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How to brave the elements


Story by Michele Roldán-Shaw

Mother Nature can be gnarly. In a real fight she will always win, but usually it doesn’t come to that — it’s more just a question of hating life and wishing you never left home. Some trips are like that. With a little preparation and savvy, however, you can minimize the discomfort or at least get out alive. We recommend keeping a hearty spirit of adventure and sense of comic absurdity so you can tell the story well later.

Battling the tides in a kayak

Check a tide chart before setting out — this is a must in our area. Ideally, you would time the trip so that you paddle with the tide both ways, turning around after it changes directions. This isn’t always possible, but at the very least you should avoid doing the opposite. Keep in mind that dead low and high are slack tides, when for a limited amount of time the water isn’t flowing too swiftly in either direction. This can give you a false sense of confidence, resulting in a rude awakening an hour later when the current positively rips. If you know you are going to be paddling against the tide (or freshwater current, for that matter), make sure and go against it on the way out and with it on the way back. Otherwise you will get carried away in the beginning as the river whisks you along at a deceptively fast pace, only to have the fight of your life coming back when it takes five times as long and makes you wish you had never laid eyes on a kayak

There are occasions when you can’t pick your ideal tide or even the prudent direction. For example, on a recent trip to St. Augustine I ventured into the mouth of the Matanzas inlet at low tide, when things tend to look idyllic and becalmed. Normally I would paddle downstream so that when the tide changes, I could ride it back in; but in this case, that would have led me to open ocean. My only choice was to go inland, meaning I would have to fight the flood tide on my return. Despite turning back much earlier than I would have liked, the super strong current of the inlet conspired with a stiff wind that kicked up against me (tidal changes often bring a breeze) so that no matter how hard I paddled, I could barely make headway. Had I not turned around so soon, I might have been in big trouble. In this type of situation the best you can do is stay out of the channel — usually the center of the stream —and hug the shoreline where eddies make the going slightly easier.

Camping in the rain

Nobody plans to do this, right? But you can certainly prepare, just in case. Pick your tent site carefully, avoiding riverbanks and streams that could swell, and staying out of depressions that might capture rainfall so you wind up in a lake. Tarps are your friends — pack a few with ropes and stakes to rig up an impromptu ceiling for your outdoor living room and kitchen. You’ll need to have trees around your site to tie the lines to, but once this overhead shelter is in place, you can drag camp chairs over and lounge rather than being confined to a tent or vehicle. Hopefully you also packed a clothesline so you can start drying out wet gear under there, rather than wadding it up in a stink-breeding wad in your tent.

A summer rain shower might provide welcome relief, but getting wet in colder months can be uncomfortable or even dangerous. Having the right clothes is essential, including waterproof boots and outerwear and a performance base layer. My favorite is merino wool: it’s soft not scratchy, insulates even when wet, draws moisture away from your skin so that it actually dries faster when it’s on, and best of all it has natural antimicrobial properties that mean you can wear it for days without any odor. Once I discovered merino, I was hooked.

Want a cozy fire? Hopefully you brought waterproof matches or a lighter, otherwise forget it. But if you did, you’ll need some dry tinder, kindling and firewood. Search around under thick beds of pine straw or leaves to see if there’s any dry material at the bottom. Scrape the outer layers of bark and wood off wet branches to hopefully reach a dry inner core. And split wood with a hatchet so that the dry inside is exposed to burn first. Good luck.

Beating the heat

Summer is too long to stay in the AC the whole time. Grab a cold drink and head out there. I like to sip on frozen fruit smoothies, herbal iced tea, cold coconut water or even just plain chilled water. If I’m feeling fancy, maybe some cucumber-mint infused water, which has added cooling properties. Not only does this ensure adequate hydration, the constant cold input keeps my temperature down. Keep in mind that excessive caffeine and alcohol won’t do your body any favors in the heat.

Eat light in summer, lots of fruits and salads. Wear loose, light clothing that covers your skin but lets air whiffle through. Jump in the river, or spray your feet down with a hose. And embrace the sweat — it’s there to help you. Once that barrier is broken, you’ll find yourself relaxing into the heat. Move at a measured pace and keep a laid-back attitude, which technically won’t prevent heat stroke, but it will stop you from biting someone’s head off just because you were hot.

Getting caught outside in a thunderstorm

Most lightning deaths happen during recreational activities, especially water-based ones like fishing, boating and beach-going. Combine that with a higher incidence of pop-up thundershowers in summer, when everyone is out playing, and you have a recipe for potential disaster. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), your odds of getting struck by lightning in a given year are 1 in 1.1 million. Increase the scope to your lifetime, however, and the odds rise to 1 in 13,500. Still not terribly likely, but enough to inform yourself of best practices.

Obviously the safest thing in a lightning storm is to go indoors. But what if you can’t do that? The next best option is a fully enclosed vehicle (not a convertible or golf cart). If even that is out of reach and there is literally nowhere you can run to, find the lowest place around. Lightning always strikes the tallest object in a given area, so get away from isolated trees, hills or structures such as cell-phone towers. If you are hiking on a mountain, run downhill. If you are in an open area, find a ditch or depression to crouch down in with your arms over your head. Don’t sit or lie down, as that will increase the surface area of your body in contact with the ground (lightning travels up from the earth, not down from the sky). And definitely get away from any bodies of water. If you are in a group, spread everyone apart to minimize the number of people who may be injured from a single strike.

Lastly keep in mind that lightning can occur miles away from the center of a storm cell, so precautions should start as soon as you hear distant thunder and continue for some time after the storm seems to have passed. LL