These are my stories as a volunteer member of the Sheriff's Search & Rescue team in Coconino County, Arizona. I'll share what it's like to go from a beginner with a lot to learn to an experienced and, hopefully, valuable member of the team, as well as the missions, trainings, and other activities along the way.
About Coconino County
About Coconino County
Encompassing 18,661 square miles, Coconino County, Arizona, is the second largest county in the U.S. but one of the least populated. Our county includes Grand Canyon National Park, the Navajo, Havasupai, Hualapai and Hopi Indian Reservations, and the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the world. Elevations range from 2,000 feet above sea level along the Colorado River to 12,633 feet at the summit of Mt. Humphreys in Flagstaff.
September 27, 2009
Random Stuff--Some SAR, Some Sorta
Today was compass day, with the morning in the classroom and the afternoon in the field, where students plotted coordinates, obtained bearings and distances, and then navigated to a number of points using their compasses and by pacing and comparing the terrain to their topo maps.
I think most of the class is getting the hang of these navigation skills quite well. They've already been through the Personal Safety and Map classes. Next up is Basic GPS and then Tracking, followed by ATV training and, finally, a day-long field exercise: a mock search and rescue mission. Once all of that is complete, the new recruits will be added to the call-out list and will be able to respond to the real McCoys.
Anyhow, what else can I share?
Well, this past Wednesday morning, a friend of mine on the team called around 11:00 and asked, "Are you on your way?"
"Huh?" I said. "On my way to what?"
"The call-out," she replied. "For the lost hiker off 180."
I didn't get any call. No phone call, no email. Strange.
So I hung up, dialed the SAR line and said, "This is Deb Lauman. I did NOT get a call, and I did NOT get an email, but I happened to get a call from Liz about the mission, and I AM responding." Then I quickly changed from my PJ's (it had been a lazy morning) into my SAR stuff and was out the door and at the building in about 15 minutes. I pulled up at the same moment as Liz. Strange, I thought, no one else was there yet, and it had taken her at least half an hour to drive across town.
That's when Liz double-checked the text message and realized the date of the call had been September 19th. But her phone had JUST rung. Odd. So we were four days too late. (That mission, by the way, happened while we were at the SAR conference in Heber. Apparently, it wasn't a big deal. I heard the subject was lost along a Forest Service Road but easily found by my teammates who responded.) So I called the SAR line back and said something like, "Uh ... this is Deb Lauman again. Cancel that last message. There was a little goof with the text message." Well, at least it had gotten me out of my pajamas.
Oh--and I have no idea why I'm sharing this, but--about that Grand Canyon search earlier this month, I think I mentioned that I was a wee bit nervous along parts of the Tonto Trail where there was some significant exposure to a very long way down. Well, to be honest, instead of "wee bit nervous" make that (insert expletive) scared! I mean, the trail was about a foot wide for significant stretches with no way to put any distance between myself and the sheer drop. No vegetation or rocks as visual barriers at the very least, either. And the trail was that hard-pack stuff with loose gravel on top. You know, the kind of stuff where you'll be walking along and suddenly, without warning, your foot will slip out from under you, and the other one and then the rest of you will immediately follow. Yeah, that kind of stuff.
So I have to admit that I rather feebly called to my search-mate, who was ahead of me. He so kindly retraced his steps to where I was frozen and let me walk right behind him with one hand on his pack, as I stared at his feet and we took not much more than baby steps for what seemed like a really long way. Then he played memory games with me to try to take my mind off of ... well, death, basically. My wonderful partner said he promised he wouldn't tell and even said, "Hey, I'll tell you something embarrassing about me, so you'll know I won't tell anybody about this." Ah well, I still won't tell his tidbit ... partly because I can't remember it!
But the funny thing is, I was concentrating so hard on the memory game we were playing in order to keep going and get past that scary stuff, that I remember it weeks later. It was the "I'm going camping" game. See, the first person says, "I'm going camping, and I'm going to take a..." then names something beginning with the letter "A." Then the next person says, "I'm going camping, and I'm going to take..." and then repeats the "A" thing and adds a "B" thing. Then the first person says the "I'm going camping" part, repeats the "A" thing, the "B" thing and adds a "C" thing. And so on and so forth. Got that?
Well, I was so focused on that game, I still remember, "I'm going camping, and I'm going to take an alligator, a beach ball, a cat, a dog, an emu, a feather, Goofy, a helicopter, an igloo, a jellybean, a kaleidescope, a lounge chair, and a mudslide." Thankfully, that particular (expletive) scary section ended before we got to the "N" thing. But I'll probably remember that list a year from now, too.
About a half-hour later at the next scary stretch, we played a different game. But I'll spare you all of that information.
So why am I bothering to tell you this? Well, I guess, for one, I also wanted to share what a nice thing my search-mate said to me later that day--one of the nicest things anyone other than my husband has said to me in a long time. It went something like, "I'm really impressed with you, Deb. You're terrified about something and yet you do it anyway. That takes real guts." I mean, how cool. Here I was, a new tech team member, an experienced long-distance backpacker and active SAR volunteer with lots of mission hours under my belt now, and I was scared out of my noggin on parts of that trail. I felt ridiculous. And, yet, my teammate (also a Grand Canyon Ranger) turned it into a compliment. So, T.B., if you're reading this ... THANK YOU! I'll never forget that, either.
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