Getting lost in the jungle is the wrong kind of adventure. With a dying cell phone, no water and only a thin poncho, Jeff Ducklow is charged by a wild boar and drinking his own urine before his dramatic rescue.
Jeff Ducklow is no stranger to adventure. Born without a sense of direction, made worse in a childhood mishap after a friend's uncle "accidentally" dropped him on his head, damaging his already damaged inner compass, Jeff naturally chose to become a professional Adventure Guide, guiding men, women and children oblivious to his affliction, on hikes over mountain passes, rafting down raging rivers, and leading sea kayaking adventures in Alaska in whale infested waters, at times in heavy fog. He is often quoted as saying, "Is it really an adventure if getting back is a certainty?"
This episode of Tell Us Something was recorded in front of a live audience on June 22nd, 2016, at The Wilma in Missoula, MT. 9 storytellers shared their story based on the theme “Bad Advice”.
Today’s podcast comes to us from Jeff Ducklow and is titled "Lost in Kauai". Thank you for listening.
So not every Alaskan vacation is all cracked up to be. And some Alaskan vacations are way more than they should've been. Which was the case about four years ago when for the first time I went to the Hawaiian island of Kauai. I do love adventure, and I did the normal touristy things of laying on the beach, playing in the surf, having a Mojito or two, and having grown a little bored with those things I wanted to kick up the adventure level.
So I found a Hawaiian guy who was standing on the beach, and I said, “If you only had three days left in beautiful Kauai what would you do?
And really without hesitation he said, “Lost Trail Man.”
I said, “That that sounds really hard to find.”
He said, “No problem. I'll draw you a little map.
And he sketched out a map, a bunch of dirt roads with no names where I would come to a small footbridge and a small break in the jungle, which marked the beginning of the trail. No sign. So I should known at that point that was very bad advice, but I was pretty excited about the adventure. The next morning, or afternoon actually, about 3 o'clock, [laughter] I started the journey in my rental car.
And pretty miraculously, I'd say, I found a little break in the jungle after about an hour and a half of driving. And I thought, ‘this must be the trailhead because I don't see anything else and it's getting late’. So I threw a few things in my backpack and took off and very quick pace. About 2 miles in I came to an opening in what's called Waimea Canyon. It's 3000 feet deep, it's 10 miles long, and is just spectacular. I’m taking pictures. There’s waterfalls in the distance. The lava, over time has turned red and I thought, ‘this is amazing’. And that should've been enough.
But I wanted more!
So I looked at the map, and you know when you start doing this, you probably should go back.
But I went forward. And the trail, after about another mile, it branched off. And there was no branch markings on this trail. So I stood in confusion looking down either one, and I remembered a Robert Frost poem [cheers, laughter] about standing at the crossroads where two roads diverged in the yellow wood [laughter] and I took the one less traveled by [laughter] and that made all the difference. [laughter] And it really did. It greatly impacted my life. [laughter] I decided I would take the trail most traveled by thinking that's probably it. And so I went pretty happily. It’s now maybe an hour before sunset. I have a good 4 miles left according to his map. But it's a loop so I should come back in the same place.
So the trail starts to fade and it fades so much I don't even know if I’m on a trail. And I end up on this really steep, maybe 1,500 foot rockslide area. And I'm so nervous about the, the darkness coming that I keep going across it very tenderly and then realize, ‘this is crazy’. And I look back and there's no way I was going back what I just accomplished. It was too scary. So I decided to go up. I'm clinging to the hill, and I finally get up to the top. There's a little clearing and I see that's what the jungle begins up there, and then I see these small yellow tape markings hanging from trees . And I said, “Eureka it's a trail marker.”
So I went into the jungle and I went for about 15, 20 minutes and started looking around, and noticed there yellow things hanging everywhere like Christmas ornaments, and realize these were not trail markings. And then I went downhill, uphill, downhill. Next thing I knew it was completely dark. It was over. I was in the jungle at night.
I was pretty, pretty nervous because I had heard a lot of stories about wild boar with the tusks that could tear a man in two in seconds. And they ran ferral all over the island. So, I considered my assets: I had an empty Nalgene bottle which I started to fill with my urine.
[laughter] I had read that somewhere. Then you can recycle. So I added some liquid to the Nalgene, and then remembered I also had a cell phone, and of course there’s coverage in the jungle.
I turned it on. Not shockingly, no coverage. But in the darkness I just start crawling around desperately trying to find a place, and after about a half hour I found a 1" x 1" parcel that had one bar.
It was another miracle! So, instead of calling 911, I call my girlfriend at the time, and I told her, “Look I started off on this trail I’m not sure even where the trailhead is. I'm not sure where the trail is. I'm not sure how to get back to it. I think I'm spending the night here in the jungle.”
And then she said, “If you're happy with this message, press one.”
