I woke up at 3 am, in excruciating pain. I swallowed two ibuprofen and washed it down with some dark chocolate I’d left by my side and checked my phone for a signal.
We were 15 miles from the nearest paved road, had no cell service, and it would still be dark for 3 hours. Gratefully, my body relaxed enough to drift back to sleep until dawn.
The right side of my upper body was spasming in pain, and my right arm felt like it was trapped in an imaginary sling, stuck in a chicken wing like form. It could bear no weight, making me unable to lift water to my lips, let alone dig a hole for my morning constitutional.
It took several minutes to stand, and when I did, I couldn’t straighten up. Aside from the piercing reminders of pain, I was bewildered to have fallen asleep an athlete and woken up a physically disabled individual.
There was a family camping a few hundred feet down the trail so Britt introduced herself to them and asked if they could help.
There just so happened to be a steep, partly washed out, jeep road nearby, and we were in the kind company of three generations of off-road jeep enthusiasts. They were packing up to leave, and Diane, the matron of this extended family, offered to build a bed in the back of her jeep and carry us to safety.
As far as I can remember, this was the first time in my nearly 2,000 mile journey that I happened to camp near people with vehicles. Diane and her family come here every Labor Day weekend, but this was the first time they brought an extra vehicle along and so were able to help.
With my hunched back and chicken wing of an arm, I slowly shuffled over to their camp, still gnawing on my dark chocolate bar and wincing in pain.
Diane offered to drive us to either Eugene or Roseburg, Roseburg being on her way home. We agreed on Roseburg because I have some family friends in town that might be able to help, and it was on her way home, too. It took 90 minutes to reach a paved road, with many ups, downs, ruts, and unmarked intersections along the way. She drove skillfully and slowed down at bumpy parts of the road, knowing that each jarring movement sent fitful spasms throughout my upper body and elevated my pain through the roof.
Halfway there, I realized that I had family friends in Redmond, not Roseburg, and so I quickly searched for hosts on the international couch surfing network, and found two hosts in town.
Britt and I have been trying to use the couch surfing network throughout our hike. I’ve been a member since my band’s touring days, and host travelers when at home. I’d had great luck with it, until this hike. We reached out to 30+ hosts during our hike this summer and not once did it work out to have us stay with someone from the site. (couchsurfing.com)
Nevertheless, I sent off messages to our two potential hosts and within 30 minutes, my phone was ringing with a friendly voice on the other end admitting she’d woken up this morning to thoughts of hosting and how she would be happy to have us over for the night. Cory lives 4 blocks off the highway we were on when she called, and we drive right to her place and set up camp in her spare bedroom, all within an hour or so of my initial reaching out.
I also checked in with my dad, who suggested finding a highly reputable massage therapist to work on my muscles before seeking further medical attention. I was relieved to hear him say this and started calling around to find those healing hands.
I wanted to take a shower but couldn’t get my shirt off or even sit properly on the toilet, so I laid down, half propped up on a pillow, while Britt reached out on Facebook to seek shelter for us once we returned to her hometown of Portland.
Almost immediately, her friend Brie responded and invited us to stay at her friend Del’s house for the remainder of the week. Del was hiking the John Muir Trail and would be gone until the following Monday. We would move into his spare basement bedroom by nightfall.
We were 3 hours south of Portland and Britt’s grandma offered to drive down and pick us up Tuesday morning, but it just so happened that Britt and Brie’s mountaineering partner, Sharia, was on her way back north after spending the holiday weekend hiking in the Russian Wilderness with her boyfriend.
They routed their return through Roseburg to visit a highly sought after creamery rumored to be in town. Shortly before arriving, Sharia texted Britt about an unrelated matter, and upon realizing how close they were, Sharia appeared at Cory’s doorstep within 5 minutes. She had driven out of her way to visit a creamery that incidentally had no retail outlet, but had room in her car for us and our gear. We drove through Dairy Queen on our way out of town and headed north.
She dropped us off at Britt’s grandmother’s house in Vancouver, WA. We were welcomed at the dinner table, picked up Britt’s car, and drove back across the Columbia River to Del’s house for the night.
I still couldn’t get my shirt off, but Britt helped me disrobe and I wept beneath the healing warm waters of the basement shower and scheduled a massage for the next morning with a LMT Brie recommended.
It was a remarkable turn of events.
On Labor Day, I was forced to stop and rest, no longer physically able to bear the burden of my pack.
In my darkest hour, in my time of greatest need, when I lacked the strength to help myself, I was saved by a grace filled string of events. I was rescued by a team of perfect strangers, who unknowingly conspired in gently guiding me along the path toward healing.
I was given, through pain but not suffering, a practical story of salvation and a testimony of grace. I was finally receptive enough to accept that which cannot be earned but is freely available to all.
If I spend the rest of my life trying to share and communicate this “amazing grace,” along with the awe and wonder I’ve experienced on the trail, I sense that it will be time well spent.
But for now I’ll just say THANK YOU.