It couldn’t happen to me. Noone messes up so bad they’re stranded. But think about it. How many times have you chanced a ride-extension last thing at night, hoping to scrape home not when you legally need lights, but when you actually need lights. To see with.
Just another loop around the singletrack at the back of the moor. I was feeling good. Unwinding the stress of a bad day at the office. One more lap — quite unlike me really — but the singletrack’s riding well tonight. Clip in, slurp on the Camelbak and notice it’s getting low on fluid. Not to worry. Home soon for tea and toast. In the bath. Up and over this, drop down this rise, look at sunset… front wheel’s dug in, sliding, flying… of the front… It all goes quiet.
No. Of course it didn’t really happen. But I’ve come close several times. Riding as I do in remoteness, late in the evening, and being a miserable sort of sod, I often wonder about the chances of losing it in the back of beyond and having to spend a night out on the moor. Benighted – whatever they call it.
Those that know best do things to stop it happening. When you’re further away from civilisation, then it makes sense to be sensible. Clearly mountain biking itself is a daft and dangerous thing to do, but making it dafter or more dangerous still won’t do you any good if you damage yourself or your bike. Dropoffs, gap jumps and looning about is fine close to home, when you’re further away, or you’ve got a schedule to hit (like sunset) then styling it up like a phatboy isn’t going guarantee your return to safety. If you were truly worried about not making it back, then not going out at all is the best answer.
We all know we shouldn’t but stuff still happens. Don’t ride alone. Leave details of your route. Go in threes. Pack Kendal Mint Cake and spare socks. And a flask. Yeah right. I’m lucky if I remember to fill my Camelbak, or if I do refill it, I always forget to clean it first. Though I hear tell of people with clean clothes, properly set up kit and clean bikes, I’ve never met one on the trail. Perhaps that’s because they’re too busy doing the prep that other riders skip.
Preparing for riding is important. Making sure you’ve no-brained your toolkit and caboodle enough so that it’s impossible to forget — be that by fastening it permanently to your bike in a ickle saddlebag, or tucked away in the bowels of your Camelbak — means that you should be able to fix things that go wrong, as they will, on the ride. Duplicating tools so you don’t have to snaffle from your on bike toolbox means that you’re less likely to have left that 8mm allen key back at the ranch, instead of having it on you when your crank drops off.
But this is preparing for the worst. What we’re trying to do here is assume the worst has already happened. What do you do next?ASSESSING THE SITUATION
When it all goes pear shaped, you’ve got to make an assesment of the situation, with a reasonable clear head. Sitting in a plastic bag on the moor top (we’ll come to that in a minute) isn’t something that you’ll do lightly. It’s a final straw. It’s something you’re quite welcome to try, but you won’t like. Really.
Several survival kits are available from your local outdoor specialists. The ones we used we from BCB. Their Pioneer Survivor GoPack is a complete pack of safety equipment with helpful instructions on what to do when it goes wrong. It comes in a camouflage pack (a mistake perhaps — how do you find it in the dark?), and costs about £11.99.The larger BCB Adventure Com-Pac short-term emergency kit is pretty much the same as the Survivor, but comes in a quality 1 litre bottle, so it’ll float, and you can use the bottle for carrying or purifying water. It’s about £14.
We also assembled the kit which you’d need to survive overnight, or longer, on the trail by yourself.
Survival bag – the heaviest gauge plastic you can get away with. Thinner is lighter, but less durable. But it’s better to get a bag that you are going carry, rather than one you’re going to leave behind.
Whistle – “Put your hands in the air”, or to alert rescuers.
Matches – for lighting fires.
Candle – to assist you in lighting fires. Light the candle with the match, then light
the fire with the candle.
Tin tray – small takeaway food container, washed and folded flat. As long as it hasn’t kicked around in the bottom of your bag for too long, it can be used for collecting and boiling water.
String – always handy, for shelter construction or a noose to hang yourself if it all gets too much.
Water purifying tablets – treat the water in your tin tray to make it drinkable. Don’t tip the whole lot into a puddle, thinking it will purify it.
Light stick – bend once, snap and shake. Have light for ten hours.
Fuel tablet – fancy fire lighter can be used to warm self/food/water on its own, or used to get a bigger blaze going.
DON’T GET RESCUED
Riding a bike is inherently dangerous, but you can make it less dangerous by following these mmb “Be sensible, not be-nighted” tips.
1) Don’t go alone.
Riding by yourself is amongst the stupidest things you can do. If anything happen, noone will know anything until you fail to return. With someone alongside you, at least they can go for help, or assist you should anything happen.
2) Tell someone where you’re going.
Keeping schtum about your proposed route is the best way to get into trouble should anything happen to you when you’re out there. Even a grunted — “I’m off out on’t moor” is better than nothing, as at least she’ll not be waiting for you coming up the road drunk with a cone on your head. Doing it properly means telling someone the precise route you’re going to follow — you can even leave this on the dashboard of your car if you travel to your ridespot in it. But don’t add at the end “keys on inside of front offside wheel”…
3) Ride sensibly
Of course we’re not talking about only going out on disused railway lines during the hours of clear daylight. But we are talking about risk-management. Don’t do daft things in the middle of nowhere. A broken bike or broken bone could put you in a scrape easily.
4) Be prepared
Have you got the right clothing, and enough of it. Have you got food and water Can you navigate your way round? Having all eventualities covered should mean that you’ll get back safely, or be able to cope with any changes in weather easily.
Oh god. I’m lost and broken.
