Monday, February 5, 2018
Single mindedness. That’s the word that comes to mind in describing an experience I’ll never forget. It really began at the beginning of a very long and complex work week. My days were running 12-16 hours and there were a number of highly charged and complex issues that I was dealing with. I rarely use the word stress to describe work, because I love what I do and always appreciate a challenge. I had started my day in Redding, California and was making my way to Eureka via Route 299. While the route was simple, I still use the map feature on my iPhone as I always do, because it synchs with my apple watch so I don’t have to take my eyes off the road to look at it. I was about half way into my drive, about 2 hours, when my apple watch vibrated. I pulled over and realized that I’d missed a turn. It seemed odd that the map feature was taking me off the main highway to Eureka, but there had been a number of rock slides and construction work during previous drives, so I assumed it was detouring me around something. I did a u-turn and turned right onto a country road. Immediately, I had to cross a one lane bridge, and then I started up the road. It wasn’t long before I realized that this road really only fit 1 car, but there were no other cars that I’d seen (nor any other signs of civilization for that matter). The Map feature told me that I had 4.5 miles to go before turning, and I assumed that would bring me back to the main highway. Up and up the mountain I climbed, winding around in the forest. Near the top of the climb I passed a police car near another car that seemed stranded in the middle of the road. Odd, I thought, but drove on. I saw a few patches of snow on the side of the road, but figured I was about to get to the turn and head back down. I made it to the turn, and the Map feature told me to turn on another road, which I did. As I made my way downhill a ways, the Map feature started saying that it was rerouting me. I figured that since there was no cell coverage that it just wasn’t connecting. I made my second assumption that this had been taking me in the right direction, so I should continue on. I actually passed a couple of cabins before I started climbing again. I passed some trees that had fallen and been cut so that cars could pass. I started seeing snow again on the side of the road.
One might ask, why did I keep going? I was actually starting to feel a little anxious that this might not be the right direction and that perhaps I should turn back. I didn’t, and I hit a few patches in the road where there was actually snow on the road, but previous cars had marked out a clear path. I figured that this must still be the right way. As I write this, I realize how single minded I had become at this point, absolutely focused on continuing forward. I was gripping the steering wheel, getting an uncomfortable feeling in my chest (where I feel most of my anxiety), and was definitely sensing potential danger. There is no question that if my wife had been with me, we’d have turned around and gone back miles ago. My tenacity and single minded focus on moving forward kept me driving up the road. I hit a patch of snow and ice that made me a little nervous, but I got through it and the road cleared. I assumed I was getting close to the top of the mountain, based on looking ahead, when I turned into another stretch with snow on the ground. As I drove a little further up the hill, my car started to struggle with the snow and I slowed down. This wasn’t a good idea, maybe I should back up. I put my car in reverse and before I knew it, I had backed against the side of the road and wasn’t moving.
Anxiety now made way for a sense of full on panic. I jumped out of the car and frantically tried to shovel snow with my hands in front of my front and rear tires. I got back in the car and tried to move forward. No luck. I got out again and realized that a tree root was caught in my right front wheel. I wasn’t going anywhere. A little more panic set in. I could feel the discomfort in my chest grow. My brain wanted to think about how stupid I had been to get in this situation. But then my brain went back to 2012 and Ironman St. George, where I was stuck in a reservoir with 50 mph winds and 5 foot swells. I had swallowed water and my calf had cramped. That was actually a more dangerous situation. I knew that panic was not going to get me out of here. I looked at my watch and realized it was 1:30 pm. I knew that I was approximately 15 miles from the main highway. It was up and down, but I was an ironman, I could do this in my sleep. It didn’t help that my right glute and left low back had been tight recently, but so what? I put on my running shoes, a lightweight jacket and took my one bottle of water. I set off down the run at an easy run. While downhill running has it’s advantages, it’s also hard on the quads. I got to the base of the climb, where a few cabins were, but there were no people there. I kept going, figuring that I’d gone about 5-6 miles already. I kept checking my cell phone and my apple watch and tried calling 911, but to no avail. There was no coverage. I walked some of the steeper climbs, noticed some signs warning of bears, and occasionally asked myself how I’d gotten myself into this. Each time that happened, I remembered St. George and my coaches mantra of staying in the moment. Reliving how I’d gotten myself into this wasn’t going to help me. I had to put one foot in front of the other and move forward. I’d occasionally come upon some snow and ice patches and was very careful. Slipping and falling might lead to being stranded in the middle of the forest with nightfall approaching. Not a good thing. I figured that I was about 9 miles into my run/walk when I saw a car approaching ahead. I immediately began waving my arms and a guy in a pick up truck with a dog slowed down and stopped. He had on a baseball cap and had the look of someone who lived in the forest off the grid. A chainsaw was on the floor of the front seat. The first thing he said was “GPS.” He told me that this happened to people all the time, and that no one had done anything to fix the problem. He was also a little irritated, as it turned out that he’d just come from a lawyer dealing with someone trying to evict him from the land he was living on. He also told me that he’d helped countless people and few of them, if any, were appreciative. I told him that he’d lucked out. I wasn’t that kind of person. Also, I knew some of the best lawyers in the country, and that I would forever be in his debt if he helped me. He relaxed as he drove to his home in the forest, back in the direction that I’d just come from. He had to get home to call his attorney about the matter they’d been working on. Could I wait before going to see about getting my car unstuck? Of course?
During our drive, he told me of the 80 year old who’d been stranded, the couple with two kids, the guy who got frost bite on two fingers. I was not the first person to follow their GPS to nowhere. And, it was nowhere. If I’d even managed to keep going from where I got stuck, the conditions would have only gotten worse! We got to his home in the forest and he fired up his generator so that I could hook up to the internet. I guess he didn’t live totally off the grid. There was no cell coverage anywhere along the road. My son-in-law had texted me that we should think of going to the snow with my grandson. Little did he know. I texted a few people so that they would know where I was and that I was safe. I didn’t let my family know, as I didn’t want them to worry until I was safely back on the road. I used an incredible outdoor latrine with a view of a creek. Soon we were driving up the mountain to my car. I once again asked myself, how in the heck did I keep going? Why didn’t I turn around? I guess it’s that single-mindedness. However, that same single-mindedness saved my life. I asked him about the bears, he said that they don’t bother people. On the other hand, he said, the mountain lions are a different story. Yikes!
As we got close to my car, his pickup struggled to stay steady on the road. He put it in a lower gear and we got to my car. His chain-saw came in handy as the car was stuck on the tree root. I shoveled in front of the tires and then a ways up and down the road to form a path. So, a 90 minute hilly run and some snow shoveling, a pretty solid workout for the day! I was able to get my car moving forward and then put it in reverse to back down the road about 100 yards and out of the snow! I thanked my new friend for saving my life and headed back to the highway. As I drove to Eureka, I began to realize how close I came to any number of bad outcomes. Again, I put those thoughts out of my head and kept my focus on staying positive. Hopefully, I can maintain my single minded focus on the things that matter the most!