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5 Ways to Get Yourself ‘Into’ a Survival Situation Off-Road

Knowing what actions lead to trouble can help ensure you have a safer ride.

Published on 03.27.2015

4.) Distracted, You Ride Off A Cliff and No One Can Find You
It starts out as a scenic off-road tour with you and some friends. The route takes your group along a rocky trail with cliffs dropping off to the side. Everyone has been riding at different speeds and the group is widely dispersed on the trail. It’s all going well and you are enjoying the scenic vistas off in the distance while trying to keep an eye on the trail.

All of a sudden, you feel a solid impact on your front wheel as you hit a baby head sized rock. Your front wheel turns hard left and you and your bike become one with that scenic view down below. Luckily thick brush softens the impact as you tumble down the hillside, until eventually you land on a ledge next to your bike. You’ve fallen out of view from the trail and no one even knows you went off a cliff. As you try to scream for help you realize you can barely whimper a sound. Collapsed lung maybe? Who knows, but it’s going to be a long time before anyone can find you. Congratulations, you just got yourself into a survival situation.

Riding moab cliffs survival situation
It’s a beautiful view but if you don’t pay attention to the trail, you could end up rolling off the cliff.

5.) Riding Solo You Get Your Bike Stuck
You are on a solo adventure ride and you have a day of dirt riding on the way to your next stop. You are staying in hotels so you packed just the basics and your route is not anything too difficult. Hours into your ride you encounter a deep muddy water crossing you weren’t expecting. You get off the bike and assess the situation by poking through the murky soup with a stick. You figure if you enter it with enough forward momentum, you’ll make it across. With a deep breath you ride into the muck with what you calculate is the correct speed.


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Suddenly, you feel the forward momentum of the bike come to an abrupt halt as it gets sucked into a hole and you are propelled over the handlebars. You wade through the pit and try to dislodge your bike from the mud. But the harder you try, the more it seems to sink in. You’ve got no way of leveraging the bike out by yourself and your only choice is to start walking back to civilization. That hundred miles or so you rode to get to this remote spot could take several days walking on foot. Do you have enough supplies to make it?

Broken BMW R1150GS survival situation
If your bike becomes immobilized, you could be days away from civilization on foot.

Being Prepared For the Worst
Being aware of how Adventure Riders get into trouble on the trail can help you avoid dangerous situations but sometimes they are unavoidable. It’s important to be prepared for when situations like these do occur with a good first aid kit, first aid training, a survival kit and an emergency GPS messenging device. We’ll talk more about what you need to survive and how to create your own compact survival kit in an upcoming edition of this ADV Survival series.

What’s Your Survival Story?
The possibilities for things going wrong are many and these scenarios are by no means the only threats to look out for. The more we are prepared, the safer and more enjoyable our rides. Feel free to share your stories about how you’ve gotten into trouble adventure riding so we can all gain knowledge from your experience.

Author: Chad Berger

He’s a freelance journalist, photographer and tour guide from Wisconsin. Since 2004, Chad has been riding dual sport and adventure bikes all over the Midwest, the Black Hills of South Dakota, Moab, Baja, Alaska and many other places in between. He shares his experiences through the photography, videos and stories he produces from his trips. In 2008, Chad created a 600-mile dual sport route called the Trans Wisconsin Adventure Trail (TWAT), which eventually led to his becoming a tour guide for RIDE Adventures.

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Author: Chad Berger
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10 thoughts on “5 Ways to Get Yourself ‘Into’ a Survival Situation Off-Road

  1. Have experience with #5 but on the other end of things. Found a poor dude in the middle of a remote trail. He was just there sitting on top of his bike with a look of frustration. Apparently I was the first soul he had seen for hours after his mishap. Lucky for him I had last minute decided to take a small detour from my planned route and ended up taking the trail where he was.

  2. If you get yourself into situations like these, then off road riding may not be your best recreational choice… perhaps badminton or competitive cup stacking would be more your style.

    • These situations are caused by common mistakes riders make. Not paying attention to the terrain, riding over your head or not telling someone where you are riding are just a few things that I have seen go bad too many times.

  3. Strawberry Peak, Utah BDR, October 2013. Weather turned from cool and sunny to snow in 10 minutes — and five hours ahead of weather service prediction. Made a wrong GPS-indicated turn and headed up into the center of the storm, rather than away and down the mountain. Traction failing on Conti TKCs in semi-frozen mud. Cross-rutted my fully-loaded ’08 R12GS (I’d guess 600#s+). Landed in deep slushy mud hole. Pinned under final drive with ankle injury (hairline fracture, right ankle). Fortunately, I was riding with my regular “Smooth Crew” of six (got me unpinned and stabilized), was able to call for SAR to get us all off the mountain in a blizzard (recovered bikes two days later). Survived to tell the story. Smart: Carried five days of provisions, plus cold weather riding and camping gear, not riding alone. Dumb: Relying on GPS, Weather Underground and not listening to that little voice in my head saying “Don’t.” Recently completed AZBDR. Heading back to UTBDR this year for some payback.

