Travelling solo on remote tracks is quite literally taking your life into your own hands.
You can’t always travel with friends so for those times when you’re travelling solo in remote areas you really need to take extra precautions. Here are 10 things you need to do…
Words: Glenn Marshall
There have been too many tragedies where even well-seasoned travellers have come unstuck in remote areas and perished, and no matter how prepared or experienced you are, things can happen that will end your life. As a solo traveller, I am aware of the risks I take. And you need to realise that no matter how much you think “she’ll be right mate”, sometimes it’s not.
1. Know your limitations
I am a solo adventurer, have been for years. I prepare to the ninth degree and carry the provisions and tools to keep me alive if I get stuck. I’m confident in my abilities and that of my vehicle to get me where I want to go but I also know my limitations. Do you know yours? Reduce the risks. Is it worth trying to cross a raging river instead of finding another route? Is there a way around that claypan? Will your vehicle be badly damaged if you tackle that rocky slope?
Having an amazing adventure does not mean you have to risk your life or your vehicle to get from A to B. Knowing what your body can handle is important too. Few of us have the cardio ability to work hard and fast on recovering a bogged vehicle. When was the last time a doctor had a good look at you? I can tell you from experience that when I had a heart attack, I certainly wasn’t expecting it. Had it occurred when I was on a solo adventure, I would be dead.
2. Tell someone where you’re bloody going
Australia is one hell of a big island, and the majority of it is remote. You can make life extremely difficult for search parties to find you if they have no idea where you are. Never head off without advising someone of your intended route. Tell your partner, a family member, a mate or even the police; just let at least one person know of your plans. On long trips, it is good to keep people updated on your progress because if you don’t reach your destination and contact that person, they can raise the alarm sooner rather than later, and send the search party in the right direction. This may save your life.
3. Essentials – food and water
In normal conditions, you can survive for more than three weeks without food, but water is different. At least 60% (up to 75% in children) of our bodies are made of water and every living cell needs it to keep working. It lubricates our joints, regulates our body temperature and aids in flushing waste. Without water, you will be lucky to last a week in cool conditions and hidden from direct sunlight. In hot and humid conditions, three or four days maximum is how long you would last. An adult must consume a minimum of four litres per day to stay alive. When conditions are extreme, an adult can sweat 1-1.5 litres per hour and if this fluid isn’t replaced you are in danger of becoming dehydrated. If not reversed, it is life-threatening to lose more than 10% of your body weight due to dehydration.
Having the ability to communicate with others is critical. In remote places like the Kimberley, your mobile phone is nothing more than a camera. A UHF is more useful as your voice can be heard over good distances, especially if repeater stations are utilised. If all you have is a handheld, it must be a 5W unit, not one of those cheap plastic radios that are great for the kids playing in the backyard. Better yet, carry a satellite phone. These are getting cheaper and the network coverage is improving all the time. I currently use a Thuraya SatSleeve Hotspot on an Optus plan that cost me $899 for the Hotspot and $15 per month on a plan. The Hotspot also has an SOS button that allows me to make an outgoing call to a preprogrammed number set by me or receive an incoming call.
A satellite communicator is like a satellite phone, but rather than make audio calls it can be used to send text messages. Two examples are the Garmin InReach and the Zoleo. Some can be connected to your phone via Bluetooth and using an app you can send texts from anywhere on earth.
5. EPIRB, PLB?
What are they and how do they work? Well, they both work the same way by sending a coded message via the 406 MHz distress frequency. This coded message should include your GPS coordinates and they are relayed via a global satellite system. Having GPS capabilities will make locating your position faster and more accurate. EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) are generally installed on marine craft as they are larger and have a longer battery run-time than a PLB (Personal Locating Beacon). PLBs are smaller and better suited to be carried by an individual. Once activated, they will transmit your location for a minimum of 24 hours before the battery runs out. In my book, having a PLB on you is the best solution for surviving a life-threatening situation. The Australian Government has a website that explains everything you need to know about beacons, here.
6. Survival techniques
You’ve broken down or are badly stuck. The first rule is to not panic, the second rule is to NEVER leave your vehicle. If you can raise the alarm, do so; know where you’re located. Open your awning to provide shade (it also gives you a larger footprint to see from the air), set up your swag to give you somewhere to sleep, look at the amount of water and food you have left and start rationing it straight away.
Collect wood for warmth and check out your surrounding environment during the coolest time of the day. Is there any bush tucker about? Do you know what is edible and what is not? I carry Les Hiddens Bush Tucker Field Guide as it’s pocket-sized and very useful. Carry some large plastic bags so that you can collect water by wrapping them around the leaves on a tree or make a solar still. Set a signal fire with wood and green leaves that will create smoke; make sure you can light it easily. During the hottest times of the day, rest in the shade and keep cool; you will burn less energy and sweat less. Keeping hydrated is critical, but sip, don’t guzzle. Nibble your food and eat less; this will reduce your thirst. At night the temperatures can drop to freezing, so keep warm.
7. First Aid
If travelling remotely, carry at least one decent first aid kit and a second compact one and know how to use them. Complete a first aid course and do refreshers. Make sure you have the gear to handle a snake bite, toothache, fish hook extraction, splinters, a compound fracture, burns and so on. Carry hydralytes to replace the electrolytes you lose when you sweat. Make sure your first aid kits are easily accessible so that anyone can find them if needed. One of my greatest concerns when adventuring solo is getting bitten by a snake, as most of them are venomous and I am a long way from an anti-venom. The way I dress reduces the chances of being bitten but there is still a big chance, especially at night.
8. Accurate navigation
Knowing exactly where you are is important if you ever need to relay that information to anyone. Electronic maps are brilliant, especially if they show GPS coordinates, and handheld GPS units are great too. Paper maps are still the most important means by which to find out where you are. Learn how to read a map and carry a handheld compass too; they are lightweight and take up next to no space but are handy not only in working out where north is, but they can also be used to help guide you to a point on a paper map that may be important. Paper maps and a compass don’t require batteries either.
Not all GPS trackers are equal; you don’t want one that only works on 4G/3G networks – it must have satellite connectivity like the Spot Gen3. This is a subscription service that tracks your movement and updates it online, so family and friends can see where you are. It also has an SOS feature that sends your GPS coordinates to emergency services (000 in Australia) and allows you to check in when you are out of mobile range.
10. Self extraction
Not only should you be carrying the required recovery gear, but you need to be able to use it, by yourself, if you are travelling solo. That doesn’t necessarily mean carrying a sand anchor (although they would be handy in the desert), but it does mean that you can extract yourself without too much blood, sweat and tears. It is always better to boil the billy and have a cuppa before the recovery even starts, that way you have time to relax and clear your mind before the challenge begins. Minimum requirements for a solo adventurer are a long-handle shovel, recovery tracks, a winch, shackles, a snatch block, rated recovery points and a winch extension strap.