Bikepacking Rescue in The Desert
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While bikepacking Oregon’s Big Country, Tomas Quinones discovered and rescued a 73-year-old man who was dehydrated and incapacitated after surviving four days in the high desert. Here’s the full story in Tomas’ words, photos, and a video news report…
I just got back to wifi-land to find out that Tomas Quinones, a reader and fellow bikepacker, had quite the harrowing experience on the Oregon Big Country bikepacking route. Quinones was on day six of a seven-day bikepacking trip along the very remote route when he discovered a man lying in the middle of the double track dirt road.
73-year-old Greg Randolph’s had gotten his Jeep stuck in a creek bed four days prior and hiked about 14 miles (22.5km) to seek help when he eventually collapsed from heat and exhaustion. When Tomas found him on July 18th, Randolph was barely conscious, badly sunburnt, and unable to speak.
DAY 6: CATNIP RESERVOIR TO HART MOUNTAIN SPRINGS
Although a vehicle pulled through camp around 3:30 AM, I didn’t really get a good look at it. They quickly drove off without fuss. I found myself in the company of only ducks and the other birds that decided to make noise all night long. It wasn’t bad, but it was always there.
It was kind of a lazy morning. No alarm, quiet, and plenty of gross water to filter.
I topped my bottles, packed up my gear, and headed out for who knows how long. I had to cover more than 50 miles to get to Hart Mountain hot springs, so there was no time to waste.
Leaving Sheldon Wildlife Refuge, I had a bit of a downhill. Being in my sandals, I was cautious going down hills or rough roads. But on this particular descent, I startled a snake and immediately heard the tell-tale rattle of the DANGER NOODLE. Thankfully, I was going at a decent clip so I didn’t stick around to make a new friend.
A few miles later, I exited the refuge by a very low-key sign and crossed highway 140 one last time. It was nearing mid-day and I still hadn’t seen another person. I hadn’t had cell signal in two days. Had I crossed into Oregon? Was I still in Nevada? There really weren’t any sort of markings in this desolate area.
I turned onto another double track to start heading North. After a few miles I saw something in the middle of the road. My first thought was that this would be dead cow number four, but this moved. And as I pedalled closer, I soon realized it was a person! WTF?
There was a man lying in the middle of the road. Weird. As I pedaled past him, I started wondering if this guy was just passed out from a drunk binge or what. I stopped and asked “are you ok? Alive? Hello? Sir?” No response, but he managed to move a little. I could see that he was already badly sunburned and had rolled around in the dirt for a bit. This guy needed help ASAP. I checked my phone: “No Service” of course. I had my spot tracker, but I thought I saw a vehicle just ahead, so I dropped a water bottle next to him and told him I would be right back with help and to hang on. I also dropped a pin in Gaia GPS to mark his location should I find help.
My legs found a new level of energy as I sprinted after whatever was kicking up dust on the road ahead. It was sandy, very dry, and too hot that I couldn’t keep it up for very long. Before I knew it, the dust cloud was gone and I was already four miles from the fellow. Shit shit shit shit shit. I quickly hit SOS on my Spot Tracker, full well knowing that my emergency contacts might flip out that I was injured or something. But since I had the breadcrumbs tracking turned on, they would see that I was still moving and likely OK.
I started pedaling back as fast as I could and noticed footprints staggered in the dust. They were clearly his footprints as he had shuffled his way south back to the highway for help. No way of knowing of how long this guy had been shuffling, but at least four miles of walking, probably more (8-14 miles last I heard).
I began thinking of ways of communicating with him and how much water I had in my bottles. It was really dry and I only had less than two litres remaining… I would need all of it to get to the next reservoir to filter. But this guy was clearly in trouble and needed help. I could go a few more hours without water, but didn’t know if he would still be alive by the time help got there. I had no idea where an ambulance or other help would be coming from.
As I pulled up to the man, he was still in the same position, water untouched. I started talking to him, asking if he could hear me, if he knew his name, or how long he’d been there. No response. He was shaking uncontrollably but recognised I was trying to help.
