The Crazy Mud Caper
I’m seventy-three years old and should know better!
It was late in the season, late September. Kate and Lon were visiting for some R&R and theater. Saturday afternoon nothing was scheduled and the weather was warm and sunny. My wife, Michele, lent Kate a hat, but stayed home, herself. Lucy, our dog tagged along. I normally forgo taking the boat to the lake on weekends because I don’t like sharing the lake with so many other boats. But my friend of 36 years and her husband deserved an exception. We were surprised to see how few boats were at the lake. Heck, we were surprised at how small the lake had gotten. Most of the boat ramps were stranded way above the water line. The one near the overflow still had its dock in the water. (I confess being a little proud about backing the boat down the long ramp. ) We took a leisurely trip around the lake, the small lake, first the southeast leg then the southwest leg. We dropped anchor in about 9 feet of water at the end of the lake.
I had no sooner set the anchor than a gust of wind blew my wife, Michele’s, hat off Kate’s head. Now if I were a sensible man, a wiser man, hell, just not an idiot, I would have restarted the motor, disconnected the anchor line and driven after the hat. The anchor line had a buoy on it so there was no need to pull up the anchor. Oh, yes, and the anchor line floats so getting back would not have been a problem. But, no, Mr. Macho had to show off. I stripped off my hat, watch, shirt and shorts, down to my swim suit. I dove off the back of the boat to swim after the hat. As my head broke the water coming up from my dive I thought “Did I take off my glasses?” I felt my face and there were no glasses there. I swam for the hat and returned to the boat. I found my shirt, shorts, watch and hat, but no glasses.
A little background: Before I retired I had gotten a new set of glasses while I still had Vision Insurance. I had my glasses for two or three years, so I was eligible for a new pair. But, the new glasses didn’t fit right. I had them adjusted many times but they kept slipping down my nose or causing pain behind my ears. So the glasses in the lake were at least seven years old. Not a big loss, right? They were to me!
The water may only have been nine feet deep but this was Emigrant Lake, not Crater lake. Crater lake is 1900 feet deep and is so clear you can see a white disk lowered into the lake when it is 180 feet down. In Emigrant Lake you can’t see your feet unless you’re a midget. There was no need to even try to find my trusty old glasses.
Back in August I talked to a park person who was moving the dock down the boat ramp. He told me that the lake was going down at the rate of 18 inches a day. If that rate continued, where we had anchored the boat would be out of the water in 6 days. I made a mental note to go out to the lake in a week or two.
There was no measurable precipitation in Rogue Valley during the month of September. Everything is dry except what is irrigated. And the irrigation water comes from Emigrant Lake. I had good reason to believe that the lake would have gone down by over nine feet.
Two weeks later, Lucy, our Shepard mix 12 year old dog, and I went out to the lake and parked way below the high water line. I went in my sandals and shorts with the idea that I wouldn’t mind a little mud between my toes. I took a walking stick. (Well, it wasn’t a walking stick. It was a 1 inch dowel with a rubber foot on one end that I used as a walking stick.) Much to my surprise, between where we parked and the lake, there were two small creeks that were flowing into the lake. One we could jump over, the other, not so much. As I waded through it, mud and gravel oozed up around my sandals and feet and between my sandals and feet! There was no way to use the water to rinse my feet without stepping back into the gravel and mud. So we walked (limped) on.
Since my chemo for lymphoma several years ago I have had “Peripheral Neuropathy (PN).” When the doctor warned me of this possible side effect I passed it off as nothing. I’d rather have numb fingers and toes than to die of cancer. Who wouldn’t? What I didn’t know was that PN does not cause numbness but hypersensitivity. Walking on gravel is like walking on nails. And I was a hundred yards from the car and the lake. So I gritted my teeth and resolved to go to the lake and try to find my glasses. (Ooops! That is a mistake. My son, DJ, used to say “There are two kinds of people, those who do and those who try.”) We got fairly close but I was not about to step into any mud that would rise above my sandals. And the mud was sticky. Several times it grabbed the rubber tip of my walking stick and pulled it off. There was a high place that was close to where I dropped my specs but we had to wade through more mud than I was willing to so we stopped. I thought I could come back later when the lake would be drier and I’d be better equipped. On the way back to the car re-crossing the creek replenished the gravel I had shed from my sandals.
That night I soaked my feet in Epsom Salts.
Four days later I put some screws into the walking stick (dowel) to keep the tip from drowning in the mud. I put on a pair of boots that come almost to my knees and ventured back to the lake. I had thought of making a sort of snow-shoe set of attachments for my boots or to take some boards to help ford the mud but did not. (Big mistake, Hey, I’m getting really proficient at making mistakes, aren’t I?)
This time we drove a little further and parked in a lot above the water line and hiked to the lake. As we were descending the bank I noticed some strange plants that were glistening with water. The ground under them was wet! I thought I’d take a picture on our way back. We made it to the part of the lake where I had dropped my specs.
Back when we were anchored and I couldn’t find my glasses in the boat I made a note of getting some sitings so that if I could come back I’d know where we had been. I looked north and south and drew a mental line between Pilot Rock and the rowing sculls. I looked more or less east and west and drew a mental line between a house on the west and a house on the east.
