OFF-ROAD ES­SEN­TIALS: RISK MAN­AGE­MENT FOR SOLO OVERLANDERS

Go­ing it alone on back coun­try trips of­fers great ex­pe­ri­ences. Here are a few pre­trip plan­ning tips to en­sure you get out – and back again – safely ev­ery time.

4WDrive - - Contents - WORDS AND PHO­TOS BY MATHIEU GODIN

It’s dif­fi­cult to co­or­di­nate a longterm trip with other peo­ple for a few rea­sons. Some­times the tim­ing is not right, or some peo­ple will opt out at the last minute. Re­gard­less of the ex­cuses, they shouldn’t be any rea­son to can­cel a trip. While it’s of­ten dif­fi­cult to get to­gether with friends for ex­tended get­aways – for what­ever the rea­son – trav­el­ling solo is en­joyed by many en­thu­si­asts. How­ever, as there’s al­ways safety in num­bers when tour­ing re­mote ar­eas, here’s how you can get the most out of an overlanding trip by your­self and stay safe at the same time.

The key to suc­cess­ful, safe solo trips is risk man­age­ment. You have to mit­i­gate the risks by first look­ing at the po­ten­tial hazards in­volved and con­duct a risk as­sess­ment. It doesn’t have to be com­pli­cated and you can start by re­search­ing the po­ten­tial hazards re­gard­ing your planned ac­tiv­i­ties and con­sider those spe­cific to your des­ti­na­tion. Be sure to write them down so you can un­der­stand how you can man­age the risks to an ac­cept­able level.

Here’s how to com­plete a sim­ple as­sess­ment as it can some­times get com­plex. Start by cre­at­ing a ta­ble with two col­umns. The first col­umn should iden­tify the hazards and the sec­ond col­umn is for the mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures. As an ex­am­ple, a hazard to plan for dur­ing a hike is “trip

and fall.” Mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures could be “wear ap­pro­pri­ate hik­ing boots, bring a first aid kit, or take a wilder­ness first aid course prior to the trip.”

You can also rate the risks in terms of like­li­hood (likely or un­likely) and sever­ity (mi­nor in­jury, ma­jor in­jury or death), but there is no need to con­duct a for­mal as­sess­ment as a ba­sic list will give you an idea about the train­ing and equip­ment re­quired for your ad­ven­ture. It’s also im­por­tant to do a risk as­sess­ment since overlanding of­ten takes place in re­mote ar­eas, away from all ser­vices. It’s for you to de­cide how far you want to go and if it makes sense to do the trip by your­self. Just be sure to ad­just your trip to the fact that you are alone (and self-re­liant) as you will be more vul­ner­a­ble in some sit­u­a­tions.

Be­fore you leave, be sure to share your trip plan with some­one re­li­able so they will know where you are go­ing and when to start wor­ry­ing about you. You should both agree on a safety buf­fer so that search and res­cue teams do not get a call be­cause of a de­lay in your sched­uled check-in.

Once you are on your ad­ven­ture, you must main­tain sit­u­a­tional aware­ness (be aware of your sur­round­ings) and look at a sit­u­a­tion with an ob­jec­tive eye. Per­haps ask your­self th­ese questions: “What are my risks?”; “Can I man­age them or are they out of my con­trol?”; or “What is my risk tol­er­ance or how much risk is ac­cept­able to me?

This is your dy­namic risk as­sess­ment

and in­clude it in your daily ac­tiv­i­ties as you can­not pos­si­bly plan for all sit­u­a­tions dur­ing the trip plan­ning stage.

Your judg­ment is what will keep you safe so main­taing a cool head if some­thing goes wrong, is crit­i­cal. When con­fronted with a chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tion, re­mem­ber to S.T.O.P., which stands for Stop, Think, Ob­serve and Plan. This is not only the best ad­vice to fol­low if you get lost, but it’s ap­pli­ca­ble to many sit­u­a­tions. You are on your own and there is no­body else to brain­storm ideas – some­times it’s a good thing as we tend to take more risks when we are in a group. Take your time and think things through.

Con­sider this one last tip: know when it’s time to turn around. If you can’t, then back up on the trail. There is no shame in turn­ing around when you don’t have any­one to help you get out of that mud pit. When I was on my solo trip in Gaspésie, QC, last year, I backed up on a trail in the Chic-Chocs for a few min­utes be­cause I didn’t feel like spend­ing the evening in a mud pit. I pre­ferred to safely re­turn to my camp­site and end the day with a cold beer next to a camp­fire.

Quite sim­ply, it all comes down to be­ing aware of the risks in­volved by com­plet­ing a sim­ple risk as­sess­ment dur­ing the trip plan­ning stage, main­tain­ing sit­u­a­tional aware­ness while you are on your ad­ven­ture, and be­ing pre­pared should a hazard man­i­fest it­self – there’s al­ways a good chance that it will!

Re­mote trail.

Re­mote gravel road.

Chic Chocs Trail. Gaspe­sie Bridge.

Map and com­pass.

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