Hiking Dude Blog
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Have you ever used Biaxially-oriented polyethylene terephthalate? Sure, you have! But, you probably know it as the brand name of Mylar.
It was developed in the 1950s by those great chemical folks at DuPont that also brought us neoprene, teflon, kevlar, tyvek, and panty hose.
Mylar has many uses, but the one we're most likely to see is the cute, shiny, fun party balloon. Mylar balloons can be any shape and color, are lighter than latex balloons, and they keep the gas trapped longer. That's great for parties - BUT it means they can float longer and cover more distance if their ribbon breaks. And, break they do!
On every single one of my long hikes so far, in Arizona, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Virginia, and now Florida last month, I have recovered mylar balloons far out in the wilds - a couple stuck in a cactus, one in a soybean field, four floating in a swamp, and others. I thought I was just unlucky to find this many, but it turns out balloon litter is a Huge Problem that effects the environment, animals, our electric grid, and maybe even air travel. I had no idea.
A few years ago, I attended a big Scouting event with my sons at a local amusement park. It was a big deal. To kick off the event, the local council arranged to have a couple thousand helium-filled, latex balloons released. I was not aware the release would happen until I saw the mass of color floating and spreading into the sky. It was sure colorful, but I just thought, "Really?" I was surprised that our Boy Scouts council would be doing such a thing with our emphasis on conservation and outdoor ethics.
All those balloons would disperse far and wide, but I knew they would eventually come to earth in thousands of places across the miles. All balloons that escape into the wild are a problem, regardless of the material used to produce them.
In 1986, Cleveland set the world record by releasing 1.5 million balloons at BalloonFest. It caused air traffic problems and interfered with a helicoptor rescue of two men that ultimately drowned. The organizers expected the balloons to float far away (becoming a litter problem someplace else), but weather caused them to stay right in Cleveland, creating a huge mess.
Main Problems with Balloons
- Every balloon released into the air is litter. They all come back to earth someplace.
- A balloon, whether mylar, plastic, or latex is man-made and takes years to break down. Mylar balloons hang around for a loooooooong time - think decades at least! This is a bad thing!
- A popped balloon, or pieces of balloons, lying in a natural area looks like food to many wild animals. Animals get tangled in the balloon ribbons and die. Animals consume the balloon material and slowly starve with their digestive tract blocked.
- While in flight, balloons may be a nuisance to air traffic, but I could find only this one article that may be a plane crash caused by balloons.
- Mylar balloons, being metallic, can cause fire and power outages when they hit power lines, like this.
- Helium is a non-renewable resource and every floating balloon frivolously wastes a bit. Some estimates are that we will exhaust the earth's usable helium supply in under 30 years.
OK, you get the idea that I feel balloons are floating litter, bad for the world, and possibly dangerous. So, what should we do about it? Well, the two main uses for balloons are Parties and Balloon Releases.
- If you really want balloons, use latex balloons. They are the least bad.
- Fill balloons with normal air and save the helium for science and other uses that make the world a better place.
- Attach balloons to walls, wire frames, or hang from ceilings. They won't rise on tethers, but they also won't float away.
- Dispose of balloons by having a fun Balloon Popping Party after the party. Place latex balloons in the garbage. Place mylar balloons in recycling.
- Use paper decorations instead of balloons.
- Visit BalloonsBlow.org for some alternate ways to decorate parties, including pinwheels, bubbles, and inflatables.
- Don't do it! There's just no valid reason to ever organize, host, support, sanction, encourage, or do a balloon release. It is simply littering, plain and simple.
- These releases are often to kick off an event, as a memorial, or a celebration. Alternative ways to recognize the event could be to fly kites, make giant bubbles, plant a tree, float flowers on a stream or lake, use drums, or even use tethered sky lanterns.
As someone trying to be a good steward of the earth, I do what I can to follow the seven Leave No Trace principles, one of which is Dispose of Waste Properly. I will not purchase helium-filled balloons. I pick up balloon litter I find. I encourage others to explore options to using balloons.
It seems to me to be an easy decision to use an alternative to balloons for decorations and events.
Check out BalloonsBlow.org for more information about the problem of balloon litter from a couple of girls in Florida. Then, decide what you'll do about it where you live, or not.
You can now check out my journal and trail map, and other tidbits about my Florida Hike. The journal has more pictures and the map shows where I hiked, rode, and spent the nights.
A reporter in Inverness did an article about my hike - you can read it at the Citrus County Chronicle.
I've almost finished my post-hike write-up and will post it tomorrow.
