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Today, I'm excited to announce the launch of a new series of bonus episodes for the show called Happenings, over the years there have been many different stories I've wanted to share, but they didn't quite fit with the normal format. So I teamed up with my new coproducer, Andrea Yates, and we decided to experiment a bit and create a kind of show within the show that we're calling happenings to distinguish a bit from the normal stories. So each episode of happenings will have multiple stories, each in a more condensed format and focused on a specific set of related experiences aiming for about every six weeks or so for new content.
Today's episode, No Man's Land explores three stories of people who narrowly survived unforgiving encounters with the natural world. Also today, I'm happy to announce that this is actually happening, is available entirely, ad free on one E-Plus plus dotcom happening, signing up for one plus also gets you access to a number of other shows and content ad free. But if you sign up using my specific URL wondering plus dotcom happening, a percentage comes back to me to help support the show.
Thank you for listening. Welcome to the Premiere Corporation. A presentation of the audio podcast. This is actually happening. No man's land, part one. What if the desert dried your sorrow? The sensation of hang gliding is like being a bird. You get that feeling of being free and just unencumbered by the bonds that the Earth puts on you. There's a physical change that comes over you when you're when you're up there flying.
That is so special that everything else on the ground is gone. All those other worries are gone and you're just free. It's just you and the sky and your hang glider and the air is hitting you in the face. And it's it's very calm and it's very quiet. You look down and you see this beautiful landscape below you and you go, oh my God, I can't believe I'm here.
This is what the birds see, this is what just being out there, me and this glider hanging from under this wing is fantastic. The first time I realized I wanted to fly was when I saw Sally Field in The Flying Nun, when I first saw her fly, I thought, Oh my God, that's exactly what I want to do. I want to fly. And I've always had dreams of flying. When I saw hang gliding in nineteen eighty on the beaches of Southern California, I immediately knew that that's what I had to do because I've always wanted to fly.
I've never wanted to fall, no no skydiving, no jumping off of things. But flying is what captures my heart.
Hang gliding is dominated by white men. I mean, that's hang gliding, you know, and there there are there were very few women and there were no black women. In twenty three, I opened cowboy up hang gliding in in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and being a woman in hang gliding is is kind of is a bit of a novelty. I always felt like I had to prove myself because of who I was, what I look like. I had to be better than my female counterparts.
I had to stand out even though I really did stand out. People come up and want to go flying and they're looking around to see who they're going to go flying with, and then I have to do the dog and pony show to put them at ease, to know that I've got so much experience and that I will keep them so safe and that they couldn't be in better hands flying with me than anybody else on my crew. I started flying for records in nineteen ninety five with my then partner boyfriend, Hollywood Champlin, and we just decided that we wanted to fly for world records and never liked competing against people.
I like competing against myself. So I knew that World Records is the perfect venue for competing against yourself, because you can you can have one hundred failures. But once you once you hit the record, that's it. They don't tell you. They don't care how many times you've thrown stuff at the wall. They only care about that one time that you actually did it. I started in nineteen ninety five playing for records, and then I stopped in the year two thousand.
Hollywood, my partner, he was test flying a new different kind of glider and he went up and hang gliders don't generally spend, but this type of rigid wing hang glider could spin. And he tried it and he spun it. And then I looked up and I didn't see it and I said, tell him to do it again. I didn't see it. And so he did it again and the whole thing broke up. It lon darted straight to the ground and he died on impact.
When Hollywood died, that was a huge blow for me. That was tremendous. We'd been together for nine years and we'd been flying for records for four of those years. Hang gliding had just killed my absolute best friend, my my life partner, my heart just took my heart away. I thought, you know what, this is it. I am so done with this. How could the sport that has given me so much that I love so much, how could it do this to me?
About a month later, the Discovery Channel wanted to do a piece on me and I was like, no. And they said, Oh, come on, please, can we you know, maybe we can work it out. I relented. I said, OK, fine, I will do it, but I'm going to do it under these certain circumstances. And I did it. It was extremely hard. And my first flight after Hollywood died on the Discovery Channel, you can't see it in there.
But I was crying the whole time. I was scared to death. I'm not sure what I was scared of. I wasn't scared of hang gliding. I guess I was just scared of that feeling of forgiving hang gliding for what it had done. So after I finished the Discovery Channel thing, I decided, you know what, I was going to go try out and find Zapata and do one more world record. I wanted to honor Hollywood's memory by going to Sabata because he had always wanted to go to Zapata, so when the opportunity came to go there, I thought, well, you know, we didn't get to go there together, but at least one of us would get there.
And and that's what I did. Zapata is a really depressed, dusty little town, very, very hot right on the Mexican border. Pure desert and temperatures that rival Death Valley, and that is just hot and dry. One hundred and ten degrees in the shade down there, but it is incredible for long distance flying. My previous world records were set in Hobbs, New Mexico, that's where Hollywood died. They were women's distance records and that was a hundred and ninety miles.
So the day that I flew in, that part of it was just myself, Davis, Davis wife Belinda and my crew driver Davis had flown there before and he really didn't give me a whole lot of direction. You know, if you're going to leave, go long. Don't don't land too too close because, you know, there's a desert in between and, you know, not anything real specific. So that day I got up and I had a horrible breakfast being a vegan.
It was hard to eat in that little town. It was orange juice and granola bars for breakfast. I was very much preoccupied with my own self as far as my health and not eating. And, my goodness, I'm here on my own because Hollywood is not here. Where is he? Why isn't he here? You know, and a lot of pressure on me because I wanted to do well and I want to make Hollywood really happy or proud that I'd come here by myself and I did this.
