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During the 2010 MichCanSka trip from Michigan to Alaska we had several thousand miles to figure out the best way to lead and keep a large group of riders together and moving. In the case of Group 1 the first group on this adventure, we had several factors that kept us from braking up a group of 34+ riders into smaller more manageable groups. They were: 1) navigational knowledge and depth (especially GPS), limited availability of experienced guides, the extensive level of unknown trails, and conditions ahead of us. Although I would not recommend trying to keep this large group together on future adventures, here is some things we learned that can make it more manageable for shorter trips or events:

Trail Boss – Overall responsible for the group of riders, like the captain of a ship, they need to make sure the speed for the riding conditions and expertise levels is safe and the navigation for the route is understood and being followed,  ultimately making sure everyone gets safely to the destination. This position could also be the Pacer or even a Scout. The trail boss should decide and communicate “taking a break” plans for the ride. Planning on stopping  each hour is a good idea. Make sure you stop in areas with long straight aways and down the trail far enough so the back of the group is not left in a blind spot around a curve or just over the top of a hill.

Scout One – This rider needs to be able to navigate using paper maps combined with GPS and compass. Rides out front keying off the scout behind or pacer always keeping the lights of the group behind in view. Posting at all intersections and trail transitions. Finds the trail and markers, verifying with map and GPS to make sure group is on their planned route. It is important to get to intersections or trail transitions early to quickly identify the route and keep moving. Image the group behind as a large train, everytime you have to sit at an intersection and study your maps while the train piles up behind you makes it is hard to get it moving again. Keep your scout up front even if you have an experienced guide taking you through an area. We had guides getting lost and even though our scout who was back in the pack had the route plotted on GPS, he had to chase down the riders in front of him along with the  guide and turn them around several times.

Scout two -Having a second scout riding behind the the lead scout, gives a longer buffer zone to give the lead scout time to find the trail and keep things moving. It also works very well if the 2nd scout also has the ability to read the maps and GPS to assist and keep the lead scout on track. Rides in front of the pacer, keeping maximim distance in front while still seeing headlights in his rearview mirrior. Its critical to post at all intersections and trail transitions until the pacer is in view.

Pacer  – As the name implies this postion is responsible for setting the speed of the group. You have to envision you are pulling a train connected with rubber bands, pull too fast from a start and you will break the rubber bands and go to slow or stop alot and the train gets all bunched up. Its important that the scouts key off the pacer and don’t try and control the speed of the group themselves. This is also a good place for the Trail boss to ride if he/she has good scouts to focus on where the trail goes. Otherwise putting a mature or experienced rider in this position would work. Also, the pacer should keep in mind how many of the crossing guards they have used up and look for opportunities (long straight aways) to slow the group up to give the crossing guards a chance to get back to the front.

Crossing Guards – This turned out to be a critical position for keeping the group moving and together. We had 4 riders who road up front, behind the Pacer. At each road crossing with blind spots or obvious traffic a guard will park on the edge of the road and wave riders on. When they get to the end of the group they ride in front of the Anchor until the group stops and then go back to the front. We also found it important for the crossing guards to wear bright colored safety vest, this helped the riders spot them quickly as will as the road traffic.

The  “Anchor” – This position is critical for keeping the group together and everyone accounted for. Basically the term “No one gets left behind!” sums it up pretty well. This position is responsible for making sure everyone is accounted for, Once the group is stopped it does not move forward unless the anchor agrees. The scouts need to key off the anchor and be ready when the anchor releases them to go.  In large groups it is critical to perform head counts after any confusing trail situations or upon leaving congested areas or towns.

Rules of the trail:

1) When stopping the group for any reason, the control of when the group starts moving forward again is the responsiblity of the Anchor. This way the riders at the back of the group are given enough time to take restroom or snack break, the lead scout will be looking for a wave or the anchor will ride to the front to notify and/or start a count if needed.

