Travel Not Recommended (Part 4)

<– Part 3

Funny how the brain works.  In the moment, it was like I could feel every second.  Terrified that each minute would be something permanent done to my friend’s mind.   Adrenaline coursing through me, waiting on him to stumble or fall.  Afraid to even entertain the one what if that hid gibbering with fear in the back of my mind.

I do remember how new-car cowardly I was going down the mountain.  Soon as we threw the packs in the bed and strapped in, I was going up that mountain like Mr. Toad’s wild ride.  L4 to H4, 2-3-L4 and back again.  One eye on the tach, another on the road.  Slip-sliding, bumping and jostling, skidding and thumping.

Grap is in the back, asking me if I got a new truck and telling me to be careful.  What’s the rush?   Did something happen?   Kat finally has a signal, we get 911 to answer and my truck’s Bluetooth picks it up and pipes it into the cab.

“Sixty-something yr-old, severe memory loss . . . can’t hold more than 30 seconds.”  In the back seat, Grap tells us he’s okay, really.  Feels fine.  Why, did something happen?    Operator asks if we want an ambulance.   “Ma’am, we were hoping you’d have a bit of guidance for us on that account.”

Skid, turn.  Watch out for tha- bump, bounce. . H4 to L4, 3 to 2.   Go, go, go.   Where do we want the ambulance?    No way they’re getting it down this way.   Don’t know if I said it, or thought it, but I have a memory of expressing that soon as I get off this mountain I’ll be heading toward Harrison and the nearest hospital at about 100 mph.  Figure they can catch me on the way.  We guessed we were about fifteen, twenty minutes away from the Compton post office.  Kat, unflappable and cool-headed, tells the 911 operator to have the pro’s meet us there.

Up, up, and away.   Vaguely remember being curious, concerned about what would happen on such a narrow road if I met someone coming while I was going.   It happened.  Didn’t slow down.  Pretty sure I kept all the wheels on the road.  I glance over and saw Kat staring at his phone and I read his mind.  I knew he was thinking about calling his wife.   Started to tell him don’t, but realized that wasn’t any of my business.  It is her Dad, after all.

Skidded into the Compton post office and wasn’t there long enough to get everyone out of the truck before the first responders showed up.   Within minutes of our arrival, I’m pretty sure we had the entire Compton VFD out in that parking lot.  Each one of them, it seemed, had one piece of rescuey equipment.  One had a giant backpack of something, another had an oxygen tank.  Someone else had bottles of water.  They were everywhere.  Grap was taking it all in stride, with kind of an “aw shucks” embarrassed grin on his face.  More folks arrived.  Ambulance wasn’t here yet, but someone on the radio said helicopter.   Grap asked me if we had to carry him, I assured him we didn’t.  He apologized, the only time I saw him distressed, because he thought he ruined the trip.   “You get through this, brother, and you’ll have made the most interesting trip we’ve ever had.”

Harrison ambulance arrived shortly after, EMTs were cool calm and collected.  Didn’t catch their names, didn’t catch anyone’s name.   Had other things on my mind than socializing, but the one with the shiny earring was cool as the Fonze.

Once it seemed like our friend wasn’t going to drop dead on us (even though nobody still could figure out what was going on), they called in the copter.   I headed out and snapped a few last-minute pictures.

Kat looked at me kind of crazylike and said, “Really?”   I nodded.  Oh yeah.   Fully intended to laugh with Grap about this one day.  Wasn’t trying to be optimistic, I just couldn’t even entertain the thought that he wasn’t going to be okay.  I heard one of the EMTs say that it didn’t look like any stroke they’d ever seen before.

And, not going to lie here. . . I was relieved that the pros were there.  He was in good hands.

Helicopter came, Grap took off toward Fayetteville.  Another good sign.  If it had been a bad stroke, then I think he would’ve headed off to Springfield.   Back in the Yota, tearing down the highway.   Kat breaks silence enough to suggest, gently, that while he appreciates my haste . . . chances are a speeding ticket (or worse) would delay our arrival even more than going the speed limit.   So I eased it down to a more reasonable, less adrenaline-charged pace.

So now you’ve read about 7 pages of this.   Approaching 4000 words.   I’ll skip over the emergency room reunion which went about how you’d expect it to go.  Nobody knew anything until the next day anyway.  I half-expected the family to throw rocks at me, but they didn’t.  Lots of hugs, tears, worries.   I’m not family, so I didn’t ask to go back and see him.  Figured he wasn’t going to remember if I did anyway.  By the next morning, Kat texts me something he found on the ‘net.   Transient Global Amnesia brought on by a sudden immersion in cold water.  Holy guacamole, that fit like it was written for him.   Sure enough, no long-term damage done.   That ended up being the diagnosis.  By Sunday afternoon, he was back to us.   Couldn’t remember more than snippets of the hike, but was joking and laughing.   We watched the video of our icy baptism for the first time.

And laughed.

(Thanks to the first responders in Compton and the EMTs coming out of Harrison, the copter crew and the other good folks that came out to help us.  Prayers to those families in Newtown, Connecticut.  I thought long and hard about blogging today and, truth told, I desperately needed one story with a happy ending.  Maybe you did, too.)

This entry was posted in Backpacking, Buffalo River, Ponca Wilderness Area, Trip Report and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Travel Not Recommended (Part 4)

  1. Roger Jones says:

    Wow, What a story. They really have fixed the road good. So glad things turned out well.


  2. arkansashiker says:

    I didn’t really put that into the story, but in a long list of “what ifs” that could have ended up in a much, much worse ending . . the newly maintained condition of the road was significant. Had it not been fixed, and had it really been a stroke (or something worse) then extraction would have taken sooo much longer. Thanks to the crew that cleaned up that road.


  3. Thanks for sharing. Incidences like this in the backcountry are very nerve wracking and help me appreciate emergency responders all the more!

    Also, you’ve got a great voice in your writing. Very engaging.


  4. Grap says:

    Lostoutrider – many heartfelt thanks for this account. I wish I remembered more of it. An important lesson here is one’s choice of kindred souls to accompany him on life’ s journeys. Somehow I realized that I was in good hands the whole time. On our next visit to Thunder Canyon, let’ s go after a “toad strangler”. Again, thanks!!!


    • Man, I’m glad you approve. Was kind of hoping to earn the trail-archivist badge to go along with the trail-chef one! Alls well, yeah? So what are we going to do to make the next hike memorable?


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