At least once on each day I am riding, I catch someone staring at my right shoulder. I grin and wait for the question. “What is that thing you are wearing?” Then I grin even bigger and offer a provocative answer, “It’s what tells my friends where to come and get the body.”
Perhaps a less pointed response would be more politically correct, but this one has never failed to get the questioner’s undivided attention…which is exactly what I want. You see, I am a Safety Girl—fanatically ATGATT (All The Gear, All The Time)—and I consider my inReach as important as my helmet. And it turns out that a lot of folks, including other riders and assorted outdoor enthusiasts, have not given much thought to what would happen should things go wrong for them in areas without cell phone coverage.
Before going further I should clarify that the current version of this essential item is now a Garmin gizmo that looks slightly different from the one pictured here. That, however, doesn’t matter for purposes of this review because the newer models do the same three things that made me willing to spend what this tool costs:
- Continually track my location via satellite technology,
- Provide a means for 2-way communication about my location and needs, should I get into trouble, and
- Create a real time map, at a url I can provide to my friends, by location markers generated every 10 minutes while I’m moving.
My first satellite tracker was a SPOT, which I would probably still have had it not been for what happened the only time I used it to call for help. I had dropped my bike on a remote Forest Service road and discovered that I couldn’t pick it up by myself. So I pushed the roadside assistance button and sat down to wait for some muscle-power to arrive. But when it did, it was a couple out 4-wheeling rather than the help for which I had signaled. Once back on two wheels and in cell range, my phone showed multiple missed calls from a number that proved to be the roadside service provider. They had been trying to reach me to learn more about my needs. They had the coordinates from which I’d signaled for help, but had taken no action because I hadn’t picked up their calls. Rather acidly I suspect, I explained that, no thanks to them, I no longer needed assistance and asked what they would have done had they never heard from me. They responded, “Oh, we would have come looking for you…eventually.” Good to know, but not what I thought I was buying when I paid SPOT’s additional subscription fee for roadside service!
To be clear, the inReach is not a satellite phone. Two-way communication occurs via a texting process clunky enough to discourage chattiness, but nonetheless comforting. And its texting function is not the only way in which it connects me to people. I almost always travel alone, but I rarely feel lonely on the road because I know that many of my friends are following my tracks on my inReach map. The data recorded on that map stays there for the life of my inReach subscription, making it possible for me to recall exactly where I was on a given day and time long after my brain has let loose of that memory. I don’t generally use the tracking function if I’m riding with others, but even so, my map now records over 7,000 miles of tracks in five states and two countries!
Current Garmin models of this essential tool have GPS functions that my older DeLorme model doesn’t. And Garmin now also offers an inReach Mini primarily for 2-way communication and triggering search and rescue should you get into trouble. I can’t recommend one model over another. Do your homework and choose what best suits your needs.
Once upon a time, I did my adventuring in a “spur of the moment” fashion. Then, during one such wild hare excursion, I wound up hopelessly stuck in deep snow on a rarely-traveled mountain road. As luck would have it, an intermittent cell signal saved me from being preserved in ice…and made me think seriously about the risks I had been taking. By definition, adventures are risky and adventurers are people who accept that risk. The good news is that being a well-prepared adventurer doesn’t eliminate dragons; it just improves the odds that you’ll survive them. So fasten an inReach to your jacket or backpack and go slay some dragons.