As experienced dual-sport/adventure riders, we knew to ride in a group, to be prepared with plenty of water and snacks, tools and first-aid kits, and multiple devices to communicate with the outside world. We had dealt with breakdowns and injuries in the past and knew how to handle the unexpected. But when a fellow rider got hurt and we called in the cavalry, we didn’t expect such a diverse, large-scale response.
Last Saturday was the perfect day for a dual-sport ride—sunny with blue skies and highs in the low 60s. Three of us had signed up for a dual-sport training class taught by Laine MacTague, the talented, experienced rider behind EarthRider Adventure Moto Guiding and Instruction. “Tire Lofting” is the penultimate installment in EarthRider’s 12-part, off-road SkillzDrill series, which includes everything from counterbalancing to learning to ride uphill, downhill, through sand and more. Five years ago to the month I joined Laine on what would be the first of many guided rides and training sessions, and his tire lofting class offered a good opportunity to brush up on my skills and have a day of fun in the dirt.
Marten, TJ and I followed Laine out to a remote area and spent several hours learning the theory and practice of tire lofting on an abandoned strip of asphalt. After a leisurely lunch under some eucalyptus trees, we took a trail ride on the edge of the Angeles National Forest to put our new skills into practice. We explored several dirt roads and singletrack trails and soon rode down a steep hill to the bottom of a canyon. When we got there, our foursome had become a threesome. TJ was missing. Backtracking up the hill, we found him sitting on the side of the trail next to his motorcycle, which was on its side. TJ had lost the front in loose dirt and gone down, landing hard on his shoulder. He was in serious pain, the fingers on his right hand felt numb and his arm was cold, indicating it wasn’t getting enough blood.
TJ drank some water and took a couple of Advil, then started walking to the bottom of the canyon while we shuttled his bike. In addition to the intense pain, TJ had other health issues that complicated the situation. Due to the rough terrain, he wasn’t able to ride out on the back of one of our bikes. We needed help, stat. We weren’t far from civilization and still had cellphone reception, so I immediately called 911. Three of us had GPS units, so we were able to provide the dispatcher with precise coordinates of our location, but figuring out exactly how to reach us proved challenging. Numbness had spread to TJ’s entire arm. The dispatcher assured me that help was on the way.
Rather than just stand around, Laine rode back to a camp we had passed on our way in, while Marten walked to the top of the hill to get a better line of sight and help direct emergency personnel to our location. I stayed with TJ—making sure he stayed awake, checking on his symptoms, helping him stay cool and hydrated—while staying on the phone with emergency dispatchers. We were in an area popular among mountain bikers, and two of them stopped to provide assistance.
Within about 15 minutes, a Toyota FJ Cruiser rumbled down the dirt road into the canyon. Out jumped a bear of a man in military fatigues, announcing, “I’m a paramedic!” He was followed by a woman, “I’m a nurse!” A third man, also wearing fatigues plus a combat helmet, goggles and a large knife on his hip, jumped out and said, “I’m French!”
The camp we rode past earlier was occupied by members of the Pathfinders, a California state militia group, which was training in the area. As the militia’s paramedic and nurse examined TJ and tended to his injuries, a Los Angeles County Fire Department helicopter swept into view and began circling for a landing on a nearby hill. TJ was escorted up to the helicopter and helped inside. Just as the helicopter lifted off, a fire department utility truck came down the hill and was soon followed by three California Highway Patrol cruisers. As TJ was flown to the hospital, about a dozen of us chatted cordially. CHP officers took notes and recorded names and details for their report. The firemen were debriefed by the Pathfinders. Laine, Marten and I talked to Laurent the Frenchman and one of the CHP officers about our motorcycles. Soon the first responders headed back to civilization and we rode back to the Pathfinders camp, with Laurent riding TJ’s bike. The ever helpful militiamen loaded TJ’s bike into the back of a truck and offered to transport it to a garage for safekeeping.
A few hours after the accident, Laine got a call from TJ. He had dislocated his shoulder, injured his collarbone and chipped a bone in his upper arm. He was receiving good care, and his wife would soon take him home from the hospital. TJ’s BMW, which is kitted out with hand guards, engine guards, etc., took the tumble better than he did.
Nobody wants to end his day with a visit to the hospital, but if that’s the way the cookie crumbles, then you want to be prepared. We had GPS units, cellphones and a satellite communicator, and we worked together rather than at cross-purposes. But a little luck never hurts, and we were fortunate enough to receive lots of help from strangers. Some were professionals—dispatchers, a helicopter pilot and paramedic, firemen and policemen—doing their duty with efficiency and civility, while others were concerned citizens—mountain bikers and militiamen—who went out of their way to help someone in need. To Good Samaritans everywhere, we salute you!