Saturday, April 30
The rain has stopped! After breakfast the crew and I head out for our morning walk.
Brrr… It’s cold! Hurry up, sun, and warm us up!
A car comes up Cox Canyon Road.
It turns into the campground and approaches us. The grey-haired man driving calls out to me.
“Have you seen a woman walking by herself?”
His face is expressionless. What is this? A deadpan jokester attempting a hello?
“What?” I reply, confused. “Do you mean ME?”
“No! My WIFE! I’ve lost my wife!”
I hurry over to his window.
“We were sleeping and she got up, saying she was going to the restroom.”
“How long ago was that?” I ask.
“I don’t know. Like I say, I was sleeping. About an hour ago, I guess. I checked the restroom. She’s not there.”
“Does she have dementia?” I ask bluntly. This is no time to soft-pedal words.
“No, but she was in a very bad car accident and . . . . ” He trails off, then resumes, “If you see her, let me know. She’s wearing a grey sweatshirt that zips up.”
He takes off down the road.
All the while I scan the area, 360 degrees, around us.
Where could she be? On that side there’s a hill. Over there is the road into the canyon. The man is checking that way. If she followed this other lane, she’d go onto private land and come upon a house. Apache Creek would block her from going that other way. That leaves the road out of the campground, the road that leads to the main road.
The man returns from his search of Cox Canyon Road.
“I don’t know where she could have gone,” he states in exasperation. Obviously the man is not the type to show emotion, yet I hear the fear behind his words.
“Have you talked with the two women with the child over there?” I ask. “Maybe she ‘s talking with them.”
“I checked with them. They haven’t seen her.”
I ask where his rig is located.
“We don’t have a rig. We sleep in the car. Our campsite is way in the back, over there,” he points out.
“Okay. Well, I’m going to unhitch my van and drive around, too.”
“Thanks. I’m going out to the main road.”
He takes off again.
While I’m unhitching, I see him return. No passenger in his car. This is bad. He heads down the canyon road again.
The crew and I drive out to the main road.
Maybe if I drive south on the main road and look at the campground from a different vantage point, I’ll see her.
This seems like a good plan until we’re actually on the main road looking across the field at the campground.
This is dumb. She’d have to climb over a fence and ford Apache Creek for me to see her from here. Gosh, she must be cold. Well, at least the day is ahead of us and it’s starting to warm up.
I turn us around and we go back to the campground road.
If he hasn’t found her by now, it’s time to call the ranger station . . . .
As we cross the bridge over Apache Creek, I see her! She’s slip-sliding on an embankment above the road!
I park the PTV and jump out.
“Ma’am?” I call up to her. “Hello, ma’am?”
“Your husband is looking for you.”
“Good! I’ve been looking for him, too!”
“Come on down and I’ll take you to him.”
As she makes her way down the slope, I see her feet. Oh, dear, no shoes! And only one sock on . . . . She must be freezing!
In her hand she carries a muddy sock.
“Be careful! Don’t fall!”
I help her into the passenger seat.
I’m glad I have the heater on full blast. The warmth must feel good for her.
“I’ll take you to your campsite. Maybe your husband will meet us there.”
“Okay.” A pause and then she adds quietly, “I’m so embarrassed.”
“Oh, don’t be embarrassed. It’s easy to become lost. I was lost once and it was at a campground, too. Once your head is turned around and you lose your sense of direction, everything looks the same in a forest.”
“There he is!” she bursts out, pointing.
The husband stands by their car watching our approach.
He has the same deadpan expression which conceals his relief at seeing his wife again.
Hurriedly he asks where I found her, thanks me, and then turns his attention to his wife. As she makes her way around the front of the PTV, he notices her feet.
“Where are your shoes?” he exclaims, aghast.
I drive away, leaving them to debrief, to let the fear-induced adrenaline dissipate, to sigh with relief together . . . .
Thank God this turned out well.
“You know, crew? I could go for a second cup of coffee.”
NOTE ABOUT THIS POST: I hesitated to post this incident on the internet, for fear of bringing embarrassment to the couple involved. I decided to go ahead, doing my best to keep their identities unknown, in hopes the story will perform a good service to readers. After all, becoming confused and lost isn’t something for which one should feel embarrassed. — Sue
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