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Friday, May 12, 2006

Lost and Scared

I've mentioned before about unintentionally spending the night on a mountain, and for some reason, today I feel compelled to tell that story.

I was 12 years old and was out with my cousin (who's really more like my older sister). That evening she had called my mom to see if she could take me "for a walk" after supper. It was Sunday, April 30th, 1989. It was a glorious afternoon. One of those really warm days that lets you know you are now closer to summer then winter. I fought with my mom about taking a jacket as I walked out the door to meet my cousin. I never said goodbye.

My cousin and I spent a while just driving around trying to decide where to go on our walk. We finally decided to drive to the Summit House on Skinner Mountain and just walk around up there. As we pulled into the drive, we met the caretaker of the House. He was closing the gate for the evening. We had a nice, pretty substantial chat with him, complete with him saying "We could spend the night on the mountain, for all he cared!" (how prophetic those words would come to be!). We decided to pull the car around to a rest area and take a trail up.

Another argument ensued with my cousin regarding my coat. She won, I took it with me.

We made it to the top of the mountain without any problem. It was glorious up there. The trees were starting to bloom and everything just screamed SPRING IS HERE!. Knowing that our daylight time was limited we headed back down the trail. Somewhere, things went VERY wrong.

(from this point forward is my recollation of the events, accurate or not, its how I remember it happening)

We were probably 1/2 way down the mountain, when we suddenly couldn't find ANY markers showing us where to go next. Standing in that little gully, I could feel my throat tighten and panic start to rise. Then suddenly, I found it! Up at the top of that hill, that's a marker, right? Up we went. It was a marker, all right, just this one was white, not yellow. Oh, well. Its a trail and that was what we desperately needed at that moment. Unfortunately, our next mistake was about to be made.

We followed the marker for what seemed like ages as darkness ever so slowly encroached on us. "L, shouldn't we be at the car now?" I asked nervously. She offered some sort of reassuring answer, trying to quell her own fears. We continued walking.

As it got darker, things got scarier. I slipped, skidding down a hill and cried. L did her best to reassure me that we were fine. Got back up and carried on following the trail. Then L slipped and completely lost it. I was thrust into the position of reassuring her. "We're on a trail, right? It has to lead somewhere! Sooner or later, we'll come across Route 47 or 116 or something. We just have too right?"

Somehow, we managed to push on. The walking got more and more difficult, though. The trail itself got more dangerous and it was very obviously dark now. We found a spot and decided to stop. We made an agreement, that as soon as there was enough daylight to read L's watch, we'd follow the trail back in the direction we had just come.

The spot we choose, I believe, helped to keep me calm during that night. It was at the top of a cliff, at some sort of an overhang. I could see street lights and house lights below me and the stars above me. I KNOW I wouldn't have fared as well if all I saw was darkness and trees.

I thank God everyday that my mom and L both made me carry that jacket. While it might have been in the 70°'s that morning, it was now in the 30°'s and misting. IT WAS FREEZING. We layed L's winter coat on the ground to lay on, then each put 1 arm through my coat, so that we were back to back with the jacket stretched between us. Every once in a while, we would get up and do jumping jacks or sing funny toddler songs that have movement (Gray Squirrel or Little Teapot), just to keep the blood flowing. Eventually, the feeling in my feet was comepletely gone. I had no balance so we stopped getting up. I layed there shaking so hard from the cold, that it literally hurt. I would have to brace myself as hard as I could to stop shaking for a moment. I've never been that cold in my life and pray that I never will again.

Back Home - as told to me by my sister and mother
My sister, the worrier, began to do what she does best as darkness fell. "Mom, shouldn't Sarah be back now?". My mom, growing a little concerned, would blow her off. I was with L. L is responsible and ALWAYS had me back at the time my mom specified. As it grew later and later, my mom and sister grew more and more concerned. Mom called her sister. "Is L and Sarah there?". "No, I thought they were with you!". It was 10pm. The panick had started. Mom called the local police station, who blew her off. To them we were either out partying or were runaways. Mom called again and again. She FINALLY got a cop that she happened to go to High School with. She got him to believe that we DID NOT runaway (and seriously, what 21 yr old would runaway with a 12 yr old?).

There was a major problem though. No one knew were we had gone! Mom gave the cops all the places we might have gone. That list streched from Quabbin Reservoir to Goshen, MA. Not exactly a small search area. The surrounding cities were notified. A car matching L's was found in Orange, MA abandoned. Wasted time, verifing that it wasn't hers.

They finally found her car, where we had left it. My mom and L's mom drove frantically in 1 car, with my Dad and L's in another. Pictures of us were handed over along with articles of clothing for the search dogs. Our fathers stayed at the site, to help with the search. The car was taped off. L's pocketbook was still in the backseat, but the doors were unlocked. The cops were afraid that we had been forciably removed from the car.

Screams were suddenly heard, and everything got deathly serious. Guns were drawn and our fathers were ordered into a cruiser. Thankfully, what was thought to be screams, turned out to the sheep on the farm where we had parked.

Search parties were formed. The caretaker was called out of his sleep to join the police at the mountain. NOT ONCE did this man tell police that he had spoken to us. NOT.ONCE.