When it was time to lunch, got towed up and I got to, I think probably about a thousand feet, fifteen hundred feet, and then that's not real high. But it was it was high enough to tap around for a thermal. I kind of felt the area and I and I finally hit something. I hit it. I hit a nice thermal and I started turning in it. I decided I'm just going to take this one and go.
So I just got up and I just started drifting away with that with that thermal. I got to a point where the thermal stop going up and I was at a crossroads, so either I could try and glide back to the airport, which I probably wasn't going to make it, but I thought, why am I going to try and go back to the airport? You know, I came here to fly for records. I came here to fly distance, you know, put your big girl panties on and go on down when.
And I thought, well, I'm going to go a little bit deeper into basically the area that he told me not to go in, but it looked a lot better over there because there was a lot less mesquite and and more bare ground. So I went deeper into no man's land thinking I would find something. And lo and behold, I found nothing. When you find nothing, there's only one other option for you when there's when there's no lift.
And that was that was Landi. And so I landed and I thought, well, OK, yes, we'll be fine, I had a good landing, you know, like I'm not sure on that. I have a driver, I have water, I have a radio. I'll just call and get help. Not worried, not scared, because the thing is, I've done this so much and I've landed in so many different places and so many bad places and so many bad situations, and I've always made it out.
No, you know, my drivers always found me know I may have had to sit and wait for. I've sat in the desert till midnight waiting to get picked up. I packed up all my stuff, I called my driver, I said, these are my coordinates. I sat there for a while and then I got a radio call from her and she said, Oh, I've just hit a lock gate. I'm going to have to find somewhere else.
I said, you know what, I'll just start walking out and then I'll meet you at some point and I'll let you know what the next coordinates are. So I started walking and there's all kinds of high mosquitoes and there's bushes and it's dry and it's hot and it's about midday. And I'm walking along and and it just seems like I was walking forever. I had my water, had my CamelBak, and I was sipping off water, I thought, you know what, I better use this a little sparingly because I'm not sure if you can't find me behind some of these gates, I might have to, you know, I have to be out here a little bit longer.
So I started walking and walking and I've started getting hot and really kind of irritated because she started calling me back and said, no, I've got another lock gate. I got another locked gate. And I was like, well, find something. And she said, Oh, can I call the sheriff? I'm like, no, no, no, no, no, no, don't call the sheriff. I don't want to do that. That's silly.
Just find another way around. Had been walking for about two hours already, and she called me and said I just had a flat tire and I don't know what to do and I need to call the sheriff. And by then I was really hot and I was my I only had a little water left, but I had enough. And I think I just was getting a little overheated and I just said, please just find me. I didn't comprehend what was going on with her because she was having a breakdown of her own and not being able to find me.
So finally, I get to a fence and it's a really, really, really, really, really high fence. And it's locked. And I go, oh, my God. And I said, OK, the first coordinates is where my gear is.
The second coordinates is where this gate is. Can you just come to this gate? And she said, no, I've got a flat tire. And I said, Oh, just change the tire. I said, I'm going to walk back to my stuff because instead of you come to this gate, just come to where I'm at, just come to where I'm at. So I turned around and I was getting irritated by now. I turned around and I started walking back the direction I thought I'd come from because I didn't know any more.
I went past this one shrub and it was pulling on me and I was kind of dragging my water behind along with me on my on my Crookes of my arm, and it kind of went into these bushes. And I'm and I'm pulling and I'm like, what's going on? I yank it. And the nipple pulled off of my water bottle and I watch all of my water go pouring onto the ground. So that oh, no. Now, what am I going to do?
So I started wandering around what I thought was going back and I thought I was trying to figure out where I'd come from, I didn't make any marks. And so I was looking on the ground trying to see where my footprints and I couldn't figure it out. And I just realized I am in big trouble now. I'm looking at myself and I'm thinking, wow, I'm pretty dry, I'm no longer sweating, and then I thought, oh no, this is not good.
And I started to cry and and then I realized, oh, my God, I am not generating any tears. I'm squeezing my eyes and I'm like, why am I crying, but I'm not I'm not really crying. And I thought, Oh, God. Finally, probably about two hours later, I find my stuff I stumble on and I'm like, oh, here's my stuff that was so happy to see my stuff. And my last transmission to my crew was just go to my last go to where I told you I was, where I to go to where I landed.
And then I lost radio contact with her. So then I'm sitting on the ground and I feel really, really not very well. I feel hot and I feel drowsy. And I thought, this is not going to turn out well for me. I'm not going to I'm not going to make it out of here because I am I am so thirsty. My mouth is so dry. My my head is just spinning. Now I'm done, I there's no place else to go, there's nothing for me to do.
So I literally plonked myself down and I was actually really happy to get off of my feet, even though I was sitting in the sun because there was no shade. And with my legs laid out in front of me, I just felt defeated. And I thought, oh, I'm going to call I'm going to call Malcolm and I'm just going to tell him where I'm at because I want somebody to know that when they find me, when they find my body here, that I at least said goodbye.
He rescued me when when Hollywood died and I thought, you know, maybe you rescue me now, but how can I? But I just want to hear somebody, somebody's voice that would tell me that it's going to be OK, because I had I knew it would not be OK. And so I called him up. And he said and he got angry and I want to say hello, you know, just wanting to go to sleep. That's what I want to do.
I just want to rest. I'm so tired, you know, I don't know where my crew is. I you can't find me. I'm in the desert. I have no water. I've been out here for about five hours and I don't know what to do. And he's asking me all these questions and I couldn't answer them. And because I didn't know the answer, where is the driver? I don't know. Where are you? I don't know.
I do you are you drinking water? I don't think so. I don't know. I don't know what happened to it. It's gone. I don't have any water.
