You’d think that after being lost two – no three previous times in the woods that I’d get a clue but no….
I did it again about two and a half weeks ago on a small mountain surrounded by the Colville National Forest. I got lost on our own claim, which is fairly remote.
I admit that I got into an argument with my husband and decided to go “somewhere else” for the night. Yes, couples have arguments – we freely admit it. I was pissed and needed to get away but I didn’t know what was in store for me that night.
I packed up my gear: my backpack, extra flashlights, extra batteries, some munchies, and our radios that are equipped with GPS – and headed out.
I knew it was a race against the sun from the time I started packing. My previous experiences taught me to not get caught in the woods without some context as to where you are or you are fucked. Especially after dark,
I thought the radios would guide me in the event of an emergency but it turns out I was wrong. I had one job to do: climb a half mile from where we park the car to our campsite but $1400.00 + of expensive equipment later, I realized I needed a refund.
I brought a wagon along, thinking it would lighten the load but I ended up abandoning it along with a bottle of orange juice as I labored angrily up the 50 percent slope.
Then suddenly it was dark.
There are holes that will swallow you up whole where I was now finding myself wandering around. I freely admit I became scared shitless.
There are some really big kitties around here. Bear too.
Understanding I was disoriented and tired, I stopped and pulled out the so-called GPS units I was carrying and tried to see where I was but nope….one was dead and the other wouldn’t load the map with my coordinates correctly.
I tried and tried to figure out where I was with the one radio that was still alive and prayed repeatedly that it didn’t die while I was trying to find my way out. The backpack became impossibly heavy and I began to drag it behind me because whenever I put it on, I couldn’t walk. I would stumble to the ground under the weight.
I almost abandoned the backpack at one point then looked back and thought the better of it. It had the food, after all. I stopped to eat at one point, pulling the contents out and being grateful that I’d thought at least some of this out in advance. It wasn’t pure luck that got me out that night.
I believe I also had some help.
Exhausted beyond belief and near distraught, I stumbled upon an area I thought I recognized but knew to be dangerous. I was relieved and cautious at the same time. I believe it was a collapsed tunnel from the workings of the Colorado Claim and I knew it was just above the huge hole that was the remnant of the entrance to that claim.
Imagine the trap the insect often referred to as an Ant Lion makes: a crater with walls of loose sand that gives way when an unsuspecting ant is unfortunate enough to wander too close and can’t climb out. Then the predator lunges out, grabs it, and drags it into the earth. Only there was no predator here except the possibility of drowning in dirt on your way to hell.
What a way to die.
I believe I was very close to this hole and I decided it might be prudent to hunker down for the night rather than disappear without a trace.
I sat down and began to hack the branches off of a tree next to me in an effort to cover myself and create a layer below. I was thinking hypothermia at this point. You don’t have to be in a snow storm to die from the cold.
I laid on the steep hillside, kicking against the dirt and debris in an effort to keep myself from sliding down into the ravine. I began to scoop dirt, grass and moss onto myself in addition to the tree branches; hoping to keep warm.
I laid my head back and looked around again, shining the flashlight into the forest and once again remembered that I might not be alone. I wondered if my husband was worried because he couldn’t contact me. Surprisingly, we get some cell phone service from the tailings area where our camp is and he could easily have reached me if he’d tried, which I later found out he had.
I begged him mentally to KNOW I was lost on that hillside. No matter how mad you are at someone, it suddenly doesn’t matter when you’re alone in the dark and scared.
When confronted by Brother Mortality you KNOW right quick what matters. Petty conflicts dissolve when faced with the possibility of not seeing those that you love – ever again.
I began to send out distress signals with the radio but attempt after attempt went unanswered. I yelled a few times knowing I was alone – that no one would likely hear me. I radioed the sheriff a few times.
It’s at that point that something happened that I can’t explain. Perhaps I was just exhausted and began to fall asleep. I don’t know, but I talked to my father.
He passed three months before I was born.
I don’t recall what was said but I remember sitting up, looking around, and making the decision to continue. I saw the way I needed to go. I pushed the dirt aside, got up and dragged my backpack up and around the trench and continued down hill and by God….
I saw fence posts.
I’ve never been so relieved in my life with the exception of the other THREE times I got lost in the woods. Duh. When will I learn? I stumbled down onto the road and joyfully made my way back to where the car was parked.
I could have kissed the bumper. I drove home that night. Home. Never again.
Did my Dad come to me that night to show me the way? Who knows, but I love ya Dad.
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