Mountain Biker Dies Near the Palm Canyon EPIC of Dehydration

As reported in the LA Times, and according to a Riverside County Sheriff’s Corner’s Report, Johnny Lee, a mountain biker from Placentia, CA, died near Palm Springs while out mountain biking last weekend.

According to a report by LAist, Lee’s riding partner, who contacted 911 to report that Lee had collapsed and passed out around 1:45PM, was airlifted from the trails during last few miles of a ride known as the Palm Canyon EPIC. Lee’s apparent cause of death is dehydration. The temperature in the Palm Springs area reached 105 F on Saturday.

A Facebook profile matching Lee’s description is here. And given that a person named Johnny Lee posted a photo to this Facebook profile near the end of Palm Canyon EPIC route on the same day as this tragic event with a comment, “Palm Canyon 4/21/12 – I guess that’s where will be coming out.”, I’m pretty sure this is the same person.

Lee never made it back to his car. But based on his photo, it looks like he intended to end up at the Vons Shopping center on 4733 East Palm Canyon Drive. If you consider that he was probably out on the trail 4-8 hours on this 25+ mile ride in the blistering heat, and where he was found, he was fairly close to getting back to safety.

He Could Have Bailed Out

At a point during the ride, Lee had a choice after getting to the top of the “Death March” (intersection of Dunn Rd an Art Smith Trail heading toward Hwy 74). Lee and friend decided to go the hard way and stick to the usual route back to Vons instead taking Dunn Rd, a mostly downhill fire road exit back. Had they bailed out on the ride at that intersection, Lee’s fate would have likely changed.

There’s a Reason We Call Rides “EPIC”

The Palm Canyon EPIC is a ride in which people usually “shuttle” to the top of the ride. That is, they leave one car at the bottom, and drive another to the top to start the ride. The Palm Canyon EPIC is close to 25 miles of desert riding. Lee wasn’t alone. So I’m sure more facts will surface as his riding buddy comes forward with information.

Folks, when people tell you that a trail is EPIC, heed the warning. And if the temps are above 80 degrees, you need to be extra super special prepared. I tell people this over and over, but so many people come unprepared for the worst. Well here’s a case example of the worst thing that can happen, and guess what, it can happen any weekend.

If you don’t know where you’re going, and you don’t know what you’re doing, you should not engage in an activity which you’re totally unprepared for. Don’t rely upon others to make sure you are going to be OK. You need to be prepared on your own. Your more experienced friends can help you become prepared, but ultimately, that responsibility is in your own hands.

Learn how to read a weather forecast. Learn how to read a map. Know what to do when you’re plan isn’t going as expected. Most importantly, know when you’ve reached your limit and bail out or call for help. Lee was obviously way beyond his limit.

Be Prepared

The Palm Canyon EPIC is no joke, I don’t care how fit you think you are. If you run out of water (in almost any weather by the way) you are screwed. Every time I’ve done this ride, I have brought at least 6 liters of water, including hydration supplements in half of that. And each time I’ve run out of water. There is normally no water available along the trail system, so bringing a water filter does you no good on this trail. Let this sad event serve as a lesson to the rest of us. You can never have enough water!

Know How to Treat Heat Exhaustion, Heat Stroke and Administer CPR

I’m not going to give any medical advice here except to say that you should get training on how to respond to emergencies on the trail and especially on how to administer CPR. By acting quickly, you may be able to help a friend like Lee survive an incident like this one. Your local Red Cross offers classes all the time.

To the family of Lee, my heart goes out to you. I mean this post as no disrespect to Lee, but to help those still alive, who are taking too many risks. There are far too many mountain bikers out there that don’t heed the warnings and don’t adequately prepare themselves.

Remember Always: Emergency Assistance is Always Delayed in the Great Outdoors

No water, limited or no cell phone service, and unless you know where you’re going, no way out. Here’s what the Palm Canyon EPIC ride looks like about half way through. What would you do in an emergency?


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Last known photo of Johnny Lee, at Palm Canyon on 4/21/2012