How to Make Lost Better

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First off, know you’re heading into the trail… and then prepare for the worst.

Wow. Admittedly I thought only a handful of people would ever read my blog.

When the local island paper contacted me to talk about the story, I was surprised – and glad to be able to thank the Arrowsmith and Port Alberni SAR teams and squadron 442. A friend from Search and Rescue felt that bringing SAR’s achievements forward was important because they need more positive exposure and because stories like this help provide their education mandate a platform.

I was also happy to say, “Hey, I messed up big. Here’s what not to do. And here’s a few things that worked in my favour.”

I guess with the tragic disappearance of Liang Jin, it was a discussion that needed to happen and well, “Kaboom.”

In one interview, the message about my biggest mistake: using Google Maps to plan a route (thinking it was a back road route rather than a back country route I was planning) came across more like it was Google Maps fault. My miscommunication. But I don’t blame you Google Maps. It’s the not the hammers fault, it’s just the wrong tool…

That is, of course, not the only mistake that I made… it’s just the biggest one.

A lot of great people have been kind enough to email me from all over with future safety recommendations. Many are comments on my original blog post. I felt they deserved their own spot though… so here goes.

Thanks to everyone who offered their advice and joined the discussion.

  • Two SAR rescuers (Outsider Adventures from Arrowsmith and Kelda from Port Alberni) recommended carrying basic survival gear: see below for the ten essentials that everyone should carry into the back country.
  • Brian, a SAR manager from Powell River recommended calling as soon as you think you might be lost, rather than waiting. And then staying put. Higher and in an open area is better. Do not start bush whacking.
  • Michael recommended a dedicated backcountry GPS unit that runs on alkaline batteries – and keeping the unit in a waterproof case or zip lock bag until needed. He also offered an excellent article on “Why you shouldn’t use smart phones for navigation” – And Ryan sent a good page with a bunch of activity appropriate GPS units here.
  • Kip, a long time SAR hero, reinforced the need to keep it together mentally after getting lost. Eric (as well as ambassadors from the North Shore and Port Coquitlam SAR teams) recommended buying a personal locator beacon and satellite messenger such as the Expedition ones featured here. They are light, inexpensive and easy.
  • The local Metro Van SAR teams also talked about never setting out alone or without essential gear, GPS, compass and paper maps. And of course – not relying on your phone – but making sure that you don’t drain the battery down either so you have plenty of juice if you do run into trouble. And carrying a spare cell phone battery is low cost and light as well.

SAR chapters also are excellent education resources. North Shore Rescue has put together and an excellent and very concise resource on How to Avoid Getting Lost here and What the Ten Essentials are here.

Since I was in an active logging area (and not a park) with roads that change way faster than maps, getting a paper map would have been difficult. But that’s exactly why I should have set out for one. I would have realized that there are no maps for the area because it’s a just a maze of more or less undocumented logging roads that usually lead only to a dead end kilometres out. My search for a map would have told me… don’t go in there.

The SAR techs who picked me up have been continually amazing and quick to point out the things that I did do right…

I was wearing extra clothes, had a flashlight with a beacon and emergency audible signal and some food. I tried to conserve my cell battery even before I got into trouble and managed to revive it. I stayed moving and warm and kept my head. I should have had more food, a puff jacket and a waterproof layer in my pack… and often do. The Nathan Flashlight that I was carrying was really an essential. Meant for road running, it has an high pitched audible signal to scare off attackers (or cougars)… it also has a beam, strobe, and red flashing light in the rear for cars (which I would have encountered 17k in to this run had I not gotten so horribly far off track). I was also wearing a bright orange glow in the dark jacket. You might not think about visibility being a factor in the trees but since I thought I would be running on lesser used roads when darkness fell, visibility was one of my main concerns… and it ended up easing the burden on the rescuers.

Phoning to report yourself early on and staying high (and put) is also important. I stayed at my coordinates on top of the mountain – and through some crazy luck I ended up getting reported early (my husband “running” into the RCMP). In honesty, that was not my doing, but it certainly worked in my favour and has been a lesson for me since.

I can see how people wouldn’t stay at their coordinates as crazy as that sounds. Or how they would cut through the bush as even crazier as that sounds. But following my compass straight through the bush crossed my mind and what was in that woods less so.

Heck, I probably would have been hell bent on running myself out of there had I never gotten that phone call. I would certainly never think to call for help. Looking back, I wouldn’t have even told my family I was lost for fear I’d worry them. And I could have made things a lot more difficult for myself and the SAR teams.

In fact, most people don’t contact SAR until it gets really bad. And when they don’t, not only do they make SARs difficult job far more dangerous, they are far more likely to not make it out themselves.

Of course, part of the issue comes in that people are hugely embarrassed to admit they are lost, and don’t want to inconvenience anyone. After experiencing it firsthand, you could see why. There are people that spend their entire day bullying other people on the internet, and being on the receiving end of a SAR makes you an easy target.

In contrast, the SAR people who brought me off that mountain at no time made me feel like a burden. After all I put them through… only more kindness and understanding. I owe these people me life in the rescue, and my sanity in the aftermath.

In short, if you’re in trouble, call before it becomes big trouble… for everyone.

I also told my husband the route and he was running backwards out to meet me on the more major road on the other side. He knew that something was wrong very early on. I was supposed to be through that initial 17k to the road by 4:30-5:00pm and it was 6:30pm by the time he bumped into the RCMP cruiser on that road. Obviously in this case, fate also intervened. I had the find my phone app and he had the password. And I turned my bluetooth on to get my exact coordinates (which I didn’t initially do).

My husband is a hospital technician and encountered a patient who was frightened of the tests she had to do. My husband used Orange Jump Suit Guy’s humour to melt the fear away. She finished those tests with a smile on her face. I feel like the world would be a much better place if you could launch him into various tense situations for a selfie.

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