The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on April 15, 2001 · Page 50
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 50

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Sunday, April 15, 2001
Page 50
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Smart BY JIM LOUDERBACK BYJIMLOUDERBACK A NSEL ADAMS, the famous landscape photographer, would head out with little more than a camera. Naturalist John Muir, who helped define and preserve California's Yosemite Valley and High Sierras, ventured into the wild for weeks with even less. Nowadays, you can't pick up an outdoor magazine or catalog without being bombarded by enough high-tech paraphernalia to make purists like Adams and Muir shudder, and gadget freaks like me whip out oui* credit cards. Among the new goodies are ordinary items made of extraordinarily durable materials such as Capilene (underwear), Kevlar (bike tires) and boron (fly rods), and nifty electronics such as the Map 410 GPS, which uses sateUites to plot your precise location, and the digital Therm-o-compass, which is, yes, a digital compass and thermometer. (You might not want it, however, if you have the Pathfinder Alti-Thei-mo Twin Sensor Watch, which also gives you the temperature, plus weather forecasts and elevation.) Of course, there's also the cell phone. It has become an essential tool for outdoor lovers of all kinds. "Help! Send a taxi. I have a flat tire." Or worse: Almost weekly, you hear about hikers and mountain climbers deflecting disaster with high-tech gadgets. But these true-life survivor stories obscure one crucial fact: Relying on fancy gear and cool gadgets can prove fatal. My friend Pteter Evers and his fiancee, Emily Rosenberg, recently set out on a day hike in California's Big Basin Not out of the woods yet With satellite phones, digital compasses and watches that predict the weather, exploring the great outdoors is safer than ever. At least, that what my friends thought — until they got lost. Nothing substitutes for an old-fashioned map, matches and jackl(nife,and the skills to use them. Redwoods State Park, about an hour south of San Francisco. It's 18,000 acres of old-growth redwood groves, steep hillsides, rocks, canyons and mountain lions — real wilderness. As experienced hikers, they set out with a cell phone and one of those new watches -mth the Global Positioning System and a built- in digital compass. They set a good pace on a 13-mile trail, but nightfall found them far from the end. Soon it was pitch black, yet they remained about a mile fi*om their car. At this worst possible moment, their technology failed. The dense canopy of redwoods, which obscured the moon and stars, also blocked the GPS satellites. Even worse, a bug in the watch caused the compass to malfunction. And deep in the woods, their phone was out of range, so they couldn't call for help. Even a satellite phone might not have saved them; some also need a clear sky to connect. Peter tried using the glow from his cell phone as a flashlight, but the wan blue light provided scant illumination. Eventually, they huddled together and made plans to spend a cold, uncomfortable, scary night in the woods. But after about an hour of nightmarish visions of bears and Blair Witches, they decided to press on. Luckily, the night was reasonably mild and, on hands and knees, they finally found the trail and theu- car. Had they been deeper in the woods, who knows what could have happened? I'm the poster child for better living through technology. An electronic organizer has replaced my day planner; I chop vegetables with a Cuisinart and send Christmas cards through the Internet. But when the power goes off or the organizer breaks, I'm clueless. In spite of my math degree, I can't even do long division by hand anymore. I can hardly remember how to chop an onion. Savvy computer users know to make regular backup copies of important files 1 so a crash will not perma- I nently erase valuable data g and music. Peter's experi- I ence reminds me that we I need backups for digitally devalued skills, too. I'm overly dependent on survival technology — my map and compass orientation skills are pretty rusty, and I've forgotten how to start a fii-e in the rain. But you can bet I will brush up on those skills before venturing out again. Bring high-tech help on your adventures. But remember, batteries fail and devices break, often at the absolute worst time. Nothing can substitute for a map, compass, flashlight, matches and jackknife, and the skills to use them. Make sure you also know how to make a shelter, build a fire and avoid lightning. Don't plan on getting a lifeUne with your cell phone when disaster strikes. Technology can make the outdoors a safer and more comfortable place. But it's no substitute for training and traditional survival gear. Don't be like my fiiend Peter. When he finally found his car, he also found his trusty magnetic compass and flashlight. In the trunk. E3 JIM LOUDERBACK, editor of techtv, is a USA WEEKEND contributing editor. 4 USA WEEKEND • April 13-15,2001

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