A Story Out of the Past from 2009
A Long Ride
by Teena Helmericks May 13, 2009
The river flooded (over the grounded ice) 8 days ago after a week’s unseasonable warm days above freezing. This flooding was 11 days earlier then ever before in our recorded history and several weeks before the usual flooding dates.
Jim and I were caught with some summer supplies still not home. Although they could be gotten later with multiple plane trips, it is much easier to haul them by snowmachine and sled. So Jim cruised upriver several miles until he could find a place he could still cross the river. This was last week, so once across the river he could drive overland to OTP, a rendezvous point with a friend who had trucked the supplies from Deadhorse for us. Jim retrieved the freight successfully. It turned cold again and the flood waters remained stable, so several days later, Jim made another trip over to the mainland to get us some fresh meat -several caribou. Then he made a third trip to collect fresh willow bushes for our yard.
This is where I come in. More mail-order groceries had arrived at the Deadhorse Post Office, plus we still needed some drums of aviation fuel. So Jim decided it was still safe for another trip across the river and I wanted to go this time. I needed to get over to the road system where we park our pickup truck on 3S Pad, 5 miles east of our house. Of course, the overflow water blocked the straight route we usual travel, so I needed to follow the round-about route Jim had been using to at least get across the river, and then I could travel overland over to where the truck was. (I should have been able to follow Jim’s old trail from last week to get close to where I needed to be.)
Jim showed me the route across the river on the map...I only needed to follow his trail. I left at 9 AM. No problem. It was snowing and very whiteout with limited visibility, but as long as I kept my eyes on the trail, I was fine.
At one point, the trail wound around a lot as Jim had been trying to find a safe way across a creek on which there was quite a bit of overflow water. I thought I was upriver on the creek we have to cross on the way to the pad where the truck sits.
About 1 ½ hours later I realized something was definitely wrong. Visibility was still poor, but I was seeing bluffs and mounds that were not supposed to be there, plus I should have been to the 3S Pad by then, despite the round about route. I knew Jim would be worried that I hadn’t called him to report being safely at the truck. I stopped to call him on my cell phone and let him know where I was...or maybe he could tell me where I might be. By then I’d figured out that I’d obviously been following the wrong trail, probably the one that took Jim south to hunt caribou, or the get willows.
NO PHONE! I had accidentally left my phone sitting on the counter still connected to the charger, and when I had checked my pocket before leaving home to make sure I had the phone, I had actually felt my little camera mistakenly. Now I knew Jim would be worried!
There was a big mound off to my left, so I left Jim’s trail and drove over to the high ground to get my bearings. Unfortunately, it was still too poor of visibility to see anything recognizable, but I was sure I was on Kachemach Mound - OH MY! So far off track. There was a slight SW wind blowing which helped me orientate myself, and I drove down off the mound and headed what I thought was east. It turned out to be more south then east. I should have turned straight back the track I had been driving. However, I kept stopping and re-correcting and had just spotted the top of a derrick which I thought was the oilrig on ODS, 6 miles north of our house. It was only a small point on the horizon. I headed for that, figuring I could be sure of my direction once I got closer to it and confirmed it was in fact ODS. I should be able to see our home by then too. I had also decided that I would just return home, relieve Jim’s worry, get my phone, get clearer directions to correct my mistake taking the wrong trail, and start out again.
About then Jim came zipping by me and stopped. He had left the house when it became obvious I was long overdue and followed my winding track until he caught up with me. As he drove along he would say to himself, “Why is she following my old trail that goes south?” Then as the trail started to cross the Miluveach River, he thought, “Surely she’ll realize where she is now. Oh no, she crossed and is still going. Is she going to go clear to the Kachemack River now!” Jim couldn’t leave my trail because visibility was too poor in the whiteout conditions to be able to just look around and find me. He had continued following my trail at a breakneck speed to catch up with me.
When Jim told me it was 11:30, I was astonished that so much time had passed since I left home. With few words between us, Jim took off in the lead and I realized he was leading me to 3S and the truck. It took us 45 minutes to get there with Jim leading in a straight line. If I had tried to get there on my own once I was sure of my location, it would have probably taken me several more hours. However, I assured Jim I had already decided to return home, had I still been out there on my own.
It was 12:30 before I was on my way to Deadhorse in the truck and Jim was on his way back home. I knew it would be a long day. By the time I finished the various errands in Deadhorse and got back to 3S Pad, it was 6:00 PM. Jim was there again to meet me, since we needed two sleds to get the groceries, mail, and fuel drums home. Again, it was a long, round-about way home via the upriver crossing we had to make to get around the water. It was 9 PM by the time we were back in the house, exhausted and hungry.
So, how did I get so turned around out there in the morning? There were several factors. To start out, I had misunderstood Jim about which way to go once I was on the mainland. Secondly, once I was on the wrong trail, even though I was aware that it headed south at first, I thought it would eventually turn and get me to the right spot because I thought I was on the first trail he made to go get supplies at the pad NE of 3S, where I needed to be. My focus was solely on the vague trail in front of me. Thirdly, when I crossed the Miluveach River, I thought it was just a bit upriver on the creek we normally have to cross when driving to 3S Pad. Jim had mentioned that he crossed our old trail to 3S at the creek the day he got supplies last week, and this is the trail I thought I was on.
Anyway, I suppose an important lesson learned here is that I should have had my GPS with me even when I thought I would simply be following a trail and not need it.
This is the second time Jim has had to come find me in the last few years when I was lost in a snow storm and whiteout. Both times, I was in no danger of severe cold, and would have eventually found my way home (I think), but having Jim find me got me to my destination possibly hours sooner then I would have on my own. Both Jim and I drove many unnecessary miles yesterday due to my mistakes. Jim takes such good care of me...if he can live through the trauma I cause him. :-)