2) Every rider in the group is responsible for the riders behind them, each should be looking back often to assure they can see 1-4 sleds back. If they don’t see anyone, they should first slow up and then stop if no one catches up. Remember to use hand signals!

3) Each rider needs to be prepared to post at every trail turn or transition. They need to stop if nessacary until they see the rider behind them and then make sure the following rider keys off them.

4) Keep your spot in the group, unless you notify the other riders during a break or stop, people need to know who is in front of them and behind.

5) Watch for “Crossing Guards working themselves back to the front. Although we minimized this risky activity by increasing the number of crossing guards and having them stay at the back until we stopped for a break, it may be needed in highly congested areas where a large number of road crossings are be encountered.

6) If the group does get separated, it is best if just the lead scout goes back to look for them, with GPS and knowlege of the trails this person is in the best position to find the stragglers or lost riders without getting lost themselves. This happened to us a couple of times in Group 1 and it worked perfectly, even finding a lost grossing guard who did not know where which direction the group went … This is another place where the flags helped identify someone in the group from a distance.  

6) Attitude is critical to everyone having a good time, the most difficult part of keeping a large group together is keeping everyone’s expectations set and willingness to work as a group. It will only take a couple of riders being selfish, wanting to go faster or slower or take longer breaks to upset the whole groups dynamics and make everyone miserable.

7) The  Trail boss and Anchor need to keep their eyes and ears open to how the group and individuals are doing, you may have to tweak your speeds, break times or even make arrangements to get a struggling rider up front where you can keep an eye on them or get them off the trial. The priority is  to keep everyone moving safely and ultimately to the destination.  

Additional helpful tips:  In Group 1 the lead scout and anchor used GMRS motorola radios with a full power alert button  with ear buds.  If the back of the group stopped for any reason, the anchor could press the alert button and this would let the lead scout know to slow down or stop and wait for the all clear. They had a realistic range of about 1- 3 miles (35 miles on box) kept the group from getting too stretched out. These radios had better working range then the helmet communicators currently on the market.

If you have questions or comments about this post, please reply.

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I have been getting inquires lately about what we learned during our 2010 MichCanSka – Michigan to Alaska trip: Here is a few of my observations:

Safety Flags) This was a very controversial safety requirement, many of the participants were against using them, although most ended up installing them. What did we learn ? Not only did they provide the added visibility we hoped on the trail, we also uncovered an additional benefit of identifying our groups. With as many as 34 riders in a group during the trip, having the flags visually announced to the locals we had arrived in town, we also found ourselves using them to locate other members of our group in areas where other riders were on the trail or in congested areas. It really helped managing the logistics of keeping the riders together.  (Strongly recommended)

Spot Messenger) Wow! a true life and butt saver. I don’t think there is a single rider on this trip that would consider riding without one, especially in remote areas with limited cell phone range. Pressing the button to get help or rescue should be your last resort, don’t forgo the other items identified in this Blog and unnecessary put other people and resources at risk. It should be the ultimate backup plan. (absolutely mandatory)

Snow Bungees) A true back and life saver! When we were all getting stuck in a mountain pass in the Yukon this tool kept us moving and not having to spend the night in the woods. (should be mandatory)

Personal Survival Items) There were times on this trip that participants left theirs in the support vehicle because the weather and conditions were perfect at the beginning of the day. They would all agree today this was a mistake. The rescue of Group 3 in the wilderness of the Canadian Yukon, taught us all that mother nature is unforgiving, even cruel! Make it part of your trip prep, just like filling your tank with gas. (absolutely mandatory)

Additional items: If you have any questions or comments related to the safety or survival topics discussed in this Blog, please comment here.

