Packing Up for Utah; A Tracking Surprise

Once again we are loading the Land Cruiser with gear and getting ready to head over the mountains. In few days we will be happily back in the desert as we make our usual rounds- we have plans to visit some rock art panels in the San Rafael Swell, do some backpacking in Grand Gulch, and explore the lower end of John’s Canyon by bike, not to mention a day in Moab and whatever other adventure comes along.

As soon as our carburetor is delivered by UPS we will mount it up and make our final preparations. The carb was in desperate need of a rebuild after nearly 200,000 miles of never being touched. We are expecting a change in performance and gas mileage with the rebuild. These are important points to consider with a 6,000 pound vehicle run by a 6 cylinder engine that gets 14 or 15 miles to the gallon. We will post more about that after our trip.

The Johns Canyon bike proves to be an exciting one. Nicolai and I are taking along our bikes together for the first time- his is a single speed 16 inch Trek and so he is limited on how fast and far, not to mention the terrain he can ride. But he is up to 5 or 6 miles non-stop now, and I have no doubt the he can complete an easy, flat 10 mile day. I will be towing the BOB trailer behind my bike and carrying all of our gear in it. Our plan is to park down in Johns Canyon as far down the old mining road as we can get- there is a point where the road washes out at a steep corner- and ride from there. We will ride down to the confluence of Slickhorn Canyon and the San Juan River. We will camp for at least a night, maybe two if we decide to dayhike up Slickhorn.

A Tracking Surprise
I am currently reading David Scott-Donlan’s “Tactical Tracking Operations”, another book on my list of tracking “how-to” books. This book is published by Paladin Press here in Boulder, and is definitely directed towards a military and police audience. Please note- I put “how-to” in quotations as tracking is not something that can be learned from books; it is learned on the ground. But books such as this are great resources, and this one is filled with the author’s personal accounts, shedding light on what you might- and might  not expect on following a track.

Scott-Donlan points out in a number of places where he encountered the  unexpected, and I encountered this myself yesterday. Whenever I am out on a trail, or off a trail, I am looking for sign, for any tracks that might be visible, always examining them, following them, reading them. This is the way tracking is learned. Yesterday on my morning run is a case in point.

As I ran down a well-traveled trail I noticed two perfectly spaced marks in the dirt. The track was new and fresh and there was only one going out, in my direction of travel. There were no prints over the top of it at all. At first I thought it might be the end of a stick being drug along. Then I noticed that the track was far too consistent for that in its depth, width, and clarity. The track was very deep and obscured in areas of deeper dirt, very clear and less obscured in harder locations- to be expected. But on uphills it was barely visible, and disappeared completely on some uphill locations.

Upon close examination I found a thin, nearly treadless bike tire track underneath, and being crossed over, by the other two marks. My conclusion- someone was riding a bike with a thin, worn front tire and nothing but a narrow rim on the back. The person was walking the bike up hills, thus diminishing the two marks from the rear tireless rim. I hoped I might run into whatever was making this track, bike or otherwise, so my suspicions might be confirmed.

I laughed to myself thinking that I must be way off in my assumption. It just seemed too far-fetched. I ran along for another 15 minutes or so when I heard a grinding noise ahead of me, coming in my direction. As I rounded a corner and started heading down a slight hill I met the rider of the bike with one tire. He was starting up the hill where he was getting no traction from the thin metal rim in the loose dirt. Just as I saw him he jumped off his bike to push it the rest of the way up the hill, causing the two lines to be less deep on the trail.

My lesson here is first that I read the track correctly. Tracking requires instinct and it also requires that you trust your judgment. Once I met the biker and looked over his track again, there was really nothing else that it could have been. I knew this from reading the track before I confirmed my assumption, but still questioned my judgment. I also realised the Scott-Donlan’s “expect the unexpected” is something that must be taken seriously. You never know what you might find out there.

For more on tracking and recommended books, visit the Desert Explorer tracking pages.

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