Andrea Rondeau column: Last week’s lost hiker can teach a valuable lesson in being prepared

When a search for someone missing in the bush heads into its second day, that’s not usually a promising sign.

Here in the newsroom, our hearts sink a little, and we start to plan how we might report the story if the news turns out to be bad, in the end.

That’s why it was so wonderful last weekend to be able to report the good news that a woman who had gone missing on Heather Mountain late last week had been found safe and sound. Now, it’s a fun story to write. A story of adventure, rather than one of tragedy. After they get over being shaken, it becomes an interesting anecdote someone can share — much like our own Robert Barron shares his near-death experiences in his newspaper columns.

I was struck by the fact that this happy ending came about due to, of course, the efforts of our stellar search and rescue crew, and everyone who supported them, but also because this hiker did everything right. She was prepared with a blanket, jacket, and other necessities in a pack she carried with her. She also knew to hunker down when conditions deteriorated and build a shelter where she could wait it out.

How often is this the case? How often do people set out for a hike in the woods without even the most basic necessities, like food, water and some kind of warmer clothing for an emergency, let alone a safety blanket? I bet if you took a tally at the foot of many a Cowichan trail you’d find the answer to that question is almost everyone. Everyone thinks they will only be gone for a couple of hours. Nobody thinks they will get lost. Unfortunately, most don’t even consider the possibility.

I remember as a child in Brownies, Guides and at summer camp getting the talk about what to do if you get lost in the woods. We learned about the importance of staying where you are, not wandering further from the area where searchers will start to look for you. We learned about how to use fallen branches and leaves to build a nest to stay warm, or build a small shelter. We learned a few of the edible things we might find in the woods if we were ever stuck for a significant amount of time, including bugs and blackberries. This was in the days before cell phones, so it was assumed that should we become lost, we would be truly alone, and without a means of communication, except for a whistle we were encouraged to have with us. Useful not only for help when lost, but also to scare away wildlife if necessary.

Do kids today still learn those sorts of things? They should. I remember those lessons to this day. Far from scaring children (I certainly don’t remember feeling even a bit of fear), it’s actually empowering. Like teaching them how to safely cross the road. And if you’re an adult and missed basic survival 101: it’s never too late to learn.

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