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Monday, February 9, 2009

The confidence before the fall

The clouds made a beautiful sight this morning as the sun tried to burn through them. As K and I rolled out the door, clouds dominated the sky in all directions and the wind howled. We rode up to Hug Hill, and I had to walk my bike once we emerged from the trees (left photo below) because the wind almost blew me over. Although blue sky was beginning to emerge, heavy clouds completely hid the mountains - that's usually a sign of daylong gale force winds. In the photo below, the dark clouds obscure snowy mountains.
















It's amazing how long some dogs, like K, remember bad events. Over the time since K started joining me on my mountain bike rides, I've crashed a bunch of times. K remembers every spot where I've crashed. Normally, she trots just behind me and on my right. She wears a bell so I know whether she's there without looking. When we approach a spot where I've crashed at any time in the past 4.5 years, she slows down until she's a good 15 yards behind me. She watches me negotiate the 'scary' spot and then accelerates back into position.


At one of these 'scary' spots,
I put my foot down rapidly to save myself from a crash on one of K's first rides with me. I accidentally stepped on K's toes. She yelped but was absolutely fine. However, she's never forgotten. As I pedal toward that mundane spot, she invariably backs off and lets me pass through alone before rejoining me. I've read that many animals, including us, can learn a long-term lesson from a single scary event while it might take many repetitions of a good event. I think that K's trail behavior is the perfect example of that.

Almost all of the crashes that K has witnessed were so minor that I hopped back on my bike and rode off. But, one crash was terrifying. For no reason that I can discern, I launched over my handlebars and landed on a downed tree. A branch from the tree hit me in the left side, so pointedly that I initially feared that I'd impaled myself. I have training in anatomy, physiology, and wilderness first aid. That training led me to rapidly conclude that I'd probably broken a rib and I might've lacerated my spleen. To make it even scarier, I was on a 'secret' trail, and days often passed with no hikers or bikers traveling on it. To top it off, cell phones don't work there.

As I was lying there figuring out what to do, K came and sat right up against me - literally, her shoulder was leaning on me.
I decided to get to a main trail as fast as I could so that if I started to get shocky due to a spleen injury, there would be some hope of another hiker finding me in the near future.

It turned out that although the pain from my ribs was overwhelming, I wasn't in any immediate danger. I got myself home and spent the next 9 weeks with terribly painful ribs. Believe me, when we approach the scene of that crash, K backs off by even more than 15 yards. If she could speak, I think that she'd ask me to get off my bike and walk that section of trail. Her behavior reminds me to be cautious.

That event started me thinking about getting an emergency device, a 'personal locator beacon', that could contact 911 and broadcast my GPS coordinates in an emergency. I wouldn't have used it on the day that I broke my ribs but it's conceivable that I could need one someday.

I'm often alone on my mountain bike in places where other people rarely visit. Those are my favorite places and I don't plan to stop visiting them out of fear. So, I can imagine situations where I'd activate the device if I were unable to walk out of the wilderness on my own. Believe me, I've been involved in canine SAR so I wouldn't activate the beacon frivolously.

I'm wondering if anyone reading this has any experience using Spot or other Personal Locator Beacons. I'm particularly concerned about the steep terrain of the Front Range and whether the terrain might block the signal in canyons and gulches. If you have any experience, I'd be grateful if you could share it.


I was planning to wait until spring to buy a beacon. However, I'm having far more winter adventures than past years, and many trails are devoid of people. My studded tires let me traverse almost any surface. Today, I even rode up the glare ice shown on the right. However, a phrase that keeps coming to mind is 'the confidence before the fall' - maybe I'm getting too confident in my tires! A connector trail that I frequent has no other tracks in the snow besides mine, and hasn't had any others all winter. I'd better not have a bad crash there!

I love being alone in the wilderness so I'll never give up my solitary rides. It's just me, my dogs, and the forest - and that's how I like it.

6 comments:

Dog_geek said...

I don't have any experience with locator beacons, but it sounds like a great idea. As my old band director used to say: "it's better to have it and not want it than to want it and not have it!"

I usually just leave a note with Mr. Geek outlining my route, but that only works because he knows all the same "secret" trails that I do.

smrp said...

We have two SPOTs...mr. smrp takes both when he is back country skiing with friends so that one of his buddies can have one, too, in case of a ski accident (doesn't help if only one person has one and happens to be the one caught by an avy).

When he's not skiing, I take it with me when I hike the pups for situations where I may not have cell service.

I also leave it in Vanzilla when I travel and turn it on "tracking" when I have to leave my dogs in the van unattended. I have heard of too many dogs being in a vehicle when it is stolen...can't imagine what a disaster I'd be if such a thing happened. So-at least I can track where the vehicle is if it's ever stolen.

It's easy to use, inexpensive, and gives me such peace of mind.

You can have an "okay" or "help me" message sent to friend's/family's email or via text message, and you can turn on "tracking mode" so that friends/family can log onto a website and see your location every 20-30 minutes.

This spring I will clip one to each of the Guppies' harnesses when we do bigger hikes. They are not off-leash Guppies so if one somehow got loose it could save their lives if I could track where they are.

I love the use of technology for these kinds of events :)

Let me know if you would like to pop by and borrow one of ours to see how it works!

By the way-pretty amazing how in tun little K is to past accidents...she is such a sensitive girl, isn't she? I heart K :)

NCmountainwoman said...

I suspect that you could take the locator for a "trial" to determine whether or not the beacon can be received. Most stores realize that the locator is only as good as its reception.

Good luck. I'd hate to think of you crashing under any circumstances but especially in a remote area.

Meriwether said...

I highly recommend the Spot Tracker! Like smrp said, I take it everywhere when I'm skiing or riding long distances alone, or with people. It's light enough that you don't notice it and it's really fun to look back at the track it creates on Google Maps which you can also look at on Google Earth!

It holds its satellite signal very well although it will definitely be less accurate in the dense trees just like any GPS. The cool thing about it is you can leave it on "Track" and it'll send a location every 20 minutes to your personal Spot website so if you get hurt and don't move for more than 40 minutes or an hour, someone can come looking for you along the track it laid down on the map.

KB said...

Dog_Geek,

Thanks for the input. We've tried the method of me leaving my route but it leads to too much anxiety. I frequently change my mind and take a different route - and then end up out longer than expected. And, to top it off, my husband often isn't home when I'm out. So, that's why I'm looking for a high tech solution.

I hope that you had a good run with your dogs yesterday after your bad news.

KB

KB said...

NCMountainWoman,

Good idea. One of the good things that has happened from my blog is that I've met a neighbor who I didn't know before. And, she has a beacon! It's a small world.

Thanks!

KB