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10 Things You Don't Want to See on Your Walk

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Updated May 30, 2014

You always want to be aware of your surroundings when you walk. But you don't want to see these 10 things.

1. Aggressive Dogs

Attacking Dog
Peter Dunne/Express/Getty Images
The scariest moments of my walking career have been when being threatened by an off-leash dog. Only a couple of weeks ago, I had my jacket wrapped around my arm like an attack dog trainer and kept walking steadily past a dog aggressively defending his driveway. While I've had few people report actually getting a dog bite from an attacking dog, many of my friends have been nipped while petting dogs being walked on leash. It's best to make sure the dog actually welcomes a pat. I've also been bowled over by overly-friendly dogs who won't take no for an answer, and tripped over 20-foot long leashes that the owners weren't minding well.

2. Stinging Bees and Wasps

Bumblebee on a Hydrangea
Wendy Bumgardner © 2012
Bee stings are more likely to be wasp or yellow jacket stings rather than honeybee stings. While you might try to avoid an obvious swarm of bees, I've seen most stings happen out of the blue. Rod, our First Aid Guide, says it's important to remove the stinger as swiftly as possible, by any means. Don't worry about scraping it off vs. pulling it out -- seconds count. If you know you are allergic to bee stings, you should always carry an epinephrine auto-injector and/or antihistamines. I've had a friend yelp that he had just been stung by a bee, three miles down the trail from any road access, and then tell me he was prone to dying from bee stings and had no first aid for it. Luckily, he survived all the way back to civilization.

3. Mosquitoes

Insect Repellent
Wendy Bumgardner ©
Mosquitoes used to just be an annoying, itchy problem. Nowadays, they may give you West Nile virus. Even the Center for Disease Control's own expert in West Nile virus, Lyle Petersen, got infected by a mosquito at his Colorado home. I seem to be a mosquito magnet. So wearing insect repellent has always been mandatory, not optional. I was very happy to see picaridin-based repellents come on the market. They are odorless, effective, and won't dissolve artificial fabrics the way DEET does. If you are going to walk in highly-infested areas, consider Buzz-Off clothing, or even a head net in the most extreme conditions.

4. Snakes!

Garter Snake
Wendy Bumgardner © 2003
Indiana Jones is far from the only person who hates snakes. Most of the snakes in my area are the harmless garter snake variety. But if I travel 100 miles eastward, there are plenty of rattlesnakes. Unless you are the late Steve Irwin's adorable daughter Bindi, leave the snakes to slither happily along on their own. When walking in snake country, it is wise to wear long pants and boots, stay out of the shrubbery, and carry a hiking stick. Let the snakes know you are coming so they can go on their merry way.

5. Spiders and Their Annoying Webs

Frost-Coated Spider Web on Shrub
Wendy Bumgardner © 2013
I haven't been bit by a spider in all of my years of walking. But I have had to eat lots of their webs. Give your taller walking buddy the "honor" of going first up the trail. A cap with a bill on it can help keep the webs out of your eyes. Or, take a cue from "Phantom of the Opera" and put your hand in front of you at the level of your eyes to get the webs before they get you. A hiking stick also works well. If you scream and dance around every time you eat a web, you should probably stick to wide open spaces. But if you want to enjoy walks through the woods, you are going to have to accept webs as a part of the experience.

6. Poison Ivy, Oak, or Sumac

Poison Oak - Leaves of Three
Wendy Bumgardner ©
For my first 30 years, I romped without fear in the tall weeds and never worried about what foliage I beat my way through on the trail. Then I got a massive case of poison oak rash on all four limbs from weeding my backyard. I swiftly became an expert in spotting it and now see it everywhere in town as well as in the woods. Avoiding touching poison oak, poison ivy, or poison sumac is the best prevention. But now there are also lotions you can apply beforehand to keep the plant oil from setting off the rash. If you do contact a suspicious plant, immediately swab the area with alcohol. This is one more reason to carry along a small bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer, perfect for the task.

7. Stinging Nettles

Stinging Nettles
© Wendy Bumgardner
My walking buddy Nona can identify nettles just from their odor. Touch a stinging nettle and you will have a long-lasting burning sensation that may be followed by a rash. I see nettles all along walking routes and roads in our area. According to our Landscaping Guide, the yellow dock weed often seen next to it is a natural antidote. Just crush some yellow dock leaves and rub it on your skin to relieve the burn and itch. Better yet, grab some gloves and a plastic bag and harvest the nettle leaves to use like spinach! Fight back by eating them!

8. Dangerous Strangers

Defend Yourself
Wendy Bumgardner ©
My mother is appalled that I would walk alone, ever. I respect her fear. I choose trails that are well-traveled by other walkers. I walk purposefully and stay aware of my environment. If I'm about to go down a street or trail but see some potential threat head down it before me, I choose a different route. Many walkers seem to think there is some safety in chatting to a friend on a cell phone while walking. But I don't see how the police responding 15 minutes later is going to be of much help. Hang up the phone and walk, with full attention to what is going on around you. You may also need tips on how to react to a flasher.

9. Somebody Having a Heart Attack

Ambulance
Stone ©
If you round a corner on a park trail and there is a fellow walker lying prone, it's not a good day. But your swift action can make a difference. The recommended steps by Rod, our First Aid Guide are: First try to get a response. He may have a problem other than heart attack. Then call 911. Calling 911 should be your first priority, make sure you or somebody else takes that step. If you think an AED (automated external defibrillator) is nearby, send somebody for that device. While waiting for 911 and an AED, somebody needs to start CPR. Be a hero, learn CPR. The instructions are changing and becoming simpler. So don't fear it, learn it, and stay updated.

10. Sprained Ankle or Broken Limb

Sprained Ankle
Photo © Wendy Bumgardner
I've been out on a walk, a couple of miles from car or home, and sprained my ankle. I am sure my husband thought, "Do I really have to help her hobble all the way back?" If you have some duct tape and a pillow (or a spare jacket or even a pad of newspapers) you can make a splint. You will still have to hobble back, but immobilizing a broken or sprained limb can help ease the pain and may reduce the eventual damage. I admit that I usually don't carry along duct tape and an elastic bandage on my fitness walks. But these are wise items to have in your car or be ready to use if you can scrounge them from a house or store along the way.

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