If you’re injured enough to be immobilised, then you might not have an option. Broken lower limbs have that effect, and if you’re legless, then you’ll have to sit it out until someone finds you, or get to somewhere where you can be found. Half-an-hour before sundown doesn’t tend to be a popular time for anyone in their right mind to be wandering about on the hills, so you can’t expect anyone to find you — unless a like minded cyclist happens past. Getting to somewhere where you might be found is going to require a “999” style crawl, without Michael Burke’s helpful commentary.
If you’re bikes broken, you’re shaken up, or you’ve got a treacherous rock descent with no lights, then sitting tight may well be the smart option. But only if you work with what you’ve got and work out what you’re going to do when it gets light. You can’t just sit on your arse and expect to be rescued. If anyone misses you anyhow.BETTER TRY THEN…
So, instead of pondering the consequences, I figured, I’d better try. How comfortable a night can you spend, out in the back of beyond with only a dayglo plastic bag for company? So it’s back to the slight gloss of journalese, as we continue our story.
As dusk began to envelop the moor, the temperature dropped rapidly. By the time the sun was just a glow over the horizon, the temperature was at least ten degrees cooler than it had been minutes earlier. Clothing that had been warm half an hour ago, was stuff that I was glad I had on as the breeze that had been nicely cooling turned to something whipping round my kidneys and chilling me. And it was only September.
With my twisted ankle, I couldn’t walk out safely. Dark was drawing in. Though I tried to find my way off the moor, the approaching darkness made wary of continuing. Better to find a sheltered spot, try to rest and press on in the morning when there was more light. Thankfully I’d packed sensibly. My BCB Pioneer survival kit, all contained neatly in a camouflaged pouch was going to get me through the night. By the light of the lightstick that I’d thoughtfully packed as well, the instructions cheerfully telling you “YOU WILL LIVE” make inspiring reading.
Actually, the lightstick was a revelation. I turned out to have 10hours worth of light and was bright enough to read by. Bright enough even to see where you’re going. And handily about the right diameter to fit inside a handlebar end, though it’d be a bit fiddly getting it out. Up the seatpost held in place with a suitable corky bit, this fella could get you home in the event of a light failure, and could even be used as a temporary light to warn other road users of your presence.
Notwithstanding my ability now to see enough to get home, I slip off my shoes and crawl into the thin gauge plastic bag that was to be my saviour. It is cold. At any point the bag touches my clothing the heat seems to be sucked out of me. Cold. Never mind, hopefully the greenhouse effect, or something like that, will warm up the air in the bag and leave me toasty and warm in no time.
I huddle down drawing the bag up around my neck and hear my mum shouting at me about not playing with plastic carrier bags. Would I suffocate in my sleep Would I sleep at all?
The ground is cold. Even though it’s soft and comfortable, slightly damp moorland peat-bog sort of ground, it’s cold. I dismember a tussock, taking it’s defensive spines for ground covering insulation. It makes no difference. It’s still cold. I try sitting on my shoes, but that’s worse and I’m worried my bag will rip. My toes are cold. Aw…
As the sun drops further down, the only light source is from the lightstick. It’s good. Regrettably, for all my hopes, it’s not a heat source. The only heat I can feel through it is the amount I’ve warmed it up by holding it in my chilly paws. I rest my head on my Camelbak, helmet still on, to insulate my inadequately haired head, remembering my school outdoor pursuit teacher, Mr Balmer, telling me that 10% of your body heat is lost through your head. Should I remove the shorts under my tights and put those on my head too? I decide not to.
I drift slowly into a half-day dreaming sleep-like state. It couldn’t be called restful. Thankfully I know it’s not that bad. People have spent worse nights than this. I’ve spent worse night than this — bushes in Huddersfield, benches in London, Iceland Frozen Foods cold storage warehouse… This is nothing. People sleep on the streets in every town and city around, everynight of the week… This is easy.
I awake cold and stiff, numb down one side. It’s pitch dark — if you ignore the glow-light eerily shining from within my plastic shrouding. I huddle down and try to rest more, but I’m on edge. Cows are coming closer. Bright lights in the sky following strange flightpaths. TV masts on the far moor blinking at me. I shake my hands to get the blood flowing properly and massage my toes to warm them up. It’s painful, but it works. The light is becoming brighter. Soon it will be enough to see by. I’ve had enough — I’m getting out of here. As I pack up, the sun starts to rise… I’ve made it. Not that I was going to die, because I always had the option. If it happens for real, I’ll be prepared. I’ll have done it. And once you’ve done it once, the second time never seems so bad. Go try it yourself…
So let’s assume you’re in situation where it’s going a bit pear shaped. You’ve bashed or broken something making progress difficult or even seemingly impossible.
What do you do now?
1. Check yourself out.
What have you broken, bent, twisted or sprained. What danger are you in? Is there blood gushing from your body? Can you see straight? Is anything broken Ascertain what’s wrong with you.
2. Sort yourself out.
If you need first aid, attend to it now. Make the best use of what you have, using a pad made from clothing to stem blood flow.
3. Put on clothing.
Got any spare clothing? Put it on. Keep warm. You’ll need to.
4. Check your bike.
Does it still go. Is that bit over there part of it? Is the bike the problem? Could you get to safety without it? Leaving it is an option if time is pressing and it’ll just slow you down. Dragging a bike with a busted wheel or frame, or having to take a long-cut when time is pressing is trouble you don’t want.
5. Get shelter.
If you have no other equipment, get yourself out of the wind and into shelter. Put on all your available clothing. Keep warm.
6. Consider your options. Walk out, or stay put…