For a number of years I was fortunate to be an active member of our local search & rescue team. The types of missions that we took on ranged from children who had wandered out of the front yard to hikers who suffered a broken bone in the back country. More than once I also encountered embarrassed ATV riders who simply couldn’t find their truck. After riding all day, twisting through trails, one dirt road started to look like another and before they knew it, avid outdoorsmen and experienced ATV riders were simply lost.
I clearly remember the look of sheer embarrassment when we finally located the riders, perched upon their ATV, eating the remnants of whatever beef jerky they had left. The lesson here is simply this: when you head out for an ATV ride, be prepared to not get lost. How?
Map Out Your Route: All Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management field stations offer maps of their designated trails, which are also available online. Private lands are all mapped on USGS topographic maps that are available for a few bucks at your local outdoors store. Do yourself a favor and pick one up. By planning your route and stopping throughout the day to peek at the map and determine where you are is key to not ending up down a road, in the middle of nowhere, completely confused as to which direction is home.
Tell the spouse where you’re going. And go there. More than once our search and rescue team talked to wives who thought their husband was going West, when he had actually changed his mind and ended up heading East…Without ever telling her. When plans change, let somebody know. On the off chance that you do become disoriented, having an accurate place to start looking will get you home faster.
Take the cell phone with you. Sure, a lot of the places where we ride ATV’s are out of cell range, but it seems that coverage areas expand every day. It’s always nice to have the option to call home, as horrifying as it may be, if you do become lost.
A GPS can be awfully handy. Although they shouldn’t be completely relied on, a portable GPS unit is a great, easy way to mark where you unloaded the ATV trailer and track where you’ve been. I always like to use both a GPS and a map, because we all know that technology isn’t always reliable.
Be aware of your surroundings. With the wind whipping past you and dust in your face, tunnel vision can easily set in on an ATV. Take a quick second to remain aware of your surroundings. Odd as it may seem, if you take an awkward turn in an unfamiliar area, don’t hesitate to mark the corner with some flagging. I find that as lighting changes and the day wears on, areas begin to look different in a hurry and any reminder is a good reminder!
Experienced ATV riders becoming disoriented and lost is rare, however it does happen. By taking a few quick minutes to familiarize yourself with new areas and acting a bit Hansel and Gretel throughout the day, you’ll get home to a hot meal and cold beer at the end of a great ride.