Hiking Long Island
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Preparing for a Hike

            Congratulations!  You’ve decided to take a hike.  There are some things you should know before you get out there to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of nature.

            Most hikes are between 3 and 10 miles.  The distance is stated in the hike listing. If you haven’t been exercising recently even a modest distance can be a challenge.  Many new hikers say that they prepared for a hike by instituting a daily evening walk around their neighborhood with family or friends.  It’s always a good idea to get a clean bill of health from your family physician before you start expanding your physical activity. 

            If after reading the hike listing, you find that you need more information, call the phone number provided as soon as possible.  That phone number most likely belongs to a volunteer, so please remember that this is a person who probably has as busy a schedule as you do.  As soon as you realize that you are interested in participating in the hike and want more information, get in touch with the hike leader. This will give him or her time to call you back before the day of the hike. If you wait to call until the morning of the hike it may be too late to reach the person.  Call at a reasonable hour, and when leaving a message on a machine, remember to state your name and phone number very clearly so that the person will be able to call you back.

             Hike listings in newspapers are often truncated due to space considerations. Sometimes vital information is missing; such as the advice to bring food for a picnic or that a hike is a brisk one and not intended for beginners.  In addition, the listings are not always accurate.  I have seen meeting places incorrectly stated in some hike descriptions. Always verify the information you obtain from local newspapers by contacting the hike leader. You might seriously consider investing in a membership in one of the trails groups. As a member of a trails group, you will receive a complete hike and events listing each month.  You’ll be able to plan ahead and not have to depend on finding hikes at the last minute by searching in the newspapers.

            When you make a call for directions to the meeting place for the hike, have a map handy.  Get yourself a regional street atlas.  Hagstrom creates local maps that are excellent for this purpose.  It is easier for someone to give you directions if you are following along on a map.  Having a trail map is also helpful.  See http://www.hike-li.com/fyi/trailmaps.htm.

            For hikes that start in one place and end somewhere else, there must be a means of getting back to your car.  The way this is normally accomplished is by meeting at the end point of the hike, filling up a few cars and bringing the hikers to the starting point of the hike.  At the end of the hike, a volunteer will drive the hikers who “shuttled” the group back to the starting point of the hike to retrieve their cars.  Never depend on following a caravan to get to the beginning of a hike.  If you are driving a “shuttle” car, be sure you know how to get to the destination on your own.  Don’t be timid about asking for directions.  I have been on hikes where shuttle drivers were separated from the group.  I can also remember one instance where there was an accident when someone was driving too fast in order to catch up with the rest of the caravan.

            If you plan to hike on your own, you should study a map prior to the hike. You need to know where you are going and be able to share that information with someone else.  It is also advisable to bring a trail map and a compass with you and know how to use them.  If you are alone, a cell phone is needed so you can get help in an emergency or if you get lost.  If you need help in an emergency, dial 911.  If dialing this emergency number gets you an out of town precinct, you can dial 1-877-BARRENS; they will redirect your call to a local precinct.  You may also want to use your cell phone to report evidence of illegal activity in the woods. Examples of this would be dumped garbage, trees that have been cut down, or trails badly damaged by ATV use.  You will be performing a valuable service by calling 1-877-BARRENS to report these illegal activities.  A flashlight will be an important component in your backpack provisions.  If you lose track of time and get caught in the woods in the dark, you will be relieved that you brought one along.

            When you arrive at the meeting place for the hike, a sign-in-sheet will be passed around.  It is the responsibility of the hike leader to have each participant sign-in.  Please be considerate of your fellow hikers and of the hike leader, by helping to assure that this procedure is accomplished correctly and quickly.  If you are a member, you need only to write your name.  If you are not a member, provide your contact information.  Your name, address, or telephone number will not be shared with anyone else.  Since you are receiving a free service, it is a courtesy on your part to write neatly, so that the sponsoring group may contact you to ask if you would like to become a member.  The ability to continue to offer free hikes of course depends on a group of members who contribute yearly dues.  Membership fees help to pay for trails maintenance, to educate the public about the preservation of open space, and to provide members with a monthly newsletter.  Recording the number of hike participants is also important because these statistics are shared with land managers in order to justify further expenditures for trails initiatives and land preservation on Long Island.

