Archive for May, 2020

I don’t have any photos of our paddle the final day because, as you will read, my mind was otherwise occupied.

We woke up on our final morning to cloudy skies. Cindy got up before me to go walk Trixie, but she returned not to long afterwards to suggest that I get up and check on Jean Marie, who was not feeling well. Cindy sounded concerned, so I quickly got dressed and went to see Jean Marie.

She appeared a bit pale, but otherwise seemed OK on first sight. I went in to EMT mode (I had been a volunteer EMT for many years) and I asked her a series of questions about her condition. Without getting into the gory details, I was able to confidently determine that she was suffering from a moderately severe internal bleed, something that could only be treated in a hospital.

And here we were, out in the wilderness. Shit!

When I had been planning this trip, which was my first leading a wilderness trip for the RI Canoe & Kayak Association, one of my considerations for selecting a destination-besides being remote enough to offer a good wilderness experience-was that we have cell phone coverage for most, if not all, of our route just in case we needed to call for help. Never have I been more thankful that I made that choice for our route, as well as planning our campsites to offer a quick exit if needed.

I got out my phone and called the emergency number listed on an NFCT map that I always bring with me on such trips. This put me in touch with a dispatcher for the rangers and first-responders for the Adirondack State park. What I had not anticipated, though, was that he would not necessarily have access to the same map info that was readily available to me. So when I let him know what our emergency was and described our location as “campsite no. 19 on the Raquette River just upstream from The Crusher” he had no frigging clue what I was talking about. Probably a damned rookie. But he asked for a GPS coordinate, which I was fortunately able to quickly get him from the GPS unit I was also carrying. Bingo, he could see exactly where we were! I suggested that he get a boat in the water at The Crusher access downstream of us and have them come up river to us, informing him that we were going to pack up and start paddling downstream as soon as we could.

Jean Marie was given the job of staying seated and not doing much of anything. Cindy was our only extra hand, so she helped to take down Jean Marie’s tent and pack her gear. Jim, Steve and I each packed our own tents and gear, and everyone pitched in to pack the rain tarp. It was probably the quickest I have ever seen a camp broken down.

We did not want Jean Marie to do any paddling, so her foot pegs were readjusted with Jim’s help so that Cindy could paddle her kayak. We put Jean Marie in my canoe and headed downstream. Around every bend, we hoped to hear a motorboat approaching. As the big beach at Trombley Landing came into view, we finally heard it. What a stroke of luck! This beach was literally the only easy place to land both my canoe and the ranger’s boat so they could work the patient without any tricky mid-river patient transfer maneuver to get Jean Marie out of my canoe and into their boat! They took a set of vitals and started Jean Marie on portable oxygen. Her systolic BP was 90 at that point. If you know anything about emergency medicine, you know that is low enough to make any EMT get a move-on so an IV could be started.

Jean Marie was transferred to the ranger’s boat and they tore off downstream. The rest of our group continued our paddle downstream. I found out what it was like to paddle an 18 foot tandem canoe solo with a full load of gear and a dog. Thankfully Trixie was well-behaved and did not panic with no one in the bow seat in front of her.

The rain began again in earnest as we arrived at The Crusher. Jean Marie had left her keys with us, so we were able to pack all of her gear and get her boat onto her car. I shuttled Jim back up to Axton Landing so he could retrieve his car. From the rangers that were still at the access site when we arrived, we were able to get the name and location of the hospital Jean Marie was transported to: Adirondack Health Center in Saranac Lake. That was our next stop.

We found Jean Marie in the emergency room, which was a first-class facility. It was clear that she was in good hands! We left her the keys to her car, made sure she had her phone, made sure she was able to contact her family, and wished her well.

She went into surgery that afternoon and was in the hospital for 4 days. She is doing perfectly fine now.

One of my original ideas for a RICKA wilderness trip was to go up to Lobster Lake and the West Branch Penobscot River. What a bad idea that would have been! If we had been there instead of the Adirondacks, she likely would have died. If not, it would have been damned close.

The next trip I planned and led for RICKA was indeed to the West Branch Penobscot and Lobster Lake (a trip I will write up soon). But before that was planned and committed to, I implemented some lessons that I learned on this Adirondack trip. First, I would be sure to have a means to communicate to emergency responders no matter where in the world I was. A SPOTX satellite communicator that allowed two-way text communication with responders was purchased. I required more detailed medical histories for any people who signed up for the trip. And I required signed waivers, and contact information for next-of-kin or another immediate family member.

This trip ended up with a happy ending, and I hope by reading this account you have also learned something that will improve the safety of your next trip.

I leave you all with well-wishes, and a picture of Tupper Lake that I took as we headed home.

Tupper Lake View

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Packing up and moving on

The expected forecast for the day was cool weather and gray skies, with an occasional shower. But it wasn’t raining when we got up, so camp was packed quickly before the clouds could change their minds. Jean Marie woke up feeling better and refreshed by her rest day yesterday and decided that she would stay with us for our final night on the trip. Our plan for the day was to canoe back down Stony Creek to the Raquette River, and then take the river past Axton Landing and make some miles downriver to a camp that would leave us a short paddle to get to our cars the next day.

We were on our way around 9:00 or so, but before we were able to leave Stony Creek Ponds they left us with a departing gift: An adult bald eagle in a pine tree that we paddled past!

Bald Eagle!

We found the sharp meanders of Stony Creek to be much easier to negotiate going downstream, so the current quickly propelled us down Raquette River. Although the clouds stuck around all day, we avoided rain the entire day other than an occasional light mist. And the fall colors we passed were stunning. In fact, I am going to devote most of the rest of this post to photos so you can follow along with us down river.

Flame red maples!

Steve and Jean Marie

Jim leads the way

After a few hours we started checking out campsites, and at Campsite No. 19 found a nice site with plenty of flat spaces for tents and a nice privy. The first order of business was to set up a community tarp since rain would be expected in the morning.

Tarp, with log table.

After camp was set up and firewood gathered. we kicked back to enjoy the rest of the day and the evening, reflecting on the trip we had nearly completed. it would be an easy couple miles or so to our cars the next day.

Settling in at the end of the day.

Supper was cooked and eaten, and we settled by the fire. Jean Marie and Cindy played some more cribbage; Jim. Steve and I traded more canoe trip stories back and forth, and the Sailor Jerry made some rounds. The night settled peacefully around us and gave us no warning of what was to befall us the next day.

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