Tag Archives | Outdoors

Mosquitoes driving you buggy? Me, too.

photo from WebMD.com

photo from WebMD.com

A big advantage of taking up a winter sport is that you don’t have to worry about bugs. To me, this is a real plus. I’m the sort of person who mosquitoes find irresistable (and yes, there’s a scientific basis for this. More on that shortly).

RonZalmeCartoonIt turns out that I’m not the only one. Mosquitoes seem to be causing problems for a lot of people this summer. Take the athletes for the 2016 summer games in Rio. A number have already stated they won’t go because of the mosquito-borne Zika virus. Even Lindsey Vonn, who planned to attend as a spectator, is taking a pass.

Zika isn’t the only disease we can get from mosquitoes. There’s malaria, dengue, chikungunya, West Nile, and encephalitis.  According to the World Health Organization, mosquito bites result in more than a million deaths each year. Most of these are caused by malaria. That said, there are more than 2,500 species of mosquito, and different mosquitos spread different things. The Zika virus, for example, is transmitted by an infected mosquito from the the aedes genus.

Here in the US, malaria isn’t a huge problem. Although we still get a few hundred malaria cases per year, most are in travelers returning from a malaria-ridden country. Instead, you’re more likely to suffer from an itchy welt  — annoying, but certainly not dangerous. Unfortunately, if you want to engage in outdoor activities during the summer — as many Ski Divas do — mosquitoes are something you just have to deal with. So what’s to be done? Is there any way to keep from being eaten alive?

As I said before, I seem to get bitten more than my fair share. And I’m not imagining it, either. Scientists have determined that some people are more prone to mosquito bites than others.  One study found that in a controlled setting, mosquitoes landed on people with Type O blood nearly twice as often as those with Type A. (My husband is a Type A, I’m Type O). Another reason can be the bacteria on your skin. To a mosquito, certain combinations of bacteria smell particularly enticing. And there’s also exercise. An increase in body temperature attracts them, too, as does the carbon dioxide we exhale and the lactic acid we produce. And yes, they’re also more attracted to beer drinkers and pregnant women.

Well, yes, there is. Obviously, one way is to cover up as best as you can, and use an insect repellent that contains DEET.  DEET worries me, though. While it’s not a carcinogen, long-term exposure may cause moodiness, insomnia, and impaired cognitive function. Studies have also shown that after high concentrations of continued exposure, DEET can cause hypertrophy of the liver and kidneys as well as stimulation of the central nervous system which can cause tremors and seizures. DEET products also have the potential to damage the water supply. DEET can not only harm aquatic life-forms, but it can also enter the drinking supply as runoff if farmers mishandle the product.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to stay bite free that don’t involve DEET:

• Avoid fragrances and scented soaps and body washes.

• Avoid food that contains high levels of salt and potassium. This will reduce the amount of lactic acid that your body produces, thereby decreasing the likelihood that your scent will attract insects.

• Use natural oils, such as lemon oil, citronella, cinnamon, castor, rosemary, lemongrass, cedar, clove, geranium and peppermint oils. These are natural, effective ways mosquito repellents and are not threatening to the environment.

• Wear light colors. Dark colors stand out to mosquitoes who are looking for food, but light colors appear less attractive, since they look for colors that contrast with the horizon line.

• Use a fan. A light wind makes it harder for mosquitoes to fly. Direct the air flow downward since these pests fly low to the ground as they try to avoid the wind.

• Pray for winter. Mosquitoes hibernate. They are cold-blooded and prefer temperatures over 80°F. At temperatures less than 50°F, they shut down for the winter. The adult females of some species find holes where they wait for warmer weather, while others lay their eggs in freezing water and die. So yet another reason to dream of ski season.

 

 

 

 

 



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Close Encounters of the Wildlife Kind

moose_infographic

Part of what makes a ski diva a Ski Diva is our love of the outdoors. Now that the weather’s warm, you can often find us hiking, biking, camping, rock climbing — doing all sorts of things to stay active and have fun while we wait for the snow to fly.

