If you've ever been so cold that your teeth started chattering and your body began to shiver uncontrollably then you've experienced mild hypothermia. Most of us have been there, particularly when we were kids for indeed children are particularly prone to this potentially deadly condition.

Simply put, hypothermia occurs when heat loss from the body outstrips heat production. Even during mild weather hypothermia can occur for outside temperature is just one of a number of factors which contribute to the onset of the condition.

A tired cyclist cruising through the countryside on a fine spring day could be a potential hypothermia victim. If tired, the cyclist's energy reserves are already waning. Being, in all likelihood, sweat-soaked, the cyclist's garments will be sucking heat away from the body at a rate 240 times faster than at the start of the day when presumably the cyclist was dry. Even on a windless day the speed of the cyclist creates its own wind multiplying the rate of heat loss exponentially. Exertion is also contributing to the cyclist's quandary by causing dehydration through sweating and breathing.

Dumb is Dumber

All of these factors working in concert, dehydration and fatigue; outside temperature and dampness could spell disaster. The cyclist's inexperience more than anything else could prove deadly. Ignorance is the number one cause of this number one recreational killer. Armed with knowledge the cyclist can take simple precautions and avoid hypothermia in even its mildest form.

A savvy cyclist will dress in layers, shedding them as body temperature rises, donning them again as it drops. The inside layer will be a thin synthetic such as polypropylene that whisks moisture away from the body. Intermediate, insulative layers will be loose-fitting and made of fleece or wool. A breathable shell made of Gore-Tex will complete the package, acting as a barrier to rain, fog or condensation but at the same time allowing sweat in the form of water vapor to escape. Gloves, possibly in layers, and an insulating helmet liner complete the ensemble of a well-prepared cyclist.

Knowledge will further tell the cyclist that both water and energy will require regular replenishing and by habit the cyclist will frequently consume high-energy foods such as granola bars, trail mix and the like. Such foods contain sugars which provide immediate energy, carbohydrates which release their energy over a moderate period of time and oils and proteins which take the longest to be processed into usable energy by the body. That energy propels the bicycle forward, keeping the cyclist warm at the same time.

The informed cyclist will also recognize that chills and shivering are the earliest signs of hypothermia's onset. The cyclist will know that decision-making will soon become confused and coordination impaired if the condition is allowed to progress. Immediately the cyclist will switch from recreational mode to a survival-bent one, seeking ways to stabilize net heat loss from the body core.

Stumbles, Fumbles, Mumbles and Grumbles

If hypothermia progresses our cyclist must rely on companions to correctly assess the situation. The inexperienced may fail to notice the violent shivering, slurred speech, clumsiness, even irrationality that indicate their buddy is already suffering from moderate hypothermia. If they fail to intervene and the body core temperature of the victim continues to drop then unconsciousness, coma and finally death, all consequences of late-stage hypothermia, can be expected.

Treatment protocols of moderate to advanced hypothermia are complex and ever-changing. In the normal course of things, when adequate preparation and prevention measures are strictly adhered to, no one should ever get beyond the initial symptoms. Accidents do happen, however and a kayak spill in the west coast surf or a slip into an icy creek while hiking could be just the kind of event to precipitate the rapid onslaught of life-threatening hypothermia. The Wet Coast of British Columbia is aptly nicknamed because the conditions which prevail on Canada's west coast are ideal for hypothermia. Anyone, even casual recreationalists, who venture into the wilderness should consider taking a wilderness first-aid course which includes training in hypothermia prevention and treatment. Slipstream Wilderness First Aid offers regular, certified training at many levels of proficiency geared specifically for outdoor recreational settings.

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You are far more likely to be maimed or killed in an auto accident while driving to the trailhead than from the charge of a marauding bear while recreating. The fear of bear attack far outstrips the reality. Such attacks are rare and the causes of most attacks, when they happen, are often preventable. In a typical year we can expect between 3 - 5 attacks. In the 15 years from 1985 to 2000 there were just 10 deaths attributed to bears in British Columbia. Annually in excess of 200 people die on BC roads. That's more than 3000 fatalities for the same time period. Incidentally, statistics show those using public transportation have a greatly reduced risk of traffic accident.