And right now it really touched my heart when I think about poor me back then because it was just it was, it felt like just a hopeless situation. And I was saying my goodbyes. And then I finally just hung up because I couldn't do that anymore. I was too exhausted, just I mean, I've never felt such exhaustion in my life. I just want to sleep. And I laid down. I laid down. And and that was so nice.
And I close my eyes and all of a sudden, you know, how you're when you're when you if you lay down in the sun and the sun is laying on your face and the sun's coming through your eyelids and you and it kind of makes this yellowish kind of look, this kind of golden. And that's what that's what I was seeing. I was just swaddled in this beautiful golden. Blight and all of a sudden I wasn't thirsty, I wasn't hot, I didn't feel the gravel, I finally felt the piece that I was looking for.
It was just like, wow, huh, is just is this is how it's supposed to be. I was fully resigned to stay asleep, staying, they're not going back to where it was hot, not going back to where I was thirsty. Now going back to where I was confused, not going back to being scared, I was not scared anymore. I was just happy. Then all of a sudden I heard this sound and it was a.
When I heard that sound coming from a distance and it just kept pulling on me to to acknowledge it and I was like, no, this is that's not part of this this thing, is it? And then I said, maybe it is. So maybe I better give it attention. So I listened a little closer.
I gave it some attention and it was my phone ringing. And I was like, oh, my phone. And I picked it up and I heard my driver saying, Teekay, they're looking for you, Teki. You need to wave something so they can see you. And I'm thinking, what is she talking about?
Get up with what? I mean, how can I get up. What am I going to use to get get myself up? I didn't I didn't understand that I had legs and arms and things that I could get up with. I didn't I didn't comprehend that I could get up. She just kept yelling to me, get up, there was a helicopter overhead and I kind of opened my eyes, then I did. I stood up and I have this red shirt and I just waved it over my head three times.
And then I sat back down and I laid down on the ground again. And all of a sudden. I felt the rocks of the prickly ground, I was hot, I was thirsty, I could not find my gold yellowish room anymore.
I was uncomfortable, I was unhappy, I was scared and I fell asleep. And I don't know how long, but it seems like just a few minutes later, I had somebody picking me up, sitting me up and putting liquids down my throat. I was very unhappy to have left that place, that place was so, so peaceful, and it's kind of strange, you know, people will tell me, oh, I think you're your vital organs were shutting down and blah, blah, blah.
I said, you know what? I don't know what we're shutting down, but it was a place where I wished everybody could be at one time in their life. We're all you have is just this light that is giving you warm feelings of love and life. And now I come back and I was I was not happy with those people when they woke me up because I was like, what is going on? But when they gave me the water, oh, my God, that was like pumping life back into me.
Then the happiness came back. It was fantastic. And I was happy to be back there with them. I was just happy. I didn't I didn't die. I've been out there probably about five or six hours wandering around, and it is not a place that suffers fools. I got him a truck, they bounced me out of there and I looked over at where I had been laying and sitting, and it just occurred to me, wow, that's where I was at.
And it flash back to me of when I first landed there and how confident I was and when I actually arrived back there, how that just drove me to my knees in despair. You know, the two people, the person who landed there and the person they were taking out were two different people. I told my driver, we're going to go back to Hobbs, New Mexico, back where Hollywood and I first started our journey back where we first started our adventure, back where we first started flying for world records, back to where he was proud of me.
And because I did not leave a very good impression in Zapata. So I thought, you know what, I'm going to go back to what I know, I'm going to go back to where we were safe, back to where things were good until Hollywood died. So I went back there. I needed to do it. I needed to go back and maybe I could feel Hollywood's energy again if I go there. So we went and it was everything but that it was absolutely horrible.
I just I couldn't concentrate because I was dehydrated and then just went right back flying. Two days later, I had tunnel vision. I couldn't focus. I could barely get myself on the ground. When I landed out someplace, I was delirious in the air. I was seeing faces and people while I was flying, I called my driver. She found me. We packed it up and I just said, we're going home. And then. And I haven't flown for record since.
It's a part of who I am, it's brought me to where I am. It's brought me it's made me appreciate my limitations. It helped me be so much less arrogant about myself and my flying. And whenever I get a little bit full of myself, I think back and say, you know what, I remember the last time you got full of yourself.
So the path that I'm on has been a rough road some of the time. And even though it's brought me to where I'm at, I'll have to see what the future brings. I'll have to wait, because this is this is this is who I am right now and and I'm OK with it. And maybe whatever happened in the past is going to be brilliant for me in the future. So I can't change that. But maybe there's something waiting for me because of my past that will color my future.
And I'm excited about that. My mind always goes back to that little golden yellow room. When I get afraid of something like get scared or think, oh, my God, you know, I don't know, something's going to happen, it just this little kernel says, you know, maybe I'll go and see that little little piece for Yellow Room again. And you know what? Maybe it'll be OK. You know, when it's time that you'll be fine because you have that little extra bit of knowledge that when the wheels start falling off, there's a peaceful place for you.
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What if the ocean tested your faith? Christians have a bad reputation these days because they're so judgmental, they even get angry at other people for just living their lives the way they want to live their lives. I want to do what I can to live my life in a way that pleases God worthy of the calling I've received, not necessarily as a pastor or as a Christian leader, but just as a child of God. Religion has always been a part of my life, I can't imagine what my life would be without it.
When I was a teenager and we moved to this one church where they had a lively youth group, that's when this growth in my life really began to happen, my faith really grew, my relationship with God grew, and I wanted to become a youth pastor. So that's what I went to college for. It was a Bible college and I studied youth ministry. I was in my senior year at Bible College. My pastor became friends with a Korean pastor and I heard that Korean pastor say we're going to plant a church in Korea.