            If you have any medical problems that may limit your ability to hike, or just aren’t sure if you’re in good enough shape to keep up, raise these issues with the hike leader before the hike.  Hike leaders always try to appoint a “sweep” on a hike.  This person will be last in line in order to keep an eye on the slower hikers. He or she should be familiar with the trail.  Sometimes the only experienced hiker on the hike is the leader himself.  In this case, he will set up a buddy system, a two-way radio, or make some other effort to insure that no one becomes separated from the group.  Never leave the group without notifying the hike leader.  I remember one very hot day when I was helping a hike leader search the woods for two hikers who dropped out of the hike early.  We later met this couple as they strolled back to their car after they had gotten some hamburgers at the local Burger King.  We would have been spared searching for the “lost” hikers if only they had notified the hike leader before leaving the group.

            There are no poisonous snakes or ferocious carnivores to be wary of on Long Island trails.  None-the-less, it may be helpful to keep in mind some of the common hazards you may encounter while hiking on Long Island.  In sub-freezing weather, after a rain or snow, the trails may be icy.  It’s best not to hike under these conditions.  Also, stay out of the woods on very windy days as trees or large branches could be falling. In cold weather always dress in layers and regulate your body temperature by adding or removing them.  Wear wool or synthetic fibers.  Avoid wearing cotton next to your skin on cold days, as it can wick heat away rapidly if it becomes wet.  Always wear a warm hat and gloves in the winter and a hat with a brim in the summer.

            If you are new to walking in the woods, be aware that it takes some time to train yourself to lift your feet higher than you are accustomed to doing in order to avoid tripping on roots.  Most of us have spent many years habitually sliding our feet close to the surface on which we are walking because most of these surfaces (such as pavement, floors, and manicured lawns) are very smooth and even.  This is not so in the woods.

            During hunting season, especially during deer season, be sure to walk in areas that at are off limits for hunters.  Check the DEC website  http://www.dec.state.ny.us/website/reg1/index.html)  for more information.

            Some trails advocates try to ignore the tick issue, because they fear that too much information about them will discourage people from visiting the woods.  I think this is a mistake.  It has been my experience, as I have become more familiar with the habits of ticks, that they have become much less of a threat and inconvenience to me.  Wear light colored clothing and a hat. If you pick up ticks they will be easier to see this way.  Brushing against bushes or high grasses is the most common way that people pick up ticks.  They will walk around on you for a while, searching for an appropriate place before they attach themselves.  Ticks can be found in any outdoor location with vegetation; many people pick them up while gardening or playing in their own backyards.  If you are walking on a well-maintained trail, you can decrease the chance of picking up one of these unwelcome passengers, by staying in the center of the path.  Ticks can be active anytime of the year, including a warm winter day. In heavily infested areas it is a good idea to tuck your pants into white socks, and check yourself and a partner periodically.  If you see one on you or a friend, don’t be afraid to grab it between your fingers and flick it away. Ticks do not sting, bite, or jump.  The process of a tick connecting to your skin is a relatively slow one.  If you pay attention, you will have plenty of time to find them and remove them.  If you aren’t allergic to insect repellent, spraying your clothes from your shoes to just above your knees may be prudent.  Some people have bad reactions to insect repellent, so try a small amount at first and, apply it in an area away from other people.  When you return home from a hike always check your body and your clothes carefully for ticks.  It is also advisable to launder your clothes after a hike or put your clothes in a dryer on a high setting for twenty minutes.  Be aware that a deer tick can be as small as a pinhead, while a dog tick can be a little larger than a sesame seed.  The best way to remove a tick once it has become attached to you is with fine-tipped tweezers.  Grab the tick at its head, as close to the skin as possible and firmly tug.  Do not squeeze the tick’s abdomen, and do not apply petroleum jelly to remove it.   A tick bite does not cause disease unless the tick is infected.  It can take as much as 36 hours after the tick has started feeding for any disease it may be carrying to be transferred to your bloodstream.  After removing the tick watch to see if a rash develops near the site of removal.  If so, contact your doctor.  Antibiotics, when prescribed in a timely manner, are effective in treating tick-borne diseases.

