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Cyclist recounts 30-hour ordeal, rescue

By: andrea sinclair
October 4, 2013 Updated: October 4, 2013 at 7:53 am
Caption +
Mountain biker Alicia Jakomait becomes emotional when she recalls her ordeal of being lost in the mountains west of Colorado Springs. After a full day of bushwacking, she feared she would have to spend another night out in the freezing cold. Wednesday, October 2, 2013.(The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

What began as a casual, three-hour bike ride through the Emerald Valley Ranch area on Sunday for Alicia Jakomait quickly turned into a harrowing 30-hour struggle to survive.

Outfitted with a light jacket, a headlamp, her bike and only 400 calories, Jakomait said she reached deep within herself for the strength to keep moving and hope a search team would find her.

"I just kept telling myself, if I just find the road, it's an easy two-hour ride home from there," Jakomait said Wednesday, still fatigued from her ordeal. "I just kept telling myself, 'I'll be home soon, I'll be home soon.'"

Jakomait set off toward Old Stage Road around 1 p.m. Sunday from her home near Cheyenne Mountain High School, planning to explore the Emerald Pipeline Trail that she hoped would loop back around. She felt confident that she could try a new trail and find her way back, like she'd been doing all summer.

"The map said the trail was only three miles long, so I thought that would be nice, I can loop it up to Gold Camp Road, and that's when my problems really began," Jakomait said. "I was on a trail that was pretty good and then I ended up following a trail that was faint, but I was in a valley and I lost all my perspective. I couldn't see the plains, I couldn't see Pikes Peak, and I ended up in a marsh."

Mistaking the marsh for the Penrose-Rosemont Reservoir , Jakomait followed its circumference unsuccessfully looking for a main road. That was where the faint, worn-in trails disappeared and she lost all sense of direction, she said. The terrain became increasingly steep and rocky.

Then things got worse.

"I don't even remember falling or getting hurt," Jakomait said. Doctors at Penrose Hospital told her she must have fallen off a boulder and hit her head, causing a concussion.

When she woke up about 9 p.m., it was dark and she was face down on the ground, she said. With severe head pain and no GPS tracker, Jakomait tried to find high ground, any point of reference. She said she walked around in circles until nearly 3 a.m., wandering around Emerald Valley, south of Penrose-Rosemont Reservoir, until she was too tired to keep going.

Desperation set in.

"I was in a place where no biker would normally be, because I got so turned around," Jakomait said. "That night I hit my head and then I realized I had walked by the same boulder the fourth time, expending all this energy and then I started to vomit, probably from hitting my head. I couldn't eat anything and I had to take water from a stream, and I had a crying fit. But then I thought, 'no one's gonna help me, I just tried to keep moving.' "

Jakomait's husband, Jesse, is a mechanical engineer with SRAM , a mountain and training bike component manufacturer, and they are both experienced riders. It wasn't unusual for her to push daylight and ride in the evening, but when she didn't come home Sunday night, Jesse Jakomait set off to find his wife.

By 11 p.m., he called Colorado Springs police and reported her missing. He searched during the night, using what little light he got from the waning moon and his headlamp. By dawn, El Paso and Teller counties' Search And Rescue Teams and 30 volunteers joined the search over a 9-mile area.

Alicia Jakomait crafted a make-shift teepee out of tree branches, twigs and leaves. She wrapped her water-proof map around her legs and hugged herself for comfort. She tried to rest for a few hours, keeping one eye open for any animals.

At dawn on Monday, she got moving again, hauling and carrying her bike through fallen trees, climbing up and down mountainsides and boulders, following what she believed were rock-climbing trails.

With daylight, Jesse Jakomait spotted his wife's unique bike tire track marks off Gold Camp Road and near the Pipeline Trail , directing search and rescue team members throughout the day.

Close to sunset, despair creeping in again, she was facing the possibility of spending a second night with no food, no water or shelter.

"I just kept going around in circles and I felt so incompetent and so stupid, and I knew that someone was probably looking for me and I had created all these problems for everyone," Alicia Jakomait said. "But the necessity to keep moving was there, and I felt very tired and I could barely move."

Teller County search and rescue members heard a woman calling for help near Knights Peak, close to Upper Gold Camp Road and Penrose-Rosemont Reservoir just before darkness fell.

They called Alicia Jakomait's name, as they had done for more than 12 hours. About 6:30 p.m., she answered. They found her a half-mile from the road, dehydrated, hypothermic, scraped and bruised from her 30-hour ordeal.

Alicia Jakomait's voice broke as she recalled the moments after her rescue and trip to Penrose Hospital, when she was reunited with her husband.

"I love you. Thank you. I love you so much. I was just so happy to see him," Alicia Jakomait said. "All I knew was that I didn't want to not talk to him again, and that was a big part of my motivation to get home."

As horrifying and trying as it was, Alicia Jakomait said the experience was amazing and rekindled her gratitude for life, for her husband and their dog, Helki.

She hopes that the ordeal will serve as a lesson to other riders who explore and try out new trails.

"If anyone else could not make the same mistake I did, bushwhacking and keep going when I should've turned around and gone back the way I came," Alicia Jakomait said.

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