I’m writing this because on a recent adventure ride I did something very stupid and had to be rescued! I want to tell this story because I learned a lot from it and I hope that in telling my story some else might get something out of it.
I was riding my Ural outfit with two mates, we were riding a mix of nicely groomed gravel roads and some easy going forest trails, skies were clear and it was hot. We were following a GPS route I had laid out prior to the trip. The GPS indicated to turn left but the track looked really old and we came to a quick decision not risk it and continue on.
A while later the GPS indicated a left turn down a track, headed with an impressive wooden sign marking the name of the track and some other stuff. Looked promising so we thought we’d give it a try.
We started down the track, down two fairly steep hills that I was confident we could get back up. Then for some reason I went down a decline I had no chance of getting back up! Honestly I have no idea why I rode down the damn thing. Mistake one, “DON’T GO DOWN HILLS YOU CAN’T CLIMB BACK UP”. Thankfully my two riding companions stopped at the top of the decline and wisely said they were, “not going down there”. I made an attempt to get back up but failed, slide back and ended up across the track.
Mistake two and the biggest mistake of all. I decided to push on and try and ride out. For some reason I kept saying to myself, “This is going to get better and I’ll soon be out of here”. Unless you are 100% sure there is a track out, you MUST, at the FIRST sign of trouble, stop and turn back. Believe me “it isn’t going to get any better”. By continuing you are only making the inevitable recovery mission that much harder. I should have left my outfit where it was, got a ride into the nearest town in the other outfit and arranged the recovery.
I rode on, down more steep declines with deep ruts until about 2 kilometers later I arrived at a junction. I had a choice, continue on straight down the track I was on or turn right onto a fire trail. Someone had written on the sign “To Cells River Road, Steep and Rough, GOOD LUCK!!”
I figured I’d try my luck on the fire trail I mean, “Fire trails are used by the RFS so they have to get fire trucks down”. Mistake three, never assume anything. My rescuers told me later, that not all fire trails are serviced, in fact very few are.
Phone coverage at this point alternated between “no service” and one bar. I managed to get an SMS to one of my riding colleagues that I was at a junction and intended getting off the track and following a fire trail and finding a way out. The first kilometer of the fire trail looked promising but it wasn’t long before it got really rough and steep again. Four kilometers later I was at the bottom of the fire trail and started my ascent up the other side. I rode another 100 meters and ended up getting crossed up and hung up between two very deep ruts. I was now in a hopeless situation, couldn’t go forward or backwards and I FINALLY realized I needed rescuing.
For the first time in this ordeal I stopped and thought about what I was going to do. I had “no service” on my phone where I was so I decided I had to walk to a point where I could summon help.
I was hot and sweating madly so I changed into a pair of shorts, a long sleeve shirt and put on my walking shoes. Next I drank some water and realized I only had 600ml left so I’d better take it easy. I thought the shortest course of action would be to continue up the hill I was currently on and hopefully I’d get phone reception at the top of the hill. Mistake four, I already knew where I could get phone reception so why go looking for it? My reasoning was that I wanted to avoid a steep uphill walk and I believed I could get coverage from the top of the hill I was currently on.
I put my phone, GPS, jump starter and charging leads in my pockets, grabbed my rain jacket and my water. Up the hill I went, it was steep, hot and thirsty work. I would estimate I walked about a kilometer, but it felt like five!! At the top of the hill “no service” and now I only had two mouthfuls of water left. I decided to walk back down to the bike and have a think about what to do next. I remembered riding through a puddle in a dried creek bed at the bottom of the hill so I knew there was water just below the bike.
I was buggered when I got back to the bike. I thought, before I make any more stupid decision I should sit down, recover and have a think about what to do next. I broke out my camping chair and sat down. The stuff in my pockets was poking into my side when I sat down, so I took it all out and put it in a pile on the ground. I sat for along while, drank the rest of my water and made a decision to walk back to the junction of the track and fire trail where I last had phone reception. I had two water bottles, I’d fill them up on the way. I gathered up my things including the two water bottles and started the great trek back up the big hill. Mistake five, before you leave make sure your have EVERTHING with you, take your time and double check (more about this later).