And I felt so drawn to that. So I went to Korea. I fell in love with Korea. I ended up staying there for a year and a half. But I didn't want to go back to New York and become a pew sitting. Do nothing on Sunday morning, Christian. And the opportunity came up for me to serve here in Guam at a Korean church, so I'm still working with Korean people like I used to, and I'm still working primarily with young people.
There was a guy at my church and he approached me, he said, Greg, I'm going to take a scuba diving course. Do you want to join? I said, I've always wanted to go to space, if there's one reason that I would do this scuba diving course, it's because I've heard that it feels like space with the zero G's and stuff. But I'm afraid of the deep parts of the water. I don't know if I would want to do that.
And then as I thought more, my mind went to God created that God created the part of the ocean, the parts that I'm afraid of. So I thought, is it really right for me to be afraid, afraid of something that God created? That is good. I'm not afraid of water, persay, I'm more afraid of things that I can't control. I think that fear is a part of everyone's life, but the Bible does say that perfect love casts out fear.
So I believe that if I really understand and grasp the love that God has for me, then there aren't many things that I'm going to be afraid of. And I came to the conclusion that I really shouldn't be afraid of that. So I joined the scuba diving course with him and I got my open divers certificate. Then it was a few years later I decided to get my advanced certification and it was it just opened up a whole new world. The end of March of twenty fifteen was spring break for a lot of my students, so I wanted to figure out what can I do with the kids in my youth group?
That might be fun. I was only able to plan with two boys, Sam and Kyle, one day, which was a day to go hiking down at cave, which is a very popular hiking spot in Guam. And one of my favorites, I really love cave. It's a beautiful place. We started the hike and the Kavis is down at the bottom of this land, but then there's a place where you can climb up the the jungle in the back of the cave that will lead you to a trail, to an ocean overlook.
And that overlook is so beautiful. And I said to the boys on a tom day, you can jump in there, but on a dangerous day, I said to the boys, people have died here and we need to be really careful. So we we came across one group of hikers coming up the trail and the lady said, oh, have a good hi, can be safe. And I said, yeah, well, we're going to jump in if if we want to, we're going to jump in.
And the lady said, oh, don't. She said she was very adamant about it. She said, we went to the overlook. It is so dangerous today. The water is not calm. It is not smooth. Do not do it. Do not do it. And she just kept at it. And I said very gently, Well, thank you. I appreciate it. When we got down to the water, I told the boys, do not under any circumstances go in that water because you will die, you will die, period.
But the waves being as high as they were, were crashing into the rocks and it was just magical. I think it's so beautiful and it's like a natural water park. Let's let's get a little wet. I decided I was going to go down there. I was looking for a comfortable place to sit. All I wanted was just to be splashed and then be gone. It's all volcanic, limestone, black, dark, volcanic rock, very jagged, very rough, so I looked for a part of the rock that would be comfortable for me to sit down on.
And I found a rock with my butt on a comfortable place and then my feet tucked in. So there was a form of security. So I was sitting down on that rock at the same time calling the boys. And I kind of convinced Kyle to come down and sit next to me. Kyle was on his way down to join me, and I had a choice to make that do I really want to take the seat on the right which is comfortable, or give him that seat and I can move to the left?
So I gave Kyle the better seat. A couple of waves came, neither of them was the one, but then we saw one that looked bigger than all the rest.
It splashed with such a force, this sheer volume of water, that when it landed, there was so much of it that it just dragged me right down into the ocean with it. The first thing I felt when I was in the water was, you know, I really need to take a breath.
And finally, as soon as I had enough of my face above the water, I could take my first gasp of air. The second thought, of course, was I can't believe this happened and I'm going to die. The sheer volume of water was a curse because it pulled me out, but it was also a blessing in disguise because it pulled me out away from the rocks far enough that when the waves came back and forth, it wasn't pushing me any more against the rocks toward the land.
It was actually pulling me out to the sea. As soon as I got my composure and I got above the water and I took a few breaths and the boys were just freaking out and of course, so was I, that what I decided to do was, OK, I'm just going to close my eyes and just look at so I close my eyes.
And for maybe 10 or 15 seconds, I just with all my might, I tried my best to get back to land. And when I opened up my eyes again, I was so much farther out than I had been. All of my waisting of that energy did absolutely nothing. I was so much farther out than I was, and that was when I decided, OK, that was a waste of energy. It was the scuba training kicking in. I just wasted a bunch of energy exerting it for nothing.
So what I'm going to do is just put my mind toward staying afloat for as long as possible. And I called for the boys, I just yelled these words, help me and then quickly call nine one one, because I didn't want them to jump in and help me because we would all have died and nobody would have known what had happened to us. And remember, there was no cell phone reception there. I knew all of this in real time that they're going to have to run up to the parking lot and this was their first time down there, by the way.
So they didn't know the the trail. I knew the trail. I was their guide. So I quickly said call nine one one, but when I did that, I knew that I was condemning myself to isolation.
And I realized I'm all alone out here and I just the depression sinking. But then, of course, being a man of faith, I don't believe I'm ever alone. We estimate that from the time that I fell in and they ran to get help until the moment that they were able to get a cell phone signal was about forty five minutes. So forty five minutes had elapsed before any help even knew that I was in that predicament. You know, I just I just began to get very angry with God, I was very angry, like, why me?
Why is this happening? Why would you let this happen today? I mean, I'm going to die, period.
It wasn't like maybe I'm going to die or I hope I'm not going to die. It was I'm going to die unless there's a miracle. And I began to say, really, God, I mean, this is how it's going to happen, I'm never going to have the chance to do this. I'm never going to have the chance to do that. I'm never going to have the chance to whatever whatever it is. So I was just very, very upset of all these different things.
