Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dan Crane: Constructive Backcountry Convalescence

Hiking injuries happen from time to time.  That is one of the many risks of journeying into the Adirondack backcountry while carrying a heavy, bulging backpack.  The only thing worse than a hiking injury, is an unexpected and unrelated injury preventing one from the opportunity of getting a hiking injury.  Despite the source of the injury, the recovery period can be very difficult.

How should an outdoor enthusiast spend their convalescence?

Although it is easy to descend into an abyss of negative feelings, avoid this at all costs.  Instead of closing the window blinds, watching hours of Game of Thrones episodes, and listening to psychedelic Pink Floyd music, make the most of this down time and do something positive. Like preparing for future adventures, or at the very least, revisiting previous trips in an attempt to lift one’s spirits.

I know all too well about dealing with these types of pesky injuries – as I write this I am nursing some spontaneous knee pain and swelling of unknown origin.  Although the swelling decreased, the pain is likely to cause the cancelation of my annual bushwhacking/birding trip within the Pepperbox Wilderness to participate in the Audubon Society’s annual Birdathon.

Frustration and depression are typical responses to any situation where a desired outcome is not possible, such as an injury preventing an Adirondack backcountry adventure.  Unfortunately, these emotions are not helpful, and perhaps can even increase the recovery time.  Instead, choose a more positive response, one that enhances the backcountry experience, while waiting for the inevitable healing process to complete.

Useful ways to spend one’s convalescence include planning future excursions, gathering information via print, classroom or video, or reviewing previous trips.

Planning a future trip can take some of the sting out of being laid up for an extensive amount of time.  Poring over maps and looking for interesting destinations to explore is a highly productive way to spend the time that would otherwise be used actually exploring the backcountry.  Researching new destinations via trail guides, Internet searches and talking with other like-minded individuals can inspire new adventures when a pain-free wilderness experience is possible again.

Books offer an excellent way to escape the reality of a nagging injury.  Although fiction allows one to escape into a make-believe world, reading about practical topics might be better preparation for returning to the backcountry.  First aid, edible wild plants, basic survival knowledge and map and compass skill are just a few useful topics for anyone spending time in the backcountry.

Examples of worthwhile reads is any of the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Forest Preserve Series of Guides to the Adirondack & Catskill Trails, Barbara McMartin’s Discover the Adirondack series (highly useful for bushwhacking since it often includes historical trails), Outward Bound’s Wilderness First-Aid Handbook by Jeffrey Isaac, How to Stay Alive in the Woods by Bradford Angier, Be Expert with Map and Compass by Bjorn Kjellstrom and any field guide on wild edible plants, animal tracks, or any topic enhancing yur outdoor experience.

Taking an outdoor-oriented class might be helpful for those who abhor reading (yes, these people actually exist).  Many of the book subjects provided above can be taken in a classroom setting instead.  The American Red Cross and others organizations provide Wilderness First Aid classes on a frequent basis.  The Adirondack Mountain Club and other organizations often provide wilderness first aid classes as well as other outdoor-oriented classes too. One of these classes might even save your or someone else’s life someday.

Organizing notes and photographs from previous trips may provide some limited solace from the frustration of being kept off the trail and out of the backcountry.  Perhaps enough material has accumulated for a book, a series of books or a blog.  Such a project could take a considerable amount of work and become as much an obsession as exploring the backcountry itself.

Watching videos of past adventures (if any were ever made), or of other people’s adventures on Youtube may alleviate some of the longing for the wilderness exploration.  Small and rugged video cameras from manufacturers, such as Contour or GoPro, now make filming ones adventures almost effortless.

A warning is clearly in order.  Although these activities may make you feel better during your period of convalescence, they might just make you feel much worse instead.  Depending on your mindset at the time, they may just remind you of those things that are no longer possible.  In this case, perhaps watching TV, surfing the Internet or cleaning your bathroom would be more suitable.  If these activities do not speed up the healing process, then nothing will!

Recovering from any injury is a frustrating process, especially for anyone with an active lifestyle that includes hiking, backpacking or any other type of Adirondack backcountry exploration.  This is especially true during nice weather.  Spending the time away from the wilderness doing something constructive that can actually enhance the backcountry experience may be time well spent.  It sure beats being depressed and eating excessively, anyways.

Photo: Sunshine Pond in the Pepperbox Wilderness by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.

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Dan Crane writes regularly about bushwhacking and backcountry camping, including providing insights on equipment and his observations as a veteran backcountry explorer. He has been visiting the Adirondacks since childhood and actively exploring its backcountry for almost two decades. He is also life-long naturalist with a Master of Science in Ecology from SUNY ESF and 10+ seasons working as a field biologist, five inside the Blue Line.

Dan has hiked the Northville-Placid Trail twice and climbed all 46 High Peaks but currently spends his backpacking time exploring the northwestern portion of the Adirondacks. He is also the creator of the blog Bushwhacking Fool where he details his bushwhacking adventures.

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