Raising money for local Volunteer Firefighters and Ambulance squad that found and rescued me from what very well could have been my life, and to raise awareness to how vitally important they are to our community.
I don't know where I'd be if it hadn't been for the local Volunteer Firefighters and EMS squad that was involved in my rescue. This experience has made me realize the importance of what they do and in all the ways how vitally important they are to our Communities. Below is my story..
It was approximately 8:17pm Wed. 4/1/2020 when I dialed 911, scared, desperate and a little panicked. I was cold, soaking wet from the knees down, alone in the dark with no real flashlight, in the middle of a 1,600 + acre state park with an injured swollen right ankle, in a lot of pain, couldn't walk, stranded on a small island between two streams off the trails, no water and down to 10% battery life on my phone. How did I get here? I had time to ponder this over and again.
It started with my anxiety. That Wednesday, I was feeling angry about a situation, not knowing how to deal with it. As a result, I was feeling frustrated and anxious. Even though it was late in the afternoon, I just wanted to get out of the house, get some exercise and into the outdoors. This was my way of coping at the time. The local parks were still open so I headed out for a "short" hike at Tuscarora State Park, PA.
I arrived at exactly 6pm. I figured I had at least a good hour of daylight left, maybe a little more. I had been to Tuscarora a few times before but had just walked along the lake for a short distance, east of the beach. I grabbed my phone (not fully charged), my water bottle (mostly full), some tissues and my little emergency whistle key chain with a compass and little light you had to press and hold to work. It was a gift my father had given me many years ago that I've hardly ever used but started to take with me hiking a few times recently (he passed away almost four years ago). I really didn't think much of it at the time, and thought, "why not". I put the items in my waist pack and headed east along the lake.
I stood at the beach taking in the lake view, sizing it up in my mind and guesstimating how long it would take me to walk around the circumference. I was comparing it to Locust Lake State Park which was just a 1/2hr loop hike at most. I had made an 'assumption' that the trail lead all the way around the lake. "It must!" I thought. So, I decided to give it a test. It looked like I could walk around it within an hour.
I decided to keep track of my time and kept measure where I was on the trail as time passed. I passed only a couple people in the beginning. I followed a marked yellow trail. The scenery was beautiful. As I kept going along, I felt a sense of urgency to continue. I noticed I was either about half way or almost halfway around the lake when I checked my time. The trail was leading further from the bank but I was still in the right direction so I continued. It looked like I could make it around and back before dark.
I eventually came to a 'T' intersection. I no-longer saw any trail markers. The trail lead 'right' to the lake so naturally I went in that direction. It ended at the bank of the lake. I could see the beach across from me. Looked like I was a little more than halfway around. I also noticed however that there wasn't a trail that leads along the bank. I began to worry. I turned around and decided to follow the trail in the opposite direction in hopes it would eventually loop back around.
After a ways, I realized it wasn't and I kept getting further and further away from the lake. I finally went online to look-up a trail map of the park. To my surprise, there was no loop trail along the bank. I began to panic. At this point, it was starting to get dark. I had only maybe 15min left of daylight before sundown. I was angry and frustrated for wasting time on this trail heading in the opposite direction. I had to make a quick decision. Heading back the same way I came would leave me in the dark and this trail (leading in the opposite direction would take MUCH longer and put me miles away from where I parked. So, out of desperation, I decided to trail blaze my way along the bank towards the lake. I knew from looking at the map, there was a trail on the other side that could lead me back to the parking lot. I walked back to the bank to see if there was some kind of makeshift trail that leads me along the bank. After walking up and down the trail looking for a clearing, I started plundering through.
As I continued in a panicky state, the woods became thicker and harder to get through. The bank was also at an incline so I had to change direction uphill away from the lake where it wasn't as steep and see if I could find a way to get through the thick rhododendron! At some points, I crawled on my hands and knees to get through, breaking small branches against my body as I went.