I didn’t expect the precision of a surveyor. I expected that I was within a hundred yards. I also expected that the glasses would rise above the surrounding mud by at least a little bit. Sticks did, beer cans and soda bottles did. I hoped the glasses would, too. Although the lake bottom where we were was pretty flat there were places that were high and dry and others that were quite muddy. I wanted to get to one of the higher places and plotted a path to get there. Then I sank ankle-deep. It was not easy getting my feet out of the muck. If I could make it about five yards I’d be on drier ground. The next step went deeper into the mud and was harder to pull out. The next step wouldn’t budge. . . I was stuck!
Well, I tried. I tried this and I tried that. I tried using the “walking stick” to dig a hole around my boots. I tried wiggling them from side to side. I tried wiggling them front to back. The harder I pulled on one foot the deeper the other foot sank into the muck. I didn’t look at my watch when this ordeal started but I tried for quite a while. Lucy, meanwhile, was having a great time. She was running around, splashing in the little streams that feed the lake, splashing in the mud next to the little streams. After a while I guess she got tired and sat down on a dry spot about 15 yards away, right about where I wanted to get, right about where I think my glasses are! And I didn’t move!
I called Michele, my wife, thinking to ask her to bring me some pieces of plywood, not sure if that was a good idea or another stupid mistake. She suggested I call 911. I tried to get out a little more and gave in and called the nice lady at 911. She wanted to know if I was in a boat. I explained to her where I was and that I could be seen from highway 66, if anyone cared to look. She asked me if I was all right, if I was having trouble breathing or anything like that. “No, I’m fine. Just stuck and embarrassed and stuck.” She asked me how long I had been there. I didn’t know but figured it must have been close to a half hour. It was about 4:15 in the afternoon. I’d left home about 3:15. She told me to stay on the line while she tried to get me some help. A little while later she came back on the line and said that someone would be out to help.
Sometimes I ‘m not very bright but at least I had not left home without my cell phone and it was charged. I got a phone call from the Sheriff. He asked where I was and if I was in a boat. I told him was on land ( well, in land). I was 30 yards or so from the water in the lake. A boat wouldn’t help but a hovercraft might. He said they had one but they might not be able to get it out to me. He told me to hold tight and someone would help. I waited.
Lucy waited. At one point I spoke to her and she started to come bounding toward me. But when she started to sink up to her elbows I told her to back off. I didn’t want us both needing rescue.
The District 5 Fire Station is not far. It’s closer than the other end of the lake. So I watched the Highway for a big red truck. I thought “there is no easy way to get me out of here” Someone asked if it would help for someone to throw me a rope. That didn’t sound like a very good idea. If I ever decide I want to be dragged through the mud I’ll run for public office. I would not want to be dragged through the mud at the bottom of Emigrant Lake! But a helicopter, that might work. And I know a nice guy who owns helicopters. Well, I kind of know him. I haven’t seem him for 18 years. But his shop is not far from the lake. Maybe he’d like to try a rope rescue. As I was looking through my phone to see if I still had his number I heard the squawk of a portable radio. Two guys from District 5 were heading toward me with a stretcher of sorts. It looked like a blue plastic plank about five feet long and a foot and a half across.
Now, I had been standing in the same place for 45 minutes to an hour. It was not comfortable. I did not have my feet next to each other as one would if he knew he was going to be standing for a long time. No, I had one foot in front of the other. One of the firemen picked up a tire that had been laying in the mud. I directed them as best I could to how to reach me without getting in the same predicament. They got to within a few feet of me without sinking like I had. They put the tire behind me and the board on top of it and instructed me to sit on it. They tried to pull my left boot out of the mud. “Can you get your foot out of the boot?” one asked. I could and I did. I must have looked pretty funny half-reclining on the blue board with one stocking covered foot in the air and the other in a boot about a foot deep in mud. Without a foot inflating the boot it was extracted and put back on my foot. Somehow, with three of us pulling the other boot and foot they popped out. The guys helped me to my feet and we started to walk out. I tripped. The mud did not want me to leave. A lot of it came with me. On my pants, on my boots, on my walking stick, on my dog.
We walked back to our respective vehicles, noticing some of those weird wet plants along the way. I didn’t take the picture. They were kind enough to spray off my boots with the water they carried in their fire truck so I didn’t dirty my truck.
I got home a little after 5. And a little later the sheriff called and asked where I was. He was out at the end of the lake in a hover craft. He hadn’t been informed that District 5 had gotten me. I was apologetic. He was nice and not upset. My feet and back hurt. A couple of Naproxin and some Arnica and a few hours and the only pain left was the embarrassment.
On the map below, the “X” marks the spot where I stood and near where my glasses are unless a stray goose has borrowed them. The red blotch is about where I parked my truck on our first expedition. The green box below the other marks is where the fire truck and my truck were parked during my rescue. The District 5 Fire station is located under the “66” in the circle next to the lake.
Post Script, literally. The morning after I wrote this story, as I was thinking how serious and stupid my situation had been, I remembered that I had not considered the possibility that I might get stuck in the mud – – – until I was stuck in the mud.