So yesterday I didn’t get a chance to post on the blog and it was the first time in months, if not years, that we missed a weekday post. I left the house early yesterday morning intending to post in the afternoon after my ride at the IMBA Epic Bull Mountain trails but barely made it back after getting severely exhausted and dehydrated. Here are a few lessons I learned (and re-learned) during my ordeal.

Avoiding Dehydration, Heat Stress, and Exhaustion

1. Don’t ride alone, especially when you’re tackling a challenging route. Riding alone is never a good idea but it’s even worse when you’re heading to a remote trail system. In 4.5 hours on the trail I didn’t see a single person and if I had collapsed it would have been a long time before anyone found me. I did let mudhunny know where I was going ahead of time so at least the rescuers would know where to start looking for me. Still, riding for hours at Bull Mountain alone was stupid.

2. Do your homework before hitting the trail. I had a vague idea about which trails I wanted to ride but I didn’t research all of them ahead of time. The book I brought with me was published 12 years ago – clearly out of date – and I didn’t even know how far I’d be riding by stringing several loops together.

3. Bring plenty of water – then bring some more. I filled my 100 oz. Camelbak for the ride and honestly at the beginning I wanted to pour some out because the thing was so heavy. I ran out of water around mile 16 which was a really bad feeling, especially since I knew I was miles away from my car. If you can’t carry all the water you need, plan your route with water stops in mind (convenience stores, spigots, or even loop back to your car for a refill).

While we’re on the subject of water, here’s a survival tip I learned in the Boy Scouts: don’t conserve. It turns out that plenty of people have been found dead due to dehydration with water still in their canteens. Drink all your water until it’s gone and you have a better chance of making it home.

4. Know your limits. This is a tough one to admit but clearly I didn’t understand my own fitness limitations yesterday. I rode 22 miles with about 3,500 feet of climbing which would have been a cinch when I was training for my metric century but clearly I’m not in that kind of shape at this point. Add in the hot and humid weather and I really wasn’t prepared for such a long ride.

5. Know your equipment. Fortunately I didn’t have any mechanical issues yesterday but I was riding an unfamiliar bike which may have contributed to my exhaustion. Make sure you get a few “check rides” in on a new bike before heading out on an epic adventure so you know what to expect in terms of comfort, weight, performance, etc.

What To Do When You’re In Trouble

Even if you do follow all these tips you may still find yourself in a dangerous situation on the trail, whether it be due to heat stress, dehydration, exhaustion – or all three. Here are a few ways I’ve found to cope.

1. Stay calm. A positive mental attitude is the most important thing to bring with you. Tell yourself that you’re going to make it and you will. Sing a song, repeat a mantra – whatever it takes to keep yourself focused and moving forward.

2. Conserve your energy at the first signs of exhaustion. Taking the climbs easy will help you regulate your body temperature while coasting the downhills will result in a nice breeze. Drink water frequently if you still have some left to help with leg cramps. Stop to rest in shady spots so you can push through exposed areas.

3. Change your riding position frequently. Hop off the bike and walk a bit to stretch your back; straddle your top tube while coasting to stretch your thighs; adjust your Camelbak shoulder straps tightly on climbs and loosen them on descents to take strain off your shoulders.

4. Back track if possible. When you’re tired the last thing you want to do is get lost so try to return the way you came, especially if it’s the shortest route back. Also a GPS can help you find a shortcut or at least keep you on the right track. I got lucky yesterday and took a wrong turn that ended up saving me a couple miles on the return trip – but I won’t count on that happening again!

5. Drink whatever you can. Back in high school I had a friend who became severely dehydrated on a bike ride, so much so that he was delirious and barely able to walk. None of us had any water to offer and with miles to go to the car we filled our friend’s water bottle from a nearby creek. The water revived him enough to get back safely – though several hours later he got sick from the water. Fortunately by then he was in the hospital where they were able to treat him for dehydration and his stomach problems. If we hadn’t given him any water who knows if he would have made it to the hospital at all…

It started raining toward the end of my ride yesterday and I was able to catch a few drops in my mouth that really kept me going. Those few drops probably didn’t hydrate me much but the relief from dry mouth was a big psychological boost.

Bottom Line

Fortunately my story has a happy ending and I made it back without requiring medical intervention but it could have easily ended badly. Let’s all try to be safe on the mountain bike trail this summer…

# Comments

  • dsb1829

    This year has been a tough one in the SE. The rainy early season and mixed rains throughout seem to have the trails mucked up more often than not. Unless you are riding road or are fortunate to have gravel fire roads near by then you are likely not in as good of shape as you think. It has caught me off guard a couple of times. That and the fact that rides when the weather permits have been very ill planned and on short notice. Fortunately I am not too proud to limp, walk, or crawl back out of the woods. During the summer here in the South I have noticed that the 100oz bladder just doesn’t seem big enough. Might be a good idea to pack an extra 40-50oz bladder, a lot of hiking packs have smaller bladders available. Might give REI a try if you are close to Atlanta any time soon. I really miss being closer to REI.

  • Goo

    i had a freaky ride similar to that back towards the end of june… not any fun at all.

  • steve32300

    When we did Monarch Crest trail last year,I knew with the altitude I would need extra water.Heck,I was totally aware that I didnt even prehydrate or eat very well prior to the ride.At 12,000 ft.,altitude sickness is a very real possibility.I ditched my camel bak in exchange for a regular back pack so I could carry an extra gallon of water,a whole extra gallon which was beyoond heavy for a mountain bike ride,but I knew I needed it.I drank water like crazy and as fast as I could at the start of the ride and I still got a headache and wooziness, my riding partner was cramping up kinda bad.I’ve had altitude sickness before,but that was at work in Breckenridge and I could just go sit down if I had to,but on a mtn bike ride,ya gotta keep going.Not fun,although we took the bailout route back to the parkin lot which actually turned out to be what seemed like 2 hours of absolute downhill every inch of the way back to the car.And to make it even better,it rained most of the way back down which was a real big relief being that it turned out to be so hot that day.
    I’ve recently bought a camel bak havok and have an extra water bladder that will fit in it so that I have extra water for rides like this.

  • abovetheridge

    All points listed are extremely important and not to be taken lightly. All of us ride solo every once in a while, but depending on the ride, make sure people know where you’re going WITH an acknowledgement. Don’t rely on a note, text, email or voicemail that someone may not get. I recently went to visit a buddy in Colorado and coming from the east coast, I needed a few check rides on the rental as well as to get acclimated to the elevation. We started at 7800, next day at 9100 and 9600, then on the 3rd day (4th trail), I was ready to climb to 11K+ which was the goal. Don’t assume you’re superhuman no matter how much training you’ve done. Take your breaks, hydrate, refuel, etc… It’s not always a performance or endurance “test” and don’t be ashamed to stop when people might be passing you on the trail. Those trails could be their backyard and more often than not, they’d be willing to assist you if you were in trouble, but why push it to that point if it can be avoided. Ride safe to live to ride another day!

  • ChiliPepper

    Sorry to hear that bro! I can relate to your episode, as I had a heat stroke last month which put me in the hospital. It also messed me up enough where I have to pace & watch myself more often, and I cannot ride as much in the heat now as I used to be able to do. That day I had plenty of water, drank a bottle of Gatorade, sucked down a energy gel, but still mother nature found a way to push me to a heat stroke. The next step after heat exhaustion guys and gals. I fell off my bike several times after leaving the trail heading to my car. I thank God that my wife and son was with me, or I do not know what would of happened. No one else was on the trails at that time.

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