I finally got to a point where I could see the bank but, to find there was a river to cross to get to the other side of the lake. I was tired, exhausted from expending energy (mostly to do with the panic). I had to talk myself into stopping for a drink of water even though I was running out of time. I didn't want to stop, not even for a second. The bank was steep, it was getting dark and I had to be careful.
At some point, a branch grabbed my water bottle as I was crawling through another section of rhododendron and down into the stream it went. There was no-way chancing getting that back and falling in. The River was too wide to cross so I continued west following the bank, hoping to find a safe place to cross as the river narrowed. The downfall was, it was getting darker and harder to see and, I was getting further and further away from the lake.
At this point I was going by the light of the moon (more than half full) as best I could so I could be hands free. At a few places, I saw dark areas where I was stepping and they felt ok, "dark leaves" I thought. I thought I was being at least somewhat careful, as best I could under the circumstances. I was still "rushing" looking for a safe place to cross.
I finally gave up, I searched up and down the stream bank and couldn't find a safe place to cross so I decided to go for it and walk through it. I was wearing light sneakers so of course I got soaked. I then came to another stream I had to cross. I continued, looking again to find a safe place to cross. I pushed on, in my rush along the bank but it was hard to see and I was still on an incline. Then all of a sudden, I stepped into a small ditch with my right foot that looked like one of those dark patches of leaves. I heard a snap as my ankle gave out in the direction of the hill on the right side. I gave out a delayed yell but not from pain, from frustration! I don't know why I didn't think I broke it even though I heard a snap. I never broke a bone in my body ever so I was very new to this experience. I also wasn't in, what felt was enough pain to have broken or fractured a bone. Maybe that's what I needed to believe at the time in-order to get to where I needed to be. I gave myself a moment, picked myself up and kept walking. "Walking it off" sorta speak. I thought at most, maybe I tore a ligament, sprained it or something at worst case otherwise, I wouldn't be able to walk on it?
I eventually realized I'd have to walk through the other stream. I was now in a bigger hurry with my ankle injured. I rolled up my pants best I could and walked through. At this point, my ankle pain had gotten worse and harder to walk. Now I saw I had yet a "third" stream to cross. I somehow made it on a small island between two streams and the other side (I hoped) was the trail but it was too deep and hard to cross with my ankle being in the shape it was. I was crawling and would get absolutely soaked trying to cross.
The temperature had dropped into the mid to low 40's. I had no water and was starting to shiver from being still and wet. I didn't want to call for help. I was embarrassed but I knew I was screwed. I was sitting there, in the middle of this island. No-one knew where I was, in a lot of pain, off the trail and could no longer walk. So I dialed 911.
The dispatcher was trying to keep me calm. He asked me some questions to get information where I was. That's when I realized I had only 10% battery left on my phone, when he asked. I told him about my emergency whistle and was able to give him some idea where I was in relation to the lake. I knew what direction I was but had no idea how far I was from the lake. He said he had search and rescue out looking for me. I might hear quads or see lights. He told me when to blow on the whistle three times to see if they could hear me when he thought they might be in range. This went on for almost 45min. Just before that time, he had asked me to send a screenshot of my location on goggle maps and send to the mobile number of one of the rescuers. As I lay on the grassy island, the pain in my ankle grew to excruciating and I could see a big swollen bulge on the right side. The dispatcher tried to keep me calm and kept me on the phone until I was found. By the end, I had 1% battery left.
