Porcupine Rim is second only to Slickrock as the most popular bike trail in Moab, Utah. But just because it’s in the Disneyland of trail riding doesn’t mean anyone is watching over you. Once you leave the parking area, you're on your own for eight miles of jeep road and three miles of steep, techy singletrack. That’s a recipe for tired, dehydrated, and inexperienced cyclists to get into trouble, and they do. Over the years there have been over 65 rescues called for on the trail, from falls to unprepared bikers caught in freak blizzards. In 1995, two boys from Iowa plunged 150 to their death after veering off the trail, while in 2005 a 15-year-old girl on a family bike ride died of dehydration on the trail.
Keeping safe on the Porcupine means planning for the desert. Like any trip into the backcountry, check the weather, but be prepared for anything. Most of all, bring more water than you think necessary—the high desert has a way of wicking away moisture at an incredible rate. And if you’re rolling solo or in a small group, let someone know where you are. If you don’t show up at the bar that night, they’ll know to call search and rescue.
When it comes to skiing deaths, the Grim Reaper spreads the pain equitably across U.S. ski resorts and backcountry slopes. According the Ski Industries Association, roughly 40 people per year die while skiing and 40 more sustain life-threatening injuries on terrain ranging from backcountry bowls to bunny slopes. While it's hard to pick the place with the most danger, the Delirium Dive freeride zone at Sunshine Village in Banff makes our knees tremble. Just to enter the 50-degree drop zone you need to prove you have an avy transponder, a shovel, and a partner; the 1,600-foot double black chute is always primed for avalanches. Once you catch your breath and dip your tips over the initial 40-degree lip, you’re on your own.
Even though it’s in-bounds, surviving Delirium means having a backcountry mentality—no one is there marking corduroy lines for you, so scout your routes from below and don’t experiment. Large hidden bands of rock and unstable snow can turn an exhilarating run into a deadly one.
Ultramarathons are difficult by definition. But the Barkley Marathons, a 100-mile run through Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee dubbed “the race that eats its young,” seems to be designed to cause maximum pain. That’s because the masochistic loop with 59,000 feet of elevation gain tends to destroy its racers—since it began in 1986, only 11 out of 700 competitors have ever completed the race in the allotted 60 hours. The race consists of five, 20-mile loops through the steep Appalachian forest, much of it off road and off trail, requiring a map and compass to navigate. Finishing one loop in under 10 hours is considered an elite time.
But the real danger is in the terrain. The slick climbs and ledges that racers navigate in the dark mean sleep-deprived runners can take a nasty fall at any moment. In 2006, one racer became lost in the woods for over 30 hours after completing just three miles of the course. No one even noticed.
So how do you survive the Barkley? Don’t worry, you’ll probably never get the chance. The 25 to 35 spots are allotted to elite ultramarathoners and hardcore amateurs who learn the arcane registration process—which includes writing an essay and handing over your license plate—from Barkley’s crazed alumni.