I've almost finished my post-hike write-up and will post it tomorrow.
I can relax and not worry about this sign for quite awhile now. :-) I enjoyed a day off the trail in Ocala playing with new friends and doing a couple presentations to scout troops. Then, a quick flight on Friday got me home to Minnesota for a day of recuperating yesterday.
Now comes the fun chore of piecing together tracker pings, pictures, and blog posts into my journal. I hope to have that finished midweek so I can tell you my story.
Looking back at the pictures, I was blessed to explore some wonderful environments, meet some special people, and observe wildlife I'll most likely not encounter again.
Thank you, Florida!
Last Hiking Day
I traveled about 18 miles today.
Rain all night and then it stopped at 7:30am so I packed up in the lull. The lull wound up laying all day so I had a wonderful last day on the trail, ending my Florida hike at the Santos campground east of Ocala. The hike was much like yesterday with similar forest and few animals. The most angelic of trail angels, Sue, and her son Chris, picked me up. Sue is the scoutmaster of Chris's special needs troop. We've been having a wonderful visit and I got to have a potluck dinner with their while troop. They made me an honorary member of their troop and gave me a troop shirt. All the guys are good scouts and their parents offer wonderful support.
I traveled about 30 miles today.
I finally got a 30 miles day. The paved bike path north from Inverness was a pleasant walk for many miles even though it is very busy. After crossing the beautiful Wthlacoochee River at Dunnellon, the trail braided with horse and bike paths through sand and pines. Today, I met only the second person on this trip that was not a joy to chat with. A surly convenience store guy in Holder, FL. So, after leaving his shop, I purposefully stopped at a small produce place called Snows Country Market and bought some really great fruit. The staff there was great and I got to chat about my hike with them. I took a blue blazed side trail tonight to the Ross Prairie trailhead where I'm tenting in the ' scout camp area ' back in the trees. The bathroom has hot shower and cold potable water so this place rocks. Rain is expected tonight and all day tomorrow so my last hiking day looks soggy just like my first day.
I traveled about 22 miles today.
Cold enough last night to have my water bottles freeze! I thought I was hiking in Florida. Thinking ahead, I kept my water filter close to me all night so it didn't freeze. It was a chilly start and I was misled by my Florida Trail app, but then i got to hike 15 miles with my cousin's son (anyone know what that makes us? ) and it was nice chatting with him since we just met. Clear sky, very dry burned out pine forest, and smoke in the air made for a very different hike than past days. Tonight, I met troops 302 and 459 in Inverness. I presented a bit about my hiking and am resting at their very nice scout hut. The scouts were a great audience, asking questions and being polite.
My tracker battery died. The map won't be updated until I find a store to buy new ones.
Done Hiking Today
I finished hiking for today. You can check out my current location on the map and I'll post about my day when I am in coverage.
I traveled about 27 miles today.
Oh, what a day! I have way more to post than anyone would want to read all at once, so just the highlights. These two kids are Sunshine and Trail Mix, thru hiking the FT. I met them as I hiked into my home for the night. It was sooooo nice to have company. They've both worked at Northern Tier for the boy scouts. We chatted well after dark since no mosquitos were out and the full moon was lighting the jungle. My morning started with the all too familiar road walking, but after holding my 'To Trail' sign out for 10 miles or so, Sarah stopped and gave me a ride to the Van Fleet bike trail. Sarah is a real gem - completely living life on a positive, up beat tone. She does a bread ministry and is an angel at heart. After miles of dodging cars, the serene paved bike path was soothing. So quiet and peaceful, i relaxed and enjoyed the stroll through swamp with bits everywhere. And then came the Green Swamp. I was ready for slogging through mud and water and whatever was to come, since the trail has been so wet. But, as soon as I started following the blazes off the dirt road, it was exactly as I envisioned the Florida Trail to be. I walked miles through Palm fronds, vines, grasses, and exotic trees. It was great! My feet got pretty wet, but only up to my ankles. I ran into Don't Panic on the road - he's a southbound thru-hiker. I dodged most of the rain by waiting at a hunter check in station. While chatting with some good ol' boys there, another hunter brought in a 140lb hog. So, I got to watch my first hog butchering - very interesting. I did notice lots of ground churned up from hogs rooting around, and I'm pretty sure a hog was crunching through the brush by our camp tonight. Oh, I also met a deer hunter. As I was coming out the trail onto a diet road, he stopped his truck and got out carrying a big rifle with a big scope. He said he just saw a big buck go that way - pointing right where I had come from. I'm glad i hadn't hiked a minute slower.
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