And then and this was such a major thought that changed everything for me. My mind came to the fact that this was the week before Easter and I thought of the way that Jesus died because here I am moments away from my own death, and my mind turned to the fact that when Jesus died, he died surrounded by people making fun of him, yelling curses at him, just slandering and just making fun of him. And I thought to myself, wow, if he can die being surrounded by people who hate him, then I can die alone.
And my mind turned to the fact that when he died, he died naked, if Jesus can die naked, I can die with my clothes on and Jesus died a painful death. And I thought, if he can die a painful death, then I can die this relatively painless death. These two words came specifically came into my mind, the words grace and dignity, if he could die with so much grace and dignity in that situation. How much more can I just simply try to die with as much grace and dignity as I can muster up in my situation?
At that moment, I began to accept my fate. I changed my mind completely instead of complaining about never having the chance to do things in the future. I changed it to thanking God for the things that I've had the opportunity to do in my life up to that point. But one of the big things was instead of thinking about myself all the time, I began to think about other people and I prayed for them. I made a conscious choice to pray aloud.
I thanked God for my family first and I asked God, please, please bring them the kind of comfort and the kind of peace that only you can give in the midst of my passing. It's never going to be complete. But just please, if if at all possible, make it as complete as you can. Their healing. Then I prayed for the youth group and I prayed for some of them by name, and I also prayed for Sam and Kyle by name.
God let them not blame this on themselves. Let this not traumatize them into being afraid of the things that I used to be afraid of. As time passed, obviously, things were not getting any easier for me for the first, however long, maybe 10 or 15 minutes, I was tumbling with each wave that came. I was tossing and turning and being pushed under the water. And I just hated that I was swallowing a lot of water. I wasn't thinking at all about possibility or likelihood of sharks, although we do have sharks around one.
I wasn't thinking about sharks. Water was my enemy. The waves were my enemy. Staying afloat was my goal. Not being eaten wasn't even a thought. One thing that did happen, though, I felt something nibbling or nipping or just coming in and backing off, but coming in repeatedly and touching the bottom of my left shoe, I don't know to this day what it was, but I remember at the time kicking with my left foot kicking and saying, shoo, shoo, get away from me, go away, go away.
Because whatever it was was distracting me from my enemy, which was the water. Every wave was pushing, especially the peak of every wave was pushing my head under, I was swallowing water and it was just I mean, I was becoming less and less and less and less buoyant. But I began as I was improvising, I began to do these five things that really helped me to stay afloat above the waves. Number one, I faced the waves directly head on so that I could know when to expect them, number two.
Deep breath number three, move my feet just to burst myself up. Number four, push my hands down as a first. And number five, turn my head away so that the waves would hit the back of my head and not my face. So it wouldn't get in my nose, my mouth or my eyes or anything like that. I found that those things combined really helped. As time passed, I really begin to wonder more and more and more what are the chances of me being rescued?
I just began to eliminate one by one every thought that I had of how I might be saved. And I thought, well, that's it, that must be it, and then I thought. What about a helicopter? And I said, oh, God, as I thought of it, I said, Oh, God, please, Lord, send a helicopter. I believe completely that God can do it. That's not the question. The question is, would God do it for me?
Would God do something that crazy for me? Will he send a helicopter that ebbed and flowed just like the waves? There was one time, actually, that I was so low emotionally and I just thought to myself, why don't I just go down empty my lungs of the air, sink down a bit and then just with force, inhale all of that water just to end it? Because what's the point? Ever since I've been on Guam and I've been a youth pastor, I've been telling the kids, never give up hope in God.
And what if rescuers do find my body and then they do an autopsy and they find out that it was something that I did by force and then the kids from the church find out that he didn't practice what he preached. And I thought, I can't do that. And I thought, I really do need to leave this in God's hands and not put it in my own hands, if I die, God can be the one that allows that to happen without having me expedite that and make it happen earlier than it needs to.
It was a good thing I didn't do that because it was just maybe 10 or 15 minutes later that I saw a sight, that I'm stuttering because I don't even know how to put my joy into words. The helicopter coming across the land. And I thought, is it is that out here for me, so elated and to the best of my ability, I waved and I realized they only had so limited movement when I was waving or attempting to wave to the helicopter.
It wasn't a wave. It was much less than a wave, but it was all I could muster with the strength I had. And just as quickly as the hope came, it departed again with the helicopter. So when they turned and they went to the south and passed me for the first time, I prayed to God, send them back. And in the meantime, I was thinking, OK, what do I do to be more visible if they come back?
The swim trunks that I was wearing were bright orange, and I thought, well, this is the perfect color for the helicopter to see me. So I thought, if they do come back, I'm going to just hold it up above the water. Well, if I couldn't wave my hand the first time these pants were so waterlogged, I was not able to wave them, like with the extended kind of an arm, with the range of motion that I would need.
And so the helicopter passed a second time without seeing me at all. So. I made the choice to just drop them, and I remember looking down into the water with this bright orange, it was the most visible thing. I have these bright orange pants and letting them go. And they just sank down, down, down, until I couldn't see them any longer.
And I felt like I felt like my heart sank along with it. Like this is probably my number one lifeline here. If they're not going to see me with this, how are they going to see me with anything? And I'm letting it go. So I said to God, into your hands, I commit my spirit. And I said those words aloud with my mouth because I really felt like it was the end. I wasn't afraid of death itself, I was just not looking forward to the process.
