Safety in the Woods

OK, I’m hardly the Bear Grylls type, and most of you probably aren’t either, so for those of you who don’t relish being stuck out on a forlorn logging road 20 km from the nearest paved road with a busted bike, hungry and thirsty, with the sun setting behind the mountains as the temperature drops, and you without cell service and a dying cellphone…  I have a few suggestions to stay relatively safe:

1.  Know where you are going.  Look at the maps, descriptions, contours, elevation change, technical difficulty, etc. Safety is planning ahead.

2.  Plan to stay within your physical limits.  If you think you can handle 2 hours, don’t try for 4.  If you can handle 2 hours, and you plan a 2 hour ride, but are only a quarter way through at 1 hour, adjust accordingly.

3.  Consider weather.  Temperature, wind, and especially rain.  Being hypothermic with another 2 hours before you get back to your car isn’t a lot of fun.  Leaving in the winter for elevation means you might encounter snow or ice.

4.  Consider daylength.  I would typically plan to be back at the car 2 hours before sunset on a track that I haven’t been on before.

5.  Leave a plan with a loved one (or at least a responsible one!) in case you don’t return as planned.  I’ll usually just text a friend to say, “Mountain biking for 4 hours at Sooke Harbourview to Empress via Crabapple”.  Even if she doesn’t know what it means, I’m hoping a search crew would.

6.  Travel with a friend if you aren’t confident in your survival skills, navigation abilities, and bike mechanic knowledge.

7.  Don’t get lost.  Refer to maps, gps, compass bearings as well as the position of the sun and time of day.  If you are completely lost (maybe stuck in dense fog with a dead gps and no compass), probably best just to stay put and hope your friend alerts the search and rescue crew, or the weather changes and you can see where you need to go.

8.  Don’t get the sugar knock.  Eat enough before and carry enough food with you for an extra hour or two.

9.  Don’t get dehydrated.  Bring enough water.  In order to avoid having to lug around 3 litres, I’d suggest a couple of water purification tablets for an emergency.

10.  Don’t get injured.  Try not to take risks beyond your abilities.  Even if you aren’t alone, walking 10 km at night with a fractured wrist will definitely suck.

11.  Don’t get eaten.  I’ve run into many bears.  They have always run away from me.  Even in dense bush, they can run quicker than I can cycle on a fairly flat road, so I don’t think trying to escape is a viable option.  I don’t worry enough to carry bear spray, but I do try to make a bit of noise if I’m travelling quickly downhill and might surprise a bruin around the corner.

12. Don’t suffer an irreparable mechanical. Again, safety is planning ahead. Make sure your bike is in good working condition. Know how to fix mechanical problems, including tyre repair. I would ensure that the chain is relatively new and that I carry a chain break tool just in case. Brake and derailleur cables not worn. Brakepads not worn. Brake calipers not loose. Headset not loose. Sufficient air in tyres. Carry one spare and at least 6 patches with patch kit. At least 2 tyre irons. A working pump.

Victoria Cycle Paths for Cyclepaths