Whether we’re camping or just spending time on the back deck, four tips can make outings more safe and fun this season, and three of them lessen the chances of having serious medical problems, the bane of the outdoors.

The first tip works mostly for campers and involves a dunk bag, a common product sold in quality sports shops that sell camping equipment. This inexpensive tool ensures that dishes and eating utensils have no bacteria, viruses and soap residue after the first dishwashing steps end.

This method begins like this: At mealtime, veteran outdoor chefs put a large pot of water on a camp stove or campfire to bring to a hard boil. Later, the scalding water enables folks to kill germs and completely rinse soap in the final step after the preliminary dishwashing.

Dishwashing begins in one of two ways. For cleaning plastic dishes, hot soapy water and a plastic soap pad work for cutting grease. For washing metal dishes, soapless water with a stainless-steel soap pad also eliminates grease well — a favorite cleaning tool for canoe-tripping guides. The steel-wool pad on metal dishes cleans grease even in cold water, but hot does a better job.

The next step involves a thorough rinsing to rid everything of soap, and for this step, cold water is okay before putting everything into a dunk bag to dip into clean, rapidly boiling water for a minute or so — or much longer. This dunk-bag step sterilizes everything well, which helps the camping party avoid diseases or a bad case of the backdoor trots.

In fact, 30 years ago, I spent a fall in Colorado, guiding elk and deer hunters, and in those days, using a dunk bag and boiling water was a state law for outfitters and guides in tent camps with paying customers.

The second problem in the Maine outdoors is Lyme disease from a deer-tick bite, and several people in my circle of acquaintances have contracted this dreaded illness. Not all of them had the telltale target from the tick bite.

… Beginning one June 10 years ago with my intrepid companion, Jolie. She had a minor problem with Lyme disease, “minor” thanks to a well-informed doctor.

Jolie had suffered for more than a week with typical Lyme disease symptoms — flulike sickness, fever and severely aching joints — so I took her to Dr. Roger Hall. He knew that this disease may not show up in blood tests for several months, and that was the case with Jolie. He immediately put her on antibiotics, and she was well within a week.

Jolie had no target on the skin from the bite, but Hall told us that she might not have seen the red target because the tick probably bit her on the scalp beneath her hair.

After getting Lyme disease symptoms, three of my friends went to doctors who wouldn’t give them antibiotics because of the negative blood test. The disease made all three victims extremely sick, and one is still suffering. In short, by the time Lyme disease showed in their blood tests several months later, these folks were deathly ill.

Whenever folks head into the woods in warm weather, they should wear treated clothing designed to repel bugs, tuck pant legs into socks and wear a long-sleeved shirt buttoned tightly around the wrist and throat. A hat, gloves and fine-mesh face mask help, too.

Final preventive steps against ticks include a fly dope with DEET and checking every spot on the body after the day ends.

Ticks lurk everywhere these days, and on rare occasions, they fall on me while I bicycle on roads with overhanging limbs.

As skin cancer becomes more common, sunscreen is a must for protection against the sun. Outdoors wanderers should follow manufacturer directions for sunscreen application and re-application on exposed skin throughout the day.

One final tip involves camp cooking — not a big-time safety measure — but important for times when a pan catches fire or cinders fly into food. (I don’t mind cinders myself, but some folks are picky.)

My best campfire-cooking tip for vehicle camping or canoe tripping begins with a 13-pound Dutch oven, a No. 10 cast-iron model from L.L. Bean. It has a recessed cover and three tiny legs, the latter for resting lightly on coals. If the pan catches fire from splattering oil, tightly covering the oven extinguishes the flame instantly, and the high sides keep cinders at bay.

I avoid low-sided skillets and cook everything in my Dutch oven — scrambled eggs, low-fat home fries, french fries, coq au vin, coquilles St. Jacques, fricasseed chicken, steak, stew, biscuits, pie, pizza, rice, etc. You name it, and I’ve probably cooked it in my Dutch oven.

These four quick tips make camping and other outdoor endeavors more enjoyable and safe from four common problems in Maine’s outdoors.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at:

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