Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Flood of '04 (Part I)

Sunshine and family brought me from Roosevelt and we camped on the flat sandy strip to the southeast of the cliff. We chose that spot for maximum sunlight. Back then, you couldn't get a car to my hidy hole. They left the day before Christmas.

I stuck around that site for a few days before moving back to my favorite spot. On the twenty eighth, a steady mist began falling while I trekked back and forth setting up a more permanent camp further out of sight. I set up two tents. I was staying in the new Coleman tub-bottom tent Sunshine gave me for Christmas. I used my old Walmart tent as a supply depot and kept my non perishables and fishing gear in there. The canoe was beached behind it. Due to the weather and the holidays, there weren't many people around except for day trippers.

Mr. Hole was set up in the middle of the campground about 30 feet above the river. He'd been straining and cooking prickly pear fruit for days and had a couple of five gallon buckets ready for making his famous pies. I gave him a Mensa Puzzle a Day Calendar Book for Christmas. I told him this way I could mess with his mind 365 days a year. He gave me a sack of buds. Woo Hoo!

On the way to the hot springs the twenty ninth, I walked past Mr. Hole's truck and chatted a minute. He showed me a wooden golf club he had carved and was gluing the head on the handle. He asked if I thought the river was going to break the banks. “Nah”, I told him. “Maybe in a few more days. The last time it flooded over the lower sites, it took three days of solid rain for the water to roll down from Chino Valley to the north”. I didn't realize it had been raining harder and longer in Chino.

The river was up and running swiftly at the one-crossing, so I traversed at the Dugas road high water fjord to the north. Once across, I backtracked toward the springs and found FBI Al's Toyota on the trail where I'd never seen a vehicle before. Al was at the springs, and welcomed me back for the winter. He had a half gallon of Kentucky bourbon that we sipped as we caught up on each other's recent adventures.

I had some of those buds Mr' Hole gave me back at my camp, and we returned to partake. Al, the hardcore maniac, was all for swimming the river at the springs to cross. I refused, citing the strength of the second crossing, and we returned the safer way I came.

My firewood was tarped, and I had no trouble starting a fire in spite of the light mist. At dusk, Al left me with the little remaining whiskey and returned to his truck. I walked with him as far as the mulberries, and noticed Mr. Hole had his truck jacked up and was crawling beneath it. I remember stepping on damp sand and puddles appearing around my feet. When I would raise my foot, the puddles would soak back in the saturated ground. 

Dave crawled out from under the Chevy and pointed out the old cans and other garbage that was suddenly littering all the roadways. He said he had spent the evening with his new golf club knocking litter out of the high weeds throughout camp. "Tomorrow" he said, "in the daylight, we can bag it all up." We had our work cut out for us. 

Back at camp, I stoked my still burning coals and fixed some dinner. Having recently arrived, I was well stocked. I fixed mashed potatos and gravy and opened a can of green beans. For dessert I had a Little Debbie pecan pie. 

In order to save firewood, I opted to spend the evening reading in my tent. I carried my lantern inside, removed my boots, and crawled into my bedroll with my headphones in and soon was immersed in the story of the Krupps Steel family. I picked up the massive biography because I thought it would be boring and it would last a while. It turned out to be fascinating. I was surprised to read about Haile Selassie attending parties along with Adolph Hitler in pre-war Germany.

I had a whole pickle bucket full of what I considered “Bad Fiction” that I bought at five cents per novel in a discount bin in Camp Verde. When I had “Good Fiction” I was at risk of just sitting in camp and burning through it at a novel a day.I ended up developing a taste for dry biographies and pulp novels.

Over the sound of the am radio, I kept hearing the snap and crash of large branches. I assumed it was deadwood succumbing to the weight of accumulated moisture, a circumstance I had witnessed many times during my years in the forests. I made a mental note to collect the deadfalls in the morning. From the sounds of it, there would be plenty of mesquite for cooking. The new Coleman tent was leaking like a siv. The tub bottom, rather than keeping me dry, was collecting the rain from the leaky seams. I made sure everything was off the floor and stacked on milk crates.

At about midnight, I marked my place in the book, removed my headphones, and was preparing for sleep when I heard Mr. Hole faintly and frantically yelling my name. Worried that his truck had fallen from the jack in the soft sand and trapping him, I hurriedly put on my boots and stepped out of the tent into about eight inches of rushing water!

The river, normally about eight feet below the rise that held my tents, had risen in about an hour and cut off the only trail to safety. I stood there for a minute, like an idiot, looking back and forth between my two tents in what seemed like a stage pantomime. The upside down canoe that was rocking in the current and about to wash away. Trees four feet around were roiling downstream and taking out everything in their path. I realized the sounds I had been hearing were massive logs crashing into the trees along the shore and uprooting them. I also realized I was in trouble and didn't have time to think about my next move.

The trail to the campground was no longer an option, neither was swimming against the current. For a minute, I thought of getting in the canoe and trying to make my getaway by water, but the huge amount of debris and the destruction it was causing changed my mind. 

The steep slope of the mountain and cliff faces were my only hope. I couldn't decide what to grab, and feared that any minute there would be a mudslide or rockslide to bury me or cut off my escape. I tied my canoe to a tree and set off up the slippery slope. I envisioned myself either washing out into the raging river, or becoming stranded on the side of the mountain hoping for a helicopter rescue.

I tied the canoe to a tree and began picking my way up the slippery mountainside.

I imagined Al, whiskey drunk and washed out from his spot on the bank up by the Dugas road. Mr. Hole had quit yelling, and I figured he was lost as well. Judging from the river, his truck as well as Alan's were probably completely submerged.

It was very dark, from the cloud cover, and I had to feel my way along the cliff faces back toward the road in. It seemed like hours that I was clinging to those cliffs, constantly fearing an avalanche, but it was probably only about thirty minutes. The wash that runs alongside the road at the entrance to the campground was rushing and several feet deep. I had to travel further up towards Ike's ridge to leap across the ravine and backtrack to the gates of Childs.

I looked down, fearing to see Mr. Hole's truck as it disappeared beneath the deluge and saw nothing. Slowly and cautiously, I made my way down the road towards the shitter and there was the old Chevy, parked at the water line, which had almost reached the shitter door.

There was a light shining out the open back door. And I walked around the truck to the back. Inside, Mr. Hole was on the Ham radio, keying the mike. “Mayday, Mayday, Camper down!” he exclaimed. “Mayday, Mayday, we have a camper washed away in the flood at Childs! We need rescue!”.

“Who's missing Dave? Did you see Al's truck wash by? Was somebody else here?”

“You! You're missing, How'd you get out of there? I tried to come warn you when the water came up, but the trail was washed out and too strong to wade through.”

“I edged along the cliff” I replied, My site down there is the highest point in camp. What about Al? He was camped at the edge of the river just this side of Dugas. We'd had a lot of whiskey and he was going to bed.”

“Lets go!” Mr. Hole said. “We've gotta get out of here while we can. There's nothing we can do for Alan tonight.”

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