxed second half of our vacation.

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Linville turned out to be the prettiest part of our trip. We hiked to the falls the next morning before heading south to Asheville. We visited Mount Mitchell, Mount Pisgah, Craggy Gardens and the Asheville area of the Parkway on several previous trips so we mostly drove through that zone this time around. As we got closer to Asheville it became clear we are not the only people obsessed with fall color. Leaf peepers clogged the Parkway at every lookout point. At some points-of-interest were so congested that it was nearly impossible to enjoy the view. I didn’t mind the crowds because we saw plenty of fall color further north that was even more beautiful.

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We took a break to re-adjust our schedules. A co-worker graciously agreed to work a shift for me so we could get an extra day of vacation. We spent two nights in Asheville as a result (more on that later.) On our final day of driving the BRP we visited the North Carolina Arboretum. In all of our trips to the Smokies, I can’t believe we never explored the facility before. The gardens are beautiful and the 3.5 mile nature trail allowed us to learn about the trees and insects in the area.

One of my favorite parts of the Parkway actually occurred by accident. We got to mile 0 and took a wrong turn. It turned out to be the best mistake ever because we saw a field full of elk!

All in all, a perfect ending to a very exciting adventure.

Yes, I am concerned about Zika

 

mosuitoToday, Governor Rick Scott confirmed the first case of locally transmitted Zika to be reported outside of South Florida. The patient is in Pinellas County, which for those of you unfamiliar with Florida, is just outside the Tampa area. I live in the Orlando area. The new “hot zone” is roughly 125 miles from my house.

The World Health Organization reports the mosquitoes that carry Zika can only travel 0.2 miles. So, why would I be worried about it in Orlando? Mostly, my concern is due to the fact that I am an outdoors enthusiast and I am a woman of childbearing age. I am not pregnant, nor am I trying to get pregnant, but scientists have yet to reign in this virus. I know they are working hard on researching a vaccine at the CDC in Atlanta, but until it is proven effective and becomes widely available we are stuck relying on good old fashioned bug repellent and DEET to protect ourselves against Zika.

I am a mosquito magnet. I swear, no amount of DEET or citronella candles can keep the bugs off of me. My husband can testify that mosquitoes frequently chew on my limbs leaving large welts all over my body even when nobody else in our group has a single bite. I feel like I cannot protect myself in the Zika environment.

Fact is, scientists don’t know a lot about Zika. They are still researching its side-effects, not only in unborn children and newborns, but also in adults. Microcephaly is just one of many potential birth defects caused by Zika. A study published earlier this month in the British Medical Journal reported on research in Brazil that links severe joint deformities to Zika. The babies also had calcifications on their brain. The study was small and the cause and effect is unclear, but it is the perfect example of how little scientists really understand about the disease. Other studies have related Zika to infant blindness and trouble swallowing.

According to the CDC, the most common symptoms of Zika in adults are fever, rash, joint pain and pink-eye. But its longterm effects are unknown. A study published last week that was conducted by Stanford University researchers and scientists in Brazil suggests Zika may damage adult brain cells as well, potentially causing memory loss. The study was conducted in mice, so it obviously needs more research, but these potentially unknown factors are downright scary to a healthy, outdoors loving adult like myself.

I’m definately not “freaked out” over Zika. But I admit, I do worry. Scientists aren’t sure exactly how long Zika stays in an adult body, so I have to wonder if a baby I concieve three years from now could be impacted by a mosquito that bites me today. In the meantime, I will continue my current lifestyle and the threat of Zika will not keep me out of the woods.

I encourage everyone to contact their local and state lawmakers and ask them to provide more federal and state funding to research and fight Zika. Also, please keep a close eye on standing water. We can’t do much about the swamps and puddles that nature provides, but we can dump out our bird feeders, trash bins, and other items that may be collecting rain water around our homes.

This Florida girl can’t afford to worry about a stupid bug.

The Dog Days of Summer: Hike the Heat with your Hound

The UV Index has soared to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit almost every day this month. If I dress correctly, get an early start, wear sunscreen and drink plenty of water I can still enjoy a hike. I know that I need to pace myself because of the heat. My dog, Arthur, doesn’t seem to make the same observation about the weather.

