We love to camp, and since it’s so hot in Phoenix during the summer we camp a couple hours North in Arizona’s high country. The temperatures there are always 25-30 degrees cooler than in the Valley.
On a recent trip we camped with several other couples and after four days everyone had to return to Phoenix for work including my wife. I decided to stay up there in the wilderness by myself, baby sitting our campers until everyone returned a few days later.
One afternoon I went for a ride on our all terrain vehicle (RZR ATV) and rode many off road trails. This probably isn’t the smartest thing to do by yourself, but it was daylight, I had plenty of gas, water, and other supplies in case of any trouble.
At one point I decided the drive to Long Lake which was about 22 miles from our campsite. I got about half way there, but made the decision to return, get the truck and make the trip, timing it so to get some sundown photos of the lake.
For some unknown reason, maybe intuition, I made sure I was well supplied. Threw in a blanket, a case of water, a sandwich, an energy bar, flashlight, my 38 pistol, and of course my camera equipment.
So about 5pm, off I went heading Northbound on Forest Road 211 (Long Lake Road). I felt more secure in the truck and it was an easy ride for the first 12 miles. Pretty soon the road became narrower and rocky and about 4 miles South of Long Lake the road became one lane and very muddy. Before entering the mud I could see tracks where at least one other vehicle had travelled recently and figured if they made it so could I.
That was a mistake because once in the mud I was committed. No turning back. I had brand new tires but they were city tires and certainly not made for a muddy trail. It was very slow going slip sliding all over the place, and at one point I thought I was going to end up in a pond next to the road. The truck quickly became a master painting of mud! This couple of miles was a little exhausting, but finally hit solid ground and made it to the Lake. It was now about 6 pm as I swung around in the driver’s seat to dismount the truck and take a couple of photos. My foot hit the muddy rail and off I went to the ground wounding my right arm in the process.
The skin is torn off and it’s bleeding at a good rate. In the truck we had some McDonald’s napkins. I pulled the skin flaps back over the wound and covered with the napkins. To keep them from falling off I wrapped a cell phone charging cord around and tied a knot with my left hand and my teeth.
I’m not the least bit interested in taking photos now, just want to get back to camp. I drive away from the lake, but I don’t want to drive back the way I came fearing getting stuck in the mud. I picked up my phone and asked google for an alternate route. She took me down the same road but only for a few blocks then told me to turn left on forest road 69. The site ahead was a relief, a dry decent looking reddish colored road. After a short time she told me to make a hard right turn on forest service road 69B. Now my trust is solely in the hands of a strange, but soothing voice, and I complied.
It wasn’t long before realizing this was the second mistake of the trip as it’s now nothing but a skinny ATV trail in the middle of nowhere! The GPS is telling me that Route 87 is some 8 miles ahead, but it’s now 6:30pm and I’m now thinking of approaching darkness. The trail is rough, the truck is bouncing on rocks and small boulders. At one point I have to cross a creek with a foot of flowing water. With 4 wheel drive engaged I cross safely and am now climbing a steep rocky hill. Once on top I’m in a clearing with a canyon on my left and a meadow on the right.
I stop, take some deep breaths, drink some water, take a bite of the energy bar, but waste no time in continuing on what seems like a path to nowhere. Creeping through hills and valleys and at another plateau I stop and don’t see the trail anymore. Is this it? I reconcile myself to the idea that I might have to spend the night. The comforting thought was that I’m secure in the truck with plenty of supplies.
I slowly plunge ahead, finding the trail again. It’s slow going in the rough terrain, and the clock is creeping toward the hour of darkness. Soon the GPS is telling me that I only have two more miles to go before I drive onto a paved highway. It’s hard for me to believe that it’s only two miles because where I am is like driving somewhere in Africa.
It’s starting to get dark as I finally reach route 87. I feel like I’ve been on a roller coaster, my mind is foggy, my arm is painful, and I’ve never been so happy to see a highway in my life! Now for the laugh of the year. This soothing female voice soon tells me that in one mile I’ve arrived at my destination. This point she called home is a pull off on the highway. I sat there for a moment relieved, amused and soon realize that I’m heading for Winslow, Arizona. I make a U turn, head South and arrive back at camp after 8 pm. There is no moon, it’s pitch black and this was a 65 mile big circle adventure from hell!
Back in the camper I try to administer first aid. The napkins are stuck to the wound and as I pull them off some skin flaps end up in the napkin. Suck it up buddy, you’re home safe and sound! Have a drink and relax! Not having any pads in our first aid kit, I used gauze and tape for the night. The next day I drove two hours round trip to Wal-Mart in Payson and bought pads. Of course removing the gauze ripped open the wound again!
A couple days later everyone shows up and one of my friends, a retired fire fighter/EMT, tends to my arm with many applications of Betadine and new dressings. This was truly a week to remember, considering a couple nights before my ride a heavy thunderstorm ruined our Arizona Cardinal tent. And that night while texting my wife back in Phoenix, she is sitting in the dark trying to find flashlights and candles because of a three hour power failure.
Sometimes in life fate plays an important part. It was ironic that only the day before I sat in our camper and read a National Geographic book on survival. That book has been in our camper for a couple of years, what made me read it then? It covered dozens of scenarios, and the main thing that I leaned, in any situation, is to stay calm! That thought resonated the strongest when I thought the trail ended, and I might have have to spend the night in total darkness, somewhere out there……
(You may click on photos for larger view.)