Near death experience at Teddy Roosevelt National Park, in North Dakota

After going 36 hours without sleep, and 20 without water, I’m finally able to recount the events that occurred on Sunday, October 25th, and continued until the following evening. Thank you to those of you who encouraged me to write this.

Sunday, October 25th, began by me waking at 3:00 AM. Was originally planning on visiting Little Bighorn, Montana, the site of Custer’s Last Stand, (though I nearly had a last stand of my own a short while later).

Got in my companies loaner car, a black Chevy Malibu, (my company is very generous to its drivers, and the way it treats it’s drivers is extremely rare to find in the trucking industry. Too many instances of their generosity to note) to drive to Newtown from Killdeer. As I was driving, it was raining and my speed was 55. Suddenly, after passing hundreds of signs in just the last two years warning me about deer, the reason for the warning appeared. There was the proverbial “deer in the headlights”. They are stunned and disoriented, confused and dazed. Well this deer just stood and stared at certain death, too stupefied to move. I love deer, and hate the idea of hitting any animal, particularly a harmless, beautiful, peaceful, gentle deer, so I swerved to the left and applied the brakes. Well, the lights revealed the front, not the sides, and as I swerved, ANOTHER DEER appeared, directly in my path. There was no avoiding this one. It must have timed it’s spring directly for the moment of impact, because there was a loud THUMP, followed by the deer pogo-sticking off the hood, 3-5 feet in the air, and off to the passenger side of the car. I desperately hope it lived and wasn’t badly injured. Didn’t stop.

Drove to Newtown, had a great discussion with a few fellow drivers, and got my stuff and changed my plans, as I was delayed, it would take 5.5 hours to get to Montana, and Little Bighorn, and if I left at 10, I likely would be back at 7 or later, which was too late for me. So, change of plans, decided to find some history that was more local and decided on Medora, named after the wife of the Marquis De Mores. She was the daughter of a wealthy NY Banker. The Marquis came to the area, set up the first meatpacking plant in the area, only to see his business hopes dashed by the severe blizzards of 1886, which killed millions of cattle, and pulverized the cattle industry, wiping out many cattle barons and their fortunes. The remains of the meat packing plant are still there, along with the home. Disappointing to learn, upon arriving, that the home was closed, though the internet said it was open. So, right next door was “The Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Section”. Had already visited the site of Teddy Roosevelt’s Badlands ranch, “The Elkhorn”, getting my car stuck in the “Big Muddy” the Little Missouri River on my way back, getting towed out by a friendly neighboring rancher with his John Deere tractor.

Had also visited the North section of Teddy Roosevelt National Park a few months back, and saw a lot of bison. Roosevelt’s love of the wild, of adventure, and of “The Strenuous Life”, the title of one of the books he authored, have always been inspiring to me. The word strenuous is not commonly used, but, it commonly leads to peace and satisfaction to those who lead strenuous lives, the word meaning “requiring or using great exertion”. Little did I know that I was about to have the most strenuous 31 hours of my whole life

Went to the parks visitors center, bought a few books, and watched a short 17 minute video. The rangers, young adults all, were required to wear masks, though to their great credit, they did not prompt me to wear a mask. I wouldn’t have worn one anyway if they had. Already been arrested three times for not wearing a mask, and don’t mind being arrested 1,000 more times resisting this bogus hoax, the biggest fraud in human history. As I was checking out, I asked the young gentleman ranger on his views, and when he hurriedly tried to tell me he can’t discuss these things as a park ranger, and that it’s his job to wear masks, I asked him does the Goverment own him? He tried to escape, and I offered him my website, which he politely declined, and I wished him and his fellow rangers well and set off on my adventure.

There is a 38 mile driving path through the park where you can see a lot of the spectacular scenery.

This hill is remarkably similar to the one I climbed and stood on for nearly 14 hours, using a Juniper tree as a shield against wind. There were Buffalo all around the hill, and I could hear them grunting and chewing throughout the night.

Not having my phone, these pictures from the internet capture the beauty nicely. After passing a number of signs about walking trails, I finally decided to interrupt my car tour, and to get out and hike. Do not get much cardiovascular exercise as a truck driver, so have to take advantage of every exercise opportunity possible. The sign said, “Jones Creek trail loop, 11.3 miles”.

Here is a map of the park and trails.

As you can see, the black straight lines represent the 38 mile car tour, and among the brown dotted hiking path lines are Jones Creek trail. Drove by Johnson’s Plateau, and the Cottonwood campground. Passed by the CCC trail, named for the Conservation Corps, the young men who the greedy bankers forced into Goverment jobs when they crashed the stock market in 1929. Interestingly, the NY bankers (I can’t even say who they are, or I’ll be called “anti-Semitic”) are up to their old tricks right now, with the coronavirus hoax, we are approaching stage 5.

