Struggling for Repose

when I am restored and rest in Thee, give me summer weather in my heart  

from Heavenly Father, The Valley of Vision

My rainfly stretched taut under a Cypress tree. I washed down a lovely dinner of chicken ramen with a piping hot cup of lemon Gatorade.  The sun slid behind the ridgeline, the light was gauzy gray in the steep canyon.  I sat beside the clear-running south fork of the Saulk river journaling and nursing the hot lemon drink while no-see-ums chewed away at my exposed flesh.  Small stones dislodged by the cold current thumped along under water as they found a new resting place.  Swallows and bats patrolled the banks flitting for insects.  I wrote in my notebook:  I feel at rest here. With the dull pain of hips bruised from carrying the weight of my pack and feet sore from the hike in new boots, I sat totally and eternally at rest.2000-01-07_05-04-20_199

The next morning I climbed the Weeden Creek trail to Gothic Basin.  The steep, rocky trail traverses the densely wooded north-facing canyon wall.  Towards the top of the canyon rim the trail disappeared under a stubborn, late-summer snow bank stretching vertically for hundreds of yards, sculpted by sun and wind to form pock-marked caves.  Cold air trapped in the caves prickled my skin. A mile or so further, I came across another steep snowfield with an underlying ice sheet. I decided to find a flat spot of ground to spend the night.  I could see the glaciered valleys on the high mountains across the canyon.  Bare tree branches on scoured trunks sighed in the gentle breeze.  Heather bloomed a soft pink, like little orbs of roe all along the trail. Back down the trail a few yards, I found a good place to make camp with a water source about seventy-five yards further down. Normally I would never set up camp so close to the trail, but on this steep ascent the choices were limited.

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Weather moved in and the next morning clouds shrouded the entire valley. Visibility was reduced to about fifty yards.  I decided to wait out the weather before finding a way across the upper snowfield and finishing out at Foggy Lake up in Gothic Basin. Just off the trail I found a spider web suspended under an evergreen bow. Moisture from the dense fog caused water droplets to collect like little diamonds along the strands.  The web’s circular and woven structure adorned with these delicate jewels of moisture reminded me of a dreamcatcher.  It was beautiful.  I took several pictures with the camera on my phone. Feeling a surge of joy rise from a place deep in me, I put the phone in my pocket and jogged three steps on the wet grass back toward camp.  It is what I feel when I hear a car pull up in my driveway and know it is my grandchildren coming to visit.

1970-01-01_03-01-18_795With the third giddy step my right foot slipped, contorting under me, heal pointing downhill, body facing cross-hill, twisting violently to my right; I slammed hard onto the ground.  I heard a snap and felt an explosion of heat on the outside of my right leg just where the top of my boot might end had I been wearing them instead of my camp sandals. Pain shot up my leg as I wiggled my toes and shook my foot back and forth, causing me to gasp.  I crawled hands-and-knees back to camp. Sitting on a rock and feeling nauseous, I broke out in a cold sweat.  I peeled off my outer layers, put my head between my knees, and slowed down my breathing.  The burning continued on my leg like someone was pouring a warm, fizzing liquid on my bare skin, letting it run down into my sock.  I checked to see if it was blood . . . no.

I crawled under my shelter to catch my breath.  The pain was not too bad until I moved my leg. I double checked my phone for reception, but nothing had changed since the day before.  I was alone with no way to contact anyone. My mind worked my options.  Is it really broken or just a high ankle sprain?  How could I tell?  Water was a priority before my leg swelled up and I couldn’t put any weight on it. Crawling on all fours, I carefully kept my right foot several inches above the ground.  My trekking pole would be my crutch.  Standing, I put a little weight on it…not too bad.  I took a step.  “It is uncomfortable, but I can do this,” I said out loud.  Stepping awkwardly on the uneven ground, pain ripped up my leg and shot out my head like electricity.  It would be a long walk.

An hour later I arrived back in camp and dropped my dromedary to the ground.  I was breathless from the hellish climb down the trail to water.  I crawled onto my Thermarest, pulled my sleeping bag over my back, and tried to calm my body down.  Mosquitoes circled over my face like miniature buzzards over carrion.  My leg throbbed with every beat of my heart, so I elevated it. Using my mental check list, I considered food, water, clothing, and timelines of a possible rescue. My wife would call my friend, who knew where I was, when I was twenty-four hours late.  I had enough food to last four or five days.  I could get to water even though it would be painful.  I was camped on a popular trail.  Someone was likely to come walking by before I would be missed at home.