All three groups are carrying Automatic Defibrillator (AED’s) they have to be stored in a heated case. We are using models FR2 and FRx from Philips

I have explored and researched “International Medical Group” (IMG)   medical insurance through my businesses independent insurance agent I have used for  over 10 years.  In an email to me he said…

 “They are an A.M. Best “A” rated company, and a leader in the travel insurance market.  This policy appears to be the best value.  It will cover each member for medical expenses incurred during the travel time outside of the U.S.    In addition, after talking with an IMG account manager,we were informed that each person who will be snowmobiling must elect the “extreme sports rider” to cover the additional risk.”

Unfortunately, they will only cover participants of this event up to the age of 65. We tried to get them to do a special policy for this structured event and they declined

At Age 49 I have gone ahead and signed up online  for the Patriot Travel Medical Insurance® with Extreme Sports Rider for a month with zero deductable and $100,000 policy, it cost me $90.06.  For those participants who qualify for the IMG policy click here for more information and online enrollment.  There is also a phone number to call if you have additional questions.  I am still researching a solution for over age 65 and will post my results hopefully later this week..

We are in the final stages of safety planning for the 2010 MichCanSka event and have strived to make this event the standard for safety preparation for long distance snowmobile events. It is very important for the long term success of this event that we address safety planning systematically and take it very seriously.

It has come to my attention that there are still participants who have not reviewed the information on this site. This site defines what is the minimum Safety Gear required and recommended to participate in the 2010 MichCanSka event. It also addresses and provides recommendations on gear specifics, purpose, tips as well as some options on where you can purchase. This site also allows individuals to share their tips and experience, by clicking on the comment links.

 I have added to the  Safety Documents sections,  check lists to make the process easier on what items you need to plan on having for the trip. You also need to download and read the “Safety Requirements and Guidelines (final)”, read and sign the “2010 MichCanSka Safety Release” document and also fill out and follow the instructions on the “Participant Personal Information” form

Please remember it is your responsibility to check the web site regularly or subscribe to get automatic updates. If you have any questions, please email me or contact me at (903) 238-3393

 Respectfully,

Pete Pattullo

Safety Coordinator, 2010 MichCanSka

P.S. I do not have email addressed for all team members, please pass the word onto your other team members or give them a call to make sure everyone is getting the word.

We held a Safety Briefing on Monday, December 28th at the Cadillac Sands Resort in Cadillac, MI.  Guest presenter was Greg Wilkinson from the company who provides the “Spot Messenger”.

We demonstrated and discussed the best practices on utilizing the Spot Messengers, Satellite Phones, GPS’s in conjunction with the MichCanSka Command Center and other safety gear outlined in this Blog.  if you have any questions , then click on the Leave a comment link and we will do our best to address. Click on MichCanSka Briefing V1.1 to see a copy of the presentation used for this briefing

Also if you would like this blog to automatically email you when new information is posted, click on the Subscribe to feed . This way you don’t have to keep checking back…

The safety requirements for the 2010 MichCanSka event is published, click on the link to view and download or click on the “Safety Documents” page above.

Click on the link to see an example of what will be available to the Command Center, friends and family for tracking the progress of the MichCanSka event.

Part of the route for this trip takes the riders across the Rocky Mountain Range, primarily while crossing  the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon Territory. Most the riders including myself have little or no experience/training in avalanche conditions or rescue. The best resource on this subject is www.avalanche.ca web site. It also has a great online training course that I highly recommend everyone take. http://access.jibc.bc.ca/avalancheFirstResponse/index.htm

I strongly recommend everyone participating in this event to read the book “98.6 Degrees – The art of keeping YOUR ASS ALIVE!” by Cody Lundin.  $9-$12 at http://www.amazon.com/98-6-Degrees-Keeping-Your-Alive/dp/1586852345

In this book, the author stresses that a human can live without food for weeks, and without water for several days. But if the body’s core temperature dips much below the 98.6 degree mark, a person can literally die within hours. It is a concept that many don’t take seriously, but knowing what to do to maintain a safe core temperature when snowmobiling or surviving in extreme conditions could save your life.

“Excellent advice … the obvious product of a man who has gone and done it… well worth reading”  – Field & Stream

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