It is the day after Fathers Day and I have to share the story of my father and his recent act of heroism. It is written below by my mother, novelist Liz Adair.
I’ve included pictures from past adventures in the Southern Utah desert to illustrate.
“I had always read with interest articles in the newspaper about little old ladies who had to be rescued from the desert. Little did I know that I was to be one of them.
My husband, Derrill, and I had taken our Rzr on what was to be a short little reconnoitering trip in the area our extended family is planning to camp on Memorial Day. We were familiar with the area, having been there many times before, and I followed the usual protocol of letting my daughter know we were going out and where we would be riding.
My son-in-law’s adage is, “You know you’re having a good time when you have to break out the winch.” When we got stuck in a dune which had blown across the road, we started having a real good time. Derrill is Mr. Risk Management. He tries to carry something that minimizes risk for any eventuality, and so we began the extraction process. There was a tree a little over 100 feet away that we could anchor to, but the extra length of synthetic cable we were carrying broke, and when it was obvious that we were high centered, we realized we couldn’t dig ourselves out. We were left with the option of walking back to the truck.
Our Rzr was stuck in a swale and getting to the top of the first hill was brutal. After that it was just hard going. It was hot, there were lots of ups and downs, and we were walking in sand. At one time, we came to a fork in the road and rather than take Robert Frost’s example, we took the road obviously traveled—the last tracks were ours—and that made all the difference.
After about four hours, I hit the wall and could go no farther. I lay down in the middle of a great sloping expanse of slick rock and gave up.
I wasn’t unconscious as I lay there. I was definitely having thoughts, and they amounted to this: 1. I wish I had expressed more often to each of my children how much I loved them. 2. I hoped they remembered where the file for my memoir was on my computer, and 3. I had left dishes in the sink, unfolded laundry on my bed, my office looked like a hoarder’s lair, and now the church ladies would come in to help and see it all.
I was in the midst of letting all those regrets go when Derrill returned from reconnoitering at the top of the hill. I told him I could just slip away, and it would be okay. He said that wasn’t going to happen and proposed that he continue on and walk out to the truck. He left most of the water for our dog Penny and me and took off. Like my regrets, I let him go without a thought.
Later, after sundown when I surfaced, I began to worry. Derrill is eighty-one, a diabetic with heart disease and multiple only-partially-successful joint replacements. He has had recent cancer surgery and small stroke recovery. In addition, when he gets dehydrated, he experiences terrible, crippling cramps. Is this a recipe for success? However, I knew my husband, and if anyone, given those handicaps, could make it out, he could.
Unbeknownst to me, by the time I was able to actively start worrying, Derrill was already in the pickup, driving like a madman to Kanab because he was afraid he’d return to find a corpse. Two sheriff’s deputies met him, and they called in search and rescue. They called in a helicopter, and the deputies—with Derrill in their Rzr—were going to try to find me on land while the helicopter searched from the air. Even though it was dark, they tracked Derrill’s trail, agreeing it was easier with size 14 boots.
While all this was happening, I had gathered enough strength to sit up, and I enjoyed the night sky. It was soooooo still. There wasn’t a sound. I heard a bat—just one—that flew by squeaking, and a moth fluttered by, but other than that the only other sound was the occasional jet flying high overhead, dragging the muted roar of its engine behind it.
I felt very aware of my aloneness, and I was grateful for Penny, who never left my side. It was chilly, but I had my son’s cast-off rugby warmup jacket, and that helped. I was prepared to spend the night and possibly the next day on that slick rock, but probably not longer. Either Derrill would come for me, or my daughter would reach out to search and rescue when she hadn’t heard from us.
At about half past eleven, I heard the thwick-thwick-thwick of a helicopter low in the western sky.
I thought it was a medivac flight and wondered what family crisis it represented. When the helicopter dipped and flew in front of me, I realized I was the crisis!
I turned on my cellphone flashlight and waved it, and the helicopter circled low. I hugged Penny and whispered, “Dad’s a hero!” I knew he had made it out, and I was so grateful.
The helicopter landed and a nurse and paramedic came and asked me how I was. I told them I’d need help standing, so they hoisted up my dead weight, assisted me to the helicopter, and boosted me in.
They radioed the deputies, still tracking, that they had found me, and I was okay. The deputies hurried back to the highway that runs by the sand dunes to close off traffic, so the helicopter could land.
Derrill was there when I got out, and what a sweet reunion it was. We were hugging, and Penny was jumping four feet off the ground.
The deputies brought us back to Kanab and helped me to the door. They gently suggested we learn to use and carry with us the ELB that our daughter gave us for Christmas. We hung our heads and promised.
The Sheriff Department personnel, the helicopter pilot, the EMT and flight nurse that took me off the slick rock, and all the search and rescue people who manned the command center, stopped traffic, and assisted have my undying gratitude.
And, I’ve got lots of fodder for a future Spider Latham novel.”
Tribute to my Dad~
I don’t have words to express the thoughts and emotions that swirl around when I think of what my dad did to save my mother. For years I have seen how he struggles to walk because of joint and nerve pain, yet he hiked for over eight hours in desert sand and heat with no food and little water, to save the love of his life. This happened in April and he still gets choked up when he talks about leaving her there, fearing it was the last he would see her alive.
I’ve always known my parents love each other. But my father proved a love so deep that it pushes past physical and psychological barriers. He did what no-one thought he could do. . . Well, almost no-one. My mother knew he could do it.
Their love-story continues.
I want to express my gratitude to the Kane County sheriff department and the Kane County Search and Rescue who responded so quickly and efficiently to find my mother. I get a lump in my throat thinking about what they do to save people in life-threatening situations. This family reunion picture was able to happen because of them.
Events at Willowbrook~
My plan was to have this newsletter be just about my dad, but I’ve been getting so many phone calls asking if I am hosting tea events that I had to include what is going on here at Willowbrook in this edition. Our next English Tea is in October, but here is what we have going on this summer:
Northern State Hospital Guided Bicycle Tour (Info)
I’ve got some groovy news for you that I will send out next week. You will love the story of the run-away tea tent! I’ve got to fill you in on Chamomile Camp and custom-made tea towels. I will also be announcing the winners of last month’s giveaway of Terry’s Apothecary tea sampler, and taking entries for the next giveaway of three copies of “Trouble at Red Pueblo” from my mom’s Spider Latham mystery series. So watch your inbox!