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Who Is Coming To Your Rescue? The first blog in a multi-part series on the concepts and practices of preparedness.

 

Some people are really lucky. Some people have no idea how lucky they really are.  I’ve heard it said that some people would rather be lucky than good.  I don’t get it. Who really wants to leave something easy and important up to chance, up to fate, up to dumb luck? What if it means your life? 

 

My life experience has been more like the lyric from the old Hee-Haw song, “Gloom, Despair, and Agony On Me”, if it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all. Oh, I’m exaggerating a bit here. There’s really no explanation for how blessed I really am outside of the unmerited favor of God in my life.  As such, I’ve learned those simple things that I am capable of accounting for, should I neglect them, usually bite me in the rear.  And likewise, those simple things, If I address them, all of a sudden aren’t an issue should something go sideways down the road. 

 

Lost Hikers in the Ozark Backcountry

 

Every year in the month of April myself and a group of men make our way up to the middle of the Arkansas Ozarks for a float down the Buffalo River. We begin our camp on Sunday afternoon and break camp on Tuesday afternoon.  This is due to one of the key members of the group being a pastor of a church, but also to avoid the crowds that flock to the river on the weekends. Each year the trip is different as the river might be roaring, perfectly flowing, or it could be barely moving.  Last year it was in flood stage for our scheduled days on the river.  It made for a quick raft ride but some great memories were made nonetheless.  This year the river was a little low.  It was good for fishing, but paddling the long holes was a chore and nearly every rapid involved picking the perfect line to slide through and even then about half of the time, exiting the canoe and dragging it. 

 

When the river is flowing well, even on a Monday or Tuesday, there will be several groups of floaters on the water and people hiking trails that proliferate the area.  If the river is in flood or very low, people are just going to stay home. The area around the Buffalo can be rather lonely in those situations. 

 

Our trip this year was very uneventful.  No one was dumping over in the rapids but we were working hard to pick the line that would not drag the rocks too bad.  Toward the end of our first day on the water, we came to the bend in the river where it is joined by a small stream flowing out of a hollow.  There’s a sign nailed to a tree that simply reads, “Falls”.  Each year we stop at this sign to take any new participants on our journey to see this little Arkansas jewel, Hemmed-In-Hollow falls.  

 

Hemmed-In-Hollow is the tallest waterfall between the Appalachians and the Rockies, coming in at 200 feet in height. This fact alone draws in hikers and floaters alike to see this Natural State wonder.  Part of our group left to make the short hike up to the falls while the rest lounged on the river bank and refreshed themselves with some drinks and left-over tenderloin from lunch (we do not suffer on this trip). I arrived at the bend fairly late as I was concentrating on fishing. I rehydrated myself and relaxed for a few minutes and heard the sound of hikers coming back down the trail.  I figured it was part of our group returning and I was correct… in part.  Accompanying them was a pair of unidentified hikers. They were extremely dehydrated and hungry.  

 

This pair of hikers came in from the top, at Compton, to hike to the falls and got lost on their way back up the mountain.  The trail from the top is no Sunday stroll and is not for the casual hiker. The trail to the waterfall is 2.5 miles and drops in elevation about 1500 feet. Yes, it is mostly downhill, but if you’ve spent any time hiking you know that downhill hiking uses a different group of muscles in spite of the gravitational advantage of moving your weight down hill. 

 

Going back up, however, the ruggedness of the area becomes very evident. Also, the trail up the mountain is a little hard to pick back up from this different angle. Our hikers started their journey that morning without any water.  Yes, these hikers were in trouble. After several minutes of letting them recover we were able to talk them into a canoe ride down the river and from there a car ride back to the trailhead where they had left their car. 

 

During the float down the river my pastor and I tried to press upon them how lucky we were to have ran into our group. No one was hiking the trails on a Monday.  No one would likely hike those trails until next weekend or the next significant rainfall. The same went for the river.  The Buffalo was only a day or so away from being un-floatable, at least through all the rapids. Not only this but the temperatures were just a little on the cool side for late April. 

 

“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” J.R.R Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings

 

Had we not found them when we did, they would have been on the river, or in the woods for at least two days before anyone knew they were missing. But here they were, having bumped into a group that included one doctor, three lawyers, one pastor, one engineer, three entrepreneurs, and me, the resident redneck. Not only were we the right people to find them, but we had room in our canoes to take them down river to our camp, food and water to address immediate health concerns and first aid supplies for any more serious needs. This couple just so happened to run into a group of the most capable and knowledgeable people on the river in one random place at a random time.  

 

The Buffalo River area is a common place in Arkansas for a hiker to go missing.  In April of 2001 the largest search and rescue mission the state had ever seen took place in the area near Hawksbill Crag when a little girl, Haley Zega wandered off from her family while they were hiking. The search for her started instantly and it still took three days to find her. This country is rough, steep, and unforgiving to the unprepared.  

 

Within an hour or so from our canoes hitting the sand near our camp at Kyle’s Landing, these two lucky hikers were back at their car and back on their way home. Whether the full gravity of their situation ever really dawned on them or not I’ll never know. I do know that either luck, divine intervention, or whatever you want to call it was on their side this day. 

 

That day someone came to these folk’s rescue.  Follow along in this blog series for more thoughts on the subject of awareness and preparedness. More to come soon!

 

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