A Walk That Became A Rescue

Have you ever done something, a normal activity, where you expected nothing out of the norm to happen, … then things don’t go as expected and you suddenly have a STORY to tell?  Well, this is one or those times.  If you are a walker, definitely read on.  Even if you’re not a walker, read on for your entertainment!

It was a beautiful April morning in St. Augustine, Florida.  My friend, neighbor, and walking group co-leader and I decided to go for a nice leisurely walk on the beach.  The reason I say a “leisurely” walk is because my friend was just getting over a knee injury.  This was her first walk since healing and our plan was to maybe walk a mile or so down the beach and back.

I met up with Mary at the St. John’s County pier around 10:15 am.  We decided to walk the beautiful Anastasia State Park side of St. Augustine beach.  This part of the beach is less crowded and has more of a natural beauty feel to it.  Before heading off for our walk, we had her husband take a photo of us.

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We chatted about all kinds of things as we started to walk north on the beach.  I said to Mary, “I probably should have used the restroom before we headed off,” and she said back to me, “don’t worry, we can walk up to the state park area and use the restroom then head back to the pier.”  Sounded like a good plan.  I had only walked this part of the beach once before.  Also, I had never been to the State Park, so I was not familiar with how far down from the pier it was located.  Mary had been before but usually with her husband, who was there to point it out.  Anyway, we kept on walking and talking all whilst enjoying the view.  Little did we know at the time, the boardwalk to the park wasn’t very far down the beach.  It is very easy to miss if you are not “looking” for it.

After a while, Mary said, “It seems like we have walked really far. I don’t remember it taking this long to get to the park.” I had no idea.  We just kept walking. {THIS should have been our first clue to look at the GPS on my phone and see where exactly we were in relation to the park.}  The walk was so nice though. We had a beautiful view, a nice breeze, wonderful sunshine, and great company.  What more could you ask for?  Well, maybe a bathroom!  All of sudden, I notice in the distance what appeared to be a HUGE grouping of birds.  This time of year, you will often see large groups of birds nesting on the beach.  As we got closer, we saw that it was a very large amount of birds gathering by the water, including Pelicans, Terns and Sandpipers. It was an absolutely beautiful and amazing sight. As we walked closer, they didn’t all fly away, so we decided to take some photos and video.

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After enjoying the birds, we kept walking, talking, and taking in the scenery.  We rounded the point of the island and came upon an area of large rocks that edged the beach. We looked across the water where we could see Vilano Beach. We also saw the St. Augustine Lighthouse.  Mary made the comment, “The lighthouse should be farther away.  It is not that close to the state park.” {Second CLUE folks. AT this point, we didn’t even need to look at GPS, we should have just turned around!} Obviously, the sun, heat, and lack of water must have been getting to our heads, ha ha.  Well, the crazy ladies we are, just kept walking along the beach near the rocks and then the beach ended. We looked to our left and there was what “sort of” looked like a trail.  It looked as though a vehicle had driven through there, by the marks on the ground.  We looked at each other and thought about it and came to the conclusion somehow that maybe if we follow this “trail” it will take us to the parking area of the state park.  (Let me remind you, I was not at all familiar with the layout of the state park at this time).

We started to follow the trail and there were some really interesting plants including a variety of cacti … the terrain began to look very different than the beach. I think we both knew this probably wasn’t the right way to go and that we weren’t really close to the actual state park. At the time though, we just weren’t thinking straight, and we decided to keep following the trail to see where it would lead us.  Here are a few photos as we entered the trail area.