It’s precisely this that brings us into close proximity with wildlife: Moose, bear, mountain lions, coyotes, snakes, and more. Face it, we’re in their territory. And though it’s cool to see animals up close, it’s important to remember that these are not the happy, friendly creatures you’ll find in a Disney animation. Animals have their own rules for behavior, and they don’t necessarily coincide with ours. That said, I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea: lethal attacks by wildlife are extremely rare. (To put it in perspective, see the infographic at the end of this piece. And keep in mind that according to the Center for Disease Control, motor vehicles account for 33,000 deaths per year.) However, animals are defensive of their homes, and are much more likely to attack if they feel threatened.

Nonetheless, every year you hear about people who are injured by animals thanks to their own stupid actions, such as trying to take photos with bison in Yellowstone. According to the CDC, bison injured five people in the park last summer. Of those five, three were trying to take photos within 3-6 feet of the bison, two turned their backs on the bison while taking photos, and one just outright admitted he was taking a selfie.

I have a long-standing rule called the Don’t Be An Idiot Rule. It’s pretty simple: if there’s something for which you think someone you respect would say, ‘Don’t be an idiot,’ then just don’t do it. And taking a close-up photo of a bison — or any other wild animal, for that matter — certainly fills the bill.

But I digress. My purpose here is to provide some usable advice about what to do if you see a wild animal while you’re enjoying the Great Outdoors. The National Park Service has long recommended that people stay 75 feet away from wild animals that aren’t bears or wolves (300 feet for those). This is certainly valuable to know. But here are some other things you should keep in mind, in case you see one of our wild friends:

Moose:
I’ve only seen a few of these here in Vermont, but believe me, these guys are BIG. As in big-as-my-Subaru big. Moose are among the most dangerous, regularly encountered animals in the world. And though they prefer to leave humans alone, they’re known to be aggressive if they believe they’re being threatened. Cows with calves are particularly protective, especially in early summer when their young are most vulnerable. In the fall, bull moose often act more aggressively as they compete with other males for breeding opportunities. But no matter what the season, the best strategy is to avoid a confrontational situation in the first place.

So what are the signs of aggressive moose behavior?  Walking in your direction, stomping its feet, peeling its ears back, grunting, or throwing its head back and forth. If a moose does any of these things, the people at Glacier National Park recommend the following.

Back away with your palms facing the moose;
Speak softly and reassuringly, like you would to a little child;
If the moose charges, get behind a large tree or rock in order to separate your body from the moose. Most moose charges, like grizzly bear charges, are bluffs;
If the moose attacks you, feign death by curling up in a little ball. Protect your head and neck with your arms. If you are wearing a backpack, your pack can help protect your back.

Bear:
Most attacks by black bears are defensive reactions to a person who is very close, which is an easy situation to avoid. It helps to be on the lookout for active bear signs, such such as fresh tracks or fresh bear scat. If possible, avoid areas such as berry patches and stream banks where bears may be feeding or drinking. Hiking in midday will also reduce the chance of encountering a bear, as they are less active at that time. It also helps to make your presence known by making noise. This will allow them to walk away from the noise to avoid an encounter. And be careful with food, which can act as a bear-magnet. If you’re camping, don’t place your tent near hanging food or a car where food is stored.

If you happen to spot a bear in the distance, simply back away, at least a few hundred yards, and find another route. If another route isn’t available, wait 20 to 30 minutes before heading back down the trail. And while going back down the trail, be sure to make noise to announce your presence. If you see a bear on the trail, make yourself as big as possible and in a stern voice tell it to go away. If the bear continues to come at you, use bear spray when he’s about 20-30 feet away to deter it from coming any closer.

Mountain Lion:
Research has shown that mountain lions go out of their way to avoid other mountain lions and people. They mostly rely on wariness as their first defense and resort to fighting only when necessary to defend a territory or a litter of kittens. The best way to ensure that both you and the lion leave safely is for you to back away slowly while continuing to look as big and intimidating as possible, leaving the lion avenues of escape.