I filled my water bottles from a puddle in the creek and walked up the hill slowly, stopping to rest, catch my breath and “sip” my water that had a curious tobacco flavor. I was really thirsty so it didn’t bother me. After what seemed an eternity (probably an hour) I reached the junction where I last had phone reception. I was elated. I switched on my GPS, took the co-ordinates of my current position, typed a “come rescue me, I’m not injured” message and pressed send…“no service”. Damn what the hell’s going on? Suddenly I had one bar…pressed re-send and the message went off. “Well at least they know exactly where I am, that I wasn’t injured and I need rescuing”. It was then I noticed I had around 15% charge left on my phone. I reached in my pocket took out the charging cables and…well damn I left the battery on the bike!! How bloody stupid of me.
So now I had to manage my water consumption and my phone battery. I hadn’t got a return message so I sent the same message to my other riding companion and my wife. I got a call but it was hopeless because neither of us could hear anything and the net result was my battery power dropped another 3%. Then I got a text saying the “coppers” are on their way and they’ll be with you in 30 minutes. My spirits lifted and I drank half of what was left of my water and saved the other half for 15 minutes when I would be rescued. Mistake three, made for a second time, don’t assume anything. If someone messages you that you’ll be rescued in 30 minutes, don’t plan on them being there in exactly 30 minutes. More importantly don’t manage your resources around those 30 minutes.
Fifteen minutes later I drank the other half of my water and started to think of what I was going to say to my rescuers. The situation I was in was entirely of my own making. I had made many bad decisions, was ill prepared and I felt like a complete fool.
I sent a message saying I was switching off my phone to save battery and would switch back on every half hour. I sat and waited and on the half hour, turned on and sent a message “I’m OK and will wait in my current position”. I was starting to get thirsty again. Half an hour later I switched on again and this time received a few messages, very comforting knowing there are a number of people who know where you are. I told everyone I was OK and waiting in my current position. I turned off and had 2% left. Half hour went past and I turned ON and repeated my messages this time leaving my phone on until it died. I was now really thirsty and on a number of occasions I got up with the intention of walking down the hill to the water but somehow managed to stay put.
I think it was 3 hours from getting the initial message that help was on its way, to the time my rescuers turned up. My phone was flat and I had run out of water long ago.
Finally the 4X4 lights came into view and I was saved. I remember covering my face I was so ashamed, at the same time I was elated and relieved I wouldn’t have to spend the night in the bush. I was asked by two of Wauchopes finest, “How the hell did you get down there?” We were all laughing, me mainly from the shear relief of being rescued, but I knew it wasn’t funny. A decision was made to get out of there before it turned totally dark and I would come back the next day and pickup the bike.
The next day I went back to my bike with a rescue vehicle. We moved the bike off the track than drove up the track and found a way out. I ended up being towed 100 meters up the hill then rode the remainder of the way out which took around an hour or so.
I made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot of lessons. The single most important lesson I learned is when you “first” realize you’ve made a mistake “STOP AND THINK”. Weight up your options and consider the consequences. If you can turn back, even if it means back tracking three hours down a rough track and getting to you destination very late, do it. You’ve come this far so you should be able to go back. I believe water is the single most valuable resource you can carry with you. I will never venture out again unless I have AT LEAST 3 liters of water with me and will carry more if I can. Getting dehydrated is no fun and the consequences are disastrous, both physically and mentally.
I will be going on many more adventure rides and I look forward to riding down many more challenging tracks. However, from now on I will stop, access my situation and if I can’t see a way out I will turn around. I have purchased a tracker that allows me to message out via satellite, a PLB, an electric winch and I have a list of safety and recover gear that I will carry with me. I learned a hard lesson, I hope you learn something to.
By the way that sign at the top of the track read, “4WD TRACK ONLY. ENGAGE LOW RANGE”.