For several months I’ve debated whether or not I should share this story of colossal stupidity and ineptitude on my part. It’s a little embarrassing, but maybe it will help others avoid making the same mistakes I did. Having been a survival instructor in the past, you’d think I would know better than to ride alone in the mountains during bad weather. My face is red and I admit that it isn’t my proudest moment.
Let the Bad Decisions Begin
Each May, as the winter snows melt away, ATV riders call my office begging to know if the trails are open yet. It’s almost as if they think I have some way of controlling the springtime warming process. This spring, to get an answer to their questions first-hand, I decided to check out the trails myself. I’ll tell you the story and you can ring a little bell every time I did something dumb.
I left about four o’clock in afternoon without telling anyone where I was headed. In a moment of inspiration, I strapped a chainsaw to the cargo rack just in case any trees had fallen across the trail during the winter. Not checking the ATV tire pressure or how much gas was in the tank, I fired up the machine and began to roll. Wearing only a windbreaker and pair of cotton gloves, I sped up a mountain trail, ignoring the darkening clouds. With each revolution of my ATV wheels, I climbed higher and the temperature dropped. Before long, rain started falling. Still, I went on.
Life Hurts When You’re Stupid
It wasn’t long before my impromptu ride took me through small patches of snow. Because of springtime melting and freezing cycles, this snow was more like crusted ice that my Maxxis Bighorns had to cut their way through. Twice I hit patches so large that I got stuck and had to wrap my ATV winch cable around trees just to extricate the four-wheeler. The final icy patch of snow - appearing to be so white and pure, but in truth was deceptive and cruel - became my prison.
I got stuck so badly that my ATV tires couldn’t even reach the ground. To make things worse, my battery died and cold rain began to fall. It was 5:30 – one hour until dark in bear and mountain lion country – with a twelve mile long walk back. By now my hands and feet were soaked and beginning to freeze. No panic yet, but lots of regret.
Dig Baby Dig
Unable to use my hands to break through the crusted snow, I frantically chipped away at it with the plastic chain guard from my saw for thirty backbreaking minutes. Total progress up to this time was only a couple of feet and I need to move the four-wheeler twenty more and then somehow try to get it started. With less than an hour ‘til sunset, I pressed on; digging and scraping. The intensity of the freezing rain increased and my mind wandered from the laborious task at hand.
How can I start a fire? What about shelter? How will I dry out these clothes? Is it American Idol night? I resolved to use gas and a spark from the chainsaw to ignite a fire and then cut some limbs to make a shelter. Inwardly I prayed that it wouldn’t come to that.
Free at Last, Free at Last
Progress came but oh so slowly. About thirty minutes before sunset I broke out of the snow and the four-wheeler tires were back on good old terra firma. After turning it around and facing downhill I tried to push start it. Nothing. Several tries later and still nothing. At this point I likened my situation to bovine excrement – and I did not use my indoors voice.
Maybe my angry energy transferred into the ATV or maybe I just got lucky, but after my outburst the engine started and I was able to extract myself from a potentially dangerous situation.
This episode taught me a few really good lessons: watch the weather, tell people where you’re going, dress appropriately, etc. No matter how experienced you think you are or how simple of a ride you are going on, never ever throw caution to the wind and ignore safety. Oh, and don’t leave late in the afternoon, especially if it’s Idol night.