Here are two map closeups, which are marked.

It’s now occurring to me what the problem was. I missed the Badlands spur connecting the Lower Paddock Creek Trail to the Lower Talkington trail, adding about 14 miles on, for a total of 25 miles, instead of the anticipated 11. Had I not missed the Badlands spur, all would have went as planned. Did not take maps with me, was relying on maps on the trail. It’s possible the spur was at the trail where I had to hike over hills to avoid the first Buffalo herd on the trail. When I reached the junction of Upper Paddock Creek and Painted Canyon, I had already hiked 12 miles in about 4 hours.

At the Jones Creek trailhead, decided to hike rather than drive, and when I noted the 11 mile trail, which is the 3.5 mile Jones Creek trail, then the .9 mile CCC trail, on the site of the former CCC camp, then the 3.6 mile Lower Paddock Creek trail, followed by the 1.4 mile Badlands Spur, and the 1.8 mile Lower Talkington Trail, and the final 1 mile of the Jones Creek back to my car.

The blue circle around the hiker is where I started at 1:30 on the afternoon of Sunday. The arrows show the direction.

Set off on my trek in high spirits, wearing a t-shirt, a shirt, a jacket which had helped me brave the bitter cold of Syracuse, New York in February of this year, jeans, hiking shoes, and a balaclava, with a ballcap over it. Had a brisk pace and was continually astonished at the gorgeous beauty of the landscape.

Finally came across terrain that showed why this place is called the Badlands. Early in the hike, the trail crossed Jones Creek at least a dozen times, and rangers had placed red scoria rocks across the creek to allow crossing. The mud of these creeks can destroy a hike if you get mired in its quagmire. Suddenly, came across marshy terrain, and I was hoping I wouldn’t be blocked by an uncrossable swamp or rushing creek. My hopes were realized. However, there was a three foot creek juncture, and a log was over it. Tentatively stepping on it, it was obvious it was not solid. Realizing there was no other path, and not wanting to turn back after hiking at least five miles already, I stepped on the log, when, to my consternation, the log rotated, and sent both my shoes to the mucky bottom. Hurriedly scrambling to dry land, I now had mud all over my socks, and my shoes had had a mud bath. Later, I discovered the shoes did not allow any mud inside, a huge relief.

Earlier in the trail I had observed large amounts of scat, which I thought were cows, though I had seen no cows. Finally, I realized they were all Bison scat, but I hadn’t really seen the Bison. The scat was quite fresh in some instances, indicating the Bison were very close by. Right after my fall in the bog, I turned to my left, and there, 100 yards away, with no trees between us was a Bison, full grown. He quizzically looked at me, and I beat feet to make myself scarce from there. Moving quickly along, and constantly observing the Bison, while also scanning for trees to put between us if he should charge, I continued. The Bison is one of the most fantastic mammals on the planet. Thank you for your patience for the readers who own Bison or are familiar with them, for the following sentences. Routinely reaching weights of 1,500-2,000 lbs, they also can run 35 mph for up to an hour, they can jump 6 feet straight up from a standstill, and they have the climbing skills of a mountain goat, easily traversing some of the steepest terrain imaginable. Knowing this, I was not anxious to get close to these furry Marvels. While I have friendly feelings for them, it is foolish to expect wild animals to instinctively return those feelings.

As I continued on the path, there were at least a half dozen prairie dog villages, with many barking warningly at me, and scurrying down their holes as fast as their stumpy legs could carry them when their shrill cries of defiance were ignored. A few brave ones kept right on foraging and munching on roots as I passed within ten feet of them. Models of efficiency and order, their burrows are fantastic creations.

After passing a few of these, I noticed my first herd of Bison, LAY DIRECTLY ON THE PATH I was on. There was no avoiding them by staying on the path, so I reconnoitered, and climbing a large nearby hill, surveyed the valley. First tried to go into a lower valley to go around them, and noticed a rather steep trail leading down. Before starting on the trail, peered to the bottom, and as I did, a gigantic Bison Bull came into view, with his head and eyes looking curiously up at me. Quickly repenting of any idea of going that way, I scampered off to the aforementioned hills, and took a wide route around the Bison herd, luckily emerging back on the trail.

Evening was coming on, and wondered greatly why I had not reached the end of the trail yet. Finally reached the junction of the Painted Valley Trail and the Upper Paddock Creek trail, marked with a blue plus sign.

The cross is above the Junction I reached at about sunset at 5:48. The Painted Canyon visitor center is where I arrived, exhausted, unharmed, and uninjured, at 0830 Monday morning.

