Are you hindered by ‘outdoor paranoia’?

Remember back when we asked you (our readers) to fill out a survey? At the end of the survey we asked: What topics would you like to see on the blog in the future?  We particularly enjoyed this one:

How to fight off a mountain lion. Seriously, every time I think about going on a hike I think about mountain lions attacking me and my children. And then I don’t go on a hike. I think I have problems, how about addressing outdoor paranoia? :)

Encountering wild animals when you and your kids are out is a valid concern for any caring parent. But don’t let concern prevent you from enjoying all the outdoor world has to offer.

Think of wild animals in the same way you think of bodies of water — a fear of drowning shouldn’t keep you from camping near a river.  It should instead motivate you to buy life jackets for your children and come up with a plan for being attentive when you are near them.  Similarly, unfriendly dogs in your neighborhood are no reason not to go walking, they are simply a reason to carry a big stick.

Encounters with dangerous animals are rarer than you’d think. Of all the times that people go hiking every day, all over the country, an attack happens very seldom (20 people in the U.S. have been killed by mountain lions in the last 100 years, for example).  Most animals are as uninterested in getting close to you as you are to them.

I’m wondering if ‘outdoor paranoia’ has something to do with how a person is raised?  For example, growing up in rattlesnake country has made me rather blasé about their presence, but  I can’t tell you how many random hikers have scolded me for taking my kids hiking in ‘rattlesnake country’.

Rattlesnakes have never really worried me.  I attribute that to my younger years, when I used to watch my Dad catch snakes of all kinds, rattlesnakes included (along with other venomous reptiles, like Gila monsters). In all my times playing in the sand, climbing juniper trees, and poking around rocks, I’ve encountered a few rattle snakes, but I’ve never been bit (knock on wood). Watching out for them has become second nature, and I know how to act when I see them.

This isn’t to say that I’ve never been afraid (or ‘paranoid’) while hiking.  When my oldest was two I went for a hike up a canyon fifteen miles from my house in Utah.  Alone, with him on my back.  Four miles up the country, for no tangible reason, I knew with every bone in my body that I was being watched.  I could feel it.  I turned and headed out of there faster than you can say cat scat.

Was there really a mountain lion?  I can’t say for sure.  But that doesn’t matter–my boy and I were around to hike another day and I’ve never second-guessed trusting my gut.

Have I hiked that trail again?  Several times.

I think the key lies in the following:

  1. Knowing about the dangerous animals in your area, and knowing how to avoid them.
  2. Respecting them.
  3. Knowing what to do should you ever get in a standoff with one.
  4. Trusting your instincts–those hairs on the back of your neck that tell you “something isn’t quite right.”
  5. Taking safety precautions. Carry bear spray (or a firearm) and know how to use it.  It could work on more than just bears and makes you feel a little safer.
  6. Get outside anyway. Don’t pass this phobia onto your kids, instead pass along the knowledge of how to keep yourself safe.

Any other thoughts on this? I’ll address the mountain lion part later this week…

19 Comments so far

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  1. Good timing. This is exactly the reason I haven’t taken the kids out to check the blueberry status yet this season (and it should be near pickin’ time). The best berry patch I can think of is tall, with little visibility down the trail or into the bushes. It is also called Bear Meadows, and may or may not be where “problem bears” from town are relocated – not sure if this is accurate info or conjecture that was passed along by an acquaintance. Couple that with kids who like to take off down the trail (where I wouldn’t be able to see, and where a bear could be hanging out), and I all of a sudden become anxious, nervous, stressed-out, outing-dreading mama. Maybe I just need to find a different patch, or not bother with the blueberries this year. But it bugs me that I get so anxious about this one location.

    • Kristal – Hummm “Bear Meadows” that’s your first red flag. Hahaa. I say just arm yourself with lots of bells and a can of bear spray just incase and get those berries! I’d still be a little anxious too. I didn’t grow up in bear country so I’m not all that comfortable with bears. And images from that Grizzly Man movie are forever burned in my mind. Hope todays post gives you some bear country ideas…

  2. Joe

    I also grew up in “rattle snake country” and generally am not worried about running into a snake while hiking. I worked in Alaska for a summer durring college and I was amazed that my coworkers would go out backpacking by themselves in Denali National Park knowing that there were bears out there. I had an enlightening conversation with one of these coworkers. I mentioned that I would be way to worried to backpack out in the backcountry because of bears and he said he feels the same way about camping in the desert because of all the poisonous things (snakes, spiders, scorpions, etc.). I was surprised because I had never really realized that camping in the desert could be scary to some people. I think you are right about paranoia stemming partially from your familiarity with the setting. I am familiar with desert ecosystems and I know what to expect and what to avoid, my friend in Alaska was familiar with that ecosystem and knew what to expect and how to avoid bad situations. I imagine that the more you experience different environments the less paranoid you will be because you learn what to expect. Great post, cant wait for the followup.

  3. Right in line with the series we started this week on fighting fears! Love it…great minds think alike. OH…and I am terrified of snakes. yuck.

  4. Interesting timing as we encountered a rattlesnake just this past weekend. We took the opportunity to teach our son, 3, that what to do if he sees another one as well as about snakes in general. We also used it as a jumping off point to why we stay on the trails, watch where we are going and why we wear hiking boots – even if others don’t.

  5. Jill

    How about lions? I’m a little paranoid about lions. ;) I told Josh, I’ll camp anywhere in Africa as long as there are no lions in the area, otherwise we will stay in a park lodge. Too many stories of lions showing up in the camp ground to check out the tent. I think they have one up on grizzlies in my book.

    • Jill – Hahaaa. Ya, Lions would freak me out, I will not lie! I actually thought of you when I was writing this. Every few years you have a whole new set of ‘unknown’ deadly critters to adjust too. You have freaky snakes too. I’m so proud of you guys for making it work and camping anyway… or getting a lodge ;)

  6. Hi Lindsey — Great post! I wish we could also apply some of your common-sense suggestions to urban parents who fear gunfire, abductions and the like, when research suggests the perception of those dangers far outweighs their reality.

    • Jeffrey – You make a VERY good point. Truth be told I need to apply some of my own logic to urban issues. I’m more paranoid about the things you mentioned than I am about wild animals, but your right, the same logic applies. Great thought. I’ll be thinking about this all day…

  7. Snakes is what would scare the crap out of me, too. And since I’m single – it’s just me and my 6 and 8 year old girls. I wouldn’t know what to do….

  8. I’ve never worried about snakes, bears, mountain lions, or any of that stuff. I wonder if this is naive of me… Lightning, on the other hand, sends me running for home!

    • Liv – I forgot about your deal with lightning. Which is why it’s good you were not there for that one Georgie trip… I should probably be more paranoid about lightening.

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    I'm Lindsey. I'm an environmental educator, my husband's a biologist. The outdoors is infused into everything we do; which explains why I'm better at mud pies than home decorating. More About Me

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