Basic Headcounts Can Save Lives

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I recently read an article where a group of college students who were cave explorers accidentally left one of their explorers locked in a cave for 60 hours. Really???

Not only is this young explorer lucky to be alive, it was completely avoidable based on some very basic safety measures that need to be in place 100% of the time when you are managing teams.

One of the reasons that there needs to be a check off chart at every stop is so that we can make sure that every athlete has passed through that section. If the Trail Driver has to go back and find someone on a trail or in a very desolate area, they have a much smaller place to have to search for them. Lots of things can happen in endurance events, and they DO happen.

Creating those strategies in advance is crucial:

  • How are you going to get someone out if it’s nasty weather? Rain and wind can be incredibly difficult to get a vehicle through.
  • How are you going to hook an injured athlete up on a trail bike and possibly drag them 15 miles, without further injuring them?
  • How do you manage trail first aid for broken limbs?

The list can go on for days, because there are MANY freak accidents in endurance events and training.

I have had other Trail Drivers push back and let me know that I am a worry wart, that there are too many details that I put into trail driving, but my response back is that we have never lost an athlete, or had an athlete not get off that course with all the limbs they started with. Safety and planning is not an afterthought, it is a tool that allows everyone the chance to play again tomorrow.

As for the adventurer who was lost and locked in to the cave, I completely understand his position (from an interview where he said that he is lucky to be alive), and that he will NOT be exploring caves ever again.

It would be a shame to have talented athletes choose to no longer compete because their safety was not managed appropriately.

Prepare every athlete to check off at every stop so that the Trail Driver knows who they are, and where they are. Plus, it will also help them track their time and have a nice snack in the shade.

Trail well.

Headphones

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Here’s why I don’t appreciate headphones for athletes and events.

One of the items that we have as conversations a lot is about athletes who are wearing headphones while doing an event. Now, I will preface this that it is completely determined on the event that you are Trail Driving as to whether leniency can be brought on. But overall, I just say no.

My biggest reason is safety. While an athlete is doing especially difficult physical things, 100% of their attention needs to be on what they are doing.

Endurance athletes are frequently in challenging circumstances. If that environment has any deadly predators in it like rattlesnakes or pumas, I really need them to pay attention because it could cost them their life. No, I am not being overly dramatic.

Tiny rattlesnakes are extremely dangerous, because they do not have any way to put their venom out in a single bite, they will release as much venom as they can until their fangs are pulled out from your leg. They will also leap from rocks if those rocks are in a descending format, so they can bite at your hand or your face. You are never going to hear that warning rattle with a set of headphones on.

There are many things that can bite that you’re not going to enjoy if you’re an athlete on a mission.

While I understand the power of music as a soundtrack that allows performance, I always invite that athlete to check the box in their head about safety and the safety of those around them. I have had athletes not hear a call for assistance from another athlete because they had headphones on. Part of saving the life of another athlete who is in degradation may be that you actually hear them puking or in a convulsion on the side of the route before you actually SEE them.

So when you’re thinking about headphones on an event that has lots of other people who are trying to do amazing feats, you may want to keep your head on and your headphones off.

Trail well.

Binoculars and Colorful Flag Matter

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If you are trail driving on a terrain that has limited road access, you will want to be sure to pack a set of binoculars and flag-pack your athletes. That means putting a square that is at least 12″ x 12″ on them to use in an emergency situation.

It has to be large enough to see it through binoculars with them waving it. I try to make them a color that is so unique that I will see it against the terrain. If you’re in a desert bloom, yellow is a terrible idea. If you’re in a red rock canyon the color red is also a terrible idea. So my advice to trail drivers is to know your terrain color, and then look for a completely different color for the flags.

No matter what the athletes are doing in that terrain – mountain biking, hiking, climbing and/or running – you will need to put on the athlete a single flag that will allow you to see them through a set of binoculars to send them help. Sometimes I will tie this on a bike, put it in their rucksack, or let them use it as a headband.

If the trail driver will not have access to them with a vehicle, or have very limited access, you will want to have a secondary trail driver there with some sort of bike or small motorized vehicle to be able to get to them on the trail. Always pack the main vehicle with everything that you need. That gives any additional trail support a central location that they can gravitate towards to get any additional supplies that they need .

On particularly rough terrains we will often send a trail runner on the trail with all of the medical needs and sometimes tools, and have a roadside team awaiting at specific areas. This is where walkie-talkies can be a magical addition to binoculars.

Be sure to send a set of binoculars with anyone who is going to have to search for an athlete on a trail that is more than a mile away.  In a pinch I have watched people use an iPhone camera to take a picture of an area, then zoom in with their fingers so they can visually search the area that way.

Trail drivers should be scanning the terrain every few minutes depending on how difficult the terrain itself is.

Trail well.