Bears Live Here, Not You: Show a little respect.   

Since bears are more than happy to avoid contact with humans, accidental confrontations should be a primary concern. On the trail staying alert, scrutinizing the trail that lays ahead of you and traveling in a group of four or more will usually be enough to avoid stumbling upon a bear. With the wind at your back most bears should be forewarned of your approach, giving them ample time to vanish into the forest. A head wind on the other hand will eliminate a bear's most important sense. A particularly blustery wind could also hamper a bear's ability to hear your approach. That leaves sight, touch and taste and bears are the original Mr. Magoo. Under these conditions or when fresh bear sign is evident assist the bear by making noise.

Metallic noise is not found in nature and is thought by some to be the best. Gabbing and gaffawing among your companions runs a close second. Liven up the chatter with a few bear mauling anecdotes. That ought to add a shrill, excited edge to the conversation. Keep the group together by placing the slowest person in the lead. Even just stumbling through the bush, a group of four or five makes appreciably more noise than groups of one or two strung out all along the trail. Be extra alert also when hiking early in the morning or late in the afternoon when most creatures are more active. Huckleberry or salal berry patches too are a great place to break out the noise makers.

Everyone knows that a sow with cubs could spell trouble particularly if the she-bear perceives a threat to her offspring. A bear guarding a kill or a scavaged bag of bones can also be a particularly lethal situation. If you ever see the carcass of an animal do not stop to investigate. Clear out immediately or you too could be dead meat.

No Trace Camping is not just an aesthetic, it is a safety measure. Food should be hung where no bear can reach it. Your camp cooking area and utensils must be kept spotless and refrain from slipping a few granola bars under your pillow for a midnight snack or the snack might be on you.

Upon meeting a bear never turn and run. The eyes of bears, like those of most predators, are cued in to movement. Run and so will the bear, right after you. Talk to the bear in calm, reassuring tones while backing away from the situation. A bear may rear up on its hind legs, not as a prelude to attack but, to sniff the air and get a better sense of what kind of oddballs confront it.

Even if the bear decides to charge stay cool. Chances are the bear is bluffing, such behavior is common in bear society. Keep backing away and keep up to chatter. If it is a grizzly confronting you, back towards a stout, climbable tree as these bears are not good climbers. By remaining calm you may avoid making one of two very unsavory choices: fighting or playing dead.

In the event of a full-blown attack which option you choose will depend on the kind of bear is involved. If a black bear attacks that obviously has cubs or a meat cache then the bear may be satisfied if it can eliminate the threat. In such a situation playing dead is preferable to fighting back as the latter will only serve to antagonize the bear. If the black bear is obviously old or injured or otherwise motivated by hunger then fight for your life as this bear views you as a food source.

Grizzly bears are simply too big and powerful to fight off and they know it. If climbing a tree is out of the question, play dead. Keep your backpack on and lay face down on the ground, spread-eagled, hands clasped behind your neck for additional protection. Brace your legs to avoid being flipped over but if flipped, roll with the momentum and try to land face down again to protect vulnerable parts such as abdomen and throat. If the bear manages to move you onto your side assume the fetal position, hands still clasped behind the neck with elbows and knees protecting chest and belly. Otherwise do not move until well after the bear has decamped, then clear out in the opposite direction.

Wearing bear bells in the backcountry may be a good idea but in those areas frequented by hikers, bears may come to associate the sound with food. Particularly in areas frequented by those overlooking the commandments of no-trace camping, a standard-issue ding-a-ling may come to be regarded as a dinner bell. Try a bell with a tone different from those purchased from outdoor stores.

An increasingly common practice among bearanoid rookies is to squirt a defensive circle of pepper spray around their tent. Field research, however, has shown that far from being a deterrent, such a practice can actually draw bears to the site. In some cases bears have been seen rolling on the pepper-scented ground like a catnip-crazed feline.

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