On Thursday I had the most frightening experience of my life I think, followed closely by the time Mikie almost drowned, which incredibly happened at this exact same place.
My disclaimer: this will be a little bit long as I tell the whole story to help myself process the events. I apologize in advance for my wordiness. Read on only if you have a few minutes or if you are close enough to my family to care to know the details of a near death experience.
We had planned to hike down to the river at Bucks Bar to kickstart a getting-in-shape regime. We have a lofty family goal for next summer that is going to involve us being in tip-top physical condition, and that especially goes for Pops. Our dad has always loved the outdoors, hiking, and backpacking but in more recent years has lost some of his stamina. So we are all hoping to help him get some of that back and focusing on balance and endurance.
Originally it was going to be all of us hiking that afternoon: Joey, Emily with Scout, Darin and I with the two girls, and Dad. But us girls had a busy morning playing at a friends house (that included Emily and Scout) and Darin bumped his head on the kitchen cupboard and had a throbbing headache. So it ended up the only ones game for the Bucks Bar trek were Joey, Dad, Polly and I.
The hike down went wonderfully. It's a steep hike down through the forest but fairly easy on the way down. It was refreshing to be outdoors; Polly was in the Beco pack on my chest, looking all around and making happy talkative sounds, grabbing at oak leaves and seeing the tiny pink buds on the manzanita bushes. We talked about education and literacy and pedagogy the whole way down and the time flew. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon.
polly and I heading down the trail.
When we reached the clearing where the granite rocks slope down to the river we noted how low the river looked, how bright the green moss across the canyon. We wanted to go down and feel the water; I had my camera and wanted some pictures. We started down the rocks.
I was on a dirt patch that sloped down gradually. I am very careful with my footing when one of the babies is on me especially, so I was taking my time with my first steps when I saw my Dad start to step on the face of the rock to head down. It's not necessarily that unsafe an area, but there is lots of loose granite and I saw him slip. My heart caught of course, but I thought he would right himself. He was stumbling downward though, and the gravity was too powerful. That wide granite slab slopes steeply and my dad was not catching his footing. I screamed as I saw him fall forward.
Those moments are etched in my memory forever. My dad is 6'1"and 225 pounds. He is a big guy. Once he went forward he was falling head over heels. He was falling fast down a steep rocky incline and it looked like a log got tossed down a cliff. I could hardly compute that that was my father's body. I screamed and screamed "DAD!!! DAD!!!! DAD!!!" the most piercing scream I've ever made. I thought I was witnessing my father's death and it filled my body with an unfathomable horror. Polly started crying as I screamed. I couldn't believe he wasn't stopping. He continued to fall, head over heels, and rolling like a log, about 30 feet down.
I was riveted in one spot utterly helpless. To my right Joey was hollering too and sprinted down the rocks past me; I saw his waterbottle go flying through the air and land with a crack on the rocks down in the river. I saw Joey arrive at my dad just as he was coming to a stop in a little ravine close to the water. I saw Joey bring his head up and I made my way carefully down to them. Polly had stopped crying but I was intensely aware of her on me and the need to not stumble despite my insane shaking.
My dad was conscious. There was blood running down his face from a gash above his eye. Joey was talking to him about what was injured. It didn't appear that anything was broken, he could move all his limbs. But Joey and I immediately wanted to get him out of there, get him checked out, get him safe. He was in shock: he suddenly started yawning. He kept saying, "let's just rest a moment." I said, of course, dad, you can rest, but we need to make sure you are okay. He was turning white as a sheet and his words were just the slightest bit slurred for a minute. He said his vision was somewhat affected and it was kind of dark in front of his left eye. Joey decided to call 911. Thank god he had verizon and a tiny bit of service. (my dad's phone had none) He explained to the dispatch exactly what had happened. They wanted to send out a medic unit immediately. Our location is only about a mile from the road but it's rough terrain and steep. Joey said he would get up to the road while Polly and I waited with dad. They told us not to move him at all and not to give him anything else to eat or drink. (We'd already given him some water.)
Dad just after the fall.
I kept him talking the whole time. We talked about the fall. He could remember hearing Polly cry and my screaming, and I kind of hoped that helped keep him conscious. He felt really embarrassed and did not want to be a bother. He thought he'd be able to hike out as long as he took his time. I took the above photo of him while we waited for Joey to come back. Joey had wrapped his shirt around Pops' head to protect the wound there. There's a little blood on his shirt and the pocket is a bit ripped. Unbelievably, he looks pretty great for what had just happened to him.
Looking up at the area he just fell down. If you look closely you can see his tan hat that fell off about 10-15 feet into his fall, up by the shrubbery on the right.
Looking down from where we were waiting.
The guys returned with Joey surprisingly quickly. It felt like about 15 minutes, and they had to drive out from Placerville (easily a 15-20 minute drive in itself) and then hike down. I heard a whoop and I called "Down here!" A couple EMTS and Joey came running down the rocks, followed by a few more emergency personnel and a silent kid named Drake who was on a ride along.
It was immensely reassuring having them there. They introduced themselves to me and then set to work talking to Dad, assessing the situation and figuring out what to do. At first they were going to try to support him and walk him out of there. After taking all his vitals and getting all ready, they carefully got him up and made the few first steps back up the rocks. But then the leader, Matt, saw Dad favoring his ankle. He wanted to rethink the situation, saying he couldn't put Dad or any of his guys at risk of a fall or any more injury. He decided upon an H20, which is a CHP helicopter, and a long-line rescue. In other words, my dad would be put on a stretcher, (a board, they called it) and then put in a "bag" then attached to a long cable to a hovering helicopter, and then lifted out of the canyon as they winched him up into the helicopter where a medic would be waiting. As they described this to me, I was pretty nervous. It had already been so harrowing and I was shook to the core. But Dad was comfortable with anything they needed to do and trusted them. He was just so embarrassed to be putting anyone to all this trouble. Matt, the medic team captain, was so nice, he said, "Are you kidding me? This is what I live for!" He seemed genuinely excited about the helicopter rescue. I asked Dad if he was scared, and he said no. Matt told me: think of it as a chance of a lifetime!
