Be safe in the woods

By Nancy Battick

It’s time for Nancy’s annual “how to stay safe in the woods” column. When the weather warms, many genealogists head out to explore. If you’re planning on bashing through the woods, hunting up the old family homestead or the site of a long-neglected cemetery, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Every year someone ends up in trouble hiking or by getting lost. So, be prepared. First, and this is critical, make sure you tell someone reliable where you’re going and when you’ll be back.  Tell them you’ll call and if you don’t call by a reasonable time you agree on, then ask them to notify the authorities. Don’t go without having a backup in place.

Second, don’t count on cell phone coverage. In rural Maine there are large areas where your cell phone is useless. 

Don’t rely on a GPS device in rural areas. They’re fine in cities, but you can get lost believing them in Maine’s northern counties. We were heading to a town 45 minutes away for a Christmas get-together and my husband decided to give our GPS a try. Our GPS wanted to re-route us 100 miles away and then wanted us to drive on an unplowed, unused, uninhabited woods road.  The moral is to get good directions and use a map if you have one.

Don’t drive down a swampy or extremely rough road. If you damage your car or a tire, you may not be able to call your auto club. Also, no one may be using that road so you can’t count on a Good Samaritan rescuing you.

Forget the runway and dress sensibly – no sandals, shorts or short sleeves. Bring sunscreen and bug spray. Good shoes are essential. If you break or sprain your ankle, crawling back to your car won’t be much fun, so watch where you are walking and always exercise caution. I personally would advise not going anywhere alone where there isn’t a clear path.

Have some high-energy food and water with you just in case you get stranded overnight — and yes, it can happen. Cars do break down on their own schedule, so be prepared.

Have a flashlight and some matches with you, something to signal your position in case you get stranded. Stay in your car. Don’t try to walk out, especially in the dark. 

If you are lost in the woods, stay put if possible. Be sure you have a light jacket and/or a blanket or fleece in the car in case you have to spend the night.

If you feel uneasy at any time, turn around. Always trust your gut.

It’s always wise to have a basic first aid kit with you: some Band-Aids, an antiseptic, aspirin and other simple items can be useful if you get hurt.

Above all, if something does happen, keep calm and don’t panic. 

If I sound like your mother, well, she most likely had common sense.  Be sure to exercise yours when heading into unknown territory.

Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft.  Nancy holds an MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. Reader emails are welcome at nbattick@roadrunner.com.

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