Radcliff’s Challenge


Getting lost in the desert is a life changing experience. How could this possibly happen? I was actually very prepared for it. All my homework done, equipment secured, charged, stowed and ready for use. When I set out on this journey, it was my intention to walk, canoe and climb, culminating in a hearty trek across a desert to a destination high in the mountains, and back. I was registered in the backcountry office of the park and assured by everyone that if I came up missing, I would be searched for and rescued. I had my GPS(Global Positioning Satellite) device, my cell phone, chargers, extra batteries, the whole works. In my gear I had every modern survival tool available. After spending nearly a year preparing for this one trip, I decided I was ready, all plans in place and practice accomplished. I was healthy, fit, strong and ready for this adventure. As you can see in this desert, the environment was harsh and rugged. There were rivers, streams, vast stretches of rocks and trails. Plant life was diverse but sparse. Most animals that lived in the desert only came out at night, but there were quite a few, especially birds that circled high in the sky, scavengers waiting for something to die.

I made a critical mistake while navigating a river. The three days before, since starting the trek, was much in the water in a fiberglass canoe, loaded with my gear. The plan was to go as far as I could without portage and the hike and climb the rest of the way and return to the canoe. A sensible plan, practical and doable. The only problem was that I stopped and pulled the canoe up on a sandbar, as I often did when I needed to relieve myself or to have a meal and rest. I would snap what I called the picnic pack off the major backpack, leaving it and the other gear in the canoe. I would walk a little ways, locate a good spot to relax and eat. On this one particular occasion, I was made aware of my mistake. When I returned to the canoe, it was gone. I hadn’t secured it well enough and it simply wiggled loose and floated away. I was stranded, alone with just enough food and water for a couple of days. My fatal mistake was to not take the cell phone with me when I walked away. I had left it in the backpack in the canoe. I walked downstream for three days trying to locate the canoe with no luck. My next mistake was a decision to try to walk to a village for help. According to my calculations it was Northeast about twelve miles. I miscalculated, walked in the wrong direction and got lost.Experienced hikers and survivalists know that it is possible to try to walk in a straight line, but that one leg is longer than the other and takes bigger strides which results in you walking in circles. This is possibly what happened to me. When I became exhausted, I slept under this tree. I slept under this tree for ten more long nights. I searched for water and food early in the mornings and survived on a variety of beef jerky I had with me in the picnic pack and plants and even bugs I found. My water source was the small amount of water inside cactus. With a large knife I was able to cut the center of the cactus out and squeeze the water out into a cup until I had enough to satisfy my thirst. I continued this process until I had enough water for the day and night. I did this work early when it was cool. I felt like I nearly froze at night and burned in the scorching sun during the day. I did have a space blanket which served to keep me warm in the evening and it reflected the sun during the day acting as a reflective source for search teams to spot. I had no such luck. I was never rescued even though they searched for me for weeks. This tree was where I spent my time. Under those bushes was a little shelter and shade.

The tree became my home and I did all my thinking and plotting there. I asked myself all the questions. I provided what answers I could. I got creative at times and even built a HELP sign out of rocks in hopes that a helicopter would see it. I could hear the choppers at times but there was nothing I could do.

“Alex Radcliff here”, I write in my notebook, “By now I’m sure I’m dead and I hope someone finds this letter. It is my last. I only have myself to blame for my demise. All the planning I did was for naught because I missed one vital part, don’t lose the canoe loaded with gear. It’s certainly no one else’s fault and I accept full responsibility for myself and my consequences. Oh, I messed up. I admit it. I push myself hard and perhaps I did it on purpose subconsciously, just to challenge myself. Maybe I needed a crisis to solve. If so, I didn’t solve the problem. The desert will kill you if you are not adequately prepared. I’m sure by now I’ve succumbed. The sheer power of nature can put you down if you don’t adapt quickly enough. I was ill prepared with just my picnic pack. It helped for a few days, but I had no luck in escaping the extremes and surely my body became dehydrated and hypothermia set in and took over. A human body can only take so much. Without proper water and nutrition it cannot exist for long in the desert. I am proud of myself for accepting the challenge to survive in the desert and even though I did not, I would have it no other way. If I can live deliberately, and I did, I can also die deliberately. You will find in the notebook that I kept good records, even to the last pen stroke. You will see that I documented my trek well. My journal will prove that I did all I could to survive. It is my sincere desire that this knowledge us useful to someone in some way. I hope everyone understands that it is not acceptable to lose your canoe and I must shake my head and laugh that it really happened. What a bonehead, Larry! I should have listened to you and became a bartender. To my friends and family, I have left individual personal notes for you in the notebook. To the general public, I offer my explanation and apologies for depleting your resources used in the search. My estate will be able to pay the bill for those services I so much appreciate. The effort, I’m sure was commendable. I appreciate all of you guys for going to bat for me. I know you wish you’d found me in time. I do too. Sometimes things are the way they are supposed to be. I think this was one of those times. In closing, just let me say, don’t lose your gear. It may cost you your life. Never give up and above all, be of good cheer! — Radcliff

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