I recently had an unplanned event that brought me in to contact with the unsung heroes of our local rural community. These unsung heroes included the volunteer members of Search and Rescue, county sheriff’s department, family, friends, co-workers and members of the community.
My husband and I were guests of a friend and her mother at a local remote cabin for a day of cross-country skiing. We planned a day of skiing and a night of watching a full moon from the porch of the cabin. Unfortunately things did not go as planned. Three of us left for an afternoon of skiing on an ungroomed trail just after lunch. We were familiar with the destination meadow that should have made for a pleasant day of skiing. Unfortunately we were not familiar with the rest of the trail and it turned out to be much more challenging than we had expected. I think in hindsight the pivotal moment was an extraordinarily strenuous climb for me. The strenuous exercise resulted in a flush of sweating that was more than my performance gear could handle. Shortly after that time I became chilled and began showing signs of hypothermia. The decision was made with the waning daylight, the more difficult terrain than we anticipated, and my need for warmth, to stop and hunker down for the night.
Enter the heroes.
My husband and his daypack with the essentials which would make the difference for us. He had his ever-present redundancy of three ways to start a fire. Number two provided us with our fire. He had some food and a method of providing water, melted snow water in a Sierra cup. He had packed a head lamp for each of us and brought the infamous “space blankets.” There was much more that could have, maybe should have been in that pack, but its contents provided the lifesaving essentials. He would also be the person who would take a GPS reading, and at daybreak the following morning he took off to report us in need of help with evacuation.
There is no hero like a mother on a mission. My friend’s mother snowshoed a quarter of a mile out of the cabin at daybreak and drove to the closest town 25 miles away. She searched for lights in the wee hours of the small town and found the local morning coffee group. She reported that three members of her group were missing to the local county sheriff who was part of the group. This immediately triggered the steps to get the local search & rescue mobilized.
Search & Rescue (SAR) in Beaverhead county is a group of volunteers who donate their time to help find and bring out folks who are missing 365 days a year. They complete specialized training and repeatedly do exercises to keep their skills sharp. These folks use their personal vehicles, ATVs, snowmobiles, boats, horses and more for the benefit of the public and their community. They leave their jobs and family to help people who often they do not know but who are in harm’s way. In our case the first two SAR members mobilized were two local men, who stopped their lives that Thursday morning , loaded up their snowmachines, and headed out to rescue us. Not knowing for sure what our situation would be at the moment they found us, they had back-up on the way to help as well in case we had deteriorated even more, including additional volunteers with their sleds. I can tell you the sight of these two men on snowmobiles, wearing red jackets with Beaverhead SARs patches as they came out of the forest was a moment of relief and graditude I will never forget. Their concern and knowledge of our condition being out in the winter overnight was overwhelming. They gave us water, candy and some dry gear. Though at that moment I just wanted to get out of there I knew they were right, it was important to take care of those things first. No gift of time was ever more appreciated.
The local law enforcement not only responded promptly, but stayed on board throughout the process. In a city, I am not sure but I suspect my friend’s mother would have been left to sit alone in some police station to wait for news. In this case the deputy took my friend’s mother to his home. The deputy’s wife would watch for us as she headed to work which took her by the trailhead where we expected to exit. She in fact would be the first person to see my husband when he reached the road. The deputy would take my friend’s mom to be with my husband while they waited for our return. The deputy would stay with the SAR crew and eventually shuttle us back to our families. It was the whole family of law enforcement who would be there for us, supporting our family in their time of need.
The Forest Service who provides support to the SAR when needed, were mobilized and ready if needed. Fortunately they were not needed. The staff provided support to my husband and friend’s mother while they waited for news about us. Their emotional support meant so much to them.
I am sure that there are others in this community who are my unsung heroes that I am not acknowledging. I apologize to any of them for my oversight or not knowing about their contribution that brought my friend and me back to the safety of our families. That is the thing with true heroes, those unsung heroes, they do these things because they need to be done. It is the right thing to do. Not because they seek fame, accolades or acknowledgement. I do not know really how to express my true gratitude. I am sharing story, in hopes that everyone who helped will know I am forever in your debt. Thanks seems such an small word, but I do wish to thank everyone for my safe return.