I later heard this message I left, and realized, I was pretty impressed, because my tone of voice sounded like I was at the mall, and I’d be back just a little late for dinner!
So there I was in the night, just fearful of the wild boar. And sure enough after about four hours branches are starting to snap. And I hear something barreling down the hill towards me. And my heart explodes and I stand up with a burst of adrenaline and by the beard of Zeus, I got about 9 feet up in the tree.
For about 10 seconds before the branch broke.
I was back on the canopy floor. But still filled with adrenaline I found another branch, about as high, and I sat there for several hours not wanting any boar contact. Eventually, my ass got so sore, I didn't care about getting bored. I sat down on the ground. And at that point a cold, cold fog came in, and the temperature must've dropped 20°. But I remembered the emergency poncho I had thrown in. Whose thickness could be measured in terms of atoms.
But I went ahead and I wrapped myself in that poncho, and I started shuddering, shivering and I thought for sure hypothermia was gonna take me down. But amazingly, I lived to sunrise. And it was the most beautiful sunrise I had ever seen. And so this time, a little wiser, I called 911. [laughter] And my battery warning started flashing, which, with this old phone, 2012, meant it could crash at any moment. So, I call 911, I get put on hold.
And I’m on hold for a minute, a minute and a half, and I’m watching it flash. This is it! And I get the captain of the fire department.
And at this point, he says, “Where are you?”
And I said, “Lost Trail.”
“I never heard of it.”
I said, “You’ve never heard of it?”
He said, “No, I’ve never heard of Lost Trail”.
I said, “I'm not sure to tell you. It’s somewhere in the Canyon.”
He goes, “Okay we’re going to get a GPS coordinate on you. Don't go anywhere.”
And I said, “Oh, you, don't worry about that I can, I can walk out of here. I got plenty of daylight.”
He goes, “No! No! No! No! No! Don’t go anywhere! Stay right where you are. You’ll get lost. The jungle, it all looks the same.”
What you should know in my mind, is I grew up with a mom who equated personal injury with the cost of medical care.
For example, one time when I fell off my bicycle with a big gash in my leg, I came in the house first thing she said, in compassion, was, “Oh, Shit!” And then, I'm not sure this is a rhetorical question, “Do you know how much that's gonna cost?”
“I’m not sure. I’m eight years old. I’m bleeding profusely. I’m not sure I am capable of that calculation right now.”
“All right! Get my sewing kit!”
“Oh, please, Mom! No! I can see my femur!”
“All right get in the car! I guess I’ll take you to the hospital! There goes your allowance!”
So, yeah that's how I grew up. So I did not want to incur this expense of being rescued. Because I had heard rescuing could be thousands of dollars.
He says, “I’m going to send a helicopter.”
I said, “Oh! No! Not necessary! Not necessary!”
He says, “No, that’s what's gonna happen, and stay still. Turn your phone off of it’s about to die. We’ll call you in 20 minutes. So I turn my phone off. 20 minutes come, I hear a helicopter, but they're on the wrong side of the canyon.
And so get back on the phone, I said, “You guys on wrong side!”
He said, “Is there any break in the foliage?”
I said, “No, there’s no break, it's just trees,” I said, “But you’re, come to the other side.”
So they came to the other side and said, “We can’t see you.”
And then I remembered! The old tattered yellow poncho! I took it out of backpack and just started swinging it!
And sure enough they spotted it. And then my phone died. It was over. And then helicopter took off. I didn't know what happened. I sat there in fear for another half hour. The helicopter came back. The guy breaks through the canopy on a wire. Incredible sounding.
[helicopter blade sounds]
And there’s leaves blowing everywhere. Scorpions and centipedes.
And he hooked me into a harness. So we’re like face-to-face. We break up through the canopy. And it's amazing. And I think going into the helicopter, but the retraction stops.
And we’re just swinging below the helicopter!
And as we go over the canyon, I say to myself, “If this is $10,000, it's worth every penny!” So I get the ride of my life. Until, we came to a clearing where the rest of the fire crew rescuers are waiting.
And then came the descent of shame.
From the heavens I was lowered down. Not a lot of words were spoken. I apologized and thanked them. And as we got in the fire truck, down these dirt roads, they said, “We’re going to take you to your car.”
I said, “Thank you,”
And as we drove, I was fearing they would ask the question. And sure enough they did.
“So, ah, what do you do for living?”
Now I knew I could tell them, there’s two truths. One is, I actually was a massage therapist, and also was an adventure guide. The year was divided in half. But I thought about all they done for me, and I thought, ‘I owed them something,’ so I said, “I'm a professional [choking for dramatic effect] adventure guide.”
And the guy driving, the captain said, “Are you kidding me?”
I said, “I wish I was was.”
The crew was laughing. He gets on, [laughter] on the CB radio, [laughter] and he says, [laughter] “You guys won’t believe this! The guy we rescued? He’s an adventure guide!”
And so I was. Thank you