We headed back to our little stretch of river and I decided it was time to do what I came here to do; work out my new fly rod. My son and I had been tying flies just for this trip. I hadn’t tied flies since I was 14 and now, at 14, my son was tying flies with the intent of learning to fly fish. My favorite uncle is an avid fly angler and instructor in Washington. He surprised us both with a long package. He gave me a 9’ Sage 5wt graphite rod with a nice Abel reel and he gave my son a custom-made split bamboo 7.5’ 7wt rod and G-loomis reel along with a Renzetti Traveler fly vice. Man what a present! I put on a 3X leader and tippet, tied on a black Wooly Bugger with claret (deep red wine color) palmering and layed it right over the hot spot. After several casts, I managed only a few followers, so I changed over to a golden brown WB with long black palmering, laid it out there over the sweet spot and BAM! Nailed a 12” bow. Laid it out again and BAM! Another foot long fattie. I moved down to a 4X leader and tied on a Dave’s Hopper and laid it into another sweet spot and BAM! Another fat one. A few more casts and a couple more foot longs. I changed over to a Parachute black ant and laid it out. Nothing. I hadn’t seen a surface boil the whole time, but had to fish what I tied. The line passed through several different current speeds, so it was difficult to get a decent presentation. The drifts were short before drag set in. I had brought my tennis shoes just so I could wade in the stream and do some high sticking through these areas, but since they were now my only shoes, I didn’t feel like getting them soaked. I changed over to a Pheasant Tail Nymph and a strike indicator. The indicator helped me better mend the line, but casts were short and mending was difficult. We all know that catching is only half the fun. It was a blast getting acquainted with my new rod and reel.
It was time to chill a bit, so I went back to camp and leaned the rod up against a tree near our tent. As I walked back toward the wash that separated our camp from the river, I met head on with a huge male black bear. This guy was golden brown with long blond dreadlocks rolling down his cape. I thought, “this is a big ol’ male. He was meandering up the same path as the first bear I had encountered. Our eyes met at about 20’ from each other. He looked at me and stopped. I yelled YO BEAR, but he didn’t move. I yelled again, YO BEAR as he walked slowly around our camp. I yelled again, and then watched him slowly walk behind a tree. His behind disappeared behind the tree, but he never appeared on the other side. How could something that size disappear completely behind a tree? I stepped right and leaned my head to see around. That bear was hiding behind the tree peering at me from the other side. His face was almost black and his nose long. He was staring straight at me. I yelled even louder, YO BEAR, YO BEAR! He didn’t move. I noticed I was surprisingly calm and thought to myself, “I wonder what I’ll do if he calls my bluff”? I looked to me left and saw my cooking pots tied up in a neat package next to me. I thought, “that oughta make a lot of noise”, so I took a step left toward the pots and notice the bear starting to move further around our camp. I thought “that’s a good move. I’m not stepping forward giving him the idea that I’m closing distance. I’m not stepping backward giving him the idea that I’m retreating my position, but I do look bigger when I step to the side. I yelled again, YO BEAR, YOHHHH BEEAAAR!! He sauntered along behind the brush. He blended in well so I could barely see him and could barely see any movement at all. I thought, “I don’t trust that bear”. I stepped to the right again. He stepped his front paws up onto a rock and lifted his front half high, looking straight at me. I yelled again and again. He lifted his nose and sniffed the air a couple of times, so I yelled again. The bear turned and continued around our camp. I yelled again and he broke out in a slow gallop. I thought, “I don’t trust that bear. Bears circle around. I don’t trust that bear.” I yell again, then I watch. I stood there for several minutes, then went over to my son at the river to check on him. I kept vigil over our campsite from the river for about 15 minutes before I was comfortable that this guy was finally convinced that the valley was plenty big for both of us, but that spot was mine. He could have the rest.
Well, the fish aren’t biting and we’ve been there for some time. My son suggested that we should have brought some playing cards or something. His electronic game has run down, so he can’t play it any more. I suggested we use the patch of sand and make a checkerboard. We could use two different colored stone for pieces. We finally figured out the matrix for a checkerboard and I gathered a bunch of pine needles to outline the finger drawn lines while my son gathers up stones. We use separate round stones of different types for kings. The first game went well, but the pine needles kept blowing away, so we had to continuously fix them. After the game ended, he suggested we give up on the board because the needles were a pain to fix so often. I suggested that we do the opposite and put some effort into making it better. I told him that we’re still here for a while. Anything that betters our situation, no matter how small of an improvement, is an improvement worth doing as long as the energy used is expendable. I gathered up some heftier sticks and lay them in to make a sturdier board that would last for several games and we’re off.
By this time, we’re done with dinners and replace them with larger, late lunches and a very small snack before nightfall. As we lay down this evening, my poison oak is now drying out and really starting to itch. I’m about 90% covered with rash, but the sunblock is keeping it down to something I can manage. Lying on my bed, I start to think that maybe I was over reacting to the situation. Maybe we can walk out. I mentally slap myself. I was not under duress when I made the decision. It was a good decision and the only safe way to extract my son from this valley. Just because the intensity of the situation has worn off doesn’t take away from the fact that it is the right approach. What if I get him up there and he completely freezes? What if I can’t move him up or down? Sh!t happens in spite of one’s best intel and most meticulous plans. Bringing him back into the terror he experienced would fall 100% on my shoulders. I can’t do that to him. I can’t wait until another half day passes. Then, no matter what, we would be overdue. We need to stay put and wait. This second-guessing would become moot.