I wasn't looking forward to the part of death that happens on this side of of the curtain. If I did pass beyond the veil of death in a way that is God showing grace to me in the ultimate way, I would be in heaven with him. The people left behind, my family, my friends, my church members would be very saddened, but I wouldn't be I would be in a better place. So I was prepared to accept whatever outcome there was.
And I was able to stay up. Until the helicopter came back again the third time and I thought, what am I going to do? With every 11 foot wave on the way down, it was relatively smooth, so when I saw the helicopter come with every wave on the way up, the wave did those five steps on the way down the wave. They floated on my back down the 11 foot backside of the wave, extending my arms and my legs out as if I was doing a snow angel and I didn't stop until they were out of sight.
But when they were out of sight, I just stopped and I looked northward again.
Looking toward the waves and I heard coming from behind me and it got louder and louder and louder. And I looked up, they were coming very close slowly, and they were much lower than they were, and I realized, oh God, you answered my prayers, thank you. And I just oh, I was so elated. I felt a tap on my shoulder and it was the rescue swimmer when I was all secured, he gave the helicopter a thumbs up.
One second I was in the water. The next second I was like literally 10 or maybe 15 feet higher above the water and we were on our way out. What a feeling of incredible relief like I've never had before. And looking down and thinking with this very clear thought, I am going to die, but not today. And I remember looking at those looming cliffs, looking at the waves that seemed so gigantic. And thinking, wow, look how small they look now.
And now I just can't help but think that is how God looks at the problems that we have. We look at them like, wow, that is such a big issue. But for God, it's like, yeah, I can take care of that. And that's exactly what he did for me. I don't know how accurate this is, but one, the rescue workers said the average time of survival is like eight minutes or something like. And then I thought, is it really eight minutes?
I mean, how can it be that low? I've heard of people passing within 15 minutes or forty five minutes or something like that, but I was in the water for an hour and a half.
I did have nightmares not having the peace of mind, I could not go to sleep, I needed sleeping pills, but I only had nightmares for two nights. My mom had nightmares for months. But now my PTSD is mostly when I'm preparing to go snorkeling or out in the ocean.
That's the kind of thing that I get really anxious about. Obviously, one take away that I have is trust God in everything. It doesn't mean that my faith is as whole as it should be, and it certainly doesn't mean that my fear is completely gone either, but I'm more thankful for especially for every day. And I'm thinking, yeah, God created this day, God created that day that I fell into the water, that day was the worst day of my life, but it was also the best day of my life.
I look at life like, OK, just like I couldn't control the fact that I ended up in the water that day, I had no control over whether the helicopter came or I had no control over many things that day. And I understand that every day I have no control over so many things. I make the choice now, no matter how good I feel or no matter what side of the bed I wake up on, I make the choice to be thankful and forgive me.
I'm not trying to sound too preachy. I'm just trying to tell you this is my mind set. It really is. So even if I do die in a in any situation or even if things in my life do not go according to my plan or according to the way that I would want them to go, even if everything seems that it's against me, I will still make the choice to rejoice and be glad, because I know that God is good and I know that he has allowed these things to happen for a reason.
And I don't need to know what those reasons are. That's his jurisdiction. He's God. He can know those things. I don't have to know those things. All I can do is simply trust. And that is good enough for me. Part three. What if a boulder crushed your dreams? Going to the desert in the spring is almost like a yearly rite of passage for people who live in Colorado. People talk about with almost this reverence, like people just call it the desert, like we're going to the desert.
Bright blue sky against Red Rock, the bright green spring plants, and they're sort of the sweet spot April into early May, where the temperatures are perfect, getting out and getting into the desert and getting into the springtime always felt really great, something that I definitely to this day look forward to.
Two thousand eight, I was a student at Fort Lewis College, which is in Durango, Colorado, a friend of mine who lived in Boulder at the time, wanted to come down to do a backpacking trip.
We've been friends for several years at that point, and at that time I had never been out there before. It's the Cedar Mesa area of southeastern Utah and it's really well known for beautiful canyons, deep canyons, as well as archaeological sites.
So we thought that that sounded cool. We'd gotten some information from some folks and we were heading out there for a three day backpacking trip. We took a friend of mine's truck out there because we both had pretty low clearance vehicles at the time and we knew it was potentially kind of a rough road.
Drive down the long dirt road and when we start hiking and it was a pretty typical beautiful day in April in the desert, we look at the map, we think we know where we're going, and we start following some Caren's piles of rocks that tell folks sometimes where the trails going.
They're also notorious for leading people astray.
But what kind of like matched up what we thought and with what our map was saying? And, you know, the the closer we get to the bottom of the canyon, we kind of start to wonder. And then when we were almost to the bottom of the canyon, we realized that there wasn't really a clear route to the Kieran's. It kind of petered out like, well, we know we have to be in the bottom of the canyon. So my friend Bree went one way and I went the other and.
Sekara Sanshin will make up these very large cliff bands, these big benches of rock, and that's largely what we'd been walking across and it can be really easy and stable to walk on your shoes, stick to it really well.
But it's also called Slick Rock for a reason.
I sat down in the way that you sometimes do if you're trying to peer over something that you can't quite see over.
I couldn't really tell how far the ground was away from where I was. And I'm just trying to peer.
So I'm like, oh, well, maybe I can move a little move a little bit closer if I take my backpack off and I go to take my backpack off. And somehow in that motion, in that shifting, that's the moment that for whatever reason, that's when I started to slide. I started to pick up speed and I knew I knew was it wasn't going to end well. The backs of my legs are just getting cheese grater along on the sandstone, I'm trying to stop myself sort of ineffectually like clawing at the rock with my hands, but knowing one hundred percent for sure, like, this is steep.
