This is the day it all began.
This very day 13 years ago, Mike asked me to be his girlfriend. One year after that, he said I love you for the first time.
Last year, this was the day he got lost, and I am every so thankful it was also the day he was found. One year later, I'm glad there are 4 things this day marks and not only 3.
Saturday, November 1st, 2014, Mike, Jeff, Jordan and Brett had planned a hunting excursion. They loaded up the vehicles early and planned to hunt all day.
It's not unusual for him to be in and out of cell phone range, or not have any service in that area. I was expecting him back at 6:00 PM. If I hadn't heard from him all day, I wouldn't have thought twice about it.
When my call waiting beeped at 12:50 PM, I was surprised to see Mike's name pop up so I quickly hung up with my sister to take his call.
The connection was in an out but I heard, "I don't know where I am.... Me and Brett went out... I don't know where he is... I can't find the group. I think I'm east of them but I'm not sure... I've been walking for 3 hours...I'm at the top of a mountain... It's snowing.... I can't see anything....This is the first time all day I've had service...."
I can count the number of times he's even been lost quite easily. Zero. I had no idea what to say.
I immediately group messaged our family to pray that he would find them and my mom immediately replied, "Tell him to call 911!!!!!!!!!!! They'll find him."
Much wiser than my no reply. I relayed that message and tried not to panic over the urgency I could hear in his voice, which other than this moment, was always calm and in control.
After he hung up I waited a few minutes. Then my mind started racing... what if he lost service again and didn't get through? I called 911 myself to make sure he had gotten through. When I first called, they said they had nothing open in that area so I started trying to answer their questions.
The first question was where is he? Much harder than it sounds. Ummmm.... north of the Shell station on 22x... Somewhere on crown land... I think? At that point I realized how little I actually knew about the trip. So much for being a details person.
Thankfully, while I was talking to the officer, he informed me that another officer was on the phone with Mike and they were able to get his GPS coordinates and they were sending a team out near the Burnt Timber area.
I was glad they weren't having to rely on my directions.
At that point I thought it was a just a matter of time. Two dots moving together on a screen that just needed minutes, maybe hours at most to find each other.
Mike's parents came over to keep me company and help out with the little man. The big one was still at my moms from a sleepover the previous night.
I was able to talk to Mike once more. I could sense the urgency in his voice. When I said, "I love you" and his response was "I love you more" I thought, this better not be the last time I hear that.
When the RCMP called back a 2:43 PM and asked if I'd heard anything, I knew the task proved to be more complicated than I'd originally thought.
The chief of police called at 3:39 PM to tell me they could only search while it was light (approximately one more hour) and he wasn't that worried because my hubby was dressed for the weather and had food and water.
It had been snowing for 3 hours and didn't show any signs of letting up. All I could think about was Mike spending the night in a snow drift, exhausted from a day of surviving in the wilderness. But you know, it was such a comfort to know the police weren't that worried about him.
At this point, I put out the prayer plea via Facebook and mass text and was wonderfully overwhelmed at the number of people that were sending prayers up on his behalf, and always, love and thoughts my way. (If you can read through the rest of this marathon, you will see the Divine timing of all those prayers.)
I talked to one of our friends who has hunted that area and his report was rather discouraging. He said, that whole area looks the same. It's so easy to get turned around. Especially with it snowing, there would be no landmarks. It's all thick forest, marsh and brush... Great.
Many people offered to look for him but all I knew was the Burnt Timber area, which I now understand doesn't narrow it down too much. My brother-in-law was planning to catch a flight down that night, rent quads, and cover the area the next morning. He kept assuring me that he would be found. Another friend who's hunted that area got in his truck and was heading to Burnt Timber as well. He said he couldn't just sit at home.
My favorite text of the day was probably from a friend of Mike's:
Mike's friend to me: Is Mike okay?
Me: Actually no. He got lost hunting and the RCMP are looking for him please pray.
Mike's friend's reply: OMG! I texted him that the Blue Jays made a trade and when he didn't respond I knew something was wrong!!
I stared out the window a lot that afternoon not really sure of what to do besides pray. I tried not to get too ahead of the present and picture what my life would look like if the days events didn't end well.