Finally, Saturday arrives. The mood changes dramatically as we discuss what will happen to our loved ones today. I find it difficult to focus on anything but the fear and angst my wife is about to endure. My son wants to know what I think the odds will be of seeing a helicopter today. I told him the chances are almost nill, but by Sunday, it jumps to almost certain. They will check the trailhead for our truck, then start the search and rescue operation. They will most certainly check our planned destination. There’s no point in fishing anymore, but I try. The fish are in total lip lock or moved to a new section down stream where the food doesn’t bite back. We try to play some checkers, but I can’t keep my head in the game. We do a lot of sitting and waiting today. I suggest to my son that we construct a large teepee with the limbs lying around and tie our red bandanas to the top, then make a big arrow from other limbs and line it with contrasting stones pointing to our camp. Anything to be better seen from the air. He’s in a somber mood and doesn’t want to do anything, so I get started. Soon, he pitches in. I remind him not to put much hope into seeing anything today. It’s a long day. As evening approaches, we head into the tent and my son begins to cry. I rub his leg and let him off the emotions any way he needs to. Once exhausted from crying, he quietly lays down and says “I’m sorry dad. I guess I put too much hope into today”. I said “there’s nothing to be sorry about son. You’ve endured more that anyone your age should have to. I’m very proud of you. You’ve held up very well and I don’t blame you for wanting to be out of here. We’ve been here a long time.”
Sunday morning comes. I’ve long ran out of coffee and tea, so I boil me up some hot water to warm myself. We spend all morning sitting at the river. We tried to play some checkers, but neither of us are much into the game, so we leave it half played. As noon approaches, my son starts to lose it. He’s sure his mom did not call to report us overdue. He starts going into some wild scenarios that mom and sister are thrilled that we are not coming home and maybe decided to stay another day. I informed my son that I’ve known my wife for 23 years. She is freaking the F--- out right now and she has called to report us missing. These things take time. After going on and on, I tell him that we are going to lay in the tent for awhile to calm down. He gets in the tent and begins to cry and rock back and forth. Again, I let him do what he needs to do to off the emotional upheaval. It’s very difficult to see him falling apart, but I do understand. Again, he apologizes for his tantrum and again, I remind him he has nothing to apologize for and that I’m very proud of him. We settled in to rest.
All day yesterday and today, I kept hearing the whine of an engine. It drove me nuts thinking I was hearing a helicopter, but the sound never really changed. I was sure it was just my hopes playing tricks on me. As we lay in our tent, I hear something different. I tell my son to move over and I go to the tent door. “That is a helicopter, son. We rush out of the tent and I can see a helicopter round the upper valley toward us. I rush us both to the river so we may be better seen. I brought my red flannel shirt and start waving like a mad man. I notice that I’m directly under his line of sight, so I move to the side so he can see me. The helicopter swings slightly toward the trees on the far side of the river. He’s so close, I could hit him with a rock if I tried. He passes us and begins a turn just past our position, turns around and slowly heads away. I shout to my son that he buzzed us. We’ve been seen! I sit down and start to break down repeating, “we’re getting out of here”. I have my son start breaking down the teepee and arrow while I run to our camp and start breaking it down and packing up. I noticed another helicopter high up on the canyon wall toward the north of the switchbacks. As he turns and disappears, I think that maybe he just got word that we were located. I bring the packs down to the river so we can get out of the trees and remain visible.
About 45 minutes later, another helicopter passes over. It’s higher than the first, but I jump up and wave my flannel around as he passes by and turns around to disappear up the valley. I sit back down and we wait. Another hour passes and we see another helicopter. This one is much higher, so I don’t bother to stand. Another hour or so passes and we see nothing. I start to wonder if we were actually seen. There’s no way the first bird didn’t see us. He was so close and I could see the pilot and right through the open back of the copter. We wait some more. I told my son that they were probably searching the area trying to find the best approach for a landing, if possible, or assessing the equipment they would need to affect the rescue. We keep hearing the drone of what sounds like an engine. It’s been haunting us for a couple of days now and was becoming unnerving. It’s late in the day and my son is starting to freak out again. He’s saying that maybe they don’t care. Maybe they’re just going to recon the area over and over so they can say they did their job. They don’t care. We’re never going home. We’re going to die here. I tell him that I understand his frustration, but I have to tell him that I’ll give them another hour or so of light. If nothing happens by that time, we’re going to be here another night. My son absolutely loses it! “I can’t stay here another night. Nobody cares. They’re just going to recon and go home saying they did their job”. I tell them that these people are caring professionals. They would not do that. He starts pointing his frustration at me. “You brought me here to die. I hate you”. I’ve now had enough. I stand up and tell him I understand he’s very upset, but he needs to stop this sh!t right now or I’m gonna knock him the F--- out! He says, “ I’m not afraid of you. I’ll kill you!” I raised my fists and said, “you want a piece of me?” We stare at each other, then he runs to where the tent was pitched and lays on his back and cries. I gave him a few minutes, then went to him and sat down. “I’m sorry son. I don’t want to fight with you. We both wanted out of here today. We’ll have to hang tight for one more day”. I leave him alone and walk toward the river. I turn back and he’s not at the tent site. I run back to camp and he’s gone! I started screaming his name. “Where are you son”! He responds. I scream at him to come to me. I told him that we couldn’t get separated now. We need to stay together. The last thing we need now is to be lost from each other. He said he needed to get himself together and he was on the path we have walked before. I told him that in this state of mind it is easy to walk a known path, get lost in your own head, then suddenly look up and not recognize your surroundings. He apologizes and says, “let’s set up the tent dad”. Good idea son.
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Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead, let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?
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