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Our safety & health depends on us, not the government
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

People need to be more paranoid.

Three things make me say that. The increasing number of people getting caught in flash floods in narrow desert canyons. The surge in deaths of kids left locked in hot vehicles. And the alleged national emergency concerning opioids.

I honestly don't know if people really think the wilderness is Disneyland, whether they are too distracted by social media or too much into themselves when they're driving around with their kids, or if they think pills are the only answer for pain.

What I do know - thanks to a series of rather unpleasant incidents growing up - I have a tendency to take precautions, assume I'm going to forget something or look at what others suggest I put into my body with a weary eye.

The answer that is now being bantered about with flash floods assumes it is the fault of the National Weather Service and the National Park Service for not having an effective warning system. The solution to adults failing in one of their primary functions as parents to look out for young kids is to introduce federal legislation requiring all new cars to have back seat alarms. And the answer to the opioid "crisis" is for the federal government to consider throwing $40 billion at it and for 20 plus states to sue drug manufacturers for selling a product that the FDA says is okay and has more than adequate warning labels.

Here's a crazy thought: What about a one-size-fits-all approach? It's called stepping up and being responsible.

A few years ago, four people got swept away to their deaths in one summer on the Merced River in Yosemite National Park in two separate incidents involving them climbing over the railing that is clearly marked with danger warning signs. In the 1,190 square miles and 800 miles of trails that make up the national park, there are perhaps a half dozen places - if that - were railings have been put in place and warning signs posted.

Whenever I go for a day hike in the Sierra, Death Valley, Bay Area mountains/hills, or the White Mountains, I take enough water for two days even if it is only a six-hour hike, I also make sure I have a hiking headlamp, medical supplies, food, and gear for cold or rain. It's not just because I hike by myself. It's because you never know what's going to happen.

It never amazes me when I'm on hikes that I'll encounter people saying they're heading toward a certain peak and they're wearing flip flops and are carrying nothing but a bottle of water, if that. More often than not they abort their goal and hit other people up for water.

I also hike my share of remote, narrow canyons each year in Death Valley by myself. The one thing I don't do is hike those canyons if storm clouds are on the horizon. Less than an eighth of an inch of rain can send deadly torrents down desert canyons. You don't need more elaborate warning systems. You simply have to make sure you have a working knowledge of the pitfalls, read the skies, and err on the side of caution. There are inherent risks in the wilderness. Ignoring them is a gross act of irresponsibility.

As for forgetting things, it's always been a concern of mine. That's why I always have a mental check list for everything, especially when I'm in the car. The last thing I want to do in the middle of nowhere I've driven for a hike where there is no cell service and the odds of anybody else coming around for a day or so is next to nil, is to lock my keys in the car. The key - pardon the pun - is to concentrate on what you're doing and not be distracted. Dad always emphasized when we got into the car that driving was serious business and he didn't want distractions. That meant no horseplay or loud conversations.

When it comes to dealing with pain, I might be a little bit out there on this one. While I understand some people are in excoriating pain, I firmly believe painkillers - or any drug for that matter - should be the last choice. Drugs obviously change your body's response but they also have side effects. They can also mask real serious issues.

My attitude toward drugs dates back when I was 18 when I had my wisdom teeth removed. The oral surgeon gave my mom a prescription for painkillers to use every four hours. That was Friday afternoon. I didn't remember anything until Sunday at midnight. That's because my mom shook me awake and gave me the painkillers when I was in a groggy state. The oral surgeon, when he heard about it, had a cow and admonished me to avoid painkillers. The doctor said it was clear the painkillers were a little bit too much for me. My mom thought she was doing what she was told to do.

I've resisted painkillers ever since. My first hernia surgery I stopped taking Vicodin after 72 hours. I was supposed to take it for at least a week and avoid anything physical for 30 days. The reason I stopped taking the painkillers? What happened - and I know this is stupid - is on the second day I cut down a 30-foot cherry tree in the backyard using a chainsaw. The second hernia surgery I took the Vicodin in the recovery room and that was it. Yes, it hurt like hell for a week or so but I didn't feel "well enough" to repeat my tree chainsaw stunt.

The answer to our safety and good health lies with us and not the government.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.