Life Interrupted . . . Forever Grateful for the SOS Button

I’ve always prepared a bit more than the average hiker for emergencies. I promote and mentor risk mitigation. In fact my most popular blog post is specific to this subject, Dear Friends and Family. I live this philosophy and as a result felt better about my situation when I found myself in need of help. 

So what happened?

I was hiking northbound on the PCT. I’d camped at Mirror Lake in Three Sisters Wilderness the previous night.

After hiking about five miles that morning, I found myself falling down a slope. I have absolutely no idea what caused me to fall. The trail was in good condition, flat and wide with no real obstructions. My wrist took the full force of the fall. It was obviously dislocated. 

To Activate the SOS on my inReach or NOT?

My legs were fine. I hadn’t hit my head nor did I have any bleeding. The pain and discomfort was manageable. I had exit options involving less than 10 miles of hiking. I didn’t want to push the button but I knew I was in shock and shouldn’t be making decisions. Thankfully I didn’t have to. Hot Lips and Caveman became my angels. Although I was hiking solo, they were at the right place at the right time and ultimately sacrificed their day for me.

The Waiting Game

This is where I was so happy to have two-way communication via my inReach. I knew my SOS was received and help was on it’s way. It took four hours for an EMT to arrive. 

Just because a helicopter arrives doesn’t mean quick or easy extraction. In this case even though I had helicopter insurance, my condition didn’t warrant a ride. Furthermore, hot temperatures made lift challenging and as such the helicopter departed immediately leaving Jason behind to escort me to a trailhead. 

Jason’s job was to evaluate and stabilize my injury. A SAR volunteer was on a backpack trip nearby so he was solicited to help with this process. Why am I smiling? It might have been the pain medications I’d been given my Hot Lips. The EMT did not carry medications. I had some in my pack but Hot Lips was able to access her supply quicker. Word to the prepared: stock something stronger than ibuprofen for these situations.

The next to arrive on scene were two volunteers on horseback to carry out my pack. 

Once my pack was loaded, we began the 8.5 mile hike to the nearest trailhead. It was now about 7 hours since my accident and 5.5 hours since activating my SOS. 

I ended up with quite a large rescue crew with some coming from the west side, Lane County, and others coming from the east side, Deschutes County. We met up with a team of 5-7 volunteers who’d hike in about 4 miles from the trailhead. The team included a doctor who evaluated my condition and who had additional pain medication available. About 2 miles from the trailhead we met another horseback team who’d brought a horse which would have been used for my evacuation had I not been able to hike.

The ambulance was waiting for me at the trailhead. I arrived at 9pm, a full 12 hours after my accident and 10.5 hours after activating my SOS. One of the most helpful items I had with me to relieve stress and expedite care was a typed page with all my emergency, medical and surgical information so those helping could take a photo, copy or transcribe what they needed. It included my name, address, allergies, medications, past medical/surgical history, emergency contacts, medical insurance, etc. 

I landed at St Charles Medical Center in Bend at 10pm. They rushed me in, gathered vitals, x-rays and treated my dislocation. I was discharged at 1am. Thankfully I had my emergency contacts set up with inReach. Dispatch stayed in contact with them regularly and as a result my niece arrived at the hospital shortly after I did. 

A Different Kind of Nightmare

While I was scheduled to meet with a hand surgeon the next morning in Bend, my insurance had other plans. Since I travel extensively, I knew my plan only covered emergencies out of network. Once I’d been discharged from the emergency room, my condition was no longer considered an emergency. Thus I had to find my way back to California. Had family and friends not been available to help, this would have been a true nightmare. As it was I made it back to Redding just as the Carr Fire erupted, with 38,000 homes evacuated including mine, and 1,000 lost . . . thankfully not mine. The community was in the midst of a major crisis with most businesses closed including medical and surgical facilities. After a few more days of fighting with my insurance, I finally got an out-of-area referral to Sacramento where I had surgery at UC Davis. 

Sometime you just have to laugh about the ridiculousness of the situation. 

