I’m not going to dig into the politics here, but whether you think striking nurses, ambulance crews and (coming soon, most likely) firefighters are making a fuss over nothing or you’ve already got Bentley Components' beautifully made MTB stem top cap on your Christmas list, there’s something you need to realize if you’re riding today.
If you smash yourself up in riding in the woods, you’re very unlikely to see any blue lights coming your way. That’s because large scale industrial action here in the UK means that ambulances are only responding to the most serious, immediately life threatening ‘Category A’ incidents. So if you break a bone – even a big one – tear a tendon, blow a joint or rip a hole in yourself, you’re likely going to have to get to hospital yourself.
Now let that sink in for a few minutes. You know the bit after the hyped pre-excitement of finally going for that gap you haven’t attempted before, trying that new trick while you’re airborne or just rolling over an edge you normally walk down subsides. When the immediate cortisone/adrenaline rush that your body floods itself with when you’re broken starts ebbing away. When you’re suddenly cold, possibly in shock, or maybe even coming out of a concussion with no idea what happened or even where or who you are. The bit where you don’t even care how your bike is. Even then, the blue light cavalry may well not be coming.
Nein, nein, nein
Suddenly Steve standing over there, who did that first aid course back the other year, is well out of his depth. The fact Anna has some painkillers and plasters "back at the van" isn’t a whole heap of use either. Whoever shouted “Go on mate, you’ve got this” is now deeply regretting their excess faith in your success vs fail ratio. And this is the good situation where you’re riding with mates who saw what happened and were at your crash site straight away. Not riding solo on a day where more sensible people might not have chosen to ride that radder trail. Or hoping the riders on that train you’ve been trying to keep up with all day will stop high fiving far away down the bottom of the hill and realize they haven’t heard your bike brakes screaming for a while, because now it’s you screaming instead.
The fact it’s going to be dark soon, you’re already wet and lying on wet ground with injuries that might get far worse if you’re moved in the wrong way really ramps up the seriousness at this time of the year too.
Expect the unexpected
Even if you’ve got away lucky with ‘just’ a broken bone/soft tissue injury/wound that’s under control you’ve still got to get yourself away from the crash site and then to hospital. This can be difficult even with friends and you're not far from the car park, but it's far, far worse if you’re alone or you’ve ridden way out into the wilderness.
And while Joe ‘Touching the void’ Simpson might have written a best seller and launched a career about crawling out of a crevasse with a broken tibial plateau, many other folks haven’t been so lucky. And on that note, I broke my tibial plateau in exactly the same way when I forgot my brakes were reversed on a test bike in the US and leapfrogged the bars into a ‘berm’ about six inches high. Luckily that time I was in sight of the car park and wheelchairs are easy to steal in Vegas.
And that’s the other point I guess. While there are moments of obvious increased risk which we balance all the time when riding to get the thrills we want without the injuries we don’t, it’s sometimes just the bits of a really easy ride where we lose focus that catch us out.
Times like these also bring home how much most of us over rely on health professionals who may be several hours away even if things are running smoothly. That's why getting first aid training yourself and carrying at least an essentials treatment kit (ideally one packed with MTB injuries in mind not just a generic 'puncture repair kit') on rides can make a big difference to outcomes if things go wrong.
Not far, not gnar
And before I sound too much like the patronizing fun police – or worse still, the government – I don't want to lecture anyone about the level of risk you’re happy riding at. It’s obviously entirely your own decision and I fully respect that as long as it doesn’t put others at risk too. However, I would suggest that the current healthcare overload and attendant strikes make dialing the danger down a notch or two a smart move. Not just for yourself, but for the people who get injured through no fault of their own but are now another chump back in the very long queue to get help.