Sunday, August 19, 2007

Canoe For Sale

Everyone is now home and safe but we've had the worst night of our lives...

Yesterday morning, Matt & Taylor along with Matt's friend, David, and his two children (Rachel and Nathan) left for what was supposed to be a 1/2 day canoe trip. They did everything right and just about everything went wrong. They researched the river on the internet, checked the water flow levels and the ratings of the rapids. They met and looked over a map a few days before they left. I photocopied the map and had them mark where they intended to start and where they intended to end. The plan was: They would drive up to the the Gila River with two cars and an extra driver, leave a small car at the end point, drive everyone and the gear up to the start point. Extra driver would take the large car to the end point, trade it out with the small car and drive the small car home. So, all they had to do was canoe down the river, find their car and get themselves home. They packed lots of water and food and were prepared to stay out over night but their last words when they left were that they promised to have Rachel back by 8 for a church dance and Matt had said that he planned to be back for dinner. They had left home at 6 am and the river was only an hour away.

At 7pm, I called Becky (David's wife) and asked her what time she thought we should start to worry. She had been worried and calling the cells every 1/2 hour since 2:30 and they were going straight to voicemail. The 2 canoes and a kayak had been strapped to a trailer and they were pulling them behind a Suburban. On their quest to find the river's edge, they took the Suburban down an embankment. When the Suburban leveled out, one of the canoes shattered the rear window. Since Becky's son, Andrew, was the extra driver that had dropped them off (and was now home), we knew where and at what time they had actually 'put in'-10:30 am- and we knew exactly where the car was parked. We started to theorize that perhaps they had overshot their mark and missed the car or maybe they had made it to where the car was and it had been stolen (since the rear window was out) and they were out of cell range. Maybe they lost keys in the river or the car wouldn't start? We decided that we would start to gather gear and head out by 8 if we hadn't heard anything to see if we could find them. Our godsend neighbor, Torrey, came over and stayed with the kids and we headed out.

When we got there at about 10pm we found the Suburban and no sign of our families. We followed a light a little way down the river's edge and found a guy fishing. He had been there since early in the day and hadn't seen our husbands and children nor anyone or anything come down the river. We left a note in the car basically saying, "We are here and we're going to go call for help" at 10:17. We had no cell service and knew we would have to back track about 20 minutes down the road to get it.

It is hard to describe what goes through your mind at a time like this. I am still emotionally exhausted as I type this just from trying frantically throughout the night to put the clues together to try to figure out what may have gone wrong and where they could be. You also try to think about the positives: They are scouts-they were prepared! The weather stayed in the high seventies overnight so were weren't worried about hypothermia, etc. They are able bodied. Matt has the strength of an ox when he needs it and they wouldn't take any unnecessary risks, especially with the children. David is an engineer, can fix anything and is a good problem-solver. We knew that they would all have on life vests and they said that if they encountered rapids that were too treacherous, that they would get out and carry the canoes around them if possible. We also wondered if they were camped by choice along the banks of the river somewhere, having the time of their lives and would be angry at us when they learned that we had called the authorities. Still, after taking an inventory of the assets of the situation, it was hard to comprehend why they hadn't been able to get to the car or to a telephone. Something had to be wrong.

I worried that either a)someone was injured and they couldn't get to help b)they had lost a canoe and were stranded somewhere c)they had lost their gear and couldn't proceed or d) When we learned that the most problematic rapids were squeezed in between two sheer cliffs, I thought that they may have tried to hike around them and were lost. I worried that if they took as much water as they could carry that it wouldn't be enough if they weren't found by early morning. We are still having weather in the triple digits here.

We found a Quicky Mart and called the authorities only to find when they arrived that we had crossed a county line the call was out of their jurisdiction. They had us follow them to their station where they connected us to Gila County dispatch. We knew we were in a small town when walking into the police station felt like walking into an episode of 'The Dukes of Hazard.' I expected Boss Hogg to come around a corner at any minute...

