This weekend was horribly terrifying. It's amazing how your iphone becomes a record of what happened and when. Bruce, the girls, two sets of friends and their kids went on a hike near Horsetail Falls Loop Hike. I'm always nervous about hikes. Bruce knows to start all hike phone calls with the phrase "Everything is great." because I've never really resolved my anxiety about their hiking. At 5:07 the phone rang. Before I had a chance to say anything I heard Bruce say "I have to tell you that Alex is missing."
The pit you fall into is deep. Things go dark and you can't think through the panic. You know you have to make decisions but you're so flooded with adrenaline that you can't quite move. It takes you three times to correctly dial a phone. I know that I 'split' during traumatic situations. I stuff the terrified part of me in a box and try to look at the situation from the outside. I seem calm but I can't stop shaking. By 6pm I had the girls taken care of and I was on my way to the trailhead.
It's hard for me to look back at the next 24 hours. It's all emotion. Panic and terror that Alex is scared and in pain. Anger at myself for letting him go on this hike, so much anger.
Alex was lost in the woods 5 years ago. He spent two long cold nights in the woods when he got too far ahead of Bruce and took a wrong turn. The morning after the second night he walked himself out. He came into the parking lot unnoticed, found the car where his dad was sleeping and said he wanted to go to McDonalds. I was sure we had used up all our personal luck for a lifetime.
We spent the next 5 years making all the accommodations we could think of. Tracking devices, whistles, backpacks packed with gear for day trips. We focused and Alex learned. The horrible truth is that we got complacent. When the tracking device got stolen we didn't buy another, Bruce started carrying a pack for both of them instead of Alex carrying his own. Alex's skill set grew and we gave him little bits of freedom like walking the last 100 yards alone to the car. We gave him too much independence.
I sat in the dark car last Saturday night full of shame and self loathing. I was an idiot. This was all my fault. My son might die and all the responsibility falls on me.
Search and Rescue staff are some of the most amazing humans. They show up at any time, ready and usually excited to search. They are givers. They want to help. I didn't feel worthy of them. They were sensitive and compassionate when all I thought I deserved was disgust with my actions.
The next morning at 8:30 Alex found some cabins with campers and approached them. 911 was called and two hours later Alex walked out of the woods again.
I'm still processing all of this. My mind is still trying to get a foothold. I've got choices to make and work to do. But first I just need to spend a lot of time looking at Alex. I know he's fine but I need to just sit with him and make sure. And read, Joseph J Koester "Lost Person Behavior" has been moved to the top of my reading list.