He was able to take a couple of sips of water as I held his head and touched the bottle to his lips. He was crazy-eyed with delirium and couldn’t do anything to help himself.
As I started to get the tent set up for shade, I noticed a pillow case a couple feet away from the man. I thought I would get it damp and use it to start cooling him down. But as I picked up the pillow case, it was REALLY heavy, like it had a rock or something in it. But peering inside, I realized it was a loaded gun. Wow. I don’t know if this guy is going to snap out of it and and go for the gun or what, so I moved it away and under my bike.
It was difficult setting up the tent as it was such thin material, a breeze was blowing, and the ground was extremely hard to get stakes into. All the while I would periodically give the man and dog a bit of water.
After getting the tent set up and doing what I could to cover his face from the sun, I sat next to the man and kept assuring him help was on the way. He mumbled a few grunts, but nothing that I could make out as words. I was prepared to sit for a few hours waiting for whatever help may arrive.
Only a few minutes later, I saw another dust cloud getting kicked up in the distance, then some flashing headlights. They were a still a couple of miles away, but they were coming.
As the ambulance pulled up, I walked over and said hi.
“Are you Thomas?”
“Yes, I’m 100% OK, healthy, but this fellow is in really bad shape!”
The paramedic walked over and started asking the same questions I asked. “Sir, can you tell me your name? Do you know where you are? Can you hear me? How long have you been out here?” Same responsive grunts as before but the shaking had subsided a little.
I let the paramedic know that he had a diabetic bracelet. The paramedic perked up a bit and yelled to the other to quickly get the big bag. Their body language and sense of urgency went up a notch.
While checking for injuries and assessing the man, I passed along all info in which I found him.
He tested the man’s blood pressure and said it was REALLY high. Again, their sense of urgency visibly escalated. The other paramedic turned the ambulance around and started to get the gurney out. I quickly got the tent out of the way and helped them lift the man onto the gurney and secure him for transport.
As they were getting ready to leave I started asking if they had any extra water. I went through it quickly while trying to care for the man and his dog. All they had were two half-finished bottles of Gatorade. At this point, I didn’t care, I needed fluids too. It didn’t last a few minutes as it was warmer than I realized. But they were getting really antsy to take off ASAP. They let me know a sheriff unit was on the way to wrap this up but they had to go go go go.
As the ambulance sped off, I loaded up all the gear I unpacked, gave the dog they left behind some water, and grabbed a snack. I just started eating peanut butter and jelly right from the jar. I did the math in my head to figure out if I had enough water remaining to get to the reservoir. Should I hitch a ride into a town, or see if the deputy had any extra water?
Just as I finished packing everything up and getting ready to sit with the dog for a bit… I pondered what might be going on at home. Who knew that I was OK or thought that I was really in trouble? A moment later, the deputy showed up in his truck and we started chatting about the situation. He was incredibly professional and friendly. I told him everything I knew, how I found the man, and that his dog and possessions were still on the road.
“I was wondering if you were just crazy for riding a bike around with a dog!”
Ah no… I wouldn’t do that with a dog.
I showed him the gun in the pillow case and assumed it was loaded. He took it out, unloaded the clip and cleared the chamber. “Yup, unloaded now”. “If he’s from Lakeview, I’d expect him to have a gun” the deputy told me. We then chatted about the wildlife I had seen and whether it might be enough of a threat. “I’m surprised you don’t have a gun” he claimed. Maybe I should have? Given my experience from 48 hours prior, maybe I should consider it for solo trips?
As the deputy loaded the dog into the truck, we also picked up the man’s other possessions from the road. A cap that indicated he is a Vietnam vet, the dog’s leash, the dog, a crushed pair of sunglasses, and the pillowcase with gun. Both the paramedics and I had checked for ID but didn’t find any.
The deputy was kind enough to give me a litre of fresh water in a new bottle.
I gave the deputy my information and asked that he get ahold of my partner Audrey ASAP as she was probably wondering WTF was going on and might very well be driving to my location right now.
