Wednesday, May 25, 2011

That Time We Lost Taylor

So I noticed some comments on the post regarding Wilbur... mostly what you'll notice is that "Clay" wants me to talk about him. Well, "Clay," the reason I didn't mention you in the story about Wilbur, was primarily, that it was a story about Wilbur. And, seeing as how you don't seem to have caught on yet, I had NO FREAKIN CLUE what you were doing while I was busy trying to prevent your brother's head from exploding!

However... for the rest of you who love listening to my tales of Why I Am Nobody's Mother-- I happen to have one about "Clay" too. And btw, "Clay" is better known as "Taylor" in my tales:

Back when Taylor was 10 (2008)-- BF-Matt and I went on a 4 wheel drive trail scouting adventure with Taylor, his brother Wilbur, and Wilbur's dad Phil. The plan was to scout out a trail in the Dinkey Creek area above Shaver Lake for an upcoming 4WD outing that we had planned.

No big deal. The BF's rig is competently equipped and both the Xterra and the BF (and me, for that matter) are experienced at a good many of the off-road trails in the area. Phil's Jeep Wrangler is also perfectly suitable for the day we had planned. But it was early June and the trail we were checking on is one that is closed during the winter, we didn't know if it was open yet or what condition it was in. Which is the whole reason we decided to go check it out before we invited a bunch of out-of-towners to try it.

It seemed simple enough. Not just simple enough...but downright mundane enough. We do this sort of thing regularly and are familiar with the area. So Phil and the boys met up with us and we made the hour and a half drive to the trailhead, where we found the gate still locked, and the trail still closed.

So we all took a moment to reconsider our plans.

Despite Taylor's insistence that we should simply continue driving forward on the road we were on and "circling around" to the closed trail from "the other side" -- he didn't quite understand at that point that that wasn't where the road went-- the rest of us came to the conclusion that we didn't drive an hour and half up the mountain to just turn around and go home. No. We came to wheel, we would at least do the trail we are most familiar with: Bald Mountain.

We are actually all very familiar with the Bald Mountain fire lookout trail. We've done it a million times, and I have a million pictures from a million trips. It's a fine trail that ends up on top of Bald Mountain, presumably, at an abandoned fire look out high above Shaver Lake. It's pretty cool.

So we hopped in our vehicles and prepared to head off for the trail. Only to discover the battery in BF-Matt's Xterra had died a sudden and unexpected death.

Now. The BF is a mechanic by both nature and trade. He admittedly relates better to machinery than people. And he is an anal-retentive mechanic. And, of course, I say that with love and respect. But seriously, the SNL skit about the "anal retentive carpenter?" Just switch up carpenter for mechanic.

So it should come as no surprise that when the BF's battery has us stopped cold on an isolated dirt road in the back country of the Sierra Nevada mountains, holding up the group-- the BF wigged out.

The BF will insist that he does not "wig out."  In fact, he claims that he does not understand the meaning of the term "frustrated." But anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in his presence will testify that I know what I speak of when I say he "wigged out."

I do not mean to imply that he burst into tears, kicked anything, ran around flailing as though he were on fire, or even yelled or cursed. He simply goes into what I've come to term as "mission mode." He gets very serious, very focused, and very short of patience for anyone who isn't on the same mission as he is, ie, "anal-retentive."

This is contrary to my laid-back, peacenik, Zen-ness. And it really harshes my mellow. And it frustrates me.

I know the meaning of the word "frustrated."

So we spent some extra time out there on the dirt road by the locked gate at the closed trailhead. I took the boys for a walk while the BF started tearing vehicles apart.

Naturally, the mechanic whose rig is always in impeccable shape, properly equipped with spare tire, tool kit, tow-strap, high-lift jack, shovel, saw, etc etc... does not carry jumper cables. So it was necessary to discombobulate one battery and connect it via the battery cables to.... well, I'm not sure. I am not a mechanic. I went for a walk to keep the boys from getting snapped at and left Phil to deal with the BF.

The BF has a very accurate description of Phil's personality: He says he's known Jell-O that was more uptight than Phil. If you were to point out to Phil that his hair was on fire, he would casually shrug and say, "oh yeah, it's nothing. It'll stop." He is not like the BF... this can frustrate the BF. Or, it would I suppose, if the BF got frustrated.

The battery got jumped, the Xterra got started, we drove into Shaver Lake and the BF opted to buy a new, gel-cell battery which, I believe, is still working up to expectations to this day. You'll have to ask the BF, he's the one who has expectations of his battery beyond "does the car start? yes? check!"

And once again, we were headed to the Bald Mtn trailhead... where we chose a different route up the mountain than usual. Which did not make riding shot-gun with the BF any more enjoyable as this route seemed determined to be just exactly put together wrong for the Xterra.

