[Commentary in brackets by Jeannine and Duane]
I am not one to believe in curses and am only superstitious when it comes to Penguins games (fellow Pens fans will understand…Let’s Go Pens!). So when Levi and I decided to tackle the 45 minute drive and the 1.6 km hike into Bald Eagle State Forest to make necessary repairs to Fence Plot 207, I considered the tribulation of last year as simple misfortune. By the time we made it back to the truck, however, I was convinced that Plot 207 may actually be cursed – or hold a grudge against Garmin.
Last year when Levi and April checked Fence Plot 207, the Walk Back function on the GPS unit didn’t work. On the way in, they had little trouble and crossed only one stream. On the way out, they crossed two, climbed up and down in deep rocky hollows, and ended up on the wrong side of the ridge bordering private property. They made it back to the truck, tired but unscathed. A glitch with the GPS unit can happen to anyone. At that point there was little to indicate a deeper, more sinister force controlling the journey of PGC BioAides who travel to Plot 207.
Our first attempt to Plot 207 this year was foiled by rain. With this summer’s drought evident in the wilting vegetation, we welcomed the downpour but were a bit disappointed with the timing. We crept along with the rain pounding on the truck roof forcing a box turtle to prematurely end its soak in a puddle while another marched through the streams of water as it hurried across the road in front of us. The radio reported that the storm was moving relatively quickly so we continued expecting that the rain to slow or end. We ate our lunches as we waited, and after 30 minutes and no sign it was going to ease up, we decided to head out.
Postponed but not defeated, we planned our next trip on a beautiful sunny day. We marked the truck’s location on the GPS unit with a waypoint forgoing the Walk Back function given last year’s difficulties. We hiked into the forest identifying plants and trees, searching for signs of wildlife, enjoying the sights, sounds, smells, and the company. Finding Plot 207 easily and the fence in good condition, we took a break to eat a snack and rehydrate before pulling up the waypoint to lead us back to the truck.
The hike out was going well even though it was a different route and we ended up at that second stream. Levi suggested we climb the rocks up to the other side of the stream instead of going around as they had before so we would stay on track and on State Forest land. Levi called to me from ahead that he had found some salamanders.
I decided to move the GPS unit from where the carabiner was clipped to my pocket to the back pack so that it wouldn’t fall off as I climbed. My heart sank as I fumbled the biner trying to clip it into the loop on the shoulder strap and watched it fall effortlessly into a hole between the rocks. After collecting myself for a few seconds, I called to Levi.
“Levi, I umm… just dropped the GPS into a hole in the rocks.”
“What?” he replied, not quite hearing me.
“I tried to move the GPS so that I wouldn’t lose it and dropped it into the rocks.” [I think that’s what they call irony]
“Wait…just now?” he asked.
“Yup” was all I could say.
As Levi made his way down to me, I looked into the hole hoping to catch a glimpse of the GPS unit. I heard it hit a rock and it didn’t sound like it fell very far. I have to say that I am grateful to have an awesome field partner. Much to his credit, Levi didn’t get angry or even ask how I could have made such a careless mistake. He calmly asked where the unit had fallen.
Being 6’4” gave Levi an arm-length advantage over my 5’2” frame. So my first suggestion was for him to reach in the hole and see if he could feel anything. After I assured him that nothing was going to bite him (easy for me to say!), he laid down with his face pressed against a rock and reached inside. He felt rock, moss, another deeper hole (“The Hole to Hell” as he called it), but no GPS unit.
I grabbed a stick and started poking around hoping to feel plastic careful not to push the unit into the Hole to Hell if I happened to find it. Levi did the same but neither of us had any luck. Having no flashlight, Levi used the light on his phone to peek into the hole. But it was too small and the angles of the rocks blocked where the light was shining.
As I was beginning to contemplate how I would explain the loss to Bret and how we could get back to the truck before dark, an idea came to me – if Levi could hold my point-and-shoot camera in the hole and snap some pictures, it may reveal the location of the GPS unit.
Levi put the camera cord around his wrist (wrapping it around a finger as well for added security), reached in, and took five pictures. The first one we viewed was a blurry rock and shadow.
As I anxiously flipped to the next picture, we both shouted and looked at each other with eyes wide in relief and amazement. As clear as day, in the bottom-left side of the frame was the GPS unit! We planned the recovery.
Levi figured out the orientation of the unit in the hole and we tried to reach it by digging out some moss and dirt from between the rocks. Unable to reach in far enough, we decided to shine the light on Levi’s phone through the freshly dug hole hoping that Levi would be able to see the unit. As he turned on the light and handed it to me, he hesitated. “Are you SURE you can hold on to this?” [Awesome field partner AND a sense of humor – you really can’t beat that]
As I shone the light, Levi was able to see the unit but it was still too deep to reach. I found a stick with a broken branch that Levi used to hook through the carabiner. He slowly started to raise the unit. He gasped as the GPS unit started to slip down the stick toward the Hole to Hell, but saved it with his cat-like reflexes pressing the end of the stick against a rock and very slowly wiggling the unit back up the stick.
Not to be vanquished, the Curse of Fence Plot 207 reared its ugly head again as Levi groaned with a cramp in his arm [Oh, the humanity!]. Like a trooper, he worked through the pain and emerged with the stick holding the GPS unit! After placing Levi’s phone securely in my pocket, I jumped up and clapped as we both laughed.
I think that only 20 minutes passed from the time I dropped the GPS unit until Levi brought it out of that hole but it sure felt like longer. I laughed with relief every time I thought of the picture of the GPS unit as we hiked out of Bald Eagle State Forest, with Levi leading the way…and holding the Garmin.
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