ATV Riding: Follow This Rule to Get Home Safely

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When it comes to ATV riding, there is an imperative rule that will keep you on the trail and get you home safely to your family: Let someone know where you’re going, when to expect you home, and always check in.

I learned this lesson the hard way about five years ago. I was testing a set of tires in eastern Tennessee with a small group of editors. We were riding solo with a return ETA of 2 p.m. My watch read 12:30 p.m. just as I entered into a boulder garden.

While crawling sideways at an impressively steep pitch, the carbureted bike lost power. With no forward momentum, the nearly 600-pound machine started to tip over. Due to the close proximity of an opposing boulder, my immediate assessment was that there was no way to get off the bike safely. Knowing I was heading into the rock crevasse below, with the prospect of unit landing on top of me, was not a comforting moment.

I was wearing a full face helmet, stout riding boots and gloves. As my mind raced during those split seconds, I was fairly sure that given the room in the crevasse the bike would stay mostly above me, instead of resting on me. My helmet resounded with a nice thump when I hit and landed on the rock below. With the bike wedged securely above me, I was able to reach the key and turn the ignition off. After a few minutes of lying motionlessly on the granite bed, I determined I wasn’t seriously hurt. I was also relieved there was no fuel or oil coming from the machine. However, I was stuck — really pinned — and could not budge the machine up enough to crawl out. My cell phone was wedged in my lower pocket and I could not reach it. So I started to nervously ponder all the issues that could develop within the coming hours.

At this point, it was an hour plus before anyone would expect me back at camp. What I didn’t know was that John, our group leader, decided to do a trail sweep at just after 1 p.m. to see how everyone was doing. As I heard the sound of a machine coming closer, I instantly felt a sense of relief. But here’s the rub: he couldn’t see the overturned bike because I was just slightly off the trail. Even though I was yelling, he couldn’t hear me because of his helmet and the noise from his machine. During his sweep, he drove within 10 yards of me and then left the area.

“This is really starting to suck,” I thought. I wasn’t sure if he’d loop back after not finding me on his initial sweep. Thankfully, I heard the bike again within 10 minutes. This time, he was traveling much slower and was stopping intermittently. With John roughly 20 yards away, he stopped and turned off his machine. I yelled, and he yelled back. He sprinted over to find me in rock bondage looking pretty worried.

“Man…are you OK?”

I responded with a calm, “I think I’m fine. If you could just lift these front wheels up, I’m pretty sure I can climb out on my own.”

It must have been the adrenaline, because John lifted the front of that bike in a second, and I clamored out of the rocks.

I was lucky. I wasn’t hurt, and someone with riding experience came looking for me.