I’ve not yet written about the time when Dan, Destini and Billy spent the night in the woods when the kids were in 7th and 8th grade…but it involves state troopers, a heat-seeking helicopter, a missing canoe and one night of Hell for this mom. And I’m not going to tell it now because it turns out, those things that affect us the most are the most difficult to write about. But I’m telling you this, so that I can tell you today’s story with the knowledge that all things happen for a reason, and sometimes prepare us for what will happen later.
Billy took off on his snowmachine this afternoon just before four for a ‘quick ride’ over to a local sledding hill to meet some friends. Because he’s seventeen and teen boys like shortcuts, he decided to cut through the backwoods on a power line trail to avoid hitting pavement with his skis. He left our house with instructions to be back by 5:30.
I got a text from Billy at 5:45 saying, “I got stuck bad. I’m out now and headed home. Sorry.”
Five minutes later he texted again. “Stuck again.”
What proceeded for the next three hours was a series of confusing texts claiming he was “almost out” and then a while later, “almost out…I can see the hill I’m supposed to be on”.
Here’s what happened.
Billy left our house and hit the power line trail he knew led to Anderson Hill, a local hangout for sledding down the highway from our house. He found it was packed down and he would be able to traverse it through the 3-4 feet of snow on the ground and so he set off.
He came to the river, hit the throttle as one should do when crossing frozen water, and made it to the other side. Looking back, he realizes he shouldn’t have been crossing a river in 40F weather under any circumstances. Mistake number one.
What he didn’t know was that he was supposed to follow the river for a bit and then head off on another trail. So once he crossed, he just kept following some else’s tracks. He passed through a few swamps, followed miscellaneous tracks all the while thinking he was going in the right direction and at some point, he broke free of the trail into deep snow. Mistake number two.
He buried the machine. Still, he thought he was close. He then spent approximately the next hour and a half getting his machine about 80 feet as he repeatedly got stuck, dug himself out, and got stuck again. He texted me and said he’d be late. Assured me he was just near the sledding hill where his buddies were waiting.
Now, at some point Billy was texting with a friend at Anderson hill, who told him to look for the tower. Billy looked around, squinted his eyes, and saw the tower….way off in the distance behind him. Not only was he nowhere near Anderson hill, but he was miles away from his destination, stuck in the snow, with no real way to describe where he was.
Billy texted me, “I’m leaving the machine and walking towards Anderson.” Okay, I told him. “Don’t leave your machine unless you know for certain where you are going. Stop texting…save your phone battery. Text me when you get to Anderson.”
And then the phone went silent. I know Billy and I know he has sense in the woods. He’s been out there before, lost over night, and I knew he would use his senses. And according to him, he was ‘right there’.
Billy left the machine and started up a small ridge to see if he could see where he was supposed to be, following tracks leading out of the swamp, towards the tower in the distance. At some point he stopped, turned around and went back to the machine. He grabbed his backpack, dropped his wet gloves and put on his spare pair of dry gloves and shoved his coat into his backpack. He left behind anything he didn’t need to carry and grabbed his snowboard, thinking he could use it to mark his way. Eventually he found his own trail, jammed the snow board into the snow so he could find the machine again, and began to follow his path back the way he’d come.
Another hour went by. I didn’t hear from him. I got in my car and headed towards Anderson. The sun had set and the grey sky was turning dark. I called Billy, thinking I would have him describe where he was and if I sounded like he was nowhere near civilization, I’d make some calls and get some people out looking.
“Where are you?” I asked.
“I’m coming up the power line by Covey’s house.”
Coveys…that was the start of the trail he’d left on five hours before. He’d walked all the way back. I whipped around and parked on the road where I knew he would come out. I stayed on the phone.
“I don’t see you.” I said…beginning to wonder if he even knew where he was at all.
“I’m coming over the hill now. I can see your car.”
“Watch out for that moose in the middle of the trail.”
“Mom, the moose is the least of my worries. If he stomps me now, at least I’ll get to lie down. I just want to lie down right here.” But he kept on walking.
He opened the car door, climbed inside, and said, “I was doing some thinking. Here’s what I did wrong….”