In my previous post I reviewed and recommended one of my favorite books from THEFEARMONSTER's banned book list, Deep Survival: Who Lives and Who Dies and Why, in which author Laurence Gonzales describes accounts of incredible survival by people in life-threatening situations. Along with their stories he outlines the twelve characteristics that are essential for survival, whether it be natural disasters, combat, plane crashes, shark attacks or business.
In this post I'm going to relate a true survival story that happened to a close friend and colleague of mine, Dave. Dave and I have had many adventures together, fishing, hiking, exploring ancient Indian ruins tucked away in rugged remote areas of Arizona. Now Dave is an experienced outdoorsman, hunter, fisherman and skilled in the tools of survival and one of the things I like about being out with him, besides his sense of humor, is that he's very cautious and doesn't take unnecessary risks. He always emphasizes that we'll take it slow and easy, take frequent rest breaks and not push ourselves too hard. When we get tired our focus goes to our fatigue instead of our surroundings and it's easy to get injured.
So here's how Dave met THEFEARMONSTER in The Canyon of Doom. Dave loves to pack into remote fishing spots that no one else fishes. He left home on a Friday morning with plans to return Sunday afternoon and told his wife where he was going and when to expect him back. Arriving at his destination, he set up camp on the rim of the canyon and then hiked down 1500 feet to the creek where he began to look for fishing holes. As he'd planned to camp on the rim, he'd only brought his fishing pole, day pack, water, a Jet Boil stove to boil water for instant coffee, a few granola bars, knife, head lamp and walking stick. He was dressed in shirt and pants.
Jumping from rock to rock crossing the stream, he slipped and fell into the water and heard a loud crack. He'd snapped the quad tendon and torn the surrounding muscle above his right knee. He'd also broken his left ankle. Starting to float downstream, he was able to pull himself out of the freezing water over rocks and on to a small open area. In spite of the severity of his injuries, Dave felt minimal pain as he has the ability to "go to a place mentally that blocks sensation" (I'll have to ask him how he does this), the exception being when he tried to put weight on his right leg.
It was at this point that he began to assess his situation and plan what he needed to do to survive until being rescued, most likely on Sunday or Monday when his family realized he was in some kind of trouble. Hiking out was clearly not an option. He didn't panic and stayed calm, accepting that this was his reality and that he needed to deal with it. The one thing he didn't do was play the fatal "blame game," "what if game," "should have game" Rather, he stayed in the present.
His first step was, by scooting on his butt, gathering firewood and starting a fire using his flint striker. Fire, of course, was essential as temperatures in the canyon dropped into the low 20's at night. Using a jug hooked to a long pole he found, he dipped water from the stream to boil for coffee over his Jet Boil stove. To stay warm at night and try to sleep, he heated large rocks in the fire and then placed them under his body like a primitive heating pad. He says this worked well but also realized later that he had burned his arm as a result.
Because he wasn't eating and drinking enough water, his electrolytes got out of whack and he began to hallucinate. He saw Gollum (from The Lord of the Rings) under a log, three TV screens on the rock face across the creek. I teased him about not even having a remote to change the channels. On the third night he hallucinated that he was in bed with his wife in their bedroom. People ask him if he was afraid of wild animals and he says he was only concerned about ring-tail cats and raccoons that could steal his precious little food horde.
In the middle of the third night he heard voices but thought he was hearing things. As it turned out, it was his son and a friend who'd starting searching for him once his family realized he was missing. He had told his family where he was going and had been there before with his son. Dave says his first thought when he heard his son's voice was to prepare coffee for his guests which he did. After making a harrowing and heroic climb down into the canyon they found him. His son's friend climbed back out of the canyon and drove several miles until he could get phone reception to call the Sheriff's Search and Rescue who wouldn't climb down into the canyon until daylight as they thought it was too dangerous.
Because of the steepness and narrowness of the canyon a helicopter could not bring him out so the S&R team brought him up and out the next morning on a litter using pulleys and ropes to a waiting chopper on the rim. From there he was flown by medevac to a Phoenix ER. As he was being brought out of the canyon in a metal basket the EMTs asked him if he wanted morphine which he declined, rating his pain level as a 2 or 3 on a scale of 1 to 10. Remember his ability to mentally block out pain?
Epilogue: After surgeries to repair his broken ankle and torn quadriceps, Dave spent several months undergoing physical therapy and recovering. He says he's now back up to speed and has resumed his outdoor activities, hunting and fishing. So here are a few of Dave's thoughts looking back on that experience and how he survived it.
1.) I don't panic; I assess the situation and make do.
2.) I'm optimistic enough to think I can figure things out.
3.) I don't play the blame game and get mad at myself for getting into this situation. It only clouds judgement and thinking. Action is rewarded, not emotion.
4.) I accept the situation and focus on what I do have control over.
5.) Stay in the moment, break tasks down into small chunks and take one piece at a time.
6.) Never give up. There's always another option, just keep trying. If something doesn't work, try something else.
7.) Strange as it may sound, maintain a sense of humor. There were times that I had to just laugh at the situation such as seeing Golum or the TV screens in the canyon.
8.) Oh yeah, last and maybe most important, DON'T GO OUT THERE ALONE!
Next Time: PIO'S JOURNEYS WITH THEFEARMONSTER