Navigating my Garmin inReach

My breath was taken away as I moved myself and my heavy backpack over demanding terrain. Blue Jay floated along effortlessly, full of spirit and song. She’s a good morale booster. We were out for what would be her first overnight on Mantario on August Long Weekend, along with a friend and her son.

The start of our trip!

The bugs were bad, the humidity was high, and the temperature hovered around 33°C. I was guzzling water and yet it seemed like I could not get enough. I developed a headache and my mind felt a little fuzzy. We stood on a clearing that overlooked the train tracks that roughly marked the half way point of our journey. There was not a reliable water source until camp and I was worried that we would not have enough.

About 45 minutes prior to reaching the train tracks, my friend and her son decided to return to the trailhead. We assured each other that we would be alright and had appropriate navigation and gear to split up. I sent Bear Hug a message on my Garmin inReach to let him know that Blue Jay and I were continuing on by ourselves.

I included his email and phone number when I set my inReach contacts up. I chose to send the message to his email, without giving the receiving method much thought since he views everything on his phone. This was my very first time sending a message on the inReach unit, not including the pre-set messages.

Cell service was non-existent above the second set of train tracks. We took off our backpacks and I gave Blue Jay a snack while I sorted through the thoughts in my head. I chewed on some beef jerky with the hope that the salt would aid in replenishing my electrolytes.

I sent Bear Hug another message. In retrospect, I should have included details about dehydration concerns instead of just saying I was nervous. I realize now that the more details given would help him to understand the situation. I could have been nervous for a thousand different reasons.

I chatted with two hikers who had come from the direction we were headed. We talked about a stagnate creek as a possible water source but I was not interested in following the creek to source flowing water. In hindsight, I should have known better about choosing a more appropriate trail on one of the hottest weekends of the year.

While we were wrapping up our conversation, a STARS air ambulance helicopter flew over us and my decision to turn around was solidified.

My friend and I had driven to the trail head together and I needed Bear Hug to come get me. This is one of the reasons I am not a big fan of carpooling as much as I enjoyed the company. Sometimes there is a change of plans and having my own vehicle is convenient.

After walking for a while, I still had not received a message from Bear Hug acknowledging my messages. I called him when we reached a high clearing and had cell service. He had no idea that I had sent him 3 messages! 

As it turned out, he does not have push-notifications for email on his phone, meaning that he actually has to go into his email to check for new emails. His phone did not notify him with a *ding* or new email notice on his home screen. I had no idea that he had push-notifications for email disabled! “No one emails me important things!” 

This is a prime example of what happens when gear is not tested properly before taking it hiking! My Garmin inReach was promptly updated when I got home to only have his phone number! All of the pre-set messages were set to go to his phone number and he has received them in the past.

With cell service available, I messaged my friend and told her that I was on my way back to the trailhead and that Bear Hug was coming to get me. She responded that she would wait for me and to cancel with Bear Hug. I didn’t receive her message until I got to the trailhead though and found her waiting for me! Bear Hug showed up 20 minutes later!

The trip plan should have included the exchange of our husbands phone numbers. She could have phoned Bear Hug and told him that she was waiting for me and that he didn’t have to come. This has me wondering what other important things should be added to my trip plan.

Bear Hug was smoking ribs at the time and had to shut the process down to come get me. In the end, the ribs were OK and were salvaged on the BBQ when we got home. A well thought-out trip plan could have meant delicious smoked ribs instead of just OK though.

Back while I was still on the trail, I ran out of water before we reached the Whiteshell River but Blue Jay still had some. We took an extended break at the river to dip our feet, filter water, and eat some food. I began carrying powdered Vega Sport Electrolyte Hydrator on my hikes this year and I am glad that I had it with me. I mixed a bottle and drank it while eating trail mix and beef jerky. The fuzziness in my mind faded although I still had a headache that lasted until the evening.

With heading out into the great wide-open outdoors and off the grid with Blue Jay at my side, I realized that I need to teach her how to use the Garmin inReach in the unlikely event that I become unconscious. It is akin to knowing when and how to call 911.

My Garmin inReach will always be with me when I venture off the beaten path and out of cell phone range. For peace of mind, it is one of the best gear investments that I have added to my kit.

A little bit about my unit of choice:

I chose the Garmin inReach Explorer+ over the other two models (Mini and SE+) for a couple of reasons. I wanted an all in one unit that does not need to pair with my cellphone. I prefer to save the battery on my phone and use it for pictures, video, and working on my blog. The Explorer+ model has an electronic compass whereas the SE+ model does not. While reading reviews, it appeared that the Explorer+ has a longer battery life than SE+ even though Garmin states that the battery life is the same between units.

I have the Personal Safety and Freedom subscription plan. I am not locked into a contract and can suspend the plan at anytime. I primarily hike May to October and where I venture in the winter is within cell phone range. If I plan something in the future during the winter that will take me off the beaten path, I will activate my subscription.

I pay $21.23 per month and it includes unlimited sent pre-set messages that I customize for my trip, and 10 additional text messages.

The unit is a little tricky to type on and I can see the appeal of typing on a cellphone linked to the Mini. The word prediction is great however, almost top notch in my opinion. I didn’t buy my Garmin inReach to send chit-chatty texts and I do not care about grammar and punctuation, as long as my message can be deciphered.

Do you carry a Garmin inReach or SPOT? Have you thought about getting one if you don’t?


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