And give thanks to friends and family who understand, and who’ve gone out of their way to assist in my recovery. Let’s say I have a lot of pay-it-forward debt.

Shit happens. Life is full of risk whether I’m out hiking, taking a bath or driving a car. I choose to manage risk and prepare for it but I also choose not to let it rule my life. As soon as I’m able to hold a hiking pole, I’ll be back out there adding miles to my resume. Until then, I’ll be working to rebuild strength and dexterity in my arm, wrist and fingers. I was so happy the first time I could make a ponytail (the things you don’t realize takes two hands) and even more so when I could braid my hair. 

Good thing I have a lot of blogging to catch up on since typing is great therapy. 

Tips:

  • Wilderness first aid training is beneficial. A hiker who’d just taken the course made this excellent sling out of my rain jacket. He also soaked my buff so I’d have a cold compress for my wrist. 
  • If possible hike to water before activating SOS. We knew there was a creek and meadow a couple miles from my accident site. I immediately soaked my arm/wrist in the creek and then used my pack liner bag for soaking during the long four-hour wait. I couldn’t have found a better place to wait vs in the middle of a recent burn where I fell and where it would have been less likely I could have gotten a signal out. It’s also a good reminder of carrying sufficient water in case you’re stuck somewhere for a day or two awaiting help.
  • Know your emergency device. I’ve been using mine for about five years and had it paired with phone for easier texting and access to my contacts. I’d read the FAQ’s and had spoke with a couple of hikers who’d had to activate the SOS. I knew what to expect. Take time to set up your emergency contact online. Consider getting the helicopter insurance as it’s not always provided as a free service. Carry an external battery and don’t drain in case you need it to recharge your phone or inReach in an emergency situation.
  • Carry resources to help with exit options. While I was carrying Halfmile Maps which don’t show much beyond the PCT, I had also downloaded a much larger area to my Gaia app. The couple who helped with my sling also had a NatGeo map which we reviewed for exit options. 
  • Carry/wear a rescue color. By the time the helicopter arrived there were about 10-15 hikers around. My friend Ron’s shirt was the only one they could see. I’ve since been told that bright blue is the best as it’s not a color found in nature. Other ways to get attention are a signal mirror, a mylar emergency blanket or by taking flash photos.
  • Do the work in advance to help SAR help you. This will also help in the case of a medical emergency. Dear Friends & Family, If I become a Missing Person . . .
  • Make a donation to your local SAR, consider becoming a volunteer, and definitely make a donation to the ones who responded if you ever have to push the SOS button. If you want to make a donation on my behalf, here are the links: Lane County SAR and Deschutes County SAR.

 

 

Me and My CRV – Safety, Security, Self Reliance

There are inherent risks with both life on the road and car camping. Much like my life at home or in the wilderness, I believe in being prepared for the what ifs that you hope never happen.

Vehicle Maintenance:

  • Before leaving for a trip, take care of any standard maintenance issues such as oil changes and tire rotations.
  • Verify your spare tire is at the recommended air pressure.
  • Budget for maintenance along the way depending on trip mileage.
  • Budget for repairs. In 2016, I had my first flat tire; in 2015 a tiny fender bender.

Vehicle Insurance:

  • Review your policy to ensure it is sufficient to cover the additional miles, states, countries you may be visiting.
  • Maintain a copy of your policy information (it may already be available online).

Vehicle Contents Insurance:

  • Most likely your car insurance does not include content coverage.
  • Review your home owners or renters insurance. These typically cover vehicle contents. Keep the details readily available.
  • Take time to make a list of your vehicle contents. It simplifies reporting theft and recovery.

Vehicle Emergencies:

  • Consider roadside emergency coverage. If you already have a policy, review to verify details. Before you became a vagabond, you might have had a policy that only tows 5 miles. Consider upgrading to 100 miles. Beware that most policies do not cover assistance on forest service roads, etc.
  • Canned air (might give you enough tire pressure to get back to a main road or tire repair facility)
  • Battery charger and jumper cables. Tip: Tiny portable power banks for jump starting your car are now available (see below photo). 