As we parted ways, he thanked me several times and headed north towards the footprints and the old abandoned homestead.
I hopped back on my bike, made sure the Spot tracker was set to breadcrumb transmissions, then made my own way back north, back on route.
A few miles later, we met up again as he had turned around and was heading back out to the freeway. We chatted a few more minutes to speculate how and why this man got out. There was no vehicle or obvious clues of foul play. It was just weird.
The deputy then shook my hand one last time, then we parted ways again but this time he would be the last person I would see for the rest of the day.
I made my way up to the homestead, looked around but didn’t see any vehicles at all. There were signs that people had been there to vandalize or camp in the past, but nothing looked recent.
Moving on, I slowly made my way up the mesa and onto the next reservoir. It took me a couple of hours of laborious riding, but I made it to water. I had to walk through some tall grass and try to get some clear water but it was all clouded with algae no mater where I went. So I did the best I could to filter it but the water itself was still green. I still had some water from the deputy that I would drink first so would keep the green smelly water as my last resort.
After the reservoir, I worked my way up another hill then suddenly got the chime of incoming texts. I had a 1x connection. Just enough to get simple SMS to Audrey. I stopped and immediately started reading the incoming texts from Audrey, Brad, and Spot Tracker. Voice mail notifications started coming in. The last three days without cell connection had queued up notifications. After a few texts, I finally had a good enough signal I called Audrey and started telling her about my weird day. She told me about the calls from other friends that were listed as emergency contacts that had called her before Spot Tracker services. I assured her I was still 100% healthy and pedaling the route. It was great to hear her voice again after six days of riding.
My signal started to degrade and I really needed to finish my day. We said our goodbyes and that I would be finished soon.
It would be a few more hours of struggled pedaling as my adrenaline had long since worn off, I hadn’t been eating enough, and was just worn out from the weirdness of the day.
It started getting dark as I climbed over the last peak of my route along Hart Mountain. There was still not a soul within site or any vehicles in the distance. Mosquitos started attacking me along Guano creek, so I had to keep moving.
Shortly after sundown, I was still riding to my destination. Bike light and headlamp on, I picked my way down the rocky road to the Hart Mountain campground where I could see traffic moving around and people alight by campfire. It was pushing near 10pm by the time I found a site to settle for the night.
Too tired to mess around with any food, I ate my last protein bar (I still had lots of other food left), drank as much water my stomach could hold, and gave my dusty legs a quick wipe-down. Even after all these days of riding in sandals, I found my first tick attached to a thick part of my foot. Could have been far worse. A quick check-in on the Spot tracker to show my location for the night and I was out.
I don’t think I had fallen asleep any faster during my trip, but I was plagued by vivid dreams and the occasional coyote in the distance.
Nonetheless, it was a good day.
PS: This day was absolutely bizarre. The story has now been picked up by several news outlets and blogs [see update and video below]. Thanks everyone, I’m just glad he’s OK.
About Tomas Quinones
Tomas Quinones lives it up on bikes throughout the Pacific Northwest, seeking new adventures on two wheels. A gear-nerd, illustrator, and photographer, he finds that touring and bikepacking recharge his life. Follow his travels over at his blog (adventuring.bike) and Instagram @Adventuring.bike.
NEWS UPDATE: According to The Guardian, Police found Gregory Randolph’s jeep miles from the nearest paved road. State olive used an airplane to spot Randolph’s Jeep a couple days later where his second dog was found alive. It likely survived by drinking water from mud puddles in the creek bed.
The Jeep was miles from the nearest paved road. A Lake County Police Deputy added, “It’s still there. It very well could stay there forever. I don’t know how he got the Jeep in as far as he did. He was just out driving the roads. That’s kind of common out here, there’s not a heck of a lot else to do.”
Quinones finished his bikepacking trip and remarked that he feels lucky that he found Randolph when he did. He later discovered it would have been a six-hour ride to cellphone service had he not had his SPOT GPS tracking device. Randolph spent several nights in a hospital but is now home and recovering, as are his dogs.