The official start of spring is next week, and that's my signal to go through all my gear and get things ready for another year of adventure.
Every outdoorsman should go through the annual ritual of changing the line on fishing reels, checking the expiration dates on fire extinguishers and, of course, emptying every electronic device of its batteries for testing, then reinserted or changed out to avoid failure in the field.
My family and friends think I'm crazy because I spend so much time thinking about what could happen instead of focusing on the present. But my dad always said, "Hope for the best and plan for the worst."
To be honest, as a boy, I thought my dad was a nut. I could never understand why every spring he would drag me down to the basement to check tents, stoves and lanterns for a trip to the Maine wilderness that was still months away.
Like some crazed factory foreman, he'd walk around with a Sharpie and a yellow legal pad, checking off each item, one by one, after it had passed inspection.
Over the years, I've come to appreciate the old man's eccentricities. I now have backups for my backups, some might think, to the point of obsession.
There is, however, a method to my madness. Over the years, things as small as a pack of waterproof matches has proved to be the difference between life and death.
I'm sure my friend Joe Frohock, a local sailor who recently returned from the Everglades Challenge, would agree. The race, a grueling, 300-mile "adventure in small boats" run by WaterTribe that starts in St. Petersburg and ends in Key Largo is not for the casual competitor.
Organizers make sure every entrant is up for the task, which is good because this year's race featured some of the roughest conditions in the event's 13-year history. The watercraft included everything from sea kayaks to outrigger canoes, and this year, St. Louis resident Shane Perrin became the first person to finish the race on a standup paddleboard, despite having his gear stolen in Marco Island.
Frohock, a 67-year-old Seminole man who has been sailing since he could walk, knows the meaning of the phrase "Be Prepared." About seven hours into the race, his 19-foot catamaran started taking on water off Venice and capsized.
"I was about 4 miles offshore, in a dry suit, so I knew wasn't in any immediate danger," he said. "But I after a while, when I couldn't get the boat back over, I called for help."
But when Frohock went to do so, he found that the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon that had been strapped to his vest had been ripped off in the high surf. He had a second signaling device on the boat, but he couldn't get it to work. So with his third backup, a waterproof VHF radio, he called the Coast Guard.
He told his rescuers he was fine, but needed a ride. Frohock then checked in every 10 minutes until a police boat arrived three hours later and took him to shore.
"I have to credit the WaterTribe guys because before they let you start, they are there with their checklists going through all of your safety gear to make sure everything is in working order," Frohock said.
Dad, if they have the Internet in heaven, I hope you read this so you know you were right.