Preparing Dad for his helicopter rescue:
Polly had fallen asleep nursing while I waited with Dad, and was still in the Beco. The guys told me it would be very windy when the helicopter got close and any dead branches or loose shrubbery could potentially be dangerous. So I had to hike by myself a ways up to get out of the way. It was hard to leave Dad but Joey was right there with him the whole time. The helicopter flew in and out and around for a bit, reconfiguring it's flight path I guess and getting ready for descent into the canyon. Polly woke up when I was waiting up by the treeline and said "Bapa. Yoyo," (Papa. Jojo.) So I took her down one last time to say goodbye and to hold Pop's hands myself and tell him how much I loved him. I was still a little unsure about the helicopter thing and it was just all scaring me. I know Polly felt it too and knew we were going through something out of the ordinary. I still think she felt really bonded with Joey and Dad.
Joey waits with Dad as they strap him in:
The H20 coming in to get Dad:
After a little while hiking by myself I started to get really scared. In fact, I was practically having a full blown panic attack. In the woods now it was very quiet and getting dark. I was all alone, in January (hungry winter month) in the woods with my baby and I was exhausted. I kept hearing movement in the thick low scrub brush all around me and I thought surely it was a mountain lion. I remembered hearing about mountain lion attacks on women on bike trails. This was much more remote. I had my baby on my chest, and feared that a predator would hear her happy voice and know it was a small defenseless creature. I had the worst gory visions in my head. It is so steep that I was completely winded. I had to stop sometimes, drink water, pant, and then force myself upward with all the oomph I could possibly muster. I was practically running up that hill, breathing harder than I have ever breathed. I started talking loudly about the day's events to Polly in hopes of scaring off bears. I was terrified. All I could think was I had to get up to the road.
Once the helicopter came into the canyon it got so loud that I felt a little better. And I was making good progress. As I came into a clearing on a large rock I saw two sheriff's officers waiting. I am sure I looked like a beet red wild animal panting out of those woods with my babe saying, "I huh-huh-huh am so glad huh-huh-huh to see you two. I though for sure I was a goner. That's my dad up there in that helicopter..." We talked for a few minutes and they were just waiting with the radio to make sure things went smoothly. I knew one of them from my waitressing days and he is super nice. I've never loved law enforcement or men in uniforms so much as I did that day.
It wasn't far from there up to the road. We had come in my dad's car (luckily he had the wherewithal on the stretcher to remember to give me the keys!) and it never felt so good to get inside that car, get snacks and books for my baby, drink a ton of water, and wait in the rapidly darkening evening for my brother. Joey and the EMTs soon came running, yes running again, up that trail. I never thought about what good shape EMTs need to be in! And that made the third time Joey had run the steep trail that day.
the helicopter heading to Pioneer Park with dad, where he would be transferred to an ambulance.
We drove straight to the hospital in Placerville. We called Emily and let her know what was going on. She said she'd had a bad feeling about this hike, worrying that something would go wrong, or that we'd have an argument, or someone would be in a really bad mood. Later Addie told me Mercury is in retrograde. I don't know what was going on, but I do feel like some dark strange wind of fate swept in, and also that we narrowly avoided it. That the most frightening experience gave way to the luckiest. That every prayer was answered.
My dad is fine.
At the hospital I called Addie and word quickly spread to the whole family. Our very worried siblings were texting Joey and I repeatedly. We were reassuring as possible but I also wanted to describe the fall in detail so they'd know what really happened. We all agreed that our dad is actually a very strong person and incredibly hearty and thick-skinned. Joey and I both realized that he fell in the most graceful way possible for his body, allowing the whole of his body to absorb most of the impacts, and not causing particularly bad injuries in any one spot. An x-ray on his ankle showed nothing broken. He got a few stitches above his brow but showed no sign of head trauma. He got released from the hospital at 8:30 pm and came to my house for a feast of chinese food. I don't think he'd eaten since breakfast!
my mom and her husband stopped by the Emergency room to visit.
It is still unbelievable to me that his body wasn't broken to bits. When I replay the scene, the sight of that fall in my mind, it seems absolutely impossible that not only did he not snap his neck or his back, he didn't break any bones, and even his Iphone in his pocket didn't break. His glasses were intact but slightly bent. His hat fell off but we retrieved it. I truly believe my dad cheated death. He just turned seventy years old on the 13th of this month, and I still maintain that he'll make it to 100. Longevity is in his blood and I want him to live to meet his great grandchildren. (Well he's already met some! But I mean, from my own daughters.) It was definitely not his time to go, or in Game of Thrones, as Arya's sword fighting instructor says to death: "not today."
playing the next day in our backyard with his granddaughters Scout and Polly
Pops spent the night at our house that first night and he slept just fine. He has only taken a couple ibuprofens for soreness, and he says the spot where he got a tetanus shot is what hurts most! He is going about his church duties today and tomorrow like normal.
I met him at the church to attend an old family friend's funeral this morning. Toward the end of the service we sang a hymn. The last verse goes like this; "God be with you till we meet again. Keep love's banner floating o'er you. Smite death's threatening wave before you. God be with you till we meet again." I shed tears of gratitude that I get to have my dad in my life, today, right now, every day. Something I take for granted all the time. He is one of my best friends and he is my most helpful champion and I love him with every bit of my heart. We all do. I like to think that love, and the love he returns to all he knows in spades, is what helped protect him.