If there is a tiny silver lining to this COVID-19 black cloud, it’s that more people have discovered the outdoors and, I hope, have developed a greater appreciation for our wide-open spaces.
Consider: Golf courses, after several years of decline in business, are jammed with both veterans and newbies, and golf instructors’ schedules are booked solid. My favorite athletic-shoe store can’t keep walking shoes and hiking boots on the shelves. Boat, RV and bicycle sales are off the charts, and the number of neighbors and dog-walkers circumnavigating my subdivision has increased exponentially since our COVID lockdown began almost a year ago.
Sojourns into the backcountry and remote areas are up, too, according to Denise Davila, corporate communications manager for SPOT, a personal satellite messaging and emergency notification device that facilitates rescues when adventurers get into treacherous situations. She knows this because of the spike in SPOT sales and use that started in May 2020 and continued through the holidays.
“There is a national trend for opting to go off-grid,” Davila said, and California is leading the pack.
In addition to the 4.2 million messages that have been sent within California, “SPOT … has initiated more rescues in California than anywhere else in the country during 2020.”
In San Diego County, “there have been a lot of (device) activations in the Cuyamaca Mountains,” Davila said, including a recent incident involving “a rock climber who had a seizure.”
Additional rescues have occurred in situations that involve hiking and mountain sports; camping; car accidents; 4-wheelers; boating and water sports; missing persons in group activities; and bicycles, motorcycles and dirt bikes.
Scotty Breauxman, who splits his time between Del Mar and Mexico, counts himself among those in that last category. The 52-year-old certified financial planner is the founder of the Baja Rally, an annual dirt-bike event that he describes as a five-day, 1,000-mile route through Baja California that is a “light-impact, environmentally friendly competition.”
“Riders start a new leg of the race every day at the same point but at different times,” he explained, “so the first person to arrive at that day’s destination may not be the fastest rider.”
Each year, Breauxman designs a new route, which passes through isolated areas and historic and culturally significant towns. Competitors are required to follow a paper map, may not use GPS, and are required to wear personal satellite trackers because of the remote terrain and the unpredictability of the weather. (The Baja peninsula, because of its topography, has a reputation for severe, erratic and rapidly changing weather.)
In 2017, Breauxman was mapping a new course in a “winding, rocky canyon about 200 miles south of the border.” He became dehydrated and suffered electrolyte imbalance which led to exhaustion.
“I got progressively worse,” he recalled, and eventually couldn’t move. With the help of his SPOT device, a satellite phone and a Mexican cowboy who was traveling with him, a rescue party brought him the necessary liquids and Breauxman survived.
“There have been at least two rescues in Baja just this last month that we know of,” Breauxman said. “It’s important to prepare for both the things you can control and can’t control. That’s where SPOT comes in. These trackers are like insurance. You never really need it until you need it.”