Friday, May 27, 2005

Buffalor River Canoe Journals - 7: Death by Hypothermia... Almost

A thick layer of ice coated my tent in the morning when I awoke and it shattered upon the rocks like brittle glass as I pounded it off the sides with my fists. Dick and Marie tell us of an approaching storm that they had heard on their radio that I had packed all this time in my boat since theirs was overloaded. All the weather forecasts are predicting two days of freezing rain and snow followed by "unseasonably" cold temperatures. Had our car waiting at the takeout been closer to home, I would have continued onward despite the storm but reaching a car that couldn't go anywhere because of icy roads wasn't much good either. So we took a vote and decided to see if we could hike out to Gilbert and try to hitch a ride to our waiting vehicle and bring it back to the river access near North Milead another couple miles downstream.

We quickly covered the mile of river to the Gilbert where Dick hiked into town and was able to get a ride to the truck still parked thirty-two miles down river. The rest of us pushed on the couple miles to the river access seeing several more bald eagles along the way. All total, I have seen nearly thirty bald eagles this trip, proving that they really are on the come back from the endangered species list. Dick arrived with his small pickup just a few minutes after we had arrived.

The original plan had called for him to take someone up to where we had started where my father's full sized pickup waited and then load both up and go our separate ways. However, the temperatures were still well below zero and no one was in the mood for having to hang around on the cold rocks for several hours until the shuttle could be made. A slight sprinkle of rain convinced us that our only option was to load the small truck up with everything and make a break for the cabin before the weather got worse. My parents, Dick and Marie, crammed into the small cab and my brother and I climbed into the back, digging holes under the gear to try and get out of the wind.

The next two hours it took to reach our cabin were by far the coldest two hours I have spent in my life. By the time we got there, I was probably in the early stages of hypothermia and while I sat by the furnace trying to get warm, the rest unloaded the truck. It took me an hour to even stop shaking and get some color back into my skin. My brother had actually crawled into his sleep bag during the trip home and had stayed warm but my sleeping bag had been buried under the canoes and out of reach. But I survived and all is well once again. After all of us had taken a nice long hot shower and had a belly full of homemade stew, we sat around listening to a comedy sketch on National Public Radio. At one point I was laughing so hard that I thought I might get sick. It's great to be back.

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