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Arthur loves the freedom he receives on the trail and I can’t bare to leave him at home. If you feel the same way about your pet, here is some really important advice from two dog behavioral experts and outdoor enthusiasts.

Weather can be dangerous. 
Dean Milenkovic knew this when he took his two American Labrador Retrievers, Blue & Indigo on a 40-mile, 4-day through hike on the Appalachian Trail. Dean is a professional photographer and outdoors enthusiast who also happens to hike a lot with his pets. “During colder months  we go as often as 3 times a week with 2 moderate hikes of 3-6 miles and one longer hike 8-12 miles.  During the summer, we go once or twice a week.  We supplement this with trips to the beach and long morning walks.” The heat is the primary reason why his summer hikes run short. And for good reason. It is estimated that several hundred dogs die from heat stroke in the U.S. each year.

 

Early signs of heat stroke in dogs:
– panting
– hyper-salivation (excessive production of saliva)
– dry mucous membranes (nose is not wet)
– higher heart rate
– dogs may appear hyperactive & excitable
– American Kennel Association

Some dogs are more at risk than others, so it is important to recognize early warning signs before the condition becomes serious and to talk to your veterinarian if you have a dog with thick coat or medical issues.

Teena Patel, a dog behaviorist who owns the University of Doglando, stresses the importance of “heat checks” when spending a lot of time outdoors with your pets. She recommends checking a dog’s temperature and hydration by touching their ears, gums and paws every two hours during the afternoon heat. She also recommends choosing your trails wisely. “We pick trails that have shade canopies and we keep our hikes very short in the summer.  If we are in Georgia or North Carolina or someplace we don’t have to worry about gators, we intentionally choose trails with ponds or lakes so the dogs can swim and cool off.”

Water, Water, Water

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That brings us to our next point: water. Dogs need about an ounce of water for every 10 pounds of body weight each day (Translation: a 50 lb. dog needs between 43 and 85 oz. of water per  day.)

Personally, I try to avoid letting my dog drink stagnant water for the same reasons we don’t drink it. Dogs are also prone to illnesses and parasites. Not to mention, some ponds and streams can be downright nasty. Patel reminds pet owners that no natural water sources can automatically be deemed safe. “We must be very careful of letting dogs drink out of lakes because many lakes have houses around them and people treat their yards with pesticides. When it rains the run off from their lawns go into the lake.” She allows her dogs to drink from fresh rain puddles, but even that is not for everyone. A dog with a poor immune system could be susceptible to anything.

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Arthur enjoying some cool water in the mountains of North Carolina

There are several options for easy-to-carry pet water bowls. I use something like this:

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Arthur’s Water Bottle

Always stay alert: 

Arthur goes insane when we are on a trail, especially if I allow him to run around off-leash. Once I started writing this blog it was brought to my attention that I should probably carry a better first aid kit for him. Milenkovic always carries an AKC First Aid Kit

He also establishes boundaries at the beginning of the hike and encourages his dogs to do voluntary check-ins and recalls by handing out high value treats. He says, “This can come in handy if the dog tries to take off after a deer, bird or a squirrel.  Leaping into tall grass or bushes after a deer can cause numerous cuts to both body and paws. Leaping into water to chase a bird can draw nearby alligators to investigate and pulling the dog by his tail out of the water with gator heading for you is not fun.”

Have a plan:

You never know what can happen on the trail. Write down the address and phone number for the closest emergency veterinarians, and make sure you are not hiking during hunting season. If you do hike in a location where hunting is a possibility,  get your dog a brightly colored vest.

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Hunters will be able to see Arthur better when he wears this vest.

You can also visit your state’s forestry website to find out which locations are open to hunters. For the state of Florida you can check here. It can be safe and fun to hike with your dog in the summer as long as you keep them hydrated, know the warning signs, and know who to call.

The Experts:

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Teena Patel is the founder and owner of the University of Doglando in Orlando, FL. She has more than a decade of experience in dog training and behavioral science. She has traveled the world observing how different cultures interact with canines. Read more about her here.

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Dean Milenkovic is the a professional photographer and outdoors enthusiast. He is the owner of two American Labrador Retrievers, Blue & Indigo. He and his dogs have taken numerous trips to the Carolinas. The longest being a 40 mile, 4-day through hike on the Appalachian Trail. Read more about Dean and his photography here.

