Day 25: Cops, Cowboys and Saved By the Mighty TnT

Although I dream in spates about spoonfuls of food, for some reason I don’t eat breakfast. I break camp so, so slowly, like I’m stuck in mud. Everything hurts. I still have a headache. I still feel parched. It’s weird because I drank way more water yesterday than I usually do, and even drank throughout the night, yet it feels like I can’t get enough.

It’s 8 am by the time I’m ready to go. I have a bit of a hard time figuring out where the trail is among these sandy Jeep roads. When I turn to backtrack to where I slept, I see him: Zig, wandering along the bottom of the dam. “There you are!” he shouts, stumbling toward me. My heart sinks. Is he looking for me? Did he find me last night? Did he see me naked and sweating in my tent? And what craziness does he bring me today? I don’t feel equipped to deal.

Zig tells me that he called for help all night, yelling all the way down the canyon. He tells me he needs help. I point to the paved road that leads up to the dam, where people are bound to be. But Zig has confused, garbled reasons why this doesn’t work for him. He sounds like he’s about to cry. Even though his story doesn’t make sense, he strikes me as truly hungry, thirsty, and in the midst of an ordeal he can’t handle. I offer to call someone for him, and he says, “I’m at the point where I just want you to call 911. I don’t know where I am; I need help.” Well, okay. I call 911, and when the operator comes on, I hand the phone to Zig. He just ends up confusing her, so I take over, sounding much more in control of the situation than I am. “You’re an angel. You’re my angel,” Zig keeps muttering while I try to hear what the operator is saying.

When I hang up, I tell Zig that the police are calling us back in about 30 minutes and that they’re sending a helicopter to pinpoint where we are. Then I give him my water, my breakfast and the rest of my Fritos. I tell him to lay down and stay in one place. He continues to tell me that God sent me to him. “God is my buddy. He’s looked out for me my whole life,” says Zig, between mouthfuls of cheese danish. “I’m going to pray for you every night. You’ve got a friend for life,” He cackles. “Someones’s gonna be getting a Christmas Card from me every year!” I assume he means me.

While we wait, I try to untangle his story, but can’t, and I don’t feel well enough to focus and put it all together. The CHP officer calls me, and while she tries to figure out where we are, she goes over the information the 911 operator gave her. When Zig hears her refer to him as 71 years old, he jumps up and shouts. ” Seventy-one? Seventy-one? Try sixty-one!” he begins to pace. He starts to walk away. I’m trying to get him to stay in one place like the police asked, and also wave down the helicopter while talking to the officer.

“He was befuddled, but now he’s getting agitated,” I tell her. The helicopter finally sees us, and then the officer says she needs to hang up again to call headquarters. I hit End Call and stride angrily toward Zig. “What are you doing? Why are you walking away? They told us to stay over there,” I can’t hide my frustration. “If you’re sick, you need to be laying down. People are trying to help you. You need to do what they say.”

“I’m not getting in any helicopter,” he snaps and starts moving around again. “I don’t need a MedEvac. I just need a ride to my car.” My jaw drops. Did this dude have me call 911 so he could catch a ride to his car?? Great. Now I’m complicit in wasting the money and time of our Emergency Services. My head is pounding. I want to walk away, but I have no choice but to see it through.

The cops send an ambulance down the paved dam road and Zig heads toward them, already spouting some story. An officer comes and questions me, gets my name, my address, says thanks. We part, and as I resume my search for the trail, the cop calls out to me. “Eh, this guy, he didn’t mention anything else, did he? Like a missing person? Maybe he was with someone else?” It sends shivers down my spine. I don’t know. His tone is a little too innocent and casual. “No. I’m sorry. He didn’t say anything.”

It’s 11 am now, and in my own crazy befuddlement, I walk right over the water next to my campsite and forget to fill up. The next water source is 8 miles away. The trail climbs moderately, and all I want to do is drink water and sleep. My stride is pitiful. It’s starting to rain, yet I’m sweating in the most absurd way. It’s terrible. After 5 miles, I know I can’t go farther. I have to get off the trail. I have to try to hitchhike, something I swore I would avoid (mostly because I already have enough scary hitch-hiking stories from my youth). Anyway, I know that Hwy 173 is to my right, maybe I can hitch to Silverwood Lake.

I look at my maps and find a dirt road that leads to the highway. I take my hair down, smooth out my clothes, place my pack at my feet and hold my trekking poles out in plain sight. With the addition of the rain, I must look pretty sad. A car comes. I stick my thumb out and force a gigantic smile on my face. The car flies past, two older women inside carefully avoiding my eye. It feels like grand, universal rejection and I tear up. The next two cars fly past me. Really? I mean, I’m no young cutie, but still! A nice lady, obviously in need, standing in the rain, crying? How can people pass that? Why is the whole world so cold and cruel? I see a pick-up truck. I see two cowboy hats. What’s that that Carrot Quinn always says? That……dudes in a truck are the patron saints of hikers!

And they stop instantly. Fine men, born and raised in this area, and proud of it. Their dog sits in the back seat with me, nuzzles my hand and lays her head in my lap. They take me to the Silverwood Lake entrance and shake my hand firmly before they leave. They won’t take my money. A sincere thank you to my two real and true California Cowboys.

But then. I’m still really sick. Maybe heat exhaustion? Dehydration? I dunno. It’s pouring on me. I feel the tears welling up again. I have no choice but to find a campsite and wait out whatever is wrong with me.

Then my phone rings. I hear Tumbler’s voice, far and crackling. “Amy Bee! Texas is having shoulder problems. We pulled out at the Mojave Dam and are getting a ride to the Best Western. Where are you, girl?”

“I’m……I’m at Silverwood Lake. I’m…sick, I think, ” I say in disbelief.

“Hold on squirt; we’re coming to get you.”