#39 Snowmobilers to the Rescue
Upper Michigan in 1974
Our family visited Ranch Rudolf for the first time in 1974. We were with our good friends the Connors, so we didn't put out much effort to socialize and interact with new people. We were too busy with our group of 12, running around in cut-offs and swimming suits, floating in kayaks and tubing in the nearby river.
Then... Winter at The Ranch
On our second visit to RR, we were a group of 3 families, gathering to ring in the new year. There were 11 (mostly teen) kids this time, so again we weren't on the look out to make new friends. But lucky for us, we ended up with a people encounter that could have saved a life or two.
The Day we Arrived
It was odd to see the lodge sitting peacefully under a snow covered roof when we arrived. Bare trees and icy air... and then an ugly sound I'd never heard! Snowmobiles! This was 1974 and snowmobiles had just recently begun to invade the winter world! I had never even seen one and now I was having to adjust to their motorboat sounds in a world, normally quiet and isolated because of the snow. We whined about it... for a moment.
Our Own Noise
We didn't complain long because we weren't really all about reading and meditation. The 11 kids were either in the midst of snowball fights outside or blasting "Kung Fu Fighting" on the juke box inside. When we'd had just enough cabin fever on the second day, we begged Bob, one of the activity organizers to rent us a few canoes. (reserved for summer) We wanted to enjoy the river we so loved. He finally agreed and loaded the trailer with 3 canoes. We headed up river and 9 of us were dropped off for a chilly, winter adventure!
Lots of Teasing and Playing Around
We treated our canoeing experience kind of like a ride at Disneyland! The water moved us along with no effort so we could ooh and ahh at the sights and gasp with great drama at a few bumps and low branches.
Just Having Fun!
My brother (who took the photo) must have gotten a little tired of all the silliness in the two "girl canoes". This was the last photo he took before the boys moved ahead and left us to our fun. We were constantly losing paddles and having giddy adventures to retrieve them. We clearly didn't follow the rules of "not standing" in a canoe. I enjoyed a new canoe activity, where I perched myself on the tip of my canoe and barked bossy instructions to the other canoeists.
Robbi (laughing) was the only one in her canoe who didn't seem to be concerned about the increasing speed of the water or the accumulation of fallen trees.
I was the last in my canoe to stop clowning, as well. In fact I was in the midst of telling my boat mates a giggly story about my near fall, when the canoe smashed into a fallen tree that sent my body flying. Suddenly I was swallowed to the ribs in the icy river. I had to catch my breath before I could let out one hysterical scream. The boat was wedged well enough against the trunk that I was able to climb back in...which did no good because at this point the roaring water was forcing the canoe over and in seconds the boat began to fill. Jenni, Colleen and I climbed into the water and held the other side, screaming and pushing...but the force of the water turned the canoe upside down, where it was hopelessly stuck. For a panicky moment, Colleen was pulled under the canoe as well, before we could free her. After 30 minutes of silliness and giggles, we had suddenly become a group of sober, if not terrified girls. Robbi's canoe promised to send help as they maneuvered past us. We 3 in our dripping clothes made it to shore where we began moving along the river towards the ranch.
The Wrong Side
Unfortunately, we chose the wrong side of the river, away from the road. Our side of the river became steeper as we became weaker. We held onto trees to keep from sliding into the icy water. Colleen, who'd had the most difficult time escaping the rapid water kept sitting down and telling us to come back for her. I didn't know the word hypothermia then, but now I'm sure she was suffering signs of that. My mittens had washed away and I remember my hands being so numb I couldn't tie my boot laces when they came undone. Colleen began wheezing, all 3 of us were shivering, and our wet clothes were turning to ice. It became more impossible to stay near the river, so we climbed our way to the top of the ridge.
And that's when we heard it... the sound we'd cringed at the day before! Three snowmobiles in the distance could be heard before seen. When they caught sight of us I can only imagine what they thought. It wasn't until I climbed onto the rear of the third snowmobile, clutching onto my snowmobiler-hero that I could almost manage a smile. It was the sight of Colleen in front of me, that made my frozen face budge. She was clinging onto her hero, with her frozen life jacket over her coat.
This is a picture of the lodge fire pit, where we 6 sat for the rest of the afternoon, toasting our hands and feet. The canoe with the boys... and camera had made it to safety. Robbi's group had not been able to continue on the river, but they had gotten off on the road side and hitched a ride with some hunters. The two "kids" who had chosen not to canoe that day, had their own adventure when they headed back with Bob to retrieve the 2 swamped canoes.
Thank You, Snowmobilers! You were 3 young guys just out having fun. You could have easily teased or been amused by our situation, but you obviously knew how serious our predicament was. You faced our rescue like professionals, loading us quickly, handing over your own thick gloves and speeding us 1.5 miles to safety at the ranch. I'm not really sure what would have happened if you hadn't come along.
I don't often get a chance to hear the sound of a snowmobile these days. But I have never complained again!
To celebrate my birthday in April 2012, I decided to reflect on the past with a different kind of list. I've met a lot of people in my 55 years, but I'm going to stop and remind myself about the strangers I've met. These are people I met by accident, not through friends or work. For some reason, these strangers dropped into my life. Even though we may have only spent a few minutes together, these people have never been forgotten.
Each week, I'll spotlight someone I met in the past, who in some small way, made me stop and think.
Remember 55 Strangers