Thursday, January 27, 2011


I want to recall the T.V. program that my husband and I watched early Monday morning and pray that I can remember some of the small details that had such a huge impact on me.

It started off like this:
A man (I cannot remember his name but I am going to call him Tom) was about to begin a rafting trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.  At the beginning of the show a friend was with him, but it was apparent that he was only there to drop Tom off.  Tom was sitting in the raft chatting and saying goodbye to his friend.  The raft appeared to be well equipped with enough supplies to last several days, but the narrator let us know that Tom did not have a cell phone or any other means of communication with him.  As his friend walked away, Tom called him back to tell him to send help if he had not reached a certain point in four or five days.

Other than than the fact that he had no way to communicate with anyone in case of an emergency, Tom looked to be prepared for his journey.  There were several plastic containers neatly tied down in the raft that I assumed were filled with food, clothing, survival/camping equipment, tools,etc.  And although he covered the emergency part when he told his friend to send help if he had not reached a certain place on a certain day, it seemed to be an after thought.

And the story continued:
It was made known to us how much Tom was looking forward to this trip.  He looked forward to the solitude and peacefulness of his surroundings.  As he began rafting, he talked about how quite it was in the canyon and how this was something he had longed for.  We were also led to believe that Tom was familiar with the Colorado River, not necessarily because he had been on it before, but maybe because he had studied it.  He rowed down the river and managed through each rapid he encountered. However, the anticipation of one rapid in particular had him very anxious because he knew it would be the worst one on his route.  So, in preparation for it, he put his wet suit and life jacket on.  Seconds before, I told my husband that I could not believe he did not have a life jacket on so I was glad to see him do this.  

He reached the treacherous rapid and appeared for the most part to effortlessly go through it. It was obvious that he was proud of himself (not really in a smug sort of way, but he did seem very confident).  The scene went from him rowing through the rapid to successfully navigating out of it.  He was reclining back in his raft after having changed back into his khaki cargo shorts and a short sleeve shirt.  I think maybe he had sandals on but I am not sure. I had not paid attention to his clothes or shoes before he put the wet suit and life jacket on.

I do not know how much time lapsed, but at some point he began to realize that the rest of his trip was not going to be smooth sailing.  He appeared to be mad at himself for focusing so much on having gotten past the worst part and not remembering there were several more smaller rapids ahead of him.

As soon as he approached the next one, it was obvious he was going to be in trouble.  He lost control of the raft and landed on top of a boulder.  While trying to get off, he fell into the river and the raft capsized.  He managed to take hold of the raft and get it and himself onto a rocky shoreline.  He knew his only hope of turning the raft over was to retrieve some supplies that were still attached to the raft but now under water.  So for the second time he found himself back in the frigid Colorado River.  In complete darkness he was able to untie boxes and find what he needed. Despite the fact that he was extremely cold, he rigged a pulley device that would hoist the raft over and turn it upright.  His plan failed.  The ropes broke barely missing his head as they snapped.

Plan B: He spotted a sandy shoreline on the other side of the ravine and attempted to swim to it in hopes of finding shelter and getting warm.  It was getting late in the day.  This plan too failed.  The river slammed him back into the rocks and he lost the raft.  This time he made an attempt to climb up onto a grassy area above the rocks.  I do not know if sometimes during all of this he lost his shoes or if he never had any on, but at this particular time he was barefooted while trying to scale a rock wall.  He got so very close to the top when he fell backwards and landed back into the river.  This was his fourth time to be in the cold water.  During this fall he injured himself.

Once again he found himself  at the bottom of the rock wall only this time with an injured foot and several broken toes, as well as, a blow to his face that had knocked out several of his teeth.  But despite all of this he still managed to climb over the rock wall.  Keep in mind that he is extremely cold;  injured;  in a pair of shorts and a short sleeve shirt with no shoes and no supplies; no food; no way of communicating with anyone; and night time is fast approaching.    

To wrap this story up, here is a list of events that took place over the next 7 or 8 days:

1. He dug a hole in the dirt and covered it with dead branches for a place to sleep and get out of the wind.

2. He had a lighter in his pocket and was able to build a fire. He started out gathering wood for his fire close to where he camped, so as the days went on and he became weaker he was having to walk farther and farther away to gather wood.

3. The fire was never enough to keep him warm at night and there was little sun during the day.

4.  When the sun came out, he would follow it around even though the temperature was still cold.  (Remember he was in the Grand Canyon).

5. He got very little sleep.

6. He had no food.  He tried to catch a fish with his hands and then with a spear he made, but was unsuccessful.

7. After several days, an airplane flew over him.  He tried to wave it down, but they could not see him.

8. He spent countless hours gathering rocks from the river bed and making a gigantic X in the sand in hopes another plane would see it as a distress signal.

9. He had hallucinations and became very depressed.

10. He left messages for his friends and family after accepting the fact that he was going to die.

The End:  
Just before he lost all hope, rescue came. (I was falling back to sleep right as the rescue was taking place.  But, obviously Tom was given something to eat as soon as they got him into the helicopter.  I heard him say that was the best sandwich he had ever eaten in his life.)

In the blink of an eye, what started out as something pleasurable quickly turned into a fight to survive. Tom was confident when he got victory over what he thought was his biggest hurdle.  He let his guard down while in the calm water.  He did not anticipate having to fight for something so precious to him (his life), nor was he equipped to do so.  He was scared and soon became weary. He lost faith in his friend.  He lost hope.  But, just as he was about to give up, help came.



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