Now, I know there are Jeepers out there who are perpetuating the Off-road Elitist stereotype who would snicker at the thought that an Xterra should be truly offroad capable at all-- but the X is pretty darn capable. So it was a surprise that we were having so much trouble. And a source of great frustrat-- oh that's right, he doesn't get frustrated. Well, at any rate, the BF was not very happy about being the one holding up our progress. And that made him not much fun to hang out with.

Taylor and I were not amused. Every time the X got held up by a poorly spaced rock or tree stump that required careful spotting, Taylor and I were out of the vehicles and on foot, agreeing that this was not the best trip we'd ever been on.

Eventually, the trail mellowed out and the BF was just starting to breathe normally again, feeling better that we'd be making up for the hold up and standing on the mountain top looking down on Shaver Lake soon enough, when Taylor runs up alongside the Xterra and proudly announces that he is running as fast as we are driving.

The BF is tired and not entirely amused by this. He tells Taylor is his best grown-up voice that Taylor needs to get back in the Jeep with Phil because we are on the road again and won't be going so slow anymore.

We rather assumed that's what happened. Just a little farther up the trail, the BF stops the Xterra in the middle of the trail. I wonder why. I notice he is inspecting the rear view mirror with rapt intent. So I look behind us-- did he see a bear? No.

It wasn't what he was looking at, it was what he was looking for: Phil's Jeep is nowhere to be seen.

We waited a while. Still no Jeep. The BF put it in reverse and backed slowly down the trail we had just worked so hard to come up. Still no Jeep.

The BF turned it around and backtracked till we came to Phil's Jeep pulled to the side of the trail. Phil was out on foot looking rather irritated and impatient. Wilbur was lounging unaffected in his car seat in the back of the Jeep. (He was only 4 at that point-- and much more laid back back then.)

Matt gets Phil's attention. He wants to know what the *#@! Phil is doing? Phil says, "I can't find Taylor."

Matt responds with "What the *#@! do you mean, you can't find Taylor?!"

And so it unfolds that at nearly 5 o'clock in the evening at something like 8 thousand feet above sea level, we have lost a 10 year old boy. A 10-year-old boy who also happens to not actually be related by blood nor marriage to anyone except the 4 year old that is hanging out in the back of the Jeep, completely at ease with the notion that he might suddenly become an only child.

The adults spread out, we hollar, we call, we curse, we yell. There is no Taylor.

Phil is utterly convinced that Taylor is being a brat. Apparently, since Taylor kept jumping out of the Jeep (it's a Jeep, it's not like it has a roof or doors, you know,) and Phil was getting tired of it, Phil decided to play a little prank on Taylor.

[NOTE: Yes, in the numerous tellings of this story over the last few years, I understand that many people think Phil is a terrible monster who should never be left alone with children for doing this. On the other hand, I grew up with 4 uncles-- men tease kids.]

So Phil drove up ahead on the trail, leaving Taylor walking along the trail. He stopped just over a hill and out of sight. He waited. He figured Taylor would have a sudden epiphany that the grown ups were serious about getting underway and that the kid would run up the trail after the Jeep crying and begging for forgiveness.

This is not what happened. So when Phil relented and returned to the spot where he'd left Taylor only to find Taylor missing, Phil naturally assumed that Taylor felt that turn-about was fair play and was hiding behind a rock or a tree nearby, pouting and waiting for Phil to feel bad.

Turns out, this is not what happened either.

It took about 20 minutes of calling, searching, driving ahead on the trail, driving back down the trail, and generally worrying about Taylor's whereabouts, wellbeing, and the wrath of his mother once she found out before BF-Matt went back into "mission mode." See? This is where it's beneficial: He suddenly shifted gears, assumed authority, asserted that it would be dark soon and that we needed to find Taylor before it got dark. He told Phil that since he had the more capable vehicle for getting back the way we'd come up, that he needed to get down the hill and into the small town of Shaver Lake and alert authorities pronto.

No one believes us, but Phil was worried. Visibly shaken. Downright concerned. Matt's words echoed through the deserted landscape and clearly hit Phil like a cast iron skillet upside the head. It was real now. We'd lost a kid.

I stood beside the Jeep with Wilbur-- still unconcerned about his brother-- and watched the menfolk behave very  much the way we (women) think menfolk behave in these situations: slapstick. They made a plan for Phil getting to Shaver Lake while we stayed put at the last location where Taylor had been seen. That went well enough. But when they attempted to come up with a description of the boy I thought all was surely lost. They couldn't agree on how tall the kid was. They didn't know what he was wearing-- Phil was pretty sure he'd been wearing a red windbreaker. I picked it up from the backseat of the Jeep and asked him if he meant "this one?"