I knew the Paddock trail led back to my car, though I didn’t realize I had missed my turn and had hiked 12 miles, and had 13 miles to go. Resolved to try that trail, that of Bison were on it, to try the Painted Canyon trail. Hiking a short distance down the Paddock trail, when BOOM, a few feet away, after turning a corner, was another herd of bison. Quickly retraced my steps, and went towards Painted Canyon, when, in the sun evening light, I saw another herd of Bison close at hand. This herd was so close that I scrambled up a rocky hill, using the rocks as handholds, trying to use the hills height and vantage point to determine the best path. It was then that the terrible reality hit me.

I looked to the sides of the hill, and there were steep drops of hundreds of feet. It was now night, and I couldn’t see any path, and there WERE NO LIGHTS AT ALL. The only lights were from the distant freeway, 2.1 miles away, from passing trucks. At first I panicked, and began to scramble down, realizing there was no way I was getting to work by 4 the next morning if I didn’t get back to my car. But then, remembering the stories of so many people who panicked in a crisis, and it led them to bad decisions, serious injuries, and even death, I decided to sit and ponder my situation. So, sitting down next to a Juniper tree, it seemed as if there were two options. One was to head down and try to reach my car, or the visitors center. Risks were having no light, possibly being attacked by Bison or other wild animals, with no ability to see, possibly falling hundreds of feet to my death, possibly falling into the creek and getting soaked with mud. The other option, was to stay where I was at, and to not move at all, until sunlight came and I could see again. I thought it would be 12 hours, it turned out to be close to 14. I decided that although the 2nd option involved serious risk from sub-freezing temperatures, rain, or possible snow, it had a far better probability of succeeding in avoiding injury and possibly death.

Resolved to endure what I thought would be 12 hours of bitter cold, I started trying to move around to avoid hypothermia. All the upper and lower body stretches I learned in boot camp 22 years ago, were once again repeated. Did dozens of squats, small and large, forward and backward arm rotations, shoulder shrugs, toe raises, leg extensions to both sides, upper body bends to the left and right, and others. Couldn’t do jumping jacks as I was on a hill.

The wind was furiously whipping around me. Thankfully, the Juniper tree, about seven feet high, absorbed most of the winds fierce blasts.

Didn’t know what a Juniper tree looked like, until I took a sprig from the faithful tree, and showed it to the park ranger who identified it.

Interestingly enough, the Juniper tree is mentioned in 1 Kings 19, when Elijah has just put to death the 400 prophets of Baal and is being pursued by Jezebel. He went into the wilderness and sat under a Juniper tree, asking God to die. Eventually a still small voice in the wind directs him, after he did not hear God in a great wind, a great earthquake, and a great fire. So, here I am in the wilderness, sitting under a Juniper tree too. Now, I haven’t killed the 400 prophets of Baal, though I sure wouldn’t mind serving the death penalty to the 400 prophets of Baal who own the Federal Reserve for all the lies, deceit, and murder they are guilty of. And, I wanted to live, not die, desperately praying for God to reduce the wind, as it habitually blows in huge storms, and to prevent it from freezing or raining. Was afraid the wind would whip my ballcap off my head and down the side of the cliff.

Kept doing exercises, and wanted to sleep, but, thought that if I went to sleep, there was a chance I might never wake up. Started seeing things because of sleep deprivation. Thought the bush about ten feet from me had a large bison standing behind it, that clambered up the side of the hill. There was the massive shaggy head, and there was the hindquarters. Well, I sure wasn’t going backwards, as that was a steep fall. I had a white stick in my hand, shaped like a picket, and resolved that there was no retreat, if that was a bison, was going to have to try to scare him off the hill. Threw one stick at it, and it sounded like it hit flesh, with a thud. Wanted to go try to touch it, to see if it was real or my imagination, but decided against that, as it would have very bad results if it were real. Finally determined it was just the shape of the bush.

Did hear the sound of grunting, and now a new fear occurred to me. Were their wild feral hogs in the park? Had heard about wild hogs attacking people. Was wondering about their climbing skills.

One thought kept giving me hope. The thought of finally going to sleep in my own bed, getting in the car and turning on the heater, and taking a hot shower. Thought about South Carolina’s state motto, “Dum spiro, dum spero”, While I breath, I hope, and, “nil desperandum”, never despair. What made the situation so bad, was there was no warning, I was suddenly in it, and hadn’t planned for it. Few rational humans would choose to sit on a hill, completely alone, no cell phone, no television, no books, no lights, in pitch black, surrounded by bison, with freezing winds whipping around them for close to 14 hours. There have been those who survived far worse, and this gave me hope. If only I could wait until morning. I watched for the dawning of day, as I never had before.

