One of the dumbest things I ever did was attempting to hike the Ouachita National Recreation Trail in mid-summer.
It was in the late 1980s, and I had recently finished a year-long backpacking trip from Arkansas to Maine. That trip had spanned all four seasons, and I was in the best shape of my life. A 220-mile hike across the Ouachitas would be a cakewalk.
Buster Douglas was supposed to be a cakewalk for Mike Tyson, too. The Ouachita Trail gave me a beating I'll never forget.
The summer of 1988 was extremely hot, and the evenings brought no relief. Also, there isn't much water along the Ouachita Trail in the best of times. It was extremely scarce at that time. Dehydrated to near delirium, I tapped out at the Hwy. 7 crossing. Thank goodness for the little pool at the Iron Fork trailhead. Using chlorine bleach for purification, I filled my canteen many times, camped at the trailhead and then walked to Jessieville in the cool of dawn to call for a ride back to Little Rock.
Even for the young and strong, summertime is a taxing time to be outdoors in the Natural State. High heat and humidity can cause overwhelming stress and dehydration.
Persistent exposure to sunlight can lead to melanoma. Treatment for melanoma can disfigure victims, but delayed treatment can be fatal.
External nuisances can mar a summer outdoor experience at best. At worst, pests like ticks can transmit debilitating and even fatal diseases.
For the prudent, summertime recreation can be enjoyable in Arkansas. Here are some tips on how to do it.
Exertion in hot temperatures with high humidity can cause rapid and extreme dehydration. A case in point was a wade fishing trip to Crooked Creek I took in 2006 with Rusty Pruitt. I get so immersed in fishing that I often forget to drink water, but it nearly cost me that day. Deep into a very hot, humid day, I suddenly realized that I had stopped sweating a long time ago. Disoriented and really edgy, I went straight to the visitor's center at the Fred Berry Conservation Center and drank nearly a gallon from the water fountain before cooling off in the visitor center.
To minimize risk, limit high-exertion activities to early morning and late afternoon/early evening. Drink plenty of water throughout your activity period. Adding a little Gatorade to your water intake will help maintain your electrolytes.
Skin cancer is a nasty affliction, but you can minimize your risk by minimizing exposure to sunlight.
Again, you can reduce your exposure to the most intense sunlight by limiting outdoor activities to early morning and late afternoon/early evening.
Apply sunscreen at the beginning of your outing, and reapply it as directed by the manufacturer.
There are two types of sunscreen products. One is chemical based and contains ingredients like oxybenzone and avobenzone, dioxybenzone and a host of others. They do block ultraviolet radiation, but there are concerns about the toxicity of these compounds.
We only use sun blocking agents like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, the only two ingredients that the Federal Food and Drug Administration considers to be safe for dermal use.
Wear clothing that reduces exposure to ultraviolet rays, especially if you have no access to shade. Most fishing occurs in direct sunlight, so sun exposure is a major concern for anglers.
Button-down, long-sleeve fishing shirts from brands like Columbia, Magellan and Worldwide Sportsman have SPF ratings from 30-50. Pullover types made wearing brands like Columbia, Magellan and HUK are similar. All of these shirts are very cool and comfortable.
Anglers might also consider wearing fishing pants that are SPF rated. Many of these have zippered sections that you can remove and convert to shorts if you desire.
Many professional anglers and professional fishing guides wear fishing gloves and buffs that protect their necks, cheeks and noses.
Apply sunscreen to your ankles and feet. There's always a strip of exposed skin around the ankles that will burn if left untreated, as will strips of skin that are not covered by sandal fabric.
Headgear is very important. A wide-brimmed hat will keep sunlight off your ears. If you wear a ballcap, a buff will protect your ears, neck, face and nose.
Until recently, I wore a long-billed ballcap with a long shroud that protects the neck, ears and face. It's designed for saltwater fishing where there's wind. In the still, sultry air of an Ozark stream, it holds in heat and bakes the head. It actually contributed to heat stress during my last visit to Crooked Creek.
Mosquitoes, gnats and horseflies are inevitable companions during outdoor recreation in Arkansas, but they are fairly benign. If you are taking short hikes or working at your hunting lease, we recommend for horseflies an electrified fly swatter from Harbor Freight. A badminton racket works well, too. Horseflies are pretty slow, and you can draw a bead on them. It is really satisfying to lay a solid lick on a horsefly and pulverize it with your heel. The electric swatter will really do a number on a horsefly, and it's really cool to see and hear it spark. The burnt smell of electrocuted horsefly is highly satisfying. If you kill five, you earn the distinction of Ace.
Ticks, on the other hand, are dangerous. They can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease and Alpha Gal Syndrome. The latter can render a victim unable to consume red meat.
You can deter ticks by treating boots and socks with Permethrin, a chemical that fries a tick's primitive nervous system. Sustained contact will kill ticks. You can also treat your shirts, shorts and trousers with Permethrin. We strongly suggest it, especially for larval ticks, otherwise known as seed ticks.
You can sustain a massive infestation of larval ticks in minutes simply by sitting in the wrong place or leaning against the wrong tree. It's happened to me several times. The worst was during an early season deer scouting foray in Missouri. The ticks concentrated around the waist and embedded so thickly that they looked like a belt. I scraped them off with a knife. That's not the right way to remove a tick, but it was the only way I could think of to remove that many. They turned my waist area into an itching, oozing, open sore for nearly two weeks. I felt like I was on fire.
I also contracted Lyme disease from a single tick bite in Missouri during the 2004 spring turkey season.
Missouri is obviously a bad place for ticks, but Arkansas is just as bad.
Frankly, we prefer to limit our outdoor recreation to certain kinds of days in Arkansas. We like the sky overcast and even drizzly for fishing. We love it when a cold front blows through. It hurts the fishing, but it feels great.
It will all get better in September, after dove season. Until then, be smart and take care of yourself during your time outdoors.