I'm wearing a 40 pound backpack. Like, I'm not I'm not stopping. So at this point, I'm screaming, I'm screaming for my friend, I'm terrified. One hundred percent certainty that I'm about to take a big fall. I knew I was going fast. Sure enough, there's that moment where now I'm just falling. And I knew that I was going to hit the ground hard. When I hit, I landed on my feet first and then I collapsed onto my side.
I kind of remember just some chaos, like I'm screaming Breese yelling my name. She's kind of screaming. She's like scrambling down to me. She approached me from behind. I remember that because she came up to my head.
We had both recently taken wilderness first responder courses. It's a 10 day, 80 hour course. That scene is sort of the gold standard. They really emphasize in those classes being really mindful of moving someone who might have some kind of spinal injury, some kind of neck injury. She doesn't remember it, but I think I remember her doing just like a textbook roll onto my back. I remember having some thoughts along the lines of like, I'm screwed. And then the other thought I had at that time was I'd really wanted to become an Outward Bound instructor, backpacking and rock climbing, and I'd done an Outward Bound course before I went to college.
And it really changed the way I looked at my life. And I just been hired to work my first season that was supposed to start new staff training, and I was like, I was so excited, you would have thought, I don't know that I just won the Nobel Peace Prize or something. I was like, so excited to be an Outward Bound instructor.
And in that moment was gone. Even for the split second before the chaos of the next few moments ensued, already having this feeling of of sadness that I lost, that I lost something that I was going to be losing, something that was really important to me, which ended up being true. So there's this initial phase, they call it the scene size up in the the parlance of wilderness medicine, that we literally didn't do any of it. I think one of one of the things I learned that fear can make you forget everything that you think that you know.
When you're scared, you forget all of the things that you know you're supposed to do, so this process before she left to go get help was very fast because our adrenaline is like through the roof. We established there was no way I was walking. There was something definitely wrong with my back. I mean, searing pain, like maybe crushing. I don't even know exactly what the right adjective is, but like something had like I was being crushed was basically how it felt was in my lower back.
And then related to that, I couldn't really move one of my feet. And I felt some numb spots in my feet in the side of my leg, and I knew enough. You don't have to have any medical training to know that if your back hurts and you're having a hard time moving any of your limbs, that's probably pretty bad.
And then I looked at my arm, which was clearly broken, bruised, swollen, deformed.
We needed to get help and we needed to get it pretty fast. We will never forget, like looks me right in the face and she's sort of wrapped my rain jacket around my neck is sort of a makeshift neck collar to remind me not to move my head. And she looks me right in the eyes and she says, I love you. And then she says, Don't fucking move. And then I was just I was just there. It was the most alone, I would say, the most alone I've ever felt, but it was actually the most alone I've ever been.
I didn't just feel like I was alone. One of the strangest things about this experience was sort of this just like calm that washed over me. Like this weird calm that was like right on the verge of panic. I didn't cry, you know, no screaming, the pain ebbed to a degree like where it was sort of this background, like dull ache.
We just can't sustain that level of fear and that amount of adrenaline for very long, so it is almost as if, you know, something in my brain was saying like, let's rest. And then I just laid there and looked up at the blue sky and watched a few clouds and then just over and over in my head, I remember repeating, you're OK, you're OK, you're OK.
Because if I stopped doing that, it became abundantly clear to me that no one knew where I was, except for no one knew what had happened to me and that I was in a pretty precarious situation. I just was there kind of just watching the sun move and waiting for her to come back. The silence of the desert is something that when people say deafening silence, it is truly when you're deep in those canyons, you are far away from everything.
And there's not a lot of animal life, there's not water running, there's not a whole lot of planes flying overhead, it is still. And that was the space that I was inhabiting and it was in sort of a weird way mirrored in what was ever going on in my body and in my brain. I wasn't experiencing fear. But there was this weird sort of suspended period of time that could have been a 30 minutes or could have been six hours, like I I had no idea how much time was passing.
And it really was just. This bizarre, quiet moment where I was just keeping a lot of those thoughts at bay. I trusted the brud come back for me. I hear her starting to call my name and I'm very relieved, so I'm trying to, like, yell back and it's like in that bad dream when you're trying to yell and nothing's coming out. I hear her voice getting closer, and she fortunately remember exactly where we were that we didn't have a GPS or anything, anything like that.
Finally, I see her kind of come back over the rock, wherever it was she had gone back up from, and with her is the ranger who had gotten her permit from earlier that day. And then he's going to go back out and direct the search and rescue team to where we are. And then it's just me and Bree. At this point, all of the things I've been holding inside and sort of the around the periphery of my thinking, the everything just busts loose.
I'm screaming, I'm terrified like tears all over the place, snot everywhere, like squaring your body just kind of is running the show. During this experience, you don't really have a lot of control over what's happening. So in the same way, that was kind of had no control over the fact that I'd like really calm down while breathe was gone. As soon as she was back, I think. And I knew that in some way I was on the way to being safe.
It was full on floodgates open, and I don't know how long this lasted for.
It couldn't have been too long, but eventually it passed. That was really the apex of the terror and the anger and the grief all just sort of poured out and then was gone. And then finally, the search and rescue team does come, and it was really notable that they weren't prepared to be outside like I knew enough about about search and rescue and about the kinds of things you do and don't do during a rescue to be to feel pretty concerned.
It's kind of hard to describe like they weren't they were kind of carrying me and kind of lowering me, you know, they had me the litter that I'm in on a rope system so that if someone drops me, I don't just, like, go tumbling down into the bottom of the canyon. So I'm like sort of bumping along on the sandstone and sort of being carried. And and I do remember at one point turning debris and just saying, like, it's so beautiful here.
