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Making Sure the Adventure Doesn't Turn Into Disaster


So summer's here and you're ready to shred: Boogie Board under your arm, mountain bike at your side, Rollerblades on your feet. Nothing's going to stop your rendezvous with fun.

Nothing except a run-in with wreckreation.

Wreckreation--the syndrome that leads reasonable folks to do silly things in the great outdoors. Like ride a bike without a helmet. Or wear dime-store sneakers for an all-day hike.

How to ward off problems? We asked the experts--local sports physicians, Sierra Club leaders, American College of Sports Medicine representatives--how to safely take on the great outdoors. Here's their advice:

* Get your doctor's OK.

Especially if you're over 35, but at any age if you have any history of heart or respiratory problems. Studies show that those who start an exercise program after being sedentary for long periods are at greater risk for heart attack than those who keep moderately active year-round. Better to discover potential risk factors now, before it's too late.

* Wear proper shoes.

No need to spend a fortune (some running shoes cost as much as $140 these days). Look for shoes or boots that fit properly and offer good support. River rafting-type sandals are great for kayaking or exploring the tide pools, but not for extended hikes. So-called walking shoes aren't typically as supportive as running shoes, and running shoes tend to last longer.

* Keep cool.

Forget what your high school gym teacher told you--drinking water during exercise won't give you cramps. It might save your life. The human body is made primarily of water; keeping it properly hydrated keeps your entire system running as it should. Carry a water bottle with you, filling it with ice if you're going out for a long haul.

* Wear a hat.

You say you're not a hat person? Wear one anyway. Besides protecting your face from sunburn, a hat shelters your head from the sun's powerful rays, keeping you cooler. A light-colored hat with a wide brim is best.

* Take care with critters.

Tarantulas invaded Caspers Wilderness Park by the hundreds last year. The hantavirus was discovered in mice along the Newport Coast. Should you worry? Not especially, but use common sense. Never pick up or threaten any animal. If you spot a mountain lion--a rare sight these days--make noise and slowly back away. Watch where you reach or step lest a rattlesnake awaits. Consider packing a Sawyer Extractor; available at most outdoors stores, this reasonably-priced, easy-to-use gadget uses suction to draw venom from insect and snake bites, without cutting the skin.

* Don't go it alone.

Sure, solitude is a beautiful thing--until the unexpected happens and you find yourself alone in the wild and in need of help. If you're hiking, take a friend or two. If you must go alone, check in with the nearest ranger or leave a detailed account--where you're going and when you expect to return--with someone you can count on.

* Wear proper safety equipment.

Bicyclists who shun helmets tend to become convinced of their importance the hard way. Same for in-line skaters who roll without wrist guards, helmets and knee pads. Wear the stuff. Going without isn't worth the pain.

* Seek good advice.

If surfing a spot for the first time, ask a lifeguard to clue you in on potential hazards. If heading into the local mountains, inquire at the ranger station, and take along Ken Croker's in-depth "A Guide to the Santa Ana Mountains." Join a club--in O.C., there are clubs for everything from mountain biking to outrigger canoeing to scuba diving. The Sierra Club (three chapters locally) offers guided group hikes for singles, families, exercise buffs, plus backpacking trips into the wilderness. A great way to get out safely.

* Know your limits.

Forget that your next-door neighbor just ran the Boston Marathon in less than three hours. Forget that your boss is a top-notch triathlete. Whether hiking, biking, running, or riding a skateboard, push yourself only as far as you know you can reasonably go. Take a day off when you're tired. Tell yourself you're in it for the long run, not just for next week's 10K. Listen to your body; heed its warning signals.

Otherwise, you may end up a wreck.

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