My Two Cents

This new page is intended to let you know what is bugging me and who has ticked me off this month.

The Heinrichs vs. The Gorge

Final score, Heinrichs 2, Gorge 0


On his last flight Sunday afternoon, the DT on my dads Super Rocketeer hung up and it was last seen heading towards Maricopa.  He quickly came back to the field and grabbed his receiver (he was smart enough to put the transmitter in the airplane) and went back after the model.  About a mile past the Maricopa highway he was still getting a strong signal, rode out a little further and the signal was gone.  He tried to pick it back up again but it was as if the model just disappeared.  Remembering what Bud Romak had gone through two days earlier I suggested that it might have gone over the hill into the next valley.  Bud located his Zipper from an airplane with the radio tracker, got a GPS location on it and finally recovered it 26 miles from the field.  We put the ATC in the back of his truck in case we found an area we could not drive to and off we went.


If you look southwest from the field, halfway between Taft and Maricopa, way off in the distance you can see some really high mountains.  If you decide you want to go to the top of those mountains I suggest horseback or and off road motorcycle.  We drove his truck to the top of that mountain (ignoring some of those pesky “Do Not Enter” signs) but to no avail, there still was no signal.  There seemed to be a more direct route back to the field so, convinced that the model was in the ocean, we headed back.  Just for the completeness of the search, my dad asked me to turn the receiver back on and about 2 miles down from the peak I heard it, that steady “beep, beep, beep” of the transmitter.  It was a long way off but we had a signal!


We followed the road we were on- I should interject that the word road is a bit of an overstatement but there seemed to be fewer weeds there like someone had come through in the last 30 years or so- and the signal just kept getting stronger.  We then got to a place where the “road” veered off the line and I suggested that I get on the ATC and follow the line.  This was my first mistake of the day.  I got a heading and road down into a canyon, loosing the signal.  All that told me was that the model was not in that canyon.  I rode out the base of the wash at the bottom and got up the next peak.  In the mean time my dad had found his way back to me with the truck.  He continued to follow the ridge out and I followed a little more direct line, coming to another deeper canyon.  I went out on a point to get another signal heading, got off the bike and that is when disaster struck.


I had set the brake lock on the ATC, walked out and was just getting ready to walk back to the bike when I heard it coming at me.  Moving too fast to stop (I tried) I had to watch as it plunged 400 feet into a crevice, almost straight down.  If you have seen cars tumble down a cliff in the movies, that is what I watched my ATC do down into this crevice.  It bounced, rolled, flipped into the air and finally came to rest.  The eternal optimist, I went down after it thinking that maybe I could ride it out the bottom of that canyon.  When I got to it my heart sank.  The front forks were bent back at about a 20º angle and the front tire was jammed on the frame.  The rear rack was bent to one side and all of the damage you could expect from that kind of tumble was there.  I tried for about 5 minutes to drag or roll it down but figured out pretty quickly that at this point it was the bike or me.  It was getting dark; I had no water and no cell phone reception that deep in the canyon.  I abandoned the bike, resigning to myself that I would never see it again, and started walking out.


I made the correct choice because the crevice I was in was very steep, very rough, and would have been almost impossible for me to have gotten the bike out of on my own.  I knew that if I followed the wash at the bottom of the canyon I would eventually come out where I could see the highway and my thought was to hike to the highway then call 911 to have the sheriff pick me up and take me back to the field where my dad and I had agreed we would meet if we missed each other on the way out.


I got out of the canyon, found a road and started to walk it out.  The sun was completely down at this point but I was fortunate enough to have a lot of moonlight and the prison gave me a good reference on where to go.  Again, just for good measure, I turned the receiver back on and low and behold, the signal was there!  The line was still east, back towards the field so I knew I still had not passed it.  I walked for a while further and tried for another heading, now it was to the south of me; I knew where the model was.  There was no way I would find it at night but I at least knew where it was now.  I got some good reference points and continued my trek.  Thankfully, after about 5 miles of hiking I found a house and the owner gave me some water and a ride back to the field.  I won’t say that he saved my life but I will say he saved me a lot of pain.


Since we now knew where the model was we decided to stay another night and look for it in the morning.  I got re-hydrated and the next morning returned to where I had gotten the last signal and would you know it, there it was again.  We spent about an hour driving the oil fields and then we came up a ridge next to a well and there it was, upside down in a bush.  Looking around we guessed that the reason he lost the signal from the upwind side is that the model was too close to a ridge and the signal was not able to get over it.  When we were up high and behind it, the signal could reach us.  What I learned about the tracker, unless the signal is pegging the meter, you are still a long way from the model.


The first mission completed, my dad convinced me to go back into the canyon looking for where I left the ATC.  I had decided to go back but I was going to ride back in with another bike and tow it back out.  We were able to drive the truck in the wash that I walked out on and when that got too narrow we got out and walked.  Here was another mistake we make, we did not take water.  We are both backpackers and know better but I guess when you are focused on a mission you forget the common sense stuff.  The other problem we had is that since I had given up on the bike I had not left any markers to let me know where to find it again.  We ended up passing my crevice and walked about 4 miles further in than we needed to.  I was getting dehydrated again so we started back and found the road we had followed the day before.  A little while after that we saw my tracks and followed them until they disappeared off the cliff, looked down and there was the bike. 


When you look at something like a canyon from 400 feet up it does not look that rough but when we finally got down to the bike it was a much worse.  I remembered then why I had stopped, the next 20 feet forward included a 7 foot drop-off.  We couldn’t do much more damage to the bike so rather than be gentle I tossed it over the edge then began the long process of dragging it down to the main wash at the bottom of the canyon.  About ¾ of the way out I figured out that I was in trouble physically.  I was dehydrated and the extra work was only making it worse.  We had brought water but it was in the truck and my dad suggested that I hike out and bring the water back.  I was smart enough this time that I left some markers so I would not walk past my crevice on the way back in.  I needed to get some water soon because I had stopped sweating; a very bad sign.  Got to the truck, drank some water and found an apple in my dads ice chest.  I took a couple of bites of the apple for some energy, rested for a minute and headed back in.  When I got back to my dad about an hour later he had wrestled the bike down to the main wash and had even come a ways down from there.  He ate the other half of the apple, drank, and after a rest we started back down.


We discovered that we could hold the front fork with the front tire on our stomach and wheel it somewhat like a wheelbarrow.  With the rear axle out of line however, the chain would not stay on the rear sprocket and kept catching on the axle, stopping the bike quite suddenly.  At one point I tried to put the chain back on and see if I could ride it back out.  It started on the first pull, I put it in gear and went about 8 feet when the chain popped back off.  Tried it again with the same result.  All in all it took us about 4 hours to get the bike out of the canyon but we got it back against all odds.


The main lesson from all of this is that we need to think when we are out there.  We made several potentially life threatening mistakes that thankfully we were too robust to let take us down.  There are two things that I think every free flighter should take with them on every chase; water and a cell phone.  Had my dad had a cell phone I could have called him when I lost the bike and saved myself a lot of walking.  Had we had water we could have saved ourselves the dehydration.  Please, learn from our bad example.  Be careful out there, don’t take unnecessary risks and if you are following with a tracker, stay on the roads until the needle is being pegged by the signal.


Daniel Heinrich

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