The first person to find me was a retired park ranger who knew the park very well. I was relieved but I wasn't out of the woods yet! Ha!He was very nice, gave me his jacket and waited with me until more rescuers came. He was of course baffled as to how I ended up where I was as he had to walk through the stream to get to me. I heard him yelling in the distance. I yelled back, waving my little light in his direction until he crossed and found me. About 20min later, another crew of about 5 men showed. They too had to walk through to get to me. As a team, they carried me across the stream and safely onto the trail on the other side. One of them even tried to build me a small fire to keep me warm until the next crew could get to me, as they had the stretcher to get me out. They didn't realize how far I was I guess or the severity of my injury. I was witnessing the conversations back and forth on the radios planning my rescue. I felt embarrassed. I kept thanking them as they did everything they could to keep me safe. The funny thing was, the one trying to build me a fire kept accidentally putting it out. He said, "I'm a fireman, I know how to put out fires, not how to start them!" So I ended up helping! Ha
The second crew arrived maybe about a 1/2 hr. later with the emergency stretcher. There were at least 15 men. The first person who found me guided the crew to my location. They got me on the stretcher safely, tied me in, wrapped me up and started hauling me up the trail. It was a narrow trail with fallen trees at some points where they had to carry me over. They carried me uphill to the nearest road where the ambulance could get to me. As they were carrying me, one of the volunteers mentioned there were at least two dozen men looking for me. It took about an hour for them to carry me out. It was 11pm by the time they got me in the ambulance.
I don't know where I'd be without the help of the rescuers and all who were involved. That was a LOT of work! They all teamed up to make sure I was safe and didn't leave until I was in that ambulance (who were also volunteers). I was taken to St. Luke's Hospital in Coaldale, PA where they took X-Rays and confirmed a fractured ankle in two places. I am So lucky and beyond grateful for their service and commitment. It really made me realize and gave me appreciation to how vitally important these Volunteers are to our Community!
They do soo much more than Firefighting. They go through skilled rescue training programs and put themselves at risk to save others lives. Just recently, I saw a post on the Ryan Twp. Emergency and Rescue Squad FB page that did a scuba dive on Earth Day picking up 15 pounds of trash from around and the bottom of the lake at Tuscarora state park.
I'm asking for your help please now. I'd like to raise money to help support them as they continue to enhance their rescue training and resources for the safety of our Community. I'd like to support them in any way I can as a Thank you in gratitude and appreciation. I understand times are tough for a lot of us right now but if everyone just donated a dollar or few and passed this around to enough people, I could easily reach my goal. Fundly takes a percentage of donations to use their service so I raised the goal a little higher than I expect. I thought I'd divide the funds among the two Communities that helped: 70% to Hometown Volunteer Fire Co. and 30% to Ryan Twp. Emergency & Rescue Squad in Barnesville, PA.
My hope is to reach this goal by the time I'm all healed up, able to drive and social distancing and gathering restrictions are lifted enough I can thank them in person and hand them a check.
My hope also, is that my story will help bring awareness to those that might learn from my example...*Never go hiking alone without telling at least one person, where you will be and check back with them or have them check on you at some point after your return or expected (latest) return. *Always know the trails, look at a map before exploring a new trail or even if you're familiar, you never know when trails might be closed off due to safety issues so always check first. *Make sure you bring plenty of water, your phone is fully charged, and you get reception. It's also wise to carry an emergency kit with first aid, emergency whistle, working fully charged flash light, compass, matches, flairs and an emergency blanket. I also carry a camping/wilderness knife when I go on long hikes.
Part of my important lesson in this is, "Do Not Panic"!! I know it's hard to do but this is critical! When you're in a state of panic or fear, you inhibit your ability to make conscious smart decisions. * Stop, pause, take a deep breath, relax so you can be in a better place to make a decision. I know how to read a topography map and use a compass etc. but because I was stressed, I wasn't thinking clearly, wasn’t being cautious and going on unfamiliar trails by myself, not looking at a map beforehand. This was not a good combination. Things could have been much worse. I could have fallen and been unconscious. I could have had no reception or battery life left. So many things could have gone wrong.
I would never deter anyone from wanting to hike alone. I've done it many times. It's therapeutic for me, but if you're going to do it, please be safe and smart about it and not make the same mistakes I did. I hope you were able to take at least something away from this. Thank you for your time in reading this and any contribution you make. Blessings
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