Travel Conditions:

  • Tire chains
  • Shovel

Personal Security:

  • InReach – I already own this device for backpacking and hiking purposes, but I also use it to check in while on the road. When I leave the highway, I’ll send a waypoint to my map. I’ll do the same each evening and each morning. If I don’t check in, I have written a plan of action for my family. You can also use this device to text for help, when you don’t have cell service (i.e. if you break down or are delayed in meeting someone).
  • I lock my car when I’m sleeping, which activates the alarm. If anyone were to break in, the loud shrieking noise may deter further advancements even if I’m in a remote location with no one else around.
  • Wasp Spray is more effective than pepper spray due to the additional distance you can be away from an assailant, plus much less expensive.
  • If you are outside your car, but nearby, and feel threatened, activate the car alarm with your key fob.
  • Trust your gut. Don’t park somewhere you don’t feel safe. Be prepared to move if the situation changes.

Personal Practicalities:

  • Recharging Electronics
    • I carry an external battery and recharge it regularly. Many times because I’m using my phone for maps, music and reading, it doesn’t get fully recharged while driving so I’ll charge it at night from the external battery.
    • I also carry an inverter to recharge my computer while I’m driving.
  • Photos
    • If you’re taking photos on your phone, set your app to back them up online regularly. Unless you have an unlimited data plan, you’ll want to limit upload to when you’re on WiFi.
    • If you’re taking photos on your camera, you’ll want to back them up. SIM cards are known to fail. Many of the newer cameras have a WiFi option where you can store a copy online. Mine doesn’t so I use my computer to copy from the SIM card to a USB drive. I organize the photos into folders on the USB drive based on location, then create subfolders with the best photos. When I have WiFi access I’ll upload the best photos to Google for further backup.
  • Lost or Stolen Phone
    • Do you know how to ping and lock your phone?
    • Keep the instructions handy, including the number of your carrier.
    • Verify your contacts are backed up, so if you need to replace, it won’t be such a painful process.
  • Passwords
    • Most likely you’ll be managing your bills and accounts online while your traveling. Store an accessible but secure list of your passwords and apps/website links (or make available to a trusted friend or family member).
  • Lost or Stolen Wallet
    • Maintain a list of your credit card numbers and contact numbers on your secure online list (or make available to a trusted friend or family members).
  • ICE (In Case of Emergency)
    • Use the ICE option on your phone to flag emergency contacts. That way even if your phone is locked, others can access your family/friends should an incident occur.

Tip: Travel with a tiny backpack or other carrying device you can grab when you leave your car unattended (i.e. shopping, sightseeing, etc). Keep stuff with you that will be a major hassle to replace (or trip ending) such as passport, phone, wallet, camera.

More posts about Me and My CRV

Dear Friends & Family, If I become a Missing Person . . .

Recent missing hiker stories compelled me to do some research on how I could better prepare my family and friends should I become MIA. This is what I’ve done to hopefully be found sooner than later. 


Dear Friends & Family,

When you don’t receive two InReach checkin messages from me (usually about 12 hours apart), these are the steps to take.

1. Do a little detective work

Call my cell phone, send a locate and text message to my InReach, check my InReach map, check my facebook postings, check my google timeline, post an inquiry to my private tracking page, message me on my facebook. Search for my phone (use Google Android Tracking Manager).

If no response nor additional checkins after another 12 hours (therefore missed a total of 3-4 checkins), it’s time to get the authorities involved. Yes, there’s a chance that my InReach is broken or lost, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. My consistent checkins will help authorities understand your concerns.

2. Contact law enforcement

Who to contact? Authorities in the county, city or national park from which I last had an InReach checkin (most likely a sheriff’s department). (TIP: You can start with a 911 call and dispatchers should transfer you to the applicable jurisdiction.)

What to say? You want to file a missing persons report (there is NO waiting period to file a report).

