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Mountain biker dies on Auburn, CA trail

The Oak Tree Resting Area

“The Oak Tree” is a famous resting spot for riders who have just climbed a steep, long and technical section of trail on Foresthill Divide Loop in Auburn, CA. Photo courtesy of MTBing Adventures

Mountain biking is a demanding sport. Even if you’re not charging World Cup level downhill trails or flying off the sandstone cliffs of Utah for Redbull Rampage, this sport places a high demand on our bodies. And the dangers are not just for risk-takers either. The untimely death of the great Kelly McGarry (McGazza) is a prime example of a top athlete who passed away after collapsing on the trail.

Kelly McGarry

Kelly McGarry (17 April 1982 – 1 February 2016) at Red Bull Rampage.

Today I received an email from a good friend inquiring about first aid classes we host for our trail docents in the land we manage. He decided to take a first aid class after an encounter he faced on one of our local trails last week. What follows is his account of the incident and his emotions afterward. My friend wishes to remain anonymous and I will respect his wishes here.

FHDL Trail Map

Foresthill Divide Loop Trail is a popular 10.7 mile loop trail in Placer County, California consisting of steep technical uphill climbs and mellow but often times fast singletrack descents. The trail connects to a larger trail network within the Auburn State Recreation Area. Photo courtesy of MTB Project

In his own words

“Recently, while riding the Foresthill Divide Loop (FHDL) I came across a man and a woman on the trail where the woman was kneeling and the man appeared to be lying down.

I slowed as I thought they might be dealing with a mechanical and asked if they needed help. She responded, “Yes, he’s unresponsive … ”

We were stopped at the top of a notoriously grueling climb. The “oak tree” is a common place for people to rest and take in the beautiful views of the American River Canyon.


Views of the American River Canyon. Photo courtesy of MTBing Adventures

I saw that she had started to administer CPR on, what I learned to be, her 66 year old husband. Fortunately, she had cell coverage and we had a 911 operator on line that was helping with the CPR and in getting the first responders there.

After a few minutes, she asked that I leave to ensure the first responders were aware of where he was on the trail as this is a somewhat remote area. I quickly rode out to the Foresthill Divide Road and also called 911.

I waited briefly while both the fire department and the Auburn State Recreational Area officials arrived. I also requested a helicopter as I knew it would take anyone walking in 15 – 20 minutes or more.

Then, I quickly rode back to the site where there were now a few other mountain bikers helping here with him. We continued to administer CPR for another 10-15 minutes before the first responders arrived. The first on site were from the fire department. They took over CPR until we had an AED. Unfortunately, we could not use the AED as the system didn’t pick up any heart rhythm. Shortly, thereafter he was pronounced deceased.

It was an incredibly emotional experience for everyone there and absolutely heart breaking for the woman that had started this 12 mile loop with her husband and would be going home without him.

Foresthill Divide Loop

Roots, rocks and short punchy climbs as all part of grueling climb on.

During the time that I was there, I learned from her that he had atrial fibrillation as well as some other health related issues like sleep apnea, etc. While I do not know for certain what resulted in his death, the speculation was that he died of a heart attack brought on by over exertion. He collapsed at the top of one of the more challenging climbs on this trail.

I left the scene after he was placed on a backboard and was being carried out. For me, the experience highlighted a couple of things. First, you can push your body beyond its limits whatever your physical condition is. Second, I reflected on the importance of CPR and first aid training.

While we were not able to save this person in this case, I’ve become even more committed to ensuring that I continue training and build the necessary skills to help should this happen again. ”

Our thoughts

It illustrates the danger of any physical exertion on a body that is taxed or with a pre-exisiting medical condition. And the most dangerous ones seem to be the undetected ones that strike seemingly healthy and active bodies. While the cause of this particular incident is still unknown, it illustrates the need for every athlete to get the most comprehensive physical check-up available. And for science to learn more about these hidden, heart ailments.

This latest incident reminds us of this unfortunate event Rocklin woman dies near Auburn.

RIP fallen rider.

The Oak Tree Resting Area Kelly McGarry FHDL Trail Map Foresthill Divide Loop Views

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