PAT NEAL: The lost and the not yet lost

THERE ARE ONLY two types of mushroom pickers. Those that have gotten lost in the woods and those who haven’t, yet.

The sudden arrival of our seasonal rainfall has produced a fabulous bounty of fantastic fungi just waiting in the woods to be harvested.

It’s like the world’s biggest Easter egg hunt where participants scurry about with their eyes to the ground shuffling from one prize to another, filling their baskets as fast as they can.

The main difference being that no one gets lost on an Easter egg hunt.

Mushroom hunters get lost every year at about this time.

We’ve already had one mushroom hunter lost on the Peninsula and the mushrooms have only been sprouting for a week or so.

It was just lucky the Clallam County Search and Rescue team found the guy after only a night in the woods.

Already suffering from hypothermia, it would be questionable if he would have survived another night out in the rain and wind we get during mushroom season.

You wonder how you can freeze to death in a temperate rain forest, but it’s really pretty easy.

Once you get soaked to the skin, your body heat simply goes away, leaving you a shivering wreck of a person that has to keep moving to keep warm until all of your energy is gone.

That’s when the real trouble starts.

If you are too tired to move, you are too tired to pick mushrooms — which is why you went out in the woods in the first place.

Once you are lost, it is too late to start thinking about all of the stuff you should have brought along in case you got lost.

Search and rescue experts suggest you take along the appropriate gear and clothing. Your clothing should start with sensible shoes and layers of clothing covered with another layer of rubber.

The gear should include emergency blankets, whistle, GPS or compass, cellphone, flashlight, fire starter, first aid kit, hydration fluids and food.

In my own case, putting together a pack that would allow me to survive comfortably a night lost in the woods would weigh in the neighborhood of 80 pounds even without the optional espresso maker.

Even if you have all the right gear, there is the still the possibility that things can go horribly wrong.

The batteries on your cellphone and GPS go dead or it’s raining so hard beneath the thick canopy of trees your electronic gizmos don’t work.

Your flashlight is dead because it was accidentally turned on when you crammed it in your pack that morning so it’s been shining brightly inside your pack all day.

You can’t ignite the fire starter because your matches and lighter are soaking wet.

You’re suddenly alone in the silence of the great woods with another dark and stormy night coming on.

That’s when you wish you had brought along the one lost-in-the-woods survival aid that’s better than all the others put together, a dog.

By that, I don’t mean some little ankle biting yapper, no.

You want a dog that’s big enough to cuddle up with and keep you warm.

Dogs are not only warm but they don’t panic when they are lost like people do.

People can learn a lot from dogs, but unfortunately, we are not as smart as they are most of the time.

The best strategy, however, would involve not getting lost in the first place.

Pick your mushrooms on a sidehill above the road.

That way you only have to walk downhill to find the road.

You’re welcome.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears hereevery Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal

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