Details you’ll need for the report (TIP: Provide your emergency contact or support team a USB drive with the following):

√ Nicknames or aliases used by the person (include trail name if applicable)

√ Address and phone number (include cell carrier so phone can be pinged)

√ Physical description, including height, weight, age, hair color, eye color, build, etc. (TIP: include copy of your driver’s license and a current photo.)

√ Description of the clothing and shoes the person was last seen wearing, include size, color and brand if known (TIP: include photos of you wearing your various layers of clothing, including hat, sunglasses, pack, shoes, etc., plus your shoe tread and print.)

√ List of possessions the person might be carrying, with name/color/model of items such as backpack and tent (TIP: include photos of your pack, tent, sleeping bag, contents of resupply box, etc.)

√ List of scars, tattoos, and other identifying characteristics (TIP: include photos)

√ List of medications the person was taking, as well as allergies, handicaps, and other medical conditions (TIP: include photo of insurance card and doctor names)

√ List of relatives or friends of the missing person, along with contact information

√ List of places the person has been recently (TIP: include your trip itinerary. ReConn Trip Record provides a detailed form. Also a link to your SPOT or InReach map if applicable)

√ Description of the person’s car with license plate, make, model, color anything unique (if applicable) (TIP: include photos)

√ Description of the situation surrounding the person’s disappearance (TIP: discuss any weather, terrain, medical condition concerns)

Keep a record of the report. Make sure you obtain a case number for your missing person’s report. Write down the name of the person in charge of your case.

3. Push officials for Search & Rescue (SAR) help. You are my advocate and need to be the squeaky wheel. Stay in contact with assigned authority. Ask them to check on any recent phone activity.

4. Contact the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs). The US Department of Justice operates this system. NamUs lets you upload information about a missing person for use by law enforcement officials, agencies, and individuals. The site helps missing persons cases wrap up sooner by providing this information to the public.

5. Things you can do behind the scenes while officials are doing their thing.

√ Create a facebook group with the specific purpose of collecting and dispersing details in one place. Some have suggested Reddit is a better option.

√ Create a document/spreadsheet to help keep track of and coordinate activities.

√ Spread the word:

√ Create a post to my facebook asking if anyone has seen or heard from me and link it to a new group page asking friends to share to their page and hiker groups etc.

√ Create a flier with and have it posted at nearby trailheads, towns, roads, etc. Post the flier on the new facebook group page to be shared among social media including Instagram using most popular hash tags. The flier should include recent photos, contact number for authorities, link to facebook group page, date missing, last known location, etc.

√ Contact nearby forest service offices, ranger stations, national parks, BLM, fish and game, etc.

√ Contact nearby hospitals and coroners office.

√ Contact media (TV, newspaper, radio, etc).

√ Contact local hiking, equestrian, ATV and hunting/fishing groups.

√ Solicit search assistance (coordinate with authorities and/or SAR).

6. Stay optimistic, I’m a survivor!

I’ll do my very best to prevent you from ever needing this information. Just in case, THANK YOU for doing your very best to help find me.

♥ Jan ♥


Tips:

  • Dedicated Web or Facebook Page:

I created a private facebook page several years ago to help with the process. I post my itinerary and include a link to my InReach map. There’s also a file which includes my emergency contacts, medical information, cell phone provider, credit card info and the “what to do if” page. Photos of me, my gear, shoes, shoe tread, vehicle, license plate, typical resupply box and contents, etc. are on in a shared google album.

  • Emergency Device:

I carry an InReach because I like the signal confirmation it provides as well as the capability of two-way texting. I subscribe to the lowest level plan which is about $12/month. With that I send out a checkin each morning and evening I’m on trail, plus I send a map checkin whenever I transition between trails or go off-trail as well as when I leave and return to my vehicle. I also use it for weather updates and urgent communication. On the home screen it includes my phone # as well that of an emergency contact.

I strongly encourage carrying a device, especially when hiking solo, whether it be a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) or a satellite communicator such as the InReach or SPOT devices.

