I'll post here from time to time describing the modifications I'm making to Sly.
PLB (personal locator beacon), shown at left. If you're not familiar with these devices, you can read all about them at the preceding link. Basically they allow you to broadcast a distress signal from anywhere on the planet. This signal is relayed to the appropriate search and rescue organizations, and they will (we sincerely hope!) respond. We offroad in places where cell phones don't work. That leaves us with just a few alternatives: ham radio, satellite phone, and PLB. The PLBs have several advantages, including:
- (relatively) low cost, one time (no subscription like satellite phones)
- reliability and testability (you can be sure the device works)
- truly global coverage, 24 x 7 (ham radio is shaky on this front)
- small, portable devices (this one is 6" x 2.5" x 1.5", and weighs a few ounces)
- direct relay of distress calls to responders (with ham radio and satellite phones, you have to call someone and have them relay your issue to the search and rescue folks - which they have to locate
- direct relay of your location to the search and rescue responders (the device has a GPS to locate you, and it broadcasts your position to the satellite)
Something to know if you're considering a PLB: these devices are for use in extremis – not for running out of gas, or even for a run-of-the-mill mechanical breakdown. You use a PLB only when you believe you are in mortal danger. This could happen because of (say) a transmission problem that leaves you stranded at high altitude, and you don't have survival gear to make it through an Arctic-like night. It could also happen because you're injured, and can't walk out of the back-country. But if you use the PLB to summon a cup of coffee, some fuel, or because you're lonely – be aware that the search and rescue organizations would be most seriously displeased with you, and are quite likely to send you a bill with 5 or 6 significant digits in the dollar value!
On past trips, including to the San Juan Mountains, I've been extremely careful to not do anything at all risky when on a road or trail not often traveled. The older we've gotten, the more I apply this policy – as we're less able, with age, to extricate ourselves from some hairy situation. The PLB addresses one aspect of this: if we ever get into serious trouble, this device could save our bacon. Other modifications we're planning will address other aspects: making Sly more rugged and resistant to the hazards of the back-country, and improving our ability to get ourselves unstuck (always a hazard on the rough sorts of “roads” we like to go on). All of these things put together will increase our confidence that we can safely venture to the wild, remote places that we love to go to...