I can't even describe how I felt when my phone rang just as it was getting dark at 4:35 PM and it was Mike saying, "I'M BACK! I'm coming home. Everyone's here. I'll tell you the whole story when I get there."
I just cried. I don't know if I have ever been so relieved in my life.
When he arrived home, I gave him the biggest hug of my life. He said he was surprised I wasn't more mad at him. This was the story:
The four of them had been hunting together that morning. Around 10:00 AM, Jordan shot a buck so Jeff offered to help him drag it back to the truck while Mike and Brett decided to finish the walk up the hill before heading back to the truck.
They were walking about 50 yards away from each other, maintaining their visuals of one another. All of a sudden Mike couldn't see Brett anymore and started yelling for him with no response. Thinking maybe he headed back to the truck, Mike went down the hill and then started in the direction he thought was towards the truck.
Meanwhile, Brett had taken a tumble down the hill and it was concluded that he had blacked out for at least 10 minutes giving them time to get out of earshot from one another. When he came to, he yelled for Mike and fired off 3 distress shots, both of which had no reply. He panicked and started running with no idea where he was or where he was going and miraculously ended up back at the truck. (Good thing, because he was wearing a hoodie and shoes. Surviving the elements would've proven tough!)
Mike headed in the direction that he thought was back to the truck but in reality was heading away. He walked starting around 10:00 AM continually thinking that any second now he would see them again. And this was around the time it started snowing. He kept seeing other groups of hunters on quads, but as soon as he would get close enough to where they would almost be able to hear him, they would drive off.
He walked through muskeg, up and down many hills, through forests, thick bush, all of which looked the same. He climbed to the top of a hill where he had cell reception for the first time and that it when he called me. Shortly after that call, Grandma (who was watching Sophie that day) sent a picture (before knowing he was lost) which gave him a much needed boost of energy to keep going.
He got in touch with the RCMP who said they had GPS coordinates on him and to head down the hill and go west. (This location they thought he was a few kilometers from but in actuality was 17 kilometers away from.)
He trekked for another 2-3 hours. At this point his legs were cramping and he was soaked up to his knees. He backtracked again, not wanting to walk through the muskeg. He decided to stick to the quad trail and spotted another group of hunters. (This was within 15 minutes of when all friends on Facebook and via text started praying.)
At this point he mustered up everything he had left and ran through the muskeg, screaming at the top of his lungs. They saw him and thankfully, rescued him. He explained where his truck was parked and discovered that he was 22km away from the truck and no where near where the RCMP had thought. And, bonus, the place he was trekking around is called Grizzly Hill (for a reason). Strangely (more like Divinely) enough, they had been looking for a lost hunter from their group who they had yet to find.
When they arrived back near his truck, they fired off 3 distress shots which Mike's group heard and found their lost hunter only steps away from where they were. Coincidence? I think not.
When he arrived safely home, Jeff said, "All I could think about was how am I going to tell Steph that I lost Mike?" All I could say was I'm so glad you didn't need to. He also said he kind of wished that Mike hadn't gotten cell phone range. Then no one would've worried and they would've just arrived home with a great story to tell.
While that would've made for a less stressful afternoon, I am convinced God wanted to use a praying army for him to be found.
A few things that day reminded me of:
- When someone is lost, the priority is finding them. Figuring out how it happened and ragging on them for the fact that they got lost are both useless in reaching the actually goal. Bringing them home. In case you were wondering, this applies to physical and spiritual life. :)
- We are always at the mercy of a loving God. There are certain times in life this is more apparent than others. For the hour when worry was high that afternoon, I realized how little control I had over the situation. He was lost on a hill named after bears and in a snowstorm. Prayer was my only option. In reality, prayer should always be my first option but it's often a last resort. I'm convinced that prayer is what gave the day the ending it had. I was reminded of how not in control we are of our lives though we do our best to think we are. Every day is a gift, and not to be taken for granted.
- Be thankful. In the days that followed, I was very aware of what did and didn't matter. It mattered that he was home and we were still a family. It mattered that I let him know how important he is to me. It mattered that I was continually thanking God for what I still had. It's easy to lose sight of the importance of the relationships we have been given in the midst everyday life.
Guess what Mike got for Christmas? 2-way radios, hand held GPS and a compass. And he's never leaving home for hunting again without them or telling me exactly where he is going.