  • Identification:

Keep your ID readily available for those cases when you can’t speak for yourself. I was involved in an accident where I was in shock and couldn’t answer any of the basic questions. After that I created a sheet I carry with me which has all the important information like name, address, medical history and allergies, emergency contacts, medical insurance, etc. Another option is Road ID.

  • Emergency Contacts:

Keep your phone updated with ICE (In Case of Emergency) contacts. Many phones have that as a special designation so others can access without needing your locked pad code.

  • Password List:

Consider having your list available to at least one of your emergency contacts. I have mine in my Safety Deposit Box.

  • Preferences:

Notify your family and friends of your preferences. Some hikers don’t want a search activated. Be sure everyone knows so SAR resources are not wasted and families stressed unnecessarily. If you are interested in rescue, how soon do you want to be reported missing? I have mine set to 24 hours, which most likely means SAR will not be activated for another 24-48 hours.

  • Hiker Ethics:
    • Be a responsible hiker
    • Carry the 10 essentials (and know how to use them)
    • Designate emergency contact or support team and provide them with your itinerary, etc.
    • Consider taking the Wilderness First Aid course

Real World Experience

On 7/25/18, I had to push the SOS. I was thankful I had the inReach, I’d set it up with emergency contacts, and I had my medical/emergency information list with me. It was such a time saver and stress reducer to hand the paper to first responders and hospital staff. Here’s the link to my story: Life Interrupted . . . Forever Grateful for the SOS Button

Resource Links:

If you have other thoughts, please comment so I can update my post. Special thanks to all my angels who keep an electronic eye on me. I appreciate being held accountable and knowing that I have friends who CARE!

 

 

Backpacking Gear List – Electronics Jabber

My BASE WEIGHT is about 14 pounds, with my ELECTRONICS representing 20% of the weight at 2.8 pounds.

Click on graph for a better quality image and to activate the product hyperlinks. Right click on each hyperlink to open in new tab or window.

Blog - electronics1

Blog - electronics2

Electronics are probably one of the most controversial gear-related topics. You’ll find lovers, haters and a full spectrum in between.

With these devices representing a whopping 2-3 pounds of my base weight, I’ve obviously decided they are an important part of my backpacking and hiking gear. Without these devices, I would be less likely to explore, especially solo, as I do not have a good internal compass and am not as proficient as I should be with map and compass navigation.

Phone

This is my all-purpose utility device. I keep it on airplane mode and use it for:

  • GPS
    • Halfmile and Guthook Apps (I use when hiking on the PCT)
    • Trimble Outdoor Navigator App (I use for navigation and tracking)
  • Resources
    • Maps (saved as PDF or as off-line document)
    • Information & Guidebooks (scanned, photographed or saved to Pocket App)
    • Fun/helpful apps (compass, identification of scat and tracks, wildflowers, constellations, peaks)
  • Entertainment
    • Music
    • Audio and E-Books
    • Camera
  • Connections
    • Instagram/Facebook Updates
    • Texting/Phone

Tips: Go prepared for phone failure. Mine has malfunctioned, I’ve broken the screen, and one time I even lost (and found) my phone on trail. Know how your apps work and practice, practice, practice. Learn the best way to conserve battery life. 

Camera

Photography plays a huge role in my hike (as evidenced by my blog). It is not unusual for me to take a few hundred photos per day. Not only do I prefer the quality of photos taken on my camera, the battery life and storage capacity is much better on my camera versus my phone. When selecting a camera, besides functionality, the other things I consider are:

  • Battery – I prefer the lithium-ion battery packs as they can be recharged in the camera (vs AA or AAA)
  • Recharge Port – Since I have an android phone, I’m able to bring just one USB/micro cord to charge all my devices

Tips:

  • The GGS DC LCD Screen Protector is a great solution for preventing scratches on non-touch screens. These are not like the cheap protectors. They are a harder plastic that doesn’t scratch, tear, peel, and is easy to clean without any degradation in visual quality. I’ve used them on my last 3 cameras and never allow myself to use my camera until one has been installed.
  • Consider WiFi memory cards (i.e. ezSh@re) if you want the convenience of transferring photos from your camera to phone for upload to your blog, instagram or facebook (without internet access).
  • If your photos are as important to you as they are to me, you may want to bring along a second battery (in case the primary battery fails), and a second memory card (in case your primary memory card fills or fails). I call this insurance!

