Training (and fun) in Moab

I just got back from Moab, Utah.  For those of you who haven’t heard of Moab (don’t worry, you’re not alone), it is a tiny town in the middle of nowhere in Eastern Utah.  It is a veritable mecca of all things outdoors.  People travel from all over the world to partake of the mountain biking trails, the many National Parks, and some of the most breathtaking vistas I have ever seen in my life.

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I was fortunate enough to visit Arches National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, and Bar M Ranch while I was there to do some hiking and trail running.

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All of this fresh air was certainly invigorating.  But the official reason for my visit to Utah was for a training course – Advanced Wilderness Life Support (AWLS).  This was hands down some of the best instruction I have ever received in my life.  AWLS is essentially a 4-day course that involves both didactic time as well as hands-on outdoor scenarios.  The purpose is to gain an understanding of both what can go wrong in the wilderness, and what to do about it should  such luckless events occur.  This particular course was put on in part by the University of Utah with the assistance of instructors from the Madigan Army Medical Center.  Absolutely everyone involved in the course was really knowledgeable, approachable, and enjoyable to learn from.

The outdoor scenarios are where, in my opinion, the course really shined.  There were local individuals hired as actors who served as our unwitting patients.  We would essentially walk up to a scene that one could easily imagine happening in the wilderness (falling while rock climbing, near-drowning in a river, over the handle-bars of a mountain bike), and have to spring into action.  By working as a 5 or 6 person team, we learned how to secure a scene, stabilize patients, determine an evacuation plan, and also work together.  Part of the hands-on training involved learning how to build different litters (or patient carrying devices) in order to help get individuals to help if one were deep in the back-country.  It is amazing what you can do with a climbing rope and a piece of tarp!  It was helpful to actually have to try and package up a patient in one of these makeshift litters.  Not to mention seeing how physically taxing it is to carry an individual over uneven terrain.  After just 100 yards, our entire team was already starting to feel fatigue set in.  Our instructor shared that a rescue effort should typically consider having 24 rescuers in order to carry out an injured person for anything more than a couple hundred yards.  I get it.

IMG_4327Although it does look like a large tarp burrito, this is our team evacuating a “patient”.

I’m really glad that I went to this course.  And I think it would be beneficial to anyone who spends significant time in the outdoors.  Check out the AWLS website to see all of their different course offerings.  I feel like I learned a lot of practical skills, and it was good to think through different potential scenarios.  Hopefully it will better equip me to take care of people no matter where I am in the world!

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