After a stretch of rainy, cool and windy weather (useful in that it possibly helped preserve our precious snowpack for a little longer), we're heading at last into what could be the season's first sustained stretch of springlike weather.

Forecasters say the weekend should be mostly sunny, with highs zipping into the 60s. The nice weather is expected to linger at least through the middle of next week, and highs then could reach into the 70s for the first time this year.

This means, of course, that those of us who have put off laboring in our lawns and gardens will not be able to point to the sheets of rain falling outside as an excuse to sleep in late this weekend.

But it also means that many of us might be tempted to put off those chores for a day or two to indulge in some early season hiking, maybe even a bit of camping. It's an understandable temptation: After all, this is the sort of weather that lures people outside to work off some of the rust that accumulates every year during a long and soggy winter. And Oregon's spectacular outdoor offerings are a big part of the reason why we live here.

Unless you have considerable outdoors experience under your belt, though, this also is the time to be sure that you have at least a vague sense of what you're doing when you venture outdoors — and that you can do it safely. Nothing wrecks the season's first outdoor excursion faster than becoming the subject of a regional search-and-rescue operation, with your photo splashed all over the pages of the local rag and displayed prominently on the evening news.

It's a sure bet that we'll be writing news stories over the next few months about people who thought they were going out for a nice and easy walk in the woods but ended up, shivering and unprepared for the elements, on the side of a mountain somewhere. One of your goals as you get ready for another season of enjoying the mid-valley's outdoors should be to make sure that you are not the subject of one of those stories.

This is advice that is particularly important now, in early spring, when weather conditions can change in a flash and nighttime temperatures can dip into the 30s, despite the warm and sunny days. If an unforeseen event extends a daytime hike into the nighttime, and you're not prepared with an extra layer or two, you might be in for a miserably chilly experience — and hypothermia can be so much more than an inconvenience.

In addition, just because conditions on the valley floor are warm and sunny is no guarantee that they'll be that way when you get to, say, Iron Mountain or Marys Peak. Prepare for your destination, not your starting point.

And the basics still apply: It's best to hike with a companion, but if you must go alone, make sure that someone has a general idea of where you're headed and what time you'll be back. (After all, if search-and-rescue teams must track you down, an earlier start usually is better.)

It's also not a bad idea to make sure your cellphone is fully charged before you head out. In addition, be careful not to draw down the battery with unnecessary conversations or social media posts before you actually need the device to summon help.

A walk in the woods should be exactly that: A pleasant stroll, a chance to unwind, an opportunity to soak in a little bit of the mid-valley's splendor and to get away from the stresses of everyday life. Just a little bit of forethought can help make sure it doesn't turn into a chilly, miserable ordeal — or something much worse. (mm)   

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