Yesterday we had our first full day hike of the summer – a decent-day-out type of walk. For these, a little more planning is required. You need to take a day pack and a few more items than we would normally consider necessary for a few hours stroll closer to home. You also need to make sure the weather is going to be friendly and, for this walk we needed to get the tide right for negotiating a section at sea level.
Checking the state of the weather falls into my (Cliff) area of responsibility. In our boating days, the weather forecast was a matter of life and death and I always erred on the cautious side. For most decent days out it will hopefully not be life threatening but it can have a significant impact on the enjoyment factor.
If you are doing multi-day point to point walks or cycle rides you often have to just accept the conditions allocated to you. We certainly have had to do that on many occasions. But with a walk or ride that does not have to be completed on a specific day, it is not really worth the misery of getting it wrong.
You probably know where this post is heading – yes I got it horribly wrong yesterday.
I don’t blame those responsible for delivering the weather forecast. It is a thankless job. The fault often falls with those responsible for utilising the forecast. Here are a few of my tips:
- Long range forecasts are flaky. Even forecasts 12 hours in advance can be very dodgy. Check the latest forecast before you actually walk out the door to hike or bike.
- Learn how to read weather maps – this can be helpful. However, I am sure they keep some data ‘classified’. Maps are also handy when you are in countries that don’t deliver forecasts in your language. Look at wind strengths (if biking) and rain maps (for both hiking and biking). Read mountain forecasts if you are heading up – and marine forecasts if heading out.
- Never rely on a forecast delivered via a radio station. The jocks are not paid for their skills in delivering a weather forecast and they have little interest in reading it. Keep it short and put your own stamp on it. “Take your coat” could mean anything from a storm warning to the possibility of a scattered light shower.
- Finally, before you head out the door, undertake a visual check of prevailing conditions and a ‘what’s on the horizon’ scan of the sky. This requires a little local knowledge. For example, in Crete blue sky meant a good day, probably a good week and every chance of a good month. In areas such as New Zealand or the British Isles, blue sky means – look out the window again in five minutes, it will probably be raining. If you are cycling – check the trees. If they are thrashing around or even slightly bending in the breeze think about another activity.
So, following my guidelines, I looked at the map, ignored the TV / radio and checked into the Metservice forecasts regularly. It all looked good for a walk on Tuesday. Yesterday morning I rechecked the Metservice forecast. There was a slight chance of a shower. I got the rain jacket out and ready to pack it into the pack. I did my visual check and there was not a cloud in sight and no wind. The weather maps indicated that this is what I should be expecting and, it was going probably to be a warmer walk than I had anticipated. I needed to lighten and reduce the bulk in the pack so the rain jacket was put to one side and then I made a huge mistake – I told Ruth not to pack hers. I had a vested interest – I was carrying the pack and we just loaded extra water given the expected warmth factor.
The rest of the story is now history.
For the record, the walk was 19km from Pahia to Russell in the Bay of Islands. A great walk, plenty of diversity (including the weather). The first half of the walk is around the coastline (in cloudless conditions). The second half is a mix of bush and boardwalks (and torrential rain). There are a couple of boat rides required – one when we were dry and a longer one where we were wet and cold. Oh, the second half also had some hills and steps which Ruth hates and hates even more when I have kind of understated in the pre-walk briefing.
I did not win any ‘brownie points’ with Ruth yesterday and had a very good reminder to pack for all conditions regardless of the added weight and bulk. I will have to work a lot harder to get her to give me the ‘green light’ for our next decent day out.