  4. I always carry a home made first aid kit: several pressure dressings, Sam splint, tourniquet, super glue, tape, and the heaviest narcotic I can get. Just a couple of days ago I was riding with a group of 5 in the Olympic forest in Washington. I was leading on my 1200GS. I was a bit ahead of the group and feeling quite rambunctious. I was coming up on a 60deg curve going a little to fast. I power shifted, brought the rear tire around just perfect and the front tire slipped inward on some cobble. I went down on a high side landed on my right side with a massive thump. Adrenaline pumping I quickly recovered lifted my bike up backed it up bent over to put the kickstand down when I felt this crunching in my ribs. After a few minutes it became clear I was fairly injured. When the bike went down I had a good grip on the handlebars the transfer of energy from my 600lbs GS in addition to my 260lbs frame I impacted the hard gravel road with a considerable thump. I broke ribs 4,5,6 & 7, the right scapula and bruised my right lung. I had two choices, I could have saddled the bike and rode out (not the wisest choice) or call for emergency services. Due to the location most likely would have been Medivac chopper. Contemplating my decisions I opt for the least wise, I ride out. Ok I can hear all of you from here; “What a idiot.” “Stupid ass.” “Dumb decision.” Yea yea yea, I would be saying the same things actually. But that’s the Army Ranger in me, your tax dollars payed for it. I rolled my ankle in Ranger School just 4 weeks in. I had to complete the remainding 5 weeks with a jacked up ankle. It’s in my blood OK! I know what misery and suffering takes and I knew riding out would be a lesson in suffering. That heavy narcodic in my kit would come in handy right about now except there’s not any. There’s 5 miles of Forest Road before I hit the main road, luckily its all easy. From the main road i call my wife through my Schuberth Bluetooth and inform her of my predicament. Its an hour and a half ride to the house or one hour to the Military Hospital which just happens to be the best Trauma Hospital in the area. But I have my side arm in my pannier and the military don’t like that too much and I’m not sure what the military would do with my bike. So I spend an additional 30 agonizing minutes to the house. The wife was not happy. I’m crying out in pain as she helps me dismount the bike and I tell her to get me a change of cloths and take me to the hospital. She brings my expensive north face pants and my cool Touratech T shirt. I laboriously explain the hospital will cut off said clothing so she grabs some old cloths. My daughter in the background must have assumed that calling 911 for an ambulance was the right thing to do (which it was, just not for me that would be for someone else). The ambulance arrived in 2 minutes as they are just across the street and whisked me away to the Military Hospital. Several X-rays and CAT scans later, well you know the injuries. Two days in the hospital and as of this writing I’m still home recuiping. I have good riding skills and most of the time make wise decisions just that day I got a little carried away. Oh and for the record that’s my very first serious riding injury in 42 years of riding.

    • Well, that beats my UTBDR story (above). Yikes! Glad you’re on the mend, Gary. I always say, “As long as I’m living, I’ll keep learning.” I’m not ex-military, so regarding the Ranger thing? Respect.

  5. Great article! Don’t kid yourself: It’s easy enough for any of these things to happen to anyone (who hasn’t taken a ride solo and do you *really* leave your exact route behind for someone to find and never detour from it?? B.S). Last season, I ran into a dead end. It was too narrow to turn around so I dismounted. In the process of rocking the bike in mud to turn around I slipped and ended up underneath my bike. Fortunately I wasn’t alone and my buddy eventually came back for me. I had extra clothes, water and food with me. But I was VERY stuck. Without his help I would have been pinned there for a VERY long time.

  6. 30 Years exploring outback Australia and as a member of the State Emergency Retrieval Service I have seen a number of close calls and some where fatalities occurred.
    If you are going into a remote area, tell someone where and what time you plan to return.
    Preferably go with another experienced person if you are new to remote area exploring.
    Always carry some means of communication. Today there are cell phone clip on sets that turn it into a sat phone. Or take a hand held VHF.
    If you have an accident or a brakedown, stay with your bike. Take a couple of red flares like those small boats carry.
    Take at least 2lt of water for every day you are away. More if possible.
    Plan your fuel needs to be 50% more than you estimate. Lots of todays bikes have compression ratios of over 10:1. These need 95RON fuel or better and this grade of fuel may not be available in outlying areas. If your bike has fuel injection, the CPU will retard the ignition to compensate. If its a carby, you will notice a significant drop in power and increased fuel consumption if low RON fuel is used. Calculate your needs accordingly. In outback Australia, distances between fuel stops may exceed 600kms. Some regular riders leave fuel staches for an emergency and that fuel must be replaced.
    Buy the best first aid kit you can fit on the bike.
    Buy the best riding gear and helmet you can afford.
    Use mousses if you are planning on going anywhere rocky and stoney. It the Dakar guys use them, thats good enough for me. At least use inner tubes and carry a repair kit.
    Carry a spare chain
    Carry extra oil
    Above all, do not go over your capability. Take a bike that you can lift upright. If you are small, say less than 70Kgs, picking up a BMW 1200GS laying on its side would be very difficult.
    Saving the best for last. If you are in serious trouble a long way from civilization, an air search may well be underway. You can do one thing to attract the attention of lower flying aircraft. Its a big call…set your bike on fire. The gas and oil makes a good smoke plume.

    Stephen
    Sydney, Australia.

  7. Thankfully I’ve avoided these by knowing my limits. Closest I’ve come is #5. It was just a matter of taking a breather, thinking about the situation, and how to get the bike back up on two wheels. Once I figured it out and rested a bit, it was back up and I was rolling again.

    I’ve also since started carrying a small block and tackle kit designed for motorcycles, so if I end up in a ditch or something, as long as there’s a tree or something else to anchor to, I should be in pretty good shape. I also travel with a bare minimum of gear to ensure reasonably comfortable overnight stays if necessary.

  8. I solo a lot our here in Oregon and carry an Earthmate satellite communicator/GPS.

    So far, I’ve been lucky and ridden back home from my humble adventures every time, broken bones or otherwise.

    The Earthmate gives me a lot of confidence in that I can text phone numbers via satellite as long as I can see the sky, or I can hit the emergency button to call in the Cavalry if I FUBAR myself.

    I usually buy some ad hoc insurance during the summer as well for back country rescue. An Earthmate is not free, and it’s not a panacea, but it’s a damn nice insurance policy.

    Rubber side down 🙂

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