Coyotes:
Coyotes are naturally timid and will usually run away when they encounter a human. If they linger or approach, make yourself as big and as loud as possible to scare them away. Do not run or turn your back. Waving your arms, clapping your hands, or shouting in an authoritative voice are all good. It can also be helpful to carry a noisemaker, squirt gun or pepper spray.

Snakes:
Snakes only strike when they feel like they’re being threatened. As with the other animals, the best way to avoid trouble is to steer clear of them whenever possible. This includes not walking through heavy brush, and never reaching into a dark hole or other place you can’t see — if you must probe, use a tool (this is good advice to protect you from spiders, scorpions, and other burrowing animals too). And since almost all snake strikes are on lower extremities, it’s also a good idea to wear high boots and long pants.  Also, if you’re camping, avoid sleeping near a log or large branch, in tall grass, or next to rocky areas. And make sure to zip up your tent tight.

So which animals are most likely to kill humans in the US? The Washington Post published this handy-dandy graphic last year on human fatalities by wildlife between 2001 and 2013, with info provided by the CDC:

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 6.46.06 AM Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 6.46.26 AM

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 6.46.39 AM

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 6.46.55 AM

The takeaway from this? Wear bug spray.

Be careful out there, friends. And remember, don’t be an idiot.

 

 

 

 



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Should you work out in the heat?

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 6.11.18 AMThe weather news out of the southwest over the past few days has been positively historic.

On Sunday, Phoenix topped out at 118 F, the fifth highest temperature ever recorded in the city. Blythe, California, set an all-time record high of 124 F on Monday. And these are only a couple of the record-shattering highs that have been popping up all over the region. In Southern California, The National Weather Service reported 17 daily heat records on Sunday alone.

So what do you do when you’re a dedicated runner/cyclist/hiker/outdoor enthusiast, and it’s hot enough to bend railroad tracks? Or melt the tarmac enough to cause a plane to sink? And I’m not exaggerating: Both of these actually happened during previous heat waves.

Heat is nothing to mess around with. According to federal data, it actually causes more deaths annually in the United States — about 130 — than flooding, lightning, tornadoes, hurricanes or cold. In fact, Phoenix fire officials blamed the severe heat for the deaths of four hikers over the weekend,

I don’t mind summer, but these temperatures are crazy. Once it reaches the 80’s, I’ve pretty much had it. And with yesterday the first official day of the season, there’s no doubt we’ll be seeing a lot more really high temps in the next few months.

So what should you do when it’s really, really hot? Should you go outside and work out?  Or should you skip it entirely and feel like a complete slug?

You could sit around and dream about ski season. That’s one alternative, though it won’t do you much good. Or you could work out indoors, where it’s air conditioned, which is probably a lot better. But if you simply have to get outside, make sure to take the  proper precautions:

  • Drink plenty of fluids. And I mean plenty. Dehydration can contribute to fatigue and poor performance. Even worse, it can cause heat stroke. So be sure to drink 2 cups of water 2 hours before you start your exercise routine, and keep it coming — about 8 ounces every 15 minutes.
  • Wear appropriate clothing, preferably light in color and moisture wicking. Cotton stays wet, making clothes cold and uncomfortable, so it’s not the best choice. There are a lot of high tech fabrics that are much better and will keep you feeling better.
  • Exercise during a cooler part of the day. It’s best to go out first thing in the morning, or late in the day, when the sun isn’t directly overhead.
  • If you stop sweating, stop exercising. Or if you feel nauseous or dizzy or especially hot. This is extremely important. You could be suffering from heat stroke, which can require emergency treatment.
  • Swim. This is a great way to exercise and stay cool at the same time. Kind of a no-brainer, don’t you think?

Also, it’d be a good idea to learn to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Here’s a handy-dandy graphic put out by the National Weather Service that can help:

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 6.24.58 AM

Keep cool, everyone.  Remember, the earth is turning and winter is coming. Then we’ll complain about the cold. 😉



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When Lightning Strikes.