And the bumping continues and then at some point the cavalry had arrived or something like all of a sudden I went from this like very awkward, getting bumped around and awkwardly carried situation to professional rescuers, like lift me up kind of onto their shoulders.
And I'm like, feel like I'm rocketing down the canyon at that point. The helicopter lands I take off, but then the helicopter lands at the hospital. I kept asking them about my back. After all these X-rays and whatever, they put a little boot thing on one of my feet and they're like, what? We'd like you to try and stand up. So try to stand up. And I just collapsed onto the floor because as was revealed shortly thereafter when they did X-ray my foot, because I did have a cracked heel and I couldn't put any weight on it.
And as I learned, not till probably five days or a week later, I had a compression fracture in my lower back, which was causing the pain. And that caused the numbness was that there were these shards of bone that were poking into my nerve endings in my low back, and that was causing numbness. I also I had what they call a drop foot, which people who suffer stroke sometimes get where I couldn't lift up one of my feet like I couldn't I had no ability to hold it up.
I couldn't move my big toe on that foot, these big, weird, numb spots. And they were basically like, if you're really careful, this can heal itself. It's actually really amazing. Your body can reabsorb bone shards like that. If you're not careful, you could get into some situations with some really serious nerve damage. Fortunately, it did heal itself and really the only residual problems I have from that are these two weird numb spots, like one on my foot and one on the side of my leg.
With my rest, it just the break didn't heal, even after some pretty serious, significant intervention.
So I have a plate in there now and then everything else healed on its own. And I wonder if this is true for a lot of people who've gone through something traumatic, that really the worst part begins when the event itself is over. I had to withdraw from school, move back home, move in with my parents or with my mom for months I was in bed or I was on the couch. Think probably the first month I was home, I was like asleep because once I was no longer sleeping a lot of the day I was in this weird space where I was twenty one, you know, a young adult.
And I was I was pretty helpless. And my mom had to take care of me. And she works full time. She works from home. She's a writer. And now she also had this full time job taking care of me.
And at one point she thought that maybe she was going to have to hire somebody to come and help me. And I think I was so upset by that that she changed her mind. People came to visit and and whatnot, but something I've tried to keep in mind ever since then when I've had a friend who's who's been injured or on bed rest during pregnancy or something like that, that right after something happens, people are very interested in you and they want to come over and bring you treats and magazines and whatever.
But after a couple of weeks, like after the novelty wore off, you know, other than my really close friends, people were had kind of forgotten about me. But I was still for four months just lying on the couch. Being on the cusp of adulthood, independence is really important and feels really important, and you're becoming this adult separate from your parents. My parents were pretty recently divorced at that point. You know, I was going to be graduate.
I had one more semester of college. I was like ready to go off on the path that I had chosen for myself. And I was yanked off it pretty harshly and just put back in this weird space of, I don't know, not even really being like a child again. I mean, almost even worse, just being in limbo. I didn't know it was going to I didn't know it was going to happen like that. I ended up recovering really quite well.
But there was a very real chance that I was going to be dragging my foot around forever. I had no no idea.
That crisis of identity, of being twenty one years old and thinking my life was going to be one way and having the harsh reality that it was in fact going to be a very different and unknown way. When I first started working it out or bound, it was really the first time as a young adult that I felt like a sense of belonging somewhere, like I had found a place where I really fit. I'd found something that felt comfortable for me for the first time, really, in my my young adult life, and that was going to have to to change.
So I just I built my whole identity around this.
You know, it was maybe the first time that I had to be really flexible and adaptable and look at the person who I thought that I was in the first year.
I thought that I wanted to be and then understand that that had to change.
And I think that that is something that's been a constant in my life, that we make our plans and then something comes along and changes them, ruins them, crushes them, forces you to look at your life and decide what you're going to do instead.
The hardest part was the helplessness. Well, I was feeling the realization that and that you're like that your physical body, which I, of course, took for granted until that moment.
It's not infallible. The thing that was the most Eye-Opening for me was the randomness of accidents, the tenuousness of our existence.
Even though we were pretty young, Bree and I had combined a lot of outdoor experience and we had a lot of outdoor experience together and I slipped and fell, being young and kind of knowing what you're doing is not insurance against having something like this.
Looking back on it now, it sounds silly and I think I don't want it to come across that way that like, oh, poor me, I couldn't have this fun summer job that I wanted, that it's more it's more about I have very visceral knowledge and understanding that fortunately many people don't have of the way that your life can change in an instant.
And I got a glimpse into how your life could really change like forever.
Today's episode featured Teekay Mashi, Greg Barns and Shina made him Teekay Mashi is an owner and operator, a cowboy up hang gliding in Wharton, Texas. You can find out more about it at sea. You hang gliding dotcom. Greg Barns currently lives in Guam and works at Kessell Zion Church as the youth and English ministry pastor. He is currently turning his story into a book. Greg welcomes anyone contacting him at Greg Barns, Guam at Gmail dot com. That's Barnes spelled to be a R and S Shayana Maitham is a writer living in Colorado.
You can read her work at Shina, Madame Dotcom. That's a I and a Amawi to, um, dot com. Today's episode of This Is Actually Happening was co-produced by me, witness Aldeen and Andrew Waite's with special thanks to Ellen Westberg, Gabby Quinton's and John Williams. You can now access the show ad free on Wonder E-Plus by going to wonder E-Plus Dotcom happening to engage with the community. Please join the. This is actually happening discussion group on Facebook or follow us on Instagram at actually happening.
And to become an ongoing supporter of the show you can contribute at Patreon Dotcom. Happening as always, please rate and review the show on iTunes. Thank you for listening. And until next time, stay tuned.