Emergency Device

There are basically two types of devices.

  • Personal Locator Beacons (PLB)
  • Satellite Messengers (i.e. SPOT and InReach)

I purchased the InReach SE in summer 2014. I can’t say enough good things about this device. It has given me freedom and security. What do I like about this device?

  • I can send out customized “I’m okay” messages via email, texting and to my map
  • All my messages have my location embedded
  • I know whether the message was sent or not
  • My family and friend network can text me and I can reply (and visa versa)
  • I can use it for non-emergencies (i.e. coordinating transportation or to say I’m going to be late)
  • When SOS is activated, dispatch can text me for more information (i.e. type of emergency) and I can reply
  • The plan cost is reasonable and flexible (InReach Subscription Plans)
  • The battery is extremely long lasting when the device is turned off when not in use
  • It has a micro plug for recharging which allows me to carry one USB/micro cord for all my devices
  • You can receive weather reports based on current location
  • Although I don’t use this feature, it connects via bluetooth to my phone for easier texting and use of DeLorme maps

Tip: If you want to carry a standalone GPS you might want to consider the InReach Explorer which combines GPS and SOS devices.

GPS

Standalone GPS units tend to have many more features than phone apps, but can also be more complicated to use. The two most popular brands for outdoor activities are DeLorme and Garmin. There are lots of reviews and options; I don’t love mine so can’t share any recommendations.  Carrying a unit you don’t know how to use or a dead one, is just worthless weight. On the other hand, they can be lifesaving, very helpful on finding trails, staying on trails, going cross country off-trail, etc.

Entertainment

While I use my phone for my music, audio and e-books, you may prefer an electronic reader and music player. Just like everything else in backpacking it’s a personal decision.

Recharge Solutions

There are three options:

  • Device Batteries – You could bring extra batteries for each device
  • External Battery – This is the most common solution and there is a huge variety to choose from based on size, weight, capacity and price. The two most popular brands are New Trent and Anker.
  • Solar Panel – While these are not a perfect solution, they can be a good option. I’ve been using the Suntactics5 model since 2013 with satisfactory results. Considerations:
    • Works best if exposed to the direct sun (i.e. breaks)
    • When attached to pack, the device being charged needs to accept trickle charge otherwise you’ll lose the benefit as the device turns on and off when traveling under tree cover or through shaded areas. Most external batteries accept trickle charge.
    • If hiking in shaded areas (i.e. canyons) or in cloudy areas, it’s probably not worth the weight.
    • I drilled holes in the four corners and inserted Nite Ize S-Biners to attach to my pack.

Additional Tips

  • Carrying electronics on hiking or backpacking trips most likely will result in accidental damage to your device. I consider myself careful and I take extra precautions to protect my devices, but yet I’ve still had more than my share of electronic accidents. I dropped my camera in a creek, cracked the screen of my camera when I sat on it, scratched the screen of my phone on granite, scratched my camera lens . . . . So now I buy SquareTrade Electronics Accident Protection Plan for my phones, cameras, GPS units, etc.
  • Go prepared to protect your electronics in inclement weather, during freezing temperatures, in extreme heat, down scree fields, through water crossings, etc.
  • The weight and purpose need to be considered when packing electronics. If not careful, soon your devices plus batteries will add pounds to your pack.

Lightening My Load

YES, I know there are ways I can lighten my base weight. I could eliminate either the external battery or the solar charger which would save 9 ounces. I could also eliminate my camera which would save another 10 ounces. BUT I love having my camera and want the insurance of having both my solar panel and external battery, so for now I’ll carry the weight.

Links

Grams = Ounces, Ounces = Pounds, Pounds = Pain

Choose your pain wisely!