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Sometimes the rescue you write about is your own

“Damn it. This is going to be in the newspaper,” I told my bike-riding companion after I reluctantly told the dispatcher on the other end of our 911 call Sunday night that, yes, we want them to send Search and Rescue. 

I was hesitant to unleash Del Norte’s finest on the Mill Creek Addition area off Hamilton Road because, you know, we weren’t really “lost” — we knew what road brought us there and we could easily follow that back to our car. We just weren’t sure how long that would take. And it got dark quickly. And cold. And we were wearing daytime clothes, not ready for a night in the woods. 

“Couldn’t you just send a pickup and meet us along the way?” I asked.

And that’s what they did. But more like three pickups. Nine Del Norte Search and Rescue members overall responded to the call of two mountain bikers who attempted a 7.3-mile loop on old logging roads highlighted on a Redwood Parks map but missed a turn and almost rode clear to Klamath. 

When he got there, Mel Thomas, one of the SAR team members, asked us if we were sure we didn’t want to finish the ride back since the moon was high enough in the sky now to light the way. 

“We can follow you from behind!” he quipped.

Then he asked where we were from, and when we responded that we live locally, he howled:

“You mean you guys live around here and you still got lost in these woods? Ooooeee!”

It was just the ribbing we deserved, and it helped to break the tension.

Instead of giving one of my fellow reporters the enjoyment of writing about me screwing up in the woods, I chose to explain the mess myself. It was only last weekend that a river acquaintance of mine, Erik Tedsen, had his tango with Search and Rescue grace the Triplicate’s pages, so I couldn’t be spared.

I knew we were in trouble when one of the logging roads we passed had a sign that said “Wilson Creek Road,” which empties into the ocean by Highway 101 — 10 miles south of where our car was parked in the Mill Creek Watershed of Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. 

I had been trying to carefully watch for a road on the left that would finish the loop. It looked so easy to follow on the map we grabbed from Crescent City’s Redwood Parks visitor center, but we never saw a road that seemed right, so we stayed the course on what signs indicated was West Branch Road until it became less of a road and more of a trail, and then it dissappeared entirely.

It was supposed to be a nice little bike ride, one to two hours tops. After all, we both had very important tasks that demanded our attention on Sunday. But we still needed Sunday exercise. 

Even though I had never biked around there yet, I knew that the Mill Creek watershed area had become popular with mountain bikers since it became public land in 2002. On our way in, we even saw a pair of mountain bikers who were coming back from the same area we sought. Why not check it out?

I had a willing friend to share the ride with in Sarah Shoenberger, a local teacher, who doesn’t know me well enough to know that I often explore places new to me without being entirely sure of what to expect. I always do some research, get a map of some sort and it works out 95 percent of the time. But there’s always that pesky five percent. 

The best part is that just the day before we walked to the “hole in the rock” oceanside cave on Enderts Beach where people are frequently trapped by high tides and saved by Search and Rescue. I had been very mindful of the rising tide and said, “Let’s get out of here soon. I don’t want to have to call Search and Rescue.” I guess I should’ve said, “At least not today.”

After we had turned around at the end of the road and started heading back, when it was already well after dusk, Sarah’s phone made the musical tone that indicated that in that small pocket on that ridge we had just enough cell signal to make some calls. After relaying the route we took to 911 dispatch, we called my friend Tara Dettmar, who knows the Mill Creek area well from doing fisheries work there. She seemed to know exactly where we were and offered to join Search and Rescue in the hunt.

We weren’t the first people to lose track of where to go in the maze of logging roads that covers the former Miller Rellim property. The biggest question was why there is a parks brochure highlighting this loop route but there isn’t a sign marking where to turn to finish the loop? Or did we just miss it?

“There are normally signs at the intersections, but we don’t have staff to maintain those signs,” said Jeff Bomke, superintendent for Redwoods State Parks.

Bomke agreed that the map would be hard to use since it doesn’t show other roads for reference, and he recommended using a more detailed map or GPS unit for cruises in the Mill Creek Addition.

The area is currently only open on the weekends, and Bomke said the park doesn’t even really have funding for that.

“We’re trying to keep it open by diverting funds from other park units,” Bomke said.

Since it is a popular spot for bike rides, I suggested that maybe volunteer riders could install some signage to keep people from making the same mistake we did. Bomke was receptive, and I invite riders to contact him or me at the Triplicate to make some plans.

I called Peggy Thomas, the assistant Search and Rescue Coordinator on Monday to tell her just how lucky we are to have the asset of that volunteer team in the community, and that my legs were sore from the unexpectedly long ride, to which she replied: “We were just really glad you were found and OK — even if you are sore!”

Reach Adam Spencer at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

 


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