Time to Get Back in the Woods

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It feels as though it’s been a very long time since I stepped foot on the trail. This past weekend I managed to get a small taste and this coming weekend I’ll be diving headfirst back into the fray as we kick off our maintenance season. The bulk of my journeys along the Florida Trail have been focused on the north and central sections. Over the weekend I got to explore a little of the panhandle section around Appalachicola.

My Wilderness First Aid certification expired at the end of July and I needed to renew it before leading folks back into the woods with manual and power tools. The FTA scored a great opportunity with Landmark Learning to host three regional WFA courses. Landmark is the Southeastern rep for NOLS/WMI. I was really looking forward to getting a WMI perspective compared with my prior Red Cross certification.

I left work Thursday and headed west to St Marks, Florida. My accommodations for the weekend would be the St Marks Volunteer Center. While there was a very nice bunk house provided, it was the perfect opportunity to finally get back into the hammock after a much-too-long hiatus.

St Marks Hammock

I arrived around 7:30pm and found a USFS guy that had been working there for the summer. After setting up the hammock we talked for a while. He was a bird and waterfowl guy and had some great stories about how he captures ducks for tagging. I think there are a couple of methods I’d like to try myself. 🙂 We headed down the road for dinner where we were joined by another USFS (both contractors actually). He was a mechanical engineer working on bridge inspections along the Florida Trail.

I had most of the day to kill Friday since the CPR portion of the course didn’t start until 6pm. Since the duck commander had departed in the morning I tagged along to find a bridge. We spent a couple of hours hiking the trail and didn’t find it. We tried a spot a little further down the road and found it in 5 minutes. Oh well. It felt good to be on the trail again. I’m glad he decided it was too large of a bridge to do in the time we had. The skeeters were eating me alive and the Deet didn’t seem to have any effect.

Bridge Check

Let me just take a moment to say that there really must not be anything to do around St Marks National Wildlife Refuge. I say this only because I can’t come up with any other reason someone would build giant paper mâché animals in their front yard.



Friday night rolled around and I met up with about 15 other students at the St Marks NWR Visitor’s Center. I have to say that our tax dollars provided a very nice educational facility. We spent the next three hours going over the latest CPR techniques and had a good time. After a nice evening in the hammock (though I wish the trees would’ve provided a little protection from the full moon’s spotlight on me) it was time for the WFA portion.

Saturday was spent learning the patient assessment system which includes doing a full head-to-toe exam, running through a SAMPLE, and providing long-term care while waiting for help or prior to making the decision to evacuate. We covered emergency and evac plans, spine and head injuries, shock, and wound management. This was a much larger class than before with about 30 students. The instructors did a great job of managing it, though, and I don’t think it caused any problems aside from perhaps reducing the amount of time we had for scenarios.

I'm a Patient

Classroom Scenario

After reviewing the material we’d learned in the morning, we split into two groups: victims and rescuers. The victims headed outside and waited for fate to befall them. Soon, with capes billowing in the wind, The Mighty First Aid Warriors swooped into action.

Field Scenario

Sunday kicked off with more wound management and covered blood and bones. We learned about athletic injuries, fractures, dislocations, and heat illness. We practiced splinting each other with items found in the average backpack. The ability to improvise with the gear you have is crucial to properly managing wilderness medical emergencies. In this picture we fashioned a leg splint with a foam pad, spare clothing, some cravats, and an Ace bandage.

Leg Splint

After the practical exercises were done we continued on with cold injuries/altitude illness (granted, not something we deal with much in Florida), lightning (definitely a possibility), anaphylaxis, and dealing with medical patients opposed to trauma patients. The 16-hour course came to an end and I think we all left feeling better equipped to face potential injuries we might encounter on the trail.

The majority of the students were involved with trail maintenance. We ranged from trail coordinators like myself to section leaders, activity leaders, and maintainers. Any time you take on the responsibility to lead a group of people into the wilderness I firmly believe it’s incumbent upon yourself to be equipped to provide for their needs. This may mean you carry a little extra weight in the way of water, gear, or first aid supplies but I think it’s part of wearing the “leader” hat. Many times we find ourselves with new hikers or new maintainers that perhaps bit off more than they expected. It’s our job to ensure that they still have a safe and fun experience.

One regret from this weekend is that I didn’t get to spend more time exploring the refuge. At 68,000 acres it would be quite a daunting task to cover even a small portion during the time we were there. I am glad, at least, for the opportunity to take in some wildlife right around the visitor’s center itself.

Baby Gator

Pygmy Rattler

While I was talking to a couple of people in the parking lot a young fawn wandered out. Then later down the road I saw a family of turkeys. I decided that although it meant a little more driving deeper into the refuge I wanted to see one last landmark. Behold, the St. Marks Lighthouse…

St. Marks Lighthouse

In closing, I hope to encourage you to do two things. First, take some time out of your schedule to learn first aid and CPR. It doesn’t have to be wilderness-specific. Just get out and learn. The more people on the street that are trained the better. Second, take some time to enjoy the vast outdoor opportunities that are found all over Florida. You might even want to start at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge!

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