I calmly let them know that Taylor was wearing a gray t-shirt, brown shorts, and sport sandals. Yes, my friends, the boy was in the wilderness dressed like a rock.  I started sifting through the photos I'd taken throughout the day so Phil could simply show the rangers-- at which point Phil realized he also had a camera and had taken photos that day. He and Wilbur were off.

And Matt and I stayed put in the waning afternoon sun.

That is a very difficult thing to do in the face of certain doom. Just stay put and wait. No cell phone service. Very little range on the 2-way radios... well. Sort of anyway. After what seemed like 3 hours but was probably more like 2 minutes Matt started sifting through channels on the 2-way radios looking for anyone within range to let them know we were on the lookout for a 10 year old stray.

We ended up talking to some girls who reported they were in Squaw Valley. No. Not that Squaw Valley. Squaw Valley near Dunlap on road 180 on the way to Kings Canyon Nat'l Park. Later, when the BF mapped it out, I believe he said it was something like 20 miles as the crow flies. But they listened to our story and went to get an adult, who listened to our story and called the sheriff. We were only somewhat relieved when he let us know that by the time he'd gotten ahold of the sheriff, they'd already been alerted.

Good. Phil had made it to the ranger station. Now all we had to do was wait.

The wind was kicking up and I was wishing I had a jacket. I suspected Taylor was wishing he had a jacket too. I was hoping Taylor was wishing he had a jacket. I was hoping Taylor was wasn't wishing that we'd find his twisted, mangle body where it lay slowly bleeding out at the bottom of a ravine; or wishing that someone would hear him screaming for help as he slowly succumbed to rattlesnake venom, or that he was at least alive and conscious and wishing for anything! And I was wondering if we would get the chance to tell his mother before she heard it on the news.

At some point, it occurred to me to try to think like Taylor. Who is an unusual child in many respects and increasingly reminds me of myself at that age-- I believe the favorite word of my peers was "weird." So I mentioned to Matt that one of us should stay put exactly where we were as planned while the other one should take the Xterra to the top of the trail to the fire lookout.

My theory was that Taylor probably figured that Phil had lost his patience and had left him behind to meet up with us under his own power. Taylor knew we were headed to the lookout tower, and he knew the trail. He probably just took off walking.

Matt poo-poo'd my theory. He figured that if that had been the case, we would have passed Taylor on one of our search attempts when we drove up the trail.

Finally, we received a crackly hail on the radio from Phil. We were able to make out that Taylor had been found and the rangers were en route to meet up with Phil and hand the boy over. We learned Phil's whereabouts and started off to meet him.

We opted to continue up the trail to the top of the mountain and then take the more familiar trail back to the main road rather than risk being stuck on the trail that had given us such grief hours before. We made it to the fire lookout without incident. Sat for a moment as the sun sank below the distant horizon. Took a moment to toast our day's adventure with a short short of Jack Daniels. Took deep breaths, brought our pulse rates back down, and made our way to our rendezvous point.

Where, immediately upon stepping out of our vehicle, Taylor announced that he was never lost-- we were. He "stuck to the plan."

Sure enough. He figured we expected him to meet us at the fire lookout. So he sucked it up and took off uphill, cross-country.

He waited for us at the fire lookout for awhile until the sun started setting and the usual traffic at the top of the trail (it's a popular trail-- just not the way we decided to go up) started to thin. At which point, he walked up to a nice couple and explained to them that he might be lost. He told them his story about thinking he was supposed to meet up with us there, but now that we never came to pick him up, he figured maybe we were looking for him.

The couple offered to give him a ride to the ranger station and met the up-trail-bound rangers on their way down the trail. The rangers stopped them to tell them they had a missing child report and the people told the rangers that was a real coincidence seeing as how they'd found a child.

Wilbur was excited because he got to "drive" the firetruck-- and somewhere there's a photo of Wilbur standing on the driver's seat at the wheel of a Forest Service fire engine that I'd really like a copy of.

It was a long trip home and Matt and I decided to stop at Applebee's for dinner. It was 10 o'clock on a Saturday night. Phil offered to buy us dinner, he said he owed it to us-- we agreed.

We were tired, filthy, and dressed for the mountains as we sat in a booth listening to Taylor retell his adventure in detail while Wilbur colored in his childrens' menu pictures as Visalia's 20-something culture hovered at the bar drinking colorful beverages, dressed in their finest pre-clubbing attire...

...and just as Taylor triumphantly finished his tale and once again admonished us for not "sticking to the plan," Wilbur's head appeared from under the table (where he'd been foraging for dropped crayons)-- with his missing front tooth, his "I cut my own hair" hacked-at bangs, and the back-of-the-hand swipe of dirt across his face and asked BF-Matt and I with all the innocent sincerity of a 4 year-old cuter than any you've ever seen on tv, "How come you guys don't have any kids?"

1 comment:

  1. this was quite possibly the most fun ive had out in the woods ever.