9/7/2017 9:09:00 PM OUT IN THE OPEN- Driving Dangerous to Outdoor Enthusiasts
It is ironic that outdoors enthusiasts will drive hundreds of miles just to park their vehicle so they can then engage in walking, paddling, floating, riding or climbing for enjoyment. While we sometimes focus on the relatively-small risks of the sports themselves, few people give more than a passing thought to the most statistically dangerous part of most outdoor activities: the drive.
Driving is certainly a risky venture in general and outdoor recreationists are especially prone to mishaps due to several common factors that occur during our activities: driving long distances at dawn and dusk, exhaustion, unusual hours, tight schedules that lead to disregard for speed limits and trailer towing. Fortunately, most risks can be minimized with a little forethought.
Before leaving home, make sure your vehicle is ready. Packing rods, guns, camping gear or other equipment is best done the day or night before a trip to prevent forgotten items which will require a quick trip back home, followed by a NASCAR-worthy attempt to make up lost time.
Boat and camping trailers are undoubtedly one of the most vital yet treacherous pieces of outdoor equipment. Twice I have had trailers attempt to pass me on a curve while they were supposed to be trailing merrily along behind my vehicle. I don't recommend the experience.
When towing, make it a habit to "pre-flight" your rig just like a pilot inspects his airplane before takeoff. Walk around the trailer and tow vehicle while physically touching each critical component. This serves as a mental and physical check that things are shipshape. This point was driven home years ago when I reached the boat ramp and discovered, to my horror, I had driven 60 miles with a brand new boat that was merely resting on the hitch. Of course I had looked at the hitch, but somehow in my haste, didn't realize that it was unsecured.
Trailer lights are a known refuge of evil spirits and frequent fail at the worse possible time. Before traveling, activate your emergency flashers and walk to the rear of the trailer to make sure the lights are working properly. A semi truck parked in your backseat is no way to find out your brake lights don't function because of water in the connector.
Driving during early morning and late evening hours is always chancy. During these times, you are not typically very alert or prepared for emergency maneuvers. During early morning trips, eat or drink something to help wake up and fend off Morpheus. In the evening, after a long day of physical activity, try to take frequent breaks and don't overestimate your reserve of inner strength. If necessary, open the windows and swap drivers at hour intervals.
Trip companions can be a big help. After a tiring day afield, your partners usually end up with their head lolled back, mouth open, snoring and drooling just a little bit. Simultaneously, most male drivers will not admit to being sleepy even as they drift off into a cornfield. That's why partners should take it upon themselves to keep up chatter, rehashing the day and other topics as necessary to make sure the driver remains alert. If things get bad, resort to controversial topics such as religion, politics and deer hunting laws. The resulting argument may get heated, but it will help keep the driver wide-awake.
Driving during the wee hours is also dangerous because of animals in the roadway, especially deer. It is not uncommon to round a dark highway curve and suddenly see a small group of does slowly moseying across the centerline in suicidal fashion. When approaching wooded areas or signs noting a deer crossing, slow down, use high-beam headlights when possible and constantly scan the edge of the road for glowing eyeballs.
Perhaps the biggest but most controllable problem is that loose nut behind the wheel. Many American's have the mistaken belief they could easily win the Indianapolis 500 if only given a chance to drive on race day. Once the sole province of males, but now a unisex problem, this erroneous faith in non-existent talent results in a smorgasbord of risky driving behaviors. There are also those infernal electronic devices that seem to demand constant care and feeding.
It's a common recipe for troubles that can be largely avoided if you just remember that even race car drivers crash and your skills probably aren't superior to Helio Castroneves.
Above all, just take it easy and embrace the old proverb "life is about the journey, not the destination." While traveling to and from outdoor adventure, enjoy the passing scenery, swap fishing lies with your friends, feel the tingle of anticipation in your stomach and enjoy the tired satisfaction at the end of the day.
Save all your risk tickets for the true adventure sports: eating your buddy's camp cooking.
Brent T. Wheat is an award-winning columnist, and publisher of WildIndiana.com. His column appears weekly in The Times.