Big Fat Tire: Mountain bikers, stay safe during Breckenridge wildfire season
July 6, 2017
On Wednesday, the day after July Fourth, I had been inside most of the morning and early afternoon. I had to drive back up from the Front Range after spending a couple days in Greeley with my fiancée's mom, taking in new Fourth of July experiences (rodeo cowboys are freaking nuts).
So after getting back home, I had to catch up on work. I hadn't paid attention to social media and was oblivious to the small (then large) plume of smoke until I was driving to Frisco for a meeting.
All I could think as I drove down Highway 9 from Breck to Frisco was, "Hoo boy, here we go." When I arrived at the County Commons, the plume looked like the mushroom cloud left by a nuclear explosion or a volcano erupting. I was thinking that, given the location somewhere on the Peaks Trail or Miners Creek Road, it almost certainly had to be a campfire gone bad.
This week's column is going to be about (or mostly about) safety. It will tie in with mountain biking, but when a fire blows up, it drives home the point that there are many things more important than having fun on our bikes.
Drown the flames
First, fire. I'd guess that most of us have enjoyed a campfire with friends on mountain biking road trips. One of my favorite things is staring into the mesmerizing embers of a campfire with friends. It's likely that the Peak 2 fire is the result of a campfire gone bad and this should give us all pause on how we use fire. I don't have space to go into safe campfire practices, but for starters, always make sure your fire is out — as in cold to the touch — when leaving it unattended.
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The other thing this fire got me thinking about was this: How should a mountain biker or any other trail user react when a wildfire is in the area you're riding? Usually, land managers like the U.S. Forest Service and Summit County Sheriff's Office are pretty quick to close down access to trails in the fire zone. Respect those closures! They're not just for your safety, but also so the firefighters can do their job as efficiently as possible.
If you find yourself getting into a smoky situation, turn around quickly and go the other direction, if possible. I'm not an expert so I'm not going to talk about the best things to do if you find yourself in a bad place, but I will say that in the right conditions, fires can move incredibly fast, so be aware of what's happening and don't let yourself get boxed in.
Load the pack
What else about safety? I carry a basic first-aid kit with me in my hydration pack and I've used the kit on more than a few occasions. In it I keep a few antiseptic wipes, some single-use antibacterial packs, an assortment of bandages and gauze pads, an irrigation syringe, some white tape, and some athletic tape. All of this fits into a sandwich-sized Ziplock bag.
Along with the medical gear, I also carry a lighter (check it frequently — the flint trigger in it can get depressed and leak butane), a couple sticks of Firestarter (in case of hypothermia in cold, wet conditions), a rescue whistle and a space blanket. All of this adds very little bulk or weight. At the least, it keeps your road rash clean. At the best, it can save a life.
Get some knowledge
Most typical mountain bike injuries are run-of-the-mill scrapes and bruises, and all they require is a little clean up, antibiotic ointment and a bandage. But we also know that there are plenty of shoulder injuries, broken wrists, cracked ribs, foot and ankle injuries, and, probably the scariest of all, head injuries. Everyone who recreates in the outdoors should at least take a basic wilderness first-aid course. Even better is a Wilderness First Responder class (available throughout the year through Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge and across the state). Knowing what to do in the event of any of the above injuries and everything else that can go wrong in the great outdoors can make a big difference. S*** happens and it's a lot better to know what to do than be totally lost.
If you are riding (or hiking) alone, it's always a good idea to let someone know where you're going. I ride alone a lot, partially because of my personality and slowness, but also because I often find myself having to fit bike time into unpredictably short breaks at the last minute. It's not that I ride recklessly or push the limits when I ride with others, but like I do when skiing in the backcountry alone, I leave a little extra margin of error when I'm riding alone.
I've been lucky over the years. I've never hurt myself on a bike so badly that I couldn't get myself back home, but it could happen. You could be riding along the Peaks Trail and come across a wildfire. It could happen. Be prepared.