The Worst Thursday, Part 4: Worst Becomes Best

06.13.2018 | 11:38 am

The Hammer was ahead of me, holding my phone and using it as a flashlight as we walked down the mountain. She was crying, with the only times she’d stop being when she’d gather air to yell her dad’s name again. Then I’d let five or ten seconds go and take a turn yelling his name, too.

I felt helpless, miserable. As useless and ineffectual as I’d been up on the mountain, I’d at least been somewhere near where we’d last seen Dee; I was looking for him.

Now I felt like we were abandoning him to the dark, to be alone on the mountain overnight, confused and lost at best, probably injured or incapacitated, and very likely dying or dead.

I didn’t tell Lisa where I thought her dad most likely was on that spectrum; she didn’t need to hear it and I didn’t want to say it.

The thought of going home, sitting there (certainly not sleeping) and not doing anything, made me feel ill.

Encounter
As we hiked down, we saw a man in a high-visibility shirt hiking toward us. Wearing a backpack. As he got closer, we could see he was with the search and rescue team.

Lisa and Kylie recounted what had happened that day and described Dee to the search and rescue man (I can’t remember his name). Kylie showed him a picture on her phone from earlier in the day, and the man took a picture of it with his phone (couldn’t send it; no service).

He assured us he and the rest of the search and rescue team would work through the night to find him, and a UHP helicopter with a heat-sensing scope would shortly be taking off. He assured us they’d actually have an easier time seeing him with that at night than a normal helicopter would during the day.

I was incredibly grateful for these people. For their positivity, for their competence, for their willingness to drop whatever they had been doing and do this instead, all through the night.

We all thanked him and he continued his march up the trail; we continued our trudge down it.

Encounter, Part 2
We hadn’t gone more than fifty feet before the man shouted at us, “Wait!

We immediately turned around and ran toward him.

Even before we got to where he was standing, the man — now laughing — said, “Your dad just walked in his front door.”

What?

“Your brother called and said your dad just got home.”

And suddenly the whole world was better.

What Happened (We Think)
“I’m going to kill that old man,” was the first thing I said, but Lisa didn’t really think that was funny (although she’d say the same thing the next morning).

“I’m just so happy,” she sobbed, over and over. “I was sure he was dead, that I was never going to see him again, and he’s home instead!”

As you might expect, the remaining three miles down the trail in the dark went a lot more cheerfully than that first mile had.

At the trailhead parking lot, we took some time to thank everyone who had dropped everything to come help, then headed over to Lisa’s dad’s house, where first there were just hugs:

And then a little bit of throttling:

And of course Lisa asked, “All our lives, what did you tell us to do if we got lost or separated while hiking?”

“To stay put,” her dad replied, knowing what was coming next.

“AND WHAT DID YOU DO?”

“I just kept going,” her dad replied. Chagrined.

And that’s really what happened.

With his poor eyesight, Dee had mistakenly walked off the trail onto an old deer trail. Then, when it petered out about twenty feet later…he had just kept going, walking down the face of the mountain in deep scrub oak.

Eventually — and I’m sorry I don’t have a lot of detail to give you here, because Dee hasn’t been able to give us much detail — he wound up close to the bottom of the mountain and near a neighborhood, but trapped in a ravine.

Which is when a couple of hiking teenagers came across him.

“Are you OK?” they asked.

“No, I’m stuck and I’m lost!” Dee told them.

The kids helped him out and then walked him down to their car, then gave him a ride home.

One of Lisa’s relatives snapped this photo of them together:

We don’t know their names, we don’t have contact info, we aren’t even really sure where he was when they found him.

But we sure are glad they were there and took care of him.

So many heroes that day. And I’m incredibly grateful for all of them. And that this worst of all possible Thursdays turned out, in the end, to be a great story worth telling over and over.

15 Comments »

  1. Comment by Tominalbany | 06.13.2018 | 12:34 pm

    So he just tried to walk home?!? Woah. I’m so glad he’s perfectly fine and so sorry that your family had to go through that. That kind of stress ages you.

  2. Comment by Boston Carlos | 06.13.2018 | 12:54 pm

    what a great conclusion! What a great photo of the 3 of them smiling at the end too. Couple of young men with great heads on their shoulders.

  3. Comment by Ed Foster | 06.13.2018 | 2:41 pm

    I’m so glad he’s okay (glad you told us that up front too!)
    What a story!

  4. Comment by Steven | 06.13.2018 | 2:44 pm

    I make my mom and dad (and my kids) carry a whistle around their necks when we hike. You can get a lot more volume with a lot less breath than yelling. Better than a PLB or Spot tracker for short range. The Fox 40 is $5 and excruciatingly loud. So glad everything turned out ok.

    A whistle and high-vis clothing are now on our must-get items. – FC

  5. Comment by John | 06.13.2018 | 4:01 pm

    Fatty-

    Glad things turned out well. Also glad you are writing again.

  6. Comment by Jill Homer | 06.13.2018 | 10:57 pm

    Great story, so glad it turned out well.

    Four years ago, I bought my own father a SPOT messenger to carry with him on all of his hikes. Not sure Dee would have pressed the button in this scenario, but coercing loved ones to carry satellite devices at least buys a little peace of mind for you.

    We’re looking at doing something very similar for Lisa’s dad. – FC

  7. Comment by Tes | 06.14.2018 | 7:28 am

    Wow. What a tough old man. Glad it turned out the way it did.

    Huh. I wonder if there can be survival boxes placed on trails with things like blankets and water, to help those who get lost. Obviously, there’s a cost to that but maybe it could be an honor system thing, take a water, bring more the next time to leave. Just rambling thoughts.

  8. Comment by leroy | 06.14.2018 | 9:28 am

    Phew.

  9. Comment by MikeL | 06.14.2018 | 9:41 am

    An additional idea. We have given my in-laws Road IDs that they wear full time. That way if they wander off and get confused or lost the contact information is there. Note: This is not a plug for Road ID. it is just a good thing.

  10. Comment by walter | 06.14.2018 | 9:47 am

    Glad it turned out ok! And glad you are back writing, with these suspense killing episodes! BTW, not to be disrespectful, but there are GPS trackers for dogs that you may be able to use. Doesn’t require anyone to turn it on and you can monitor their position via cell phone app. Just make sure the person puts it in their pocket before they leave the house. I haven’t looked into them that much so I can’t say if it would work for you.

  11. Comment by walter | 06.14.2018 | 9:51 am

    https://petlifetoday.com/best-gps-dog-trackers/

    One of the items can be attached to a key ring – the Daxin Smart GPS Tracker. Not sure about batteries/recharging.

  12. Comment by Tes | 06.14.2018 | 10:18 am

    That’s genius, even to clip onto a backpack or water bottle.

  13. Comment by Mike C | 06.15.2018 | 10:19 am

    Thanks so much for sharing this story, Elden. So glad to hear (ahead of time) that everything turned out well!!

  14. Comment by MattC | 06.15.2018 | 1:03 pm

    WOW, great story Fatty! And thanks for the SAFE ENDING promo bit you gave us at the start! I can only begin to imagine Lisa’s helpless feelings and terror…things can change SO QUICKLY in life! You’re all together, and BAM…you’re not. Seems so impossible, but you all lived it! SO very glad it turned out ok…you can all breath now!

  15. Comment by Heidi | 06.17.2018 | 11:38 am

    YIKES!

    and…

    WHEW!

 

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