I think we were almost 5 miles into our walk when we first started down the trail, so to turn back would have meant walking another 5 miles back to the pier, totaling 10 miles!  Way more walking than we planned. Furthermore, I still had to go the bathroom! So, forget walking back, we kept on walking trying to find the quickest route to the state park bathroom.  We kept going on, even though, it was pretty slow-going at this point. We were getting tired and hot. Mary had already surpassed the amount of walking she needed to do on her healing leg and she had to be really careful in this rough terrain to not re-injure herself. I kept walking ahead to scout out the trail and kept my eyes open for any dangers such as uneven terrain, holes, mud, thick brush, etc. I stopped to wait for Mary every once in a while, or I would go back to make her aware of dangers ahead. For the most part, we could see where tires of a vehicle made a pathway through all the grass and brush, but there were some areas that were really thick, zig-zagged, or were uneven.  In some places, there wasn’t even a trail! {Hello! Clue number three! Abort! Abort!}

We were both starting to feel concerned about a mile or so into the “wild” area of the park. There was absolutely no one in this area of the park (probably for good reason!)  There were no other trails to go down.  There were no paths to the dunes/beach from this wild area.  We HAD to keep on going OR go back. Mary could not walk much farther. There was no way I was going to make the two-hour trek back by myself and leave her alone.  Despite, the grim circumstances, we remained positive and pointed out the good things such as nice weather and we didn’t see any snakes or other wild creatures. Yet our concern, surely had us praying our way down the trail.

At some point along the way, my husband had texted me to let me know he had arrived at the Jacksonville Airport, back from his business trip.  I let him know that Mary and I were lost somewhere on the backside of Anastasia State Park, trying to find our way back to the beach. My husband asked if we were okay. I said “uh, kind of.” I thought to myself (survival mode kicked in), I better send him a screenshot of our location.  I opened up the map application on my phone and took a screenshot and texted it to him immediately.  I did this a couple more times as we walked further along. My phone battery was getting low and had my battery died, I wanted to make sure my husband could find us.  At the same time, Mary had called her husband. We decided to have him drive to the park and meet up with us after we get there so we wouldn’t have to walk back to my vehicle all the way at the pier. The first time she called, no answer … he was outside mowing the lawn. Eventually she got through to him. Well, not long after calling him, we got to the end of the trail, literally, the END. There was even a little pole that had an “e” on it, e for end.

We could hear the ocean and knew the beach was close. I thought maybe I could try to trek across some of the terrain and over the dunes to see if we could get back to the beach side. Mary was a little farther back on the trail at the time, so this was a decision I made on my own. I began to traverse through the terrain of mixed plant life including many cacti and other prickly plants and bushes. Bad, bad idea! I ended up scratching up the back of one leg and had a couple of prickly ball things get stuck in my leg and foot, owie!  I got to the top of a little hill and saw that there was no way I could make it farther in flip flops and shorts. Had I been wearing boots and pants, I could have made it.  I turned around and went back to Mary and gave her the bad news.

We looked at the map on my phone and using the lighthouse as a landmark, we could see exactly where we were and where the state park was located.  We again looked for an opening to make our way through to the park, but no luck. We actually were very close.  There just wasn’t a clear path/road from where we were to the park. About this time, a plane flew overhead, the kind that pulls the long signs behind it. We waved our arms in the air, sort of jokingly like “come save us” but then again at this point, I think we needed saving.

Mary called her husband back. He was almost to the park. She told him that he was going to have to get us help because we were NOT going to make it back by foot. He immediately went to the Ranger’s station upon arrival at the park. He called to let us know that the Manager and Assistant Manager were heading our way to come get us. Relief! It was going to take a little while though because they had to drive basically the same way we went, about 4 miles down the beach and another 4 miles through the wild. We were both very exhausted, hot, dehydrated, and ready to get off of our feet. Even finding a place to sit down was a trial. Everywhere you stepped were crab and bug holes and some even bigger creature holes, probably from snakes, moles, etc. There were some grassy spots but there was also a ton of prickly stuff.  We finally found a grassy spot that seemed okay. I took off my flip flops and I used one to sit on and Mary used the other to rest her head. Getting down to the ground was another trial for Mary. Her knee was surely inflamed and not too happy. I felt really bad for Mary and I was feeling guilty for getting into this predicament.

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We waited probably about 30 minutes or so when a ranger popped up over one of the dunes. He made his way through the rough terrain over to us. Of course, he was wearing pants and boots! He checked our condition and let us know they were going to make their way around to us and they had plenty of cold water for us. We were so thankful to see him. So now, we just had to wait some more but knew it would soon be over. We were sort of delirious by this point. We had some laughs even though we felt stupid about what we did.  We were very ready to get out of there and get home. Mary and her husband had an event to go to that evening as well and time was ticking.

