Surviving the Wilderness
By Peder Fish
Taking a turn for the worst doesn't even begin to describe what happened. What was supposed to be a fun camping trip turned very bad survival situation very quickly.
It was Friday evening, the first day of Thanksgiving break. Fellow Novato High senior, Carson Ceresa, loaded up his F-250 with our gear and we headed northbound on 101. We had found a nice campground with some good fishing nearby and were really excited to be able to get out to the woods and relax. The campground we were heading to was Bear Creek Campground in the Mendocino National Forest, just 15 miles north of Clear Lake.
We had been following google maps for about 3 hours, and once we entered the National Forest, things started to go haywire. Well, google maps wanted us to go on a dirt bike-only trail. If we had known that it was a dirt bike trail, we would have not gone on it, but the sign had been knocked over so there was no way for us to know that we were not going on the right trail. We trusted the map and we pressed forward.
We soon realized that this was not the right way and that google maps had led us in the wrong direction. When we realized this, the truck happened to get stuck in the mud. Now you're probably thinking “why didn't you just get the truck unstuck?” Well it was 9 at night, we were tired, and we were in the middle of the woods. There was no cell reception so we decided we were going to spend the night and get the truck out in the morning. That night we came to the realization that this was a survival situation, we had food but we were stranded in an unfamiliar place and we needed help.
So we pitched the tent and made a small fire. The temperature dropped very quickly, from the point when we got stuck, it went from about 40 degrees to about 20 degrees in probably an hour and a half. After the fire burned out, we decided to call it a night. We probably got a total of 4 hours of sleep and it did not help that there was a bear that came and visited us that night too, which was quite terrifying, to say the least.
That night, it had gotten down to 18 degrees and we did not bring extreme cold weather clothes so you can imagine ho. I was actually worried we were going to die of hypothermia, let alone a possible bear attack. Yet, somehow we managed to not get eaten by a bear and to not freeze to death. We woke the next morning to an inch of frost on the ground as soon as we were up, we knew that we needed to put on more layers get to get our blood moving. We also needed to get a fire going and eat some food for energy.
We needed to conserve the firewood because we had to use it to get the truck unstuck so we rationed out logs of firewood and used them for fire. The rest was to be used as traction for the tires. Eventually, we were able to get the truck out. The problem was we were not able to come back the way we came because it was too steep to go up the hill, so after carefully looking at google maps, we decided to press forward. This is where things got much worse.
As we kept going down this trail, it seemed like it kept getting narrower and narrower and more trees and more bushes appeared out of nowhere. At some points, there were some very steep hills that we had to go down in which the truck almost flipped. There were a lot of steep hills where the truck could actually get stuck so we needed to move branches and rocks under the trail to give the truck the traction to make it up the steep hills. We were very frustrated and very concerned with how this was going. We would look around, and we were in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, there was a group of dirt bikers that happened upon us, they gave us a paper map. They said to keep following the trail across this creek until a fire road appeared to take us right out of there.
We thanked them and they went on their way, so we kept following the trail. As we kept following the trail for the short amount of time, it started to get very steep and the turns kept getting sharper. There was a large dirt mound on the side of the trail and a cliff. The front tire of the passenger side went over the side of the cliff and the bumper got buried in the dirt. If this dirt have not been there, I can guarantee you I would not be writing the story and that the truck would have gone over the cliff. The dirt bikers came back up the trail and gave us a hand, helping us dig out the truck.
We didn't have any shovels so we had to dig out the truck with our bare hands, a hatchet I brought, and some pocket knives. We were able to get the truck unstuck and move it down the trail a few more feet before we had to put on the e-brake. We assessed the rest of the trail until it got down to a flat area the rest of the trail got a little bit more steep but the issue was that the makeup of the trail was in a V-shape. Therefore, if we drove the truck downward, we would have flipped the truck on its side or taken off the drive shaft. We came to the conclusion that the best option was to leave the truck get out of the woods.
The dirt bikers were kind enough to let us ride on their bikes back to where they were camping, which was about 6 miles from where the truck had been stuck. After riding out of the backcountry on dirt bikes without any helmets or protective gear, carrying only our necessities on our backs, the forest service took a statement from us and then we had to make the dreaded phone call to our parents.
The truck was taken out with a bulldozer days later and the damage was very extensive. There's a large baseball-sized hole in the front windshield from where a branch came in. The two back windows are now broken and it is riddled with scratches and dents. Yet, somehow it was able to drive back to Novato.
There really isn't a whole lot that can prepare people for situations like these. The only advice I can really give is to do some planning, do not trust google maps, call the forest service and ask for information about the conditions. Read survival books! Do not underestimate mother nature. Carson Ceresa is the best driver at Novato High, if it were not for Carson's driving, I can guarantee you we would have died in those woods. So with that being said, seriously plan out your next outdoor adventure and take a map.