Photo from Wikipedia

Photo from Wikipedia

Did you know that over the past 30 years, lightning strikes have killed an average of 48 people annually in the US? Okay, in the grand scheme of things, not a huge number (in comparison, there were 38,300 traffic fatalities last year), but if you’ve ever been outdoors during a thunder storm, you know how frightening it can be. Who can forget the incident on Grand Teton in 1985, immortalized in the book Shattered Air: Two hikers were killed and three suffered life altering injuries after being struck by lightning during a climb. More recently, 62 people were killed in powerful storms that ripped across Bangladesh. So yes, even though 90% of lightning strikes are not fatal, they’re not to be taken lightly (no pun intended).

Here are some interesting things you might not know about lightning:
• There are an average of 25,000 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes per year in the US.
• Lightning can reach a temperature of 50,000°F.
• An average of 1,800 thunderstorms are taking place on earth at any given moment.
• Earth is struck by an average of more than a hundred lightning bolts every second.
• The average flash of lightning could power a 100-watt light bulb for more than 3 months.
• When lightning strikes sand or rock, the extreme heat can fuse minerals beneath the surface into a tube called a fulgurite. Though relatively rare, these “lightning fossils” have been found worldwide.
lightninggod• In Indo-European cultures, the thunder god is frequently known as the chief or king of the gods, e.g. Indra in Hinduism, Zeus in Greek mythology, and Perun in ancient Slavic religion; or a close relation thereof, e.g. Thor, son of Odin, in Norse mythology.

Lightning can strike anywhere. And though it’s a lot more common in warmer months, lightning can occur in the colder months, too. When thunder and lightning take place during a snowstorm, it’s called thundersnow, and if you’re on a chairlift during one of these storms, you better get off as quickly as possible.

In testament to its rarity, take a look at Jim Cantorre’s excited reaction during a thundersnow storm in Chicago in  2011:

There’s a lot of mythology and misinformation about what to do during a lightning storm. And as women who love the outdoors, it’s important for us to separate fact from fiction. So here’s some advice to take with you this summer:

Check the forecast
This seems like a no-brainer. But before you go hiking or boating or whatever, find out if any storms are expected. An understanding of general weather patterns is useful, too. In most cases, thunderstorms arrive in the afternoon, so plan your schedule accordingly.

Gimme shelter
If you’re caught in a storm, the best course is to seek shelter. But that isn’t always possible. Lightning goes for the tallest target, so the best course is to get as low as you can and not be close to anything especially tall. All trees attract lightning because they are tall and contain a lot of moisture, which provides good electrical conduction for the lightning. If you’re in a forest, find some small trees surrounded by taller trees or find a dry, low area like a depression or ravine. Stay away from lone trees and other tall objects as well as rocky outcrops and ledges. If you’re in an open area, find the lowest spot possible and assume the lighting position: Crouch down with your heels touching, head between the knees, and ears covered. Minimize your contact with the ground and do not lie down flat. In all cases, avoid bodies of water.

Ditch the metal
This may not even need to be said, but be sure you’re not in contact with anything metal. If you have a metal-frame backpack, make sure it’s at least 100 feet away from you.

It ain’t over til it’s over
Wait at least 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder to leave your shelter or to resume hiking or backpacking. Be aware of other thunderstorms that may arise after the initial storm.

What are the deadliest wilderness sports, as far as lightning goes?
According to Backpacker.com, it goes as follows:
Fishing – 25%
Camping – 24%
Swimming -18%
Hiking – 7%

king-kong-plane-swatter-martin-daveyThe chances of your being struck by lightning are a minuscule 1 in 12,000. But beware: Scientists say climate change may increase the chances to about 1 in 8,000 by year 2100. And as for lightning never striking twice? Well, that’s a myth, too. Places like the Empire State Building get struck a hundred times a year. So take precautions, stay safe, and unlike King Kong here, don’t climb the Empire State Building during a thunder storm.

 



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