They took down information, descriptions, etc. and told us to drive down the road and wait for a sargeant to meet us at a particular location while they assembled a search and rescue team. We waited there for what seemed like forever with no cell service. I hadn't used the OnStar in my car for over a year but was able to contact an operator and purchase some phone minutes. We were able to contact the dispatcher with the car phone and learned that the sargeant was still about 45 minutes away. We drove around while we waited and checked out the campfires that we saw from the road. None of them belonged to our husbands and kids.

Several Sheriffs finally arrived and had us lead them down to where the Suburban was parked. They woke up the fisherman that we had spoken to earlier to verify when he had been their and that he hadn't seen them. Eventually we heard the search helicopter overhead. At 2:30 am, with no sign of them, the search was called off until morning. That is when I lost it.

We waited wide eyed until daylight. Finally, at about 6 am, we heard the rescue helicopter overhead again and heard over the Sheriff's radio that they had been found! They had two canoes but were missing the kayak. The helicopter went to land downstream and check on them. They were ok but exhausted and out of water. The S & R guy gave them some gatorade and told them that they were about an hour's worth of calm paddling from their target. They offered to take the kids in the chopper but Taylor decided to finish it out with his dad.

When they finally paddled into shore, I didn't know whether to kiss Matt or kill him but when I saw his face, I knew that he had been through hell. We would soon learn that they had run into bad rapids all along the river and dumped the canoes more times that they could count. The aluminum canoe had a hole in the bottom and our plastic canoe had a bowling-ball sized dent in the front of it from hitting rocks. The kayak had to be ditched. Each time they flipped the canoe, they lost their gear and had to retrieve what they could once they got going again. The cell phones, flashlights and matches were wet and useless. They lost most of their food and water and were pretty banged and scratched up from the rocks. They were physically spent from having to dead lift the canoes around the rapids and empty them of water repeatedly after they flipped, not to mention all of the paddling. Matt would later tell us that he feared for his life and Taylor's several times. They saw the helicopter during the night and tried to get its attention when the searchlights passed over them. Matt says that they would have gladly stepped into the helicopter had it found them because they were soaking wet and cold most of the night. He also said that it did help knowing that someone was looking for them.

I can't even begin to tell you what a relief it is to have everyone home and safe. Matt's legs are a mess and his ankles will have to be bandaged for a while but it could have been so much worse. It freaks me out to think that Audrey was supposed to go on this trip but decided to accept an invitation to a High School Musical 2 sleepover instead. Matt feels strongly that this decision probably saved her life because there were situations where he wouldn't have been able to manage more than one child in the current.

We are counting our blessings tonight. I'd better get upstairs and tuck 4 of them into bed...

Anybody want a canoe???


Dawn and Dale said...

Oh Jenn!!! I can't even imagine how you are feeling right now!!

Thankful that your WHOLE family is home safe and sound in their warm beds tonight!!!

Shannon said...

I am so sorry to hear what your family has been through! How very scary! Glad to hear everyone is home safe and sound.

Chelley said...


I am so so so so glad that everything is all ok now!!

But I cant even begin to think how you must have felt! I jsut felt sick to my stomache reading it!!

HUGZ to you!!!

Oh and no thanks on the canoe..

jennifer said...

No Thanks! Wow! That is unbelievable. How scary. I know you had to be terrified. So glad everything worked out.

Emily said...

Oh my goodness! What a nightmare! I'm really happy to hear all is well now. Maybe you should just take the canoe and push it off a tall cliff??

L & J said...

We own a canoe, but I think I'm going to put a for sale sign on it!
Jenn, I'm so happy that your family is home safe with you. What a scary thing to have happen.

OziMum said...

Oh my goodnes, I'm crying...and it's not even my family! Jenn, what an awful day/night it must have been. I'm SO glad that your family, and your friends, are safe.

((hugs)) to you all.

Lisa and Tate said...

Crap!!!! Just plain scary!!! Thankfully all work out.... No thank you to the canoe, though.


Mom of 5 said...

I am so glad all is well !