Happy new year, Kane County explorers! The turn of the calendar is always a great time for goal planning. New year, new you, right?
But hold up, Superperson, before you get too far ahead of yourself with lofty aspirations, give yourself a gut check. Are you ready for THAT? And by that, I mean that Angels Landing hike your cousin got permits for, that Fastest Known Time you think you can break, that shiny new ATV that you’re still learning how to drive, that black bear hunting license you’ve salivated over for decades and finally got, that new bicycle you are excited to use to get in shape again … whatever fun outdoor goal you might have this year.
Left to right:
The SAR team practices off-trail navigation and getting familiar with routes around the Wave. Photos submitted by Katie Wallace.
The author practices carrying the patient litter.
The SAR team practices technical rope skills on a recent evening.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m psyched for you! But a word to the wise – have you been putting in the work to get you to your goals? We’ve talked a lot in this article about having the appropriate gear and skills before embarking on adventures, but it’s about time we addressed the 800-pound gorillas in the room: fitness and practice.
Spend any time with a child and you’ll see them get frustrated with a new task: “I can’t do it!” Spend any time with their parent and you’ll see them respond, “It just takes practice.” Somehow, as we get older, we lose sight of the idea that we need to train our bodies to do a thing or that we need to practice a skill to be good at it. Instead, us bull-headed adults go in thinking we should already be fit and competent, especially if we did the thing once upon a time.
Don’t get complacent with familiarity. Though the activity hasn’t changed, we have. Last year, we utilized a helicopter to rescue a vacationing firefighter from the Wave. He had done the hike a couple years prior and as someone accustomed to being in great physical shape, he underestimated the hike. The hike he’d done the day before had taken a toll on him, as well as the heat. Quite frankly, he was not in the best shape of his life, and with a little bit of dehydration, his calves began seizing to the point at which he could no longer walk. A little physical training can be the difference between being tired, but making it home safely, and needing to be rescued (or worse).
So, where should you begin? As an ultramarathoner, people always ask, “How do you train for something like a 100-mile run?” I think my answer is always disappointing. The truth is, training for anything isn’t rocket science. Start off with a small chunk you can do safely and with confidence. When it becomes easy, do a little more – whether that’s more fitness or more skill. When that’s easy, do a little more. It goes for learning French (“Je suis un chat.” Thanks, Duolingo). It goes for learning how to grow a garden. It goes for getting in shape to do something your body isn’t used to.
For a little inspiration and a major shout-out to my team, we just crunched the numbers for Kane County Search and Rescue volunteers. As a group, we participated in over 4,000 hours of training in 2022. Those numbers include any number of topics from working with rescue helicopters to CPR and navigation to radio systems, as well as specialty teams for tracking, search dogs, technical ropes, and swiftwater. For comparison, our volunteers put in just over 1,700 hours of time on call-outs for live incidents in the field. To be clear, that’s over a 2:1 ratio.
We spend way more time training than going out on “the big day,” and you should, too.