Another half hour or so, they arrived in a 4×4 truck. One of the rangers got out a big cooler of ice cold water. I got some for me and some for Mary while the other ranger talked with Mary about how they were going to get her up from the ground. They were so nice, so caring, so helpful. Not once did they make fun of us or make us feel bad for getting lost in there. They didn’t even ask Mary what the heck she was doing walking so far on a bad knee. The water was the best water we ever had and the ride in the air-conditioned truck was wonderful. On the drive back, we talked with the rangers. They were really amazing guys, just doing their job, there to help people. They are a blessing to the St. Augustine community and Florida State Parks.

As we drove, one of the rangers told us about a plant we could have eaten to get energy and rehydrate, called Smilax. He even got out of the truck, got some, and ate it. Very cool to know. Also, on the way back we saw I guess what was a Ranger or Guard-type helicopter. The rangers said sometimes if a pilot of a plane sees someone back there, they will call it in. So, the plane we waved at, probably did, and that helicopter was looking for us. The ranger in our truck gave a signal to the pilot to let him know he had us. (Wow, a helicopter rescue might have been fun). Continuing, the ride back was bumpy, and a lot of the terrain was so thick that brush was getting stuck up under the truck. When we made it back to the beach, we all smelled smoke. It got stronger, so the ranger pulled over, and sure enough there was a fire under the truck from the grass stuck up in there. One of the rangers got some water to put it out. The adventure just continued. We made it back to the station safe and sound and Mary’s husband was there waiting for us. We thanked the rangers again. Here is a photo of us with them (Warren and Rene), our wonderful rescuers.

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You may be wondering why I am sharing this story with you … we learned a few lessons from this adventure and I wanted to take the opportunity to share those lessons with fellow walkers, hikers, and explorers.

  1. If you get to a spot that looks like a trail, but you don’t know where it goes, don’t go down it. Turn around and go back where you came from.
  2. If you have a map application, use it, it can be very helpful. However, don’t solely rely on it as it doesn’t show all the information you need to know, like if a trail will get you to where you need to go.
  3. Make sure your phone is fully charged and make sure your friends have phones. Mine ended up dying because we used it for photos, video, and map, but I had use of it until we were waiting for rescue.
  4. Always bring water! Even if you are going for a short walk, you just never know when you might need it.
  5. Carry a backpack or fanny pack with you with some essentials. I had tissues and hand sanitizer, and both came handy… remember I said I needed to use the restroom … well, I had to pee, so I peed in nature.
  6. Never walk alone in an unfamiliar area. I was thankful Mary and I had each other.

As leaders of our women’s group walking club, Mary and I promised not to let this ever happen when we were on walks with the group. We were not thinking, and we can be a little crazy at times, but we would never intentionally put anyone in danger. By the way, the ladies in the group sure got a kick out of this happening and to this day, they won’t let us forget it!  Our new motto became “Not all who wander are lost” ha ha ha ha.

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Here is the route we walked that day

19 thoughts on “A Walk That Became A Rescue

  1. What a crazy adventure! Glad there was a good outcome. I would ask, “what did we ever do before GPS” but the hubs would look at me, laugh, and pull out his map and compass! Welcome to the blogosphere!

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  2. This is such a great post! People need to hear stories like this so they can be more prepared when they are out hiking. Even if you’re just going for a short hike, it’s so important to be prepared! I volunteer with the local Search and Rescue group, and so many times the people we rescue were just out for a casual walk, and it all went bad. And when I’m out and about hiking, it always amazes me to see how many people are out in the wilds completely unprepared!! If I could add one thing to your great list – it would be to ALWAYS let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh my world – you had me gripped until the end!! I’m so glad you shared this story with us; a great read and also a some really good learning opportunities for everyone! So glad your rangers came to the rescue and that you both got home safe and sound.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment:) I just had to write this story down after it happened and some of my neighborhood lady friends encouraged me to share it with others, so I decided to share it on my blog. Glad you enjoyed it. And I’m glad it had a happy ending!

      Liked by 1 person

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