Big Fat Tire: Safety first in the dangerous world of mountain biking
June 27, 2015
Back when I used to run the Fall Classic stage race, I would always be thinking of what could go wrong.
Putting on any event, large or small, is a dance with Murphy's Law — anything that can go wrong, will. As a promoter, you do everything you can to deny Murphy a toehold. A serious medical emergency was always one of my greatest fears. The logistics of getting to someone quickly who needs help quickly is simply an inherent logistical problem in any backcountry activity. No matter how well you plan, it's still the backcountry, and it still takes a while to figure out what the problem is, where it is, who needs to get there and how they can get there.
When I heard the news that a competitor in the Summit Mountain Challenge had died, at first, I didn't know any details on who or how. I know mountain biking can be dangerous. Serious injuries or death is rare, but not unheard of. I prayed it wasn't someone I know, but, really, that doesn't matter. Whoever it was, they are someone with people who loved them.
I didn't know Glen Peoples, but the photos I've seen show a man smiling, enjoying riding his bike and pushing himself as an athlete. I can only imagine the shock and grief his family must have felt when they understood what had happened. I can only hope that time will heal the wounds that losing Glen has inflicted on them.
I also feel for Jeff Westcott and the Mav Sports crew. Jeff and company are a tight-knit bunch. They have a passion for mountain bike racing that shows through with the events they put on, events that aren't just competitions but a celebration of community and friends. These folks treat all the competitors with respect — when you line up, you become a friend. Jeff and Mav put on top-notch, professionally-run races, and I know everything that could have been done was. I have a lot of respect for all these folks, and I wish the same healing for them as I wish for Glen's family and friends.
ER via Bakers Tank
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Glen's passing got me thinking about the dangers of mountain biking. I've been participating in this sport for more than 30 years, and I've injured myself badly enough to visit the emergency room twice.
Once was a case of my ego getting the best of me. At the top of the Bakers Tank Trail, a young gun asked me if I "minded if he went ahead because he wanted to go fast." This challenge to my manhood would not go unmet, and I took off — in the lead — and we proceeded to ride in a manner that contradicts all my soapbox preaching about riding in control at all times. I caught a pedal and was high-sided off my bike — face first — into a log on the side of the trail, which resulted in my nose being half torn off. Luckily, one of the female companions in our group was carrying a feminine product she applied to my face, and I was able to ride down, through town and to my car for a drive to the ER, where my friend Deb stitched me up. Bottom line: Don't let your ego overpower your sense of self preservation.
The other time was also on Bakers Tank. Now, I don't think Bakers Tank is more inherently dangerous than any other trail, but it does seem to have my number. This time, I was by myself and, once again, caught a pedal, high-sided shoulder first onto a boulder. Thankfully, this crash didn't require any feminine hygiene products, but I did have to ride down the rest of the trail and down to my home, so I could immediately drive to the ER. The verdict was a torn rotator cuff, which required many hours of physical therapy. Bottom line: Don't get too complacent on trails you are very familiar with.
Prepare for the unknown
Since this column is supposed to be at least somewhat about useful tips, I suppose I should give some safety advice. Since that day when nobody had anything but a tampon, I have carried a small first aid kit. It contains a few 4-by-4 gauze pads, some medical tape, a few antiseptic wipes, an irrigation syringe, some antibiotic gel, a few bandages of various sizes and exam gloves. It all fits into a Ziploc bag and lives in my Camelbak at all times. It's also a good idea to have at least basic first-aid training.
I also carry a lighter and a couple sticks of fire-starter, as well as a whistle. Here in the High Country, I almost always carry a rain jacket, arm and leg warmers and long-finger gloves. Getting caught in a rainstorm out here can lead to hypothermia if you're not prepared.
Of course, most of us carry a cell phone. The problem with over-relying on phones is that not everywhere has cell coverage, so don't get cell-phone courage in the backcountry no matter what activity you participate in. Calling in an emergency won't do you much good if you don't know where you are. It's a good idea to carry a map and keep track of your surroundings if you're in an unfamiliar area.
Yes, mountain biking can be a fairly high-risk endeavor. You don't have to be all agro and "extreme" to get hurt. Most of the time, we lose a little skin or bruise ourselves, then pick ourselves up and finish the ride, but it's a good idea to carry some basic first-aid supplies and keep some sort of plan in the back of our minds in case things really go wrong.
Otherwise, you could find yourself riding down busy Main Street with a tampon stuck to your face.
Mike Zobbe is the president of the Summit County Fat Tire Society.
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