Thursday, January 12, 2012

Lost in the Desert

Driving out in the Arizonan Desert during Christmas break on our four-wheelers, my brother became disoriented and was separated from the group.  For nearly 4 hours I searched for him- backtracking, looking in ravines, asking others, calling and texting his cell- even involving the Sheriff's Search and Rescue.

Thankfully, the story ends well.  He was found alive and well just as the sun was setting.

What were the lessons learned?  What could have gone better?

My brother was using my four wheeler, a 2010 Brute Force 750,  a very capable 4x4, with nearly a full tank of gas when he was separated. The saddle bag was full of survival items (rope, paracord, food, water, knife, gun, lighters, walkie talkies, tire plugs, compass, cell phone, and more.)  If your just going about your normal business- a normal amount of preparedness is all you need.  But, if you are planning to go out into the hinterboonies (like we were), you need to be super prepared.  I told him to bring a jacket, but he refused, thinking that we would only be riding in the daylight in Arizona, which even in the winter, is 70's.  He never considered that he would be there over night, where the temps get down in the 30's.  While we were only planning a 3 hour ride in the desert, it ended up being over 6 and could have been much longer- and colder.

What he didn't know is that he had lots of resources that he was carrying right with him.  He says he knew there were granola bars and a gun- but even after he became lost, he didn't check and assess his supplies.  He remembered that I told him that cell service was terrible and he didn't even bother to check. I think this is important in any emergency situation.  Stop and assess your situation.  Consider what resources you have at hand and if any of them could help you.

Have a plan.  This is something I could have done better.  While I didn't plan to become separated from him, I could have briefed him on a plan if that happens.  If your in the rear, stay put.  If your in the front leading, go back.  Simple- yet to an inexperienced rider it was not obvious.

Be aware of your surroundings.  Take mental notes.  Look for landmarks. Stack rocks.  Many outdoors-men and women take this for granted as second nature.  Those who spend less time outdoors need to make an effort at this.  How many times have you just put in the address in the GPS and then followed the voice until you got there?  Could you do it without the device?  Did you notice any landmarks along the way?

After I got him back in the car, I asked him, "What would you have done if we didn't find you?"  He replied that after dark, he would have stayed put, kept the ATV running with the headlights on and waited for help.  I think this was a smart decision.  At night it would be easy to spot headlights- especially if they were on top of a hill.

So, in all a very stressful situation that could have been deadly.  The desert is nothing to take lightly.  It is a rough and tough place to survive.  Between critters, cold, heat, rocks, cactus, and lack of water, it is not a place to tread lightly in.  The same goes for other places we go.  Be prepared- and even if you are, ensure the people you are with have at least a clue about what to do.  My Survival Library has lots of books and manuals with tips on how to survive in any environment.