I won’t go backcountry without this device


Adventure athletes are some of the most intrepid people in the world: climbing exposed peaks during thunderstorms, hurtling down cliffs on bicycles and generally pushing the limits of what’s possible outdoors. Growing up, I wanted nothing less. I’ve skied on a downhill and freeride team, and I’ve always felt oddly grounded when I was scaring myself in the mountains, falling down a hallway on my favorite pair of Line skis, descending a garden of steep rock on my bike or sleeping in the woods on a camping trip.

But as an adult, that courage was altered by a force I was unprepared for: anxiety. Eventually, my rooted outback feeling was replaced with a tight throat, a pounding heart, and a spiraling mind. I wondered things like, What if I broke my leg and couldn’t call for help? What if I miss the trail marker and have to spend the night in freezing cold? Some of those thoughts, I knew, were absurd. But that’s the nature of anxiety – you can’t control it – and the result was recurrent low-level panic that changed the way I function on the outside. I started to measure how far I ventured into the wilderness for mountain bike rides, ski tours and solo hikes.

Despite my growing unease, I was determined to continue living an adventurous life. So when friends invited me to hike 50 miles in Glacier National Park, I said I was in. Before leaving, however, a friend recommended that I take a satellite communication device. The one I got, the ACR Bivy Stick ($200), finds and establishes a connection using Iridium’s global network, so you can send and receive messages on your phone in remote locations. The basic plan includes 20 message credits and costs $20 per month; after an initial activation period of four months, you can deactivate or reactivate. I also purchased Global Rescue insurance (which starts at $129 for seven days of individual coverage), which allows me to contact an emergency response organization directly to, for example, request a rescue by helicopter rather than relying on local resources.

Even before we got to Glacier, we knew the weather conditions would be tough. Thick smoke from a nearby forest fire had made the air particularly hot and dry. The first day we underestimated how dried out the creeks would be and a few of us ran out of water at mile 11. This development could have easily turned into a nightmare for me. But knowing I had access to a rescue team and could communicate any emergency, I turned a gnawing fear into a manageable nervousness.

We found water at mile 13 and set up camp, and the Bivy Stick stayed in my bag most of the time except to ping my family and let them know we were on schedule. Since then, I’ve had countless adventures with the device in tow, and I’ve never had to use it to summon cavalry – hopefully never will. But just having him with me completely changed my mindset in the backcountry. The burden of my exaggerated fear finally lifted.


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