            Chiggers can be picked up in grassy areas most often near water.  They create itchy bumps that may persist for weeks.  They are most commonly picked up mid-calf or lower and they look like tiny dots.  Heavy application of insect repellent around sneakers and socks works to repel them.  One time I saw them on my pants and was saved by having some isopropyl alcohol and a rag with me.  I had brought these supplies in order to experiment with removing graffiti and was very gratified to find that quickly wiping them off my pants with the alcohol soaked rag worked very well.  Alcohol works well in removing these larval mites before they burrow into the skin but won’t help after they have done so.  Fortunately, even though chiggers cause fierce itching, they do not transmit diseases and they do eventually disappear.

            Wearing a hat is a good idea for a number of reasons.  It will keep the sun and sweat out of your eyes, and insects out of your hair. It is also important to know what a poison ivy plant looks like, so you can avoid it.  I often carry Tecnu in my backpack, a special cleansing agent that dissolves the oils of poison ivy.

 The one thing you must always take on a hike is water.  Carry more water than you think you will need.  On longer hikes, it is also important to bring along some food for an energy boost and to replenish your electrolytes.

            If you wish to bring your dog along on a hike, call for permission; it is not always possible to do so.  The Nature Conservancy, Caleb Smith, and Connetquot State Parks do not allow dogs on their land, while the DEC allows dogs on a leash.  Suffolk County Parks and some townships allow dogs in some places, but not in others.   Dogs frighten wildlife, and occasionally hikers.  I was on one hike where a dog managed to slip out of its leash and get lost.  Several of us spent a few hours after the hike searching for the dog to no avail.  I was on another hike where two dogs got into a fight.  This was an upsetting experience for some of the hikers, though the dogs seemed to take it in their stride.  I have been on many hikes where there were dogs that were as well behaved or perhaps better behaved than some of the two-legged participants.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Also, think carefully before bringing a young child along as a hiker.  He or she may have difficulty keeping up with the group.  Some parents have tried to use strollers on trails.  While some people have done so successfully, I’ve seen others become exasperated and turn back.  Bringing along your baby or toddler, carried in a backpack designed for that purpose, is an ideal way to share a hike with your little one. Make sure he or she is dressed properly and wearing a hat. If you are considering sharing a hike with a child who will be walking on his own or with your canine buddy, it is best to become familiar with the hike by yourself first by joining an organized group of hikers. This way, you can come back at another time for your own private hike.  By becoming familiar with the trail ahead of time, you’ll be more comfortable hiking it without a group and you will be able to make modifications should it become necessary for your companions.

            The point of hiking is enjoyment!  So lace up your sneakers, grab a hat and some water bottles and get out there to experience our beautiful natural open space.  Through your awareness and appreciation you can work to help preserve what we still have here on Long Island.  Don’t wait until it’s too late!  See you out there!

What to Wear

·         Hiking Boots or sneakers with an aggressive tread pattern.

·         Hat

·         Light colored clothing.  In the winter wear polyester or wool layers.

·         Long pants (to protect your legs from thorny bushes and poison ivy)

·         Daypack (backpack) for lunch, water and other necessities

What You Should Bring

·        Water - either a canteen or bottles of water (2+ liters strongly recommended,
no glass bottles).

·         Sunscreen

·         Sunglasses

·         Lunch or snack

·         First Aid kit that includes tweezers, moleskin, Benedryl and Ibubrofen

·         Compass

·         Map

Additional Considerations

·         Cellular Phone (necessary in an emergency, but try not to use otherwise; they are disruptive to fellow hikers who enjoy the tranquility of hiking.)

·         Binoculars

·         Emergency rain gear and another pair of socks

·          a few dollars (just in case)

·         Camera

·         GPS (if you’re lucky enough to have one and know how to use it)

·        Whistle (to signal friends if you get separated from the group)


 

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Ken Kindler
Open Space & Trails Advocate
Post Office Box 1466
Sayville NY 11782
Ken@Hike-LI.com

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