Hi! I’m Wendy (IG @utahcampfireadventures) and I’m so excited to be joining the Women Who Explore tribe along with my k9 adventure buddy and search partner, Tyke (IG @adventuredogtyke). Let me take some time to tell you about us.
We started our search and rescue adventure when Tyke was just a floppy eared pup tripping over his oversized paws. I had a lot of misconceptions about being a SAR volunteer and k9 handler when I joined the group. Here are a couple of the big lessons Iearned.
It turns out that search and rescue is more about understanding what it means to be lost rather than how to find people. You might be surprised to know that the people who are hardest to find are those who are experienced hikers, often male (although that’s changing), in their prime of life. These are the people who most often overestimate their ability to come home, cover great distances resulting in a huge search area for us, and are the most likely to wander alone. They are the least qualified to answer the question “am I lost?” with a “yes”.
We tell people to stay put and “hug a tree” if you are lost for a reason. We try to follow in your footsteps (literally) and understand your thought pattern to locate you as fast as possible when we are deployed. Our dogs work on scent and the longer it takes us to get to that scent the less likely we are to pick it up and pick you up. Scent fades quickly, especially in the dry climate of Utah. Any other physical sign of you is also less likely to be around the longer it takes us to get there. Footprints fade with weather. When you have limited resources of water, food and shelter, time can mean life or death. We want to get to you as soon as possible which means we don’t want to be chasing you.
We also tell people to give their loved ones a message including a return time. Experienced hikers are the people whose loved ones will allow for quite a bit of time before calling the police to report a missing person. I often give myself a large buffer when I send my “call SAR when…” message to my loved ones. Most of the time I do not report at all to them when going on local hikes I’m familiar with. Over the years I have become one of those unqualified souls that answers “am I lost” with a “no.” In other words I am confident if I do lose my bearings I can find my way back given some more time. The more familiar we get with our terrain the further we drift away from “lost”. I can tell you what a first-time hiker looks like when they are lost. Essentially they can’t see the footpath they were walking on similarly to what a lost child looks like: they are standing alone looking around worried. Not getting lost as a newbie is simple. Stay on the path and return the way you came.
For those of us who like the challenge that the wilderness offers us learn that “lost” is a relative term. My definition of “lost” has grown quite complex over the years. It is dependent on my ability to locate the sun (carry a compass), my ability to access food and water (I can fish and filter water), and make shelter (I never go anywhere without at least one knife and a way to start a fire). In other words, it’s dependent on the gear I have on me and my knowledge of my surroundings. Your definition of lost will not look quite like mine but there will be some overlap and I can share with you why I choose the gear I have and how to navigate terrain. You and I use the same tools and need the same resources to survive. We pass on these amazing nuggets of wisdom through something called community.
Women Who Explore is a great community to share our stories and definitions of what it means to be lost. It’s also a place where we can help each other find our way home. I will share the lessons I’ve learned in my years of backpacking and the many important lessons being a part of a k9 search team has taught me. These lessons make us better hikers but they also make us better humans, better women and better citizens. I look forward to exploring with you. Adventure on, friends.