Knowing the lights of the trucks passing on I-94, 2.1 miles away were for the east, west portion, it wasn’t difficult to determine where East and west lay, and the Juniper tree behind me, was East, where I could expect the sun to rise. Wanted to watch for the first rays of morning, but, that meant facing the wind, and didn’t want to do that. It was strange, because though there were no lights at all, and it was cloudy, with no moon and stars, yet, the white stick appeared clearly on the ground. Odd. As I kept peering carefully back, trying to avoid having my hat blown off my head by a powerful wind gust, I started seeing signs of light. This got my hopes up, and I thought morning must be an hour or so away, and a thrill of joy coursed through me. Never had I so carefully watched for the dawn.

Developed a routine because my nose was running continuously. Had both my hands withdrawn into my jacket sleeves, wrapped up in a furry interior, and jammed deeply into my jacket pockets, constantly rubbing against each other to make sure I still had feeling in them. Would take my right hand out of my jacket pocket, extend it into the cold, bring it to my face, lower my balaclava shielding my face, wipe my runny nose, and then wipe that on the back of my jeans, trying to find a new spot, then, pull my balaclava back right below my nose, use my left hand in my jacket pocket to grasp and hold the edge of my right hand sleeve, withdraw my right hand back into my sleeve, and back into my jacket pocket. Must have done this at least 40 times.

Had a remote hope that a park ranger would notice my car, think something was wrong, look up the license number, and send a search party down the trail looking for me. There was no point in calling out for help, as there was no one to hear. If it had rained or snowed, there is a chance I could have been seriously injured, or even died. According to this website, on Friday, October 22nd, , in Medora, from 6 Pm to 8 AM roughly the time I was stuck on the hill Sunday night, the temperature ranged from 30 degrees to 35, reaching as low as 19 degrees. Right now the wind is 11 mph in Medora, and it was at least that if not 20 mph, made worse by being on a hill, which reduced the temperature further.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity of blistering wind, Exercising to keep warm, and seeing Bison in every surrounding bush, the first rays of the most beautiful dawn in memory spread their rosy hues over the landscape. Shortly before, had noticed that the truck traffic on the nearby highway had increased, a sure sign that morning was nearing. Remember thinking how wonderful it would be to be in the cab of my truck with the heater running.

You cannot imagine, dear reader, the happiness that filled my soul. I was alive, and I had survived. Waited until the early dawn was past. Heard a few howls and saw two coyotes scamper past the hill I was on far below. Walked around a bit, and happily noted everything moved, and had not lost feeling anywhere, which would have been a sign of hypothermia.

Finally had a clear view of below, and realized I’d clambered 1,000 feet at least up a very steep hill, and if I’d tried to climb down, I could have easily fallen hundreds of feet and been seriously injured or worse.

After climbing down carefully, trying to avoid sliding in the slick rocks and mud, went the route back to my car, and the bison herd was still there, so, went towards the Painted Valley visitor center, 2.1 miles away, and made it there by around 0830. Along the way, warily scouted for any bison every single step. It’s not easy, because there are hundreds of parts of the path where you can round it and be face to face with a bison.

The wind was still blowing fiercely at the visitor center, so, stood out of the wind, and eventually, Amanda, a ranger, came up to open the center, which opened at 0900. Told her my story, and she was relieved I survived, and said she’d get a ranger to give me a ride to my car. At about 1300, finally got a ride to my car, where I was able to inform my company. Could not work at all on Monday, was too exhausted.

As I drove out of the park, relieved, exhilarated, and exhausted, there was a herd of Bison on hand to wish me farewell.

I have never been this close to death and danger, and it made me realize, that so many things taken for granted, mean so very much. The sunrise, friendships, camaraderie, are all free. Came into the world with nothing, and will leave with nothing. Earlier, at the visitors center, I had bought seven books for children teaching them the Constellations, for my seven brothers and sisters who have children, and I was happy to think, that if I died, I would at least be remembered for thinking of others right up until I died. After they recovered my body, they would find a last gift to my family, in the car.

“Per ardua, ad astra”

Through difficulties, to the stars.

“Death by violence, death by cold, death by starvation – they are the normal endings of the stately creatures of the wilderness. The sentimentalists who prattle about the peaceful life of nature do not realize its utter mercilessness”.Theodore Roosevelt

“There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm. There is a delight in the hardy life of the open… Apart from this, yet mingled with it, is the strong attraction of the silent places, of the large tropic moons, and the splendor of the new stars; where the wanderer sees the awful glory of sunrise and sunset in the wide waste spaces of the earth, unworn of man, and changed only by the slow change of the ages through time everlasting”.Theodore Roosevelt

Now and then we hear the wilder voices of the wilderness, from animals that in the hours of darkness do not fear the neighborhood of man: the coyotes wail like dismal ventriloquists, or the silence may be broken by the snorting and stamping of a deer.Theodore Roosevelt

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