Drifting in the water and in his mind he seemed an observer of himself, looking down from above on the blackness of the water, reflections of the night sky still visible through recent cloud cover glittering and disappearing and reappearing. The two rectangular reflective patches on his shoulders were still visible. The dark had now taken over, it blurred boundaries of water and sky, the horizon gone, and imagined forms appeared then passed, disintegrating into nothingness. There is a strange effect the darkness has, the emptiness opening a door to the most unimaginable psychological effects. Deprived of a sense of time, isolated, alone the mind takes a trip of its own. With the stress of hours alone in the water, every ounce of energy dedicated to fending off hypothermia, now hallucination added another element to the challenge of keeping it together.
How ironic it seemed, he, there, now. Not more than a week ago he had both of his sons up for a Trip, they fished Money in the morning and were at the Racetrack after lunch, talking about how central to their lives Hakai was. How much it had given them. Never a moment, when if you thought about it, anything but amazing. They had all worked together, grown together and here they were, in Hakai again. Change so constant that the thought of ever taking it for granted was a loss. So the conversation went to “passing on” and what to do about it. What is the body when the spirit has fled, but part of the earth? So back to the earth then. Some say we came from the sea. Passing is so difficult for those who remain. Why not make it an event to celebrate, and get out on the water? So it was settled then. He would be cremated and have everyone to come to Hakai and spread his ashes there. Pulling everyone back together again in Hakai. Now it seemed he would be bypassing that cremation stage and going directly back to the sea.
Where was the helicopter? Where were the rescuers? They should have been here by now- it had been hours, but how many? He only knew it had been a long time, he would have to wait. He had been waiting on a helicopter before, not long ago. At that time it was on the side of a mountain. Hiking with his daughter on the Pacific Crest trail, they had set out from Donner Pass headed for Squaw Valley about 15 miles of moderate hiking. The spring had proven to be unusually cold that year and snow still covered many parts of the trail. But it was still very apparent and you could see it stretching out across the spine of the mountains, curving and undulating with the rise and fall of the peaks. They had got off to a good start, well provisioned for the day with water, food, layers, and an early start. As they stopped for lunch the wind had picked up and the only tree for miles provided what little but welcome break there was. Carrying on, the path cleared and they made good progress, coming around the corner they could see Ticker’s Knob and they felt confident they were on course and could finish in the 8 hours they had allotted. But now the snow covered trail seemed to be less evident, the navigation with the phone app to that point had almost drained the battery, time to fire up the second phone. A different navigation app was now in play and the trail nowhere to be seen. Zig zagging, now crossing a creek, then crossing it again, still no trail and now intermittent service. They were close to Squaw Valley, they knew it, had studied the maps and guide books and carried copies of the relevant pages with them. It would be just over the next rise, there would be some rock scrambling involved, then down the Granite Chief Trail to the destination. He had looked across an opening in the woods, there was a shed structure, it was a chair lift hut; they were very near a ski hill. Encouraged, they started in earnest towards it. Twenty minutes later he looked again. It was not much closer and the angle of view had changed, it was only shadows and branches, nothing more: he had imagined it, wished it into being. With only 10% left on his battery and maybe an hour of daylight, they likely could make it, but the risk would be if they did not, they would be in the dark, zero battery, no way to call for help. So they called. They gave the precise co-ordinates provided on the compass of the phone, put on every piece of clothing from their packs, every piece. Curled up tightly together against the base of the largest tree in the clearing and waited. The wind continued to pick up and an hour after dark they were expecting to have to wait it out, the helicopter would have difficulty in these conditions. Best get comfortable, check the signal flashlight before settling in. It was small but very powerful, and while scanning the surrounding hills and waving it upwards, he was startled to see descending on them what appeared to be large animal falling from the sky. It veered off at the last minute, having come close enough to make out its silhouette. It was a flying squirrel, the first one he had ever seen! He was surprised to find them nocturnal. A few hours later they heard the chopper, it circled their location numerous times, zeroing in on them. In another hour they were both in the Hotel in Squaw Valley that they had booked days earlier, hot-showers, dry clothes.
He had learned something valuable, something obvious: call for help when you still can. He thought about all these things now as he leaned over the motor, unwrapping line from the propeller, his hands wet, cowling wet, and the sloppiness of the waves creating havoc. He thought about falling in, imagined what would happen, how long, how cold, if he would be found. It was late in the day, it would be dark soon, call for help when you can. That was it, he thought better of trying to take the line out in these conditions alone, all it would take was one ill-timed wave and he would be in the water. Slowly and carefully he eased back off the motor, back into the boat and reached for the radio. “Ole-One, Ole-One, Ole-One, Hakai Ranger”. ……. he called again, “Ole-One, Ole-One, Ole-One, come back for Hakai Ranger”, waited.
To be continued…..
Category: Tales of the Pass