ATV misadventure—Part 1

How a casual weekend quad ride turned into a survival-rescue mission

by Doug Dillon

A man standing on the front of his quad in the backcountry.

Chipmunk Creek near Chilliwack, B.C., is where this story takes place. — photo courtesy Doug Dillon

Dad and I were supposed to go riding on a Saturday to Chipmunk Creek in Chilliwack, B.C. But he cancelled at the last minute due to the “chance” of rain. I, for one, enjoy riding when there is a “chance” of rain so I decided to go alone and play by myself. 

I figured I’d simply take it easy and stick to the main Forest Service Roads (FSR)—yeah right! That attitude lasted all of about 10 minutes. While taking it easy on the main roads, I came across a nice, wide trail that looked like some quick easy fun. It had a lot of switchbacks, ups and downs, mud and logs. Before I knew it, I was into some pretty technical terrain. The trail just kept getting more and more difficult, and very narrow. There was no way to turn around, so I had no choice but to keep going.

I came to a part on the trail that seemed to be too narrow for the quad to pass, but someone had placed a few logs on the downhill portion of the trail, making it just barely wide enough to ride through. I rode over it cautiously, slowly, and then snap! The logs gave out. They were rotten and unable to support the weight of the quad. Over I went! My quad and I were headed down the mountainside.

The hill was so steep that it caused the quad to flip over incredibly fast. I didn't have time to jump clear. It slammed me into a tree with such force that I felt my helmet squeeze my cheeks. It was so hard it felt like a round-house punch from Iron Mike Tyson!

I greyed out for a few seconds, and when I regained my senses I noticed—painfully I might add, that my right knee was bent in an awkward position and it was pinned under the quad. With a desperate push, I pulled out my leg and prayed nothing was broken. Keep in mind all of this happened in a span of about 20 seconds! It was so fast. Only now can I really think about what happened and put it all together.

An ATV that's flipped over and hung up on a tree.

This is what the quad looked like after it tumbled down the mountain with Doug Dillon on it. — photo courtesy Doug Dillon

What to do now?

OK, so the quad was upside-down, wedged between a few trees at the edge of the trail on a steep grade. I made a few feeble attempts to lift it over, but it was not going to happen. So I decided that the best thing to do was to grab my gear out of the trunk and hike back up the trail to my point of entry, and then try to flag someone down for help. The only problem with that plan was that I couldn’t access my trunk and my knee was not going to let me have a hike of any kind!

After a few minutes of weighing my options, I decided to pry open one side of the lid of the trunk and see what sort of items I had in there to help me through my predicament. I had a few ratchet straps, so I used them to try and upright the tail end of the machine to a point where I could at least get access to all my gear.

It took me about 20 or 30 minutes to rig it all up properly, but I was able to lift it enough to free my bags. I sorted out the items I would need and repacked everything into three bags—one of which was my medical kit (hey, you never know).

So with my messed-up knee, two bags in one hand, my helmet and the other bag in my other hand, I headed up the trail with an it-will-be-OK attitude—for about two minutes! The bags were heavier that I realized, the helmet seemed like it weighed about 20 pounds, and my knee was giving me a real dose of reality and pain that was so intense it was almost euphoric.

I took a break, tried to catch my breath, then started up again. Another short walk, another break, another short walk, another break, and then I realized, rather maddeningly, that there was no way in hell I was going to make it back to the top.

Reality hits

After once again catching my breath, I saw what I thought was a clearing to my right. I figured it was going to allow me to cut over to the main FSR. I just had to navigate through some heavy brush and logs. I gave it a try—big mistake. There was no FSR. No, nothing. Just a cliff and no way out but back the way I had come.

I guess this is where I had my little meltdown.

Now, normally I am the type of guy who never worries about any situation as I know in my heart that I can pretty much get out of just about anything. I never panic and I am always positive–except for this time. I fell to my knee (the good one) and started to pound the mountain with my fists yelling, “NO, NO, NO, NO. This is not happening to me. This has to be a dream. This is me, not some moron getting lost on the Grouse Grind. Someone please help me.”

Then, in my rage, I threw my helmet over the edge to whatever was down below. I was done. No one knew where I was. No one was going to come look for me. How long will it be before my wife calls someone to let them know I was overdue? Will they even know where to look?  Why didn’t I bring my GPS? What the hell was I thinking? I felt for the first time a feeling of hopelessness. I had never felt that way before. This was new uncharted emotional territory (pardon the pun).

I slowly got to my side, looked up the mountain, wondered if I would become bear food, then closed my eyes and went to sleep. I was exhausted to the point of collapse. So collapse I did. 

A wake-up call

A short while later, I woke up to see that I was still in one piece and the sun was still up. I sat up and once again assessed my situation. I walked a few feet to the edge of the cliff. Got comfortable and turned on my cellphone.

I knew there was no signal up here, but I had remembered a scene from the movie, Tommy Boy with Chris Farley, where his character was stuck up on some mountaintop and he was holding the phone in the air, moving it around, constantly looking for a signal. He never gave up and after a while, lo and behold—a signal!

OK, so that was the movies, but I figured there had to be some truth to it. I opened up my cell, dialled 911, and hoped for the best.

As I suspected, there we no signal. But what I didn’t realize is that when you dial 911 on a cell and there is no signal to be found, it continuously searches for one while emitting a reassuring beeping sound.

This reassuring beeping sound not only made me feel a little less lonely, but it had also attracted a little baby squirrel from a tree up above. It would chirp right after my cell would beep as if they were having a conversation. With every chirp, the little squirrel would move down the tree a few more inches until it was literally sitting right beside me, chirping at my cellphone. I think maybe it thought my cell was threatening its territory or something. It was so cute. Of course, the second I moved it bolted back up the tree and that was the last I saw of my little companion. It was a nice distraction and was greatly appreciated.

Focusing on the positive

Over the next few hours, I kept moving to different spots on the ledge, trying to find both a signal for my cell, as well as a more comfortable spot that would still allow a helicopter to see me if one were to come looking. I thought to myself, so many things should be running through my head right now.

Sure, I was worried about my family and what not knowing would do to them over the short term, but for some reason, I felt very comfortable—almost at peace, if you will. Maybe my ego that was born out of self-reliance wasn’t so falsely created after all. But there still was the tiny underlying fear of becoming bear food.

I sat there, soaking up the spectacular view, forcing myself not to take it for granted. I wanted to hug my wife and let her know I was out here. I kept closing my eyes trying to send her mental vibes that something was wrong and that I love her so much. A silly gesture, I know, but someone must have heard it—because my cellphone rang!

To be continued….

Editor’s Note: Doug Dillon is an ATVer from Surrey, B.C. He is also an active member of the Right Nuts ATV Club, based in Chilliwack, B.C. His story was sent into RidersWest. Watch for the rest of it in the weeks to come. 

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