Back on the mountain
Being a TV junkie that I am, I was convinced that no one was looking for us. Every Cop show you see says "Call us when they're missing for 24 hrs". We were alone on this mountain and we would have to save ourself. I kept asking L if she could read her watch. I must've asked 1,000 times. I was cold, I was tired, I was hurt, but most of all, I was really, REALLY scared and I really, REALLY wanted to see my parents.

At one point, something big, something wild walked near us. We both held our breath, braced ourselves and prayed for it to go away. Neither of us was brave enough to open our eyes and see what it was.

At one point, I swore I heard my father shout my name. I wanted desperately to yell back "I'm here!!! I'm here!!!!". L said I was hullicinating.
I just might have actually heard him. I learned later that they allowed our fathers to go to the top of the mountain where the Summit House was, and my dad was yelling for me with a loud speaker. It would have been pointless for me to yell back though. We were miles from where they were, and his voice, combined with the loudspeaker were probably just enough to catch the right gust of wind and carry to me.

It was the longest night of my life. I can't believe how long darkness can last when all you want is so desperately to see light. Laying there in the dark, I was helpless and L.O.S.T. At least when daylight broke, I could pretend that I wasn't lost, just out on a hike on a lovely yellow marked trail.

It was our parents longest night too. My mom's family are all hunters and woodsmen. It was taking everything she had (and her sister) not to call them all and get them on the mountain looking for us. The last thing the police wanted was to lose other people in the dark, so they were refusing help until daybreak. At daybreak though, every single one of our Uncles were at that mountain ready to go.

When we could finally see her watch (it was only symantics that we couldn't exactly tell actual time with it), we got up to go. My feet felt as if they were 3 times longer and 2 times wider then normal. I found it difficult to balance, nevermind walk, but there was NO WAY I was going to stay at that spot any longer. We started following the path back. We were amazed and terrified at what we had climbed in the dark. Trails that were inches wide straddling cliffs with falls that were not survivable. There were a few times I really wasn't sure I could make it back across what we had done during the night.

We walked for probably a little over an hour, when I noticed a guy in the woods. He was wearing a black T-shirt with jeans. He scared me (remember, I'm under the belief that no one is looking for us beyond our parents). He starts yelling "Hey!!! Hey You!". I beg L not to answer him. "If he was looking for us, he'd be saying our names!!".... "Hey!! Stop! Hey! Are you Sarah and L?".....I swear the Heavens opened up and I heard angles singing. "YES!!" As he got closer, I realized his T-Shirt said SHPD (South Hadley PD). We were found! We were safe and we were 50 feet from a road, and road that we had searched for for so long. A cruiser came and picked us up and brought us to our fathers. As we were making our way back to L's car, I saw one of my uncles doing close to 90mph racing up to the top of the mountain. The cops joked that as any other time, that would be the sweetest ticket ever!

We meet our dad's at the base of the mountain where L's car was (we were found MILES away from that area). I was never so happy to see my dad. The tears started then and didn't stop for quite a while. The 90mph uncle came back down. He had thought to bring food, water and blankets. I didn't realize until then how thirsty I really was. We were bundled up while High 5's were flying all around us.

One of the cops informed us that news vans were on the way and let us get out of there before they showed up. We stopped at the 1st pay phone we could find so that we could talk to our moms. I don't even remember what I said. Probably didn't get anything out beyond "Mom?"

Back at home, EVERYONE was in the kitchen. EVERYONE had called into to work to help find us / support our moms. It was supposed to be my mother's 1st day at her new job. (How's that for an excuse!). Things settled down and people started leaving. I remember crying "Do I HAVE to go to school today?". I didn't. I even got to sleep in my parents bed, so that I could watch some tv too. I don't remember watching much of anything, I was so exhausted.

The phone rang that whole day - reporters looking for interviews, friends and relatives. My parents handled them all. I didn't want to talk about it. That night I went to my softball game. I was a celebrity there. I had been on every newscast. Even the opposing team was wondering if I was there. I only played 2 innings though. I was a catcher and it was just too draining.

School the next day was just as difficult. Every teacher (expect 1 glorious one) wanted me to stand infront of the class and tell my story. The school even held a seminar about "What to do if you got lost". I was asked by just about EVERYONE, "why we didn't you just take the trail that went DOWN?" We would've loved too! Turns out the trail we were on travels the mountain top. Its part of the Mohawk Trail, and we were apparently heading to New York.

I've never been back to that trail, or the Summit House. L has, trying to retrace where we went wrong. The trail was re-marked the week after. They're guessing we got lost at a part where a recently fallen tree had been marked. I've been on trails since (GPS and marking the coordinates of our car is helpful), but everytime, I still get a tightness in my throat and an overwhelming desire to just stay in the car.


Scott K. Johnson said...

Wow - what a story!

Were you diagnosed with diabetes by that time? I can't remember - you probably say in a previous post somewhere, but I just can't remember.

The timing of this story is crazy! Have you read Tiffany's post over at Candid Diabetes?

Sarah said...

No. I'll have to head over there. Thankfully, I wasn't D then. I was dx'd when I was almost 17.

Sarah said...

Oh Geez!!!!! If I was D then, I'd have pretty much LIVED that hypothetical situation.

julia said...

Good grief! I know exactly where you're talking about. That was scary to read about - I can't even imagine how terifying that must have been.

Shannon said...

Wow. What an experience to say the least.

I can't imagine how you, your cousin, and your family must've felt.

Thank god you both came out OK.