I don’t know a whole lot about Search and Rescue, but I do know that there is a group of dedicated and skilled volunteers who do a great service, both for people who want to recreate in their wilderness environment, and for those whose jobs require them to expose themselves regularly, to the unpredictable elements of this wild and remote area in which we live.
Not only do they risk their own lives to save the lives of others, they also come face to face with some horrific, shocking and gruesome situations. They have assisted some very grateful people over the years, and I suspect each of them has been personally touched and have many stories to tell.
Every family, every worker and every individual who has benefited from their services -regardless of the outcome- also has a story to tell.
I would now like to tell you mine.
Oddly enough, my story begins on Sept 11th – not the famous one of 2001, but one 30 years prior
It was a sunny Saturday morning, in 1971, and I was a little 7-year-old girl, riding my bike on the sundeck.
My dad found me there to say goodbye, as he was heading off with a couple of friends, on a trip to Chilko Lake to hunt mule deer and moose. They were going to the remote wilderness area, traveling on a Trans Mountain piloted Beaver airplane. He was dressed in big boots and camouflage gear, and had his large backpack full and in place.
My 7 year old self-centered mind could not understand how my dad could even think about going away, leaving me behind. The only way I knew how to communicate my unhappiness was to refuse to give him a kiss and a hug goodbye. Perhaps evidence of the female manipulative mind already developing!
I have always regretted not giving him that kiss, because I never saw him again.
It was only a few hours later that we learned his plane had gone missing.
After receiving this news – in that agonizing period of time when we just didn’t know – we clung to the hope that there were search and rescue volunteers scouring the area, finding and rescuing the 4 men who surely must be alive.
I don’t know how gruesome it is to come across a crash site and to retrieve bodies – unrecognizable perhaps – to carefully remove watches from lifeless wrists and wedding bands from stiff fingers.
But I do know that these acts are as invaluable to the families who remain, as it is horrific for those whose duty it befalls.
Earlier this year, a long time family friend and business partner of my dad’s brought me a treasure. I don’t know what triggered him to dig it out of an old drawer or box where it had lain largely untouched for over 37 years, but I am grateful that he kept it safe, and remembered it.
The treasure was coins, retrieved by the Search and Rescue worker who found my dad’s body. I can picture him reaching into Dad’s burnt clothing, and taking out the charred pieces. I imagine that the black carbon molecules that you can still see on them were perhaps once a part of my dad’s physical body. At any rate, I’m sure you can imagine how I felt, holding them in the palm of my hand for the first time. They were coins that were in his pocket when he tried to kiss me goodbye; coins that traveled with him on the plane, crashed with him, were with him when he died and have survived all these years. . Holding these coins made me realize that it was time to give back.
My dad was an avid outdoorsman. He enjoyed camping, fishing and exploring in the summer months and was a ski enthusiast in the winter. Like him, I also believe in the value of being active in the outdoors. It is how and where I am inspired and feel connected.
I was fortunate to have traveled to Antarctica in November 2007, and was treated to landscapes, wilderness and wildlife like I’ve never seen before. I have had a spot reserved, on the Antarctic Marathon tour for over 2 years now, and it is time to make a commitment. It means completing my first ever marathon on what many claim is the last continent on earth, in a tough environment of ice, snow, rock, and freezing temperatures. It also means going back for a reason bigger than myself.
Having the opportunity to raise money for Campbell River’s Search and Rescue Mobile Command Post; using the marathon as a unique platform, has inspired me. I have started my training, have begun contacting a growing list of potential sponsors and am getting a fundraising plan underway.
I do this for many reasons:
I do this to honour the life of James Robert Austin, a man, a husband, a friend, a businessman, an adventurer, and my father.
I do this to give back to a community that has supported my family for over 40 years.
I do this to thank a group of dedicated and skilled volunteers known as Campbell River Search and Rescue, and because there are many families besides mine who have stories to tell.
And I do this to challenge myself physically, in a remote and wild place and to encourage others to get out and get moving, in this amazing piece of the planet that we are so fortunate to inhabit.
Susan McLoughlin values being active in the Outdoors. She is excited to be returning to Antartica in March 2009 to run her first marathon in support of Search and Rescue.