 

Backpacking with Baby

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The hardest part of backpacking with an 8-month-old is getting him to stop eating dirt!

 

blI  dreamt of taking Konnor backpacking since the day he was born, but life kept getting in the way. Last week we finally had the opportunity to live with him in the woods for a few days. It was a fantastic experience. I carried the baby while my husband carried most of our gear. Both of our packs ended up heavier than we anticipated, but we ended up using almost everything we brought with us. item004

Day 1: The first part of our trip included an 6.5 hour drive to F.D. Roosevelt State Park in Pine Mountain, GA. We chose this location because of the variety of trail options. We could hike as little or as much as we wanted to on any given day. We knew we wanted to keep our days short since our Florida legs haven’t hiked in the hills in over a year and we also had never backpacked with our baby. We opted for the Big Poplar Loop on the Pine Mountain Trail. The Park does require hikers to register their campsites. We arrived late the first night, about 6:00pm, which meant we only had a couple of hours to hike to camp and get set up before dark. The Park ranger recommended we stay in the Turtle Bluff campsite the first night since it was less than 2 miles from the trailhead.

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The trail itself is gorgeous. It’s nicely shaded and an easy hike with just a few hairy places. I’ll admit to getting nervous in the short sections of trail where there is a rock wall to the right and a rocky drop-off to the left with a narrow trail in the middle. Konnor likes to “dance” in his carrier, which makes my load uneven and my steps unsteady.

Day two was our biggest day of hiking. We hiked about 5.5 miles from Turtle Bluff to the Whiskey Still campsite. Whiskey Still is by far my favorite of the two sites. It is big (enough room for 3 tents), shaded, has a gorgeous stone firepit, and very private (we never saw or heard another soul while camping in this spot.) There is also a freshwater spring only 1/4 mile away. The water there was much tastier than the stream water we filtered at the Turtle Bluff site. Turtle Bluff is also less private. We, unfortunately, had a Boy Scout Troop as neighbors. They were respectful, but we could still see and hear them from Turtle Bluff.

Day three consisted of finishing the Poplar Loop and getting on the road again to part 2 of our adventure. The final part of the Poplar Loop is beautiful. The trail slopes up and down, across a beautiful stream that features a small waterfall. I spotted wildflowers and butterflies on my hike back to the car. It was the perfect ending to the “adventure” stage of our vacation.

What about the baby?
Konnor did great! I’m glad I never listened to all of the people who told me while I was pregnant, “Just you wait. Life will never be the same. You won’t be able to do that stuff once the baby arrives.” Lies! All lies! You can do anything with a baby that you can do without a baby, it just takes more work and becomes a different type of experience. For one, we had to carry more gear. In addition to our basic tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, food, cooking gear and clothing; we had to carry diapers, bottles, formula, baby clothes, bibs, and a baby first aid kit (because I would hate for something to happen to him and not be prepared.) The extra gear added extra strain on our bodies. Secondly, the danger factor becomes more severe. Before baby, if I got lost or fell it would’ve sucked but it probably wouldn’t have been the end of the world. I was incredibly nervous about slipping on the rocks or mud while carrying Konnor on my back. However, the biggest, and most important, thing that changed this trip is that baby takes a lot of the relaxation out of the vacation. Before baby, I’d look forward to arriving in camp and resting for a few minutes. Afterall, hiking the hills is hard work. I’d enjoy waking up in the morning and listening to the birds chirp while sipping tea. Instead, those moments are replaced with feedings, bottle cleanings, breast pumping and fussy time. This is no different than life at home. I really don’t know what I expected.

Overall, the trip was successful. We had a lot of fun and grew stronger as a family. I fell in love with small moments, like when Konnor would reach his hand out to my shoulder. My heart melted each time I felt those little fingers touching my back on the trail. I love his fascination with everything in nature, the way he cooed and squealed when I pointed out different types of plants, colors and shapes along the trail; the way he stared at his daddy when we could hike side-by-side. He’s an amazing little boy and I can’t help but believe we are already instilling in him a love of nature.

I’m going to get into specifics of our gear and our hikes later on in another post, but this is a start. Stay tuned for more.