It was a cold night and I slept carefully, never very far from consciousness. The most painful moment I would feel since the accident was crawling out in the morning and standing up to pee.  My entire lower leg had swollen. Breakfast and coffee tasted good. The weather improved and the sun burned off the fog that had clung to the valley for the last twenty-four hours.  I relaxed in the sunshine and waited. The face buzzards swirled around me as I tried to read a book; and I waited.  Waiting always slows time.

Sometime early in the afternoon I saw movement out of my left eye.  My hand reached for my Bear Spray.  2000-01-07_04-50-31_505I had not kept as clean a camp as I might normally practice, but it wasn’t a bear.  It was a hiker. I yelled for him to come over to my camp. He froze, stooped down to get a better view of me lying under my low-slung rainfly.  He walked slowly towards me. “I have hurt my leg,” I said. He squatted at the edge of my shelter, a Glock 22, .40 caliber strapped to his waist.  He was enjoying a day hike on his day off; he volunteered with Search and Rescue and had a radio. Boris spoke with a pronounced accent that sounded German, but he said he was from the Netherlands.

 

An hour later the Snohomish County Search and Rescue helicopter circled overhead. Boris packed up my gear.  2000-01-07_05-58-35_921The rescuers repelled down from above the treetops. The first one came to me, put his hand on my shoulder, and said in a kind voice, “Everything is okay now.  We will take good care of you and get you out of here.”  My chin quivered and my eyes stung with tears. They strapped me onto a litter board, wrapped me in a bright red fiberglass shroud, and grunted heavily as the three of them carried me twenty yards up to the evacuation area where the chopper hovered some two hundred feet above.  I was helpless as I was being helped.

The cable attached to my litter grew taut and up into the blue sky I went as treetops glided by in my peripheral vision.  I moved steadily towards the blades of the chopper with my hands strapped down by my side.  I remember thinking this should be fun, but it was extremely unnerving, like being on an amusement ride when you change your mind and want off.  There was no getting off.  They wouldn’t have heard me or let me off if they had.  They were bent on rescuing me.

As it turned out, I broke my fibula. What surprised me in this experience was that I desperately wanted the benefits of being rescued, yet found it very difficult to submit to the process of that rescue.  Submitting and relinquishing was the only way out.

Lots of people, like me, would do well to find their rest in the Rescuer.  Like children who fight sleep, we fight relinquishing our lives to the care and control of the only One who can give us the help we need.  I have a stubborn and restless soul, and yet I have been designed to cooperate with the One who made me.  After all, the first man, Adam, was created to walk and work with God in creation.

We have been struggling to get back to that Garden ever since.

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9 thoughts on “Struggling for Repose

  1. Well, Joe, I’m glad you are on the mend, but what an experience. Maybe next time you will have a hiking buddy. Gives me goose bumps just thinking about it. Darlene

  2. Joe thank you for the story of your journey and resisted rescue. I love reading a writer’s words such as yours poetically scribed pointing toward an ending with purpose and deep meaning. May you heal well and keep telling the Story.
    Keith

  3. Wow. I feel your pain.

    Great story of God’s deliverance over the same old enemy; pain and fear. Same old story but a different character. Your testimony deepens my belief.

  4. Joe, at 57 I have started to drive to a cabin rather than back pack. You might try it. For Fathers Day this yr I went with my two sons to a fish camp cabin….fun!! Sorry to hear of your agony. There are other ways to enjoy the out of doors like sitting in a screen room.

  5. great adventure Joe. I would like to hear more about the internal struggle which keeps us from accepting help. why is it that even after we have learned what is good we still cling to that which is not?

  6. Joe, so glad you’re mending. And your imagery (the ceilings dripped like a freshly rinsed sponge) is powerful and carry a profound truth. Well done on all counts–being able to survive on the mountain with a broken leg–beyond pain! And being able to write the beauty of this story.

  7. Joe, thank you for sharing the joy and struggle of your real journey. Always insightful and thought provoking.

    Boris, thank you for bringing my friend back.

    God, thank you for rescuing us. …and for giving my pastor such a heart for you, that broken fibula and all, he still shared your word that Sunday.

  8. Thanks Joe! What an adventure.. It’s awesome everytime, but under duress like that, to find comfort and peace in God is truly a gift.. It shows you that if we would just be still and “listen” more often then we could probably avoid alot of unwarranted tragedy in things that we try to handle ourselves.. No telling what would have happened if you wouldn’t have hunkered down..

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