Did Geocaching Save a Life?

Just inside the East Garrison gate of Fort Ord on the Monterey Peninsula, Chuck and Vicki raced down Inter Garrison Road on their racing bikes, intent on enjoying the late-summer day, the breeze cooling them off through the slits in their bike helmets. Forty minutes later, a medevac chopper lifted off the road in a swirl of dust, air-lifting Vicki 45 miles away to the San Jose Medical Center trauma unit.

A yellow Jeep geocaching travel bug (#4490) may have saved Vicki’s life.

Yesterday, at nine o’clock in the morning, I left my house in San Jose with the intent of hunting down a few of the Jeep travel bugs between home and the Monterey/Salinas area. My progress was mostly aimless and leisurely, but it was #4490 that beckoned me this far away from home.

According to the tracks in my Garmin GPSMAP 76S, I drove through the open East Garrison gate at 1:26 p.m., intent on reaching the Garrison View geocache only one-third of a mile away. As I turned the sharp right to head down Inter Garrison Road toward the cache, I spied a man in his 50s in full biking gear walking slowly toward the gate, frantically waving his arms above his helmeted head.

As I drove closer to him, I noticed that his Lycra biking shirt was torn high on the sleeve. His shirted chest was wet with a nine-inch-wide circle of sweat, splotched with flecks of blood. He explained, later introducing himself through bleeding lips and a missing front tooth as Chuck, that his wife, Vicki, had been injured and needed help. I glided to a stop to the right of the road, his wife’s motionless body only twenty feet away.

I was obviously the first on scene, and my almost unnecessary diagnosis of her poor condition led me to immediately contact emergency services. Vicki was barely responsive and lay prone, resting the right side of her face in a growing pool of blood on the light grey asphalt. The few times she gave any indication of hearing me, she was unable to remember what day it was, let alone what had happened to her. Several deep gashes ringed her face from the middle of her chin to her right eyebrow, and I was unable to ascertain whether the blood in her hair and helmet was from additional unseen injuries.

With the 911 operator on the phone, I relayed the situation and our location, and even offered to provide the exact coordinates, thanks to my Garmin GPS. Surprisingly, the lady responded that she wouldn’t be able to use the information, explaining that emergency personnel were not equipped with GPS receivers. While Chuck and I anxiously awaited their arrival, I engaged him in conversation to determine what had happened, and to keep him grounded and focused. Neither of them had noticed the gravel-filled pit on the right-hand side of the road, most likely a result of recent road work, and they had both propelled into it at very high speeds. I later noticed that Vicki’s front tire had been instantly blown by the sudden impact with the far edge of the small pit. Two small orange traffic cones ineffectively warned passers-by of the potentially life-threatening danger lurking just below the surface, and appeared instead to warn of another work area a hundred yards farther down the road.

I offered Chuck a clean towel that I always keep in the trunk of my car for Vicki to use as a head cushion, as a compress, or however he needed in order to keep his wife comfortable until help arrived, a hard lesson I learned long ago at another accident scene. Vicki occasionally attempted to move, her resulting gut-wrenching screams of agony difficult to bear. A few short minutes later, the distant whine of a siren could be heard from the west. The ambulance was on its way.

When the ambulance doors opened and the medical technicians began their slow but careful preparations for the emergency, my job was mainly done. Within another few minutes, two squad cars and a fire truck also rumbled through the garrison gate, one of the police cars skidding around the sharp turn. Once the EMTs completed their far more thorough and experienced evaluation of Vicki, the decision was made to fly her to the trauma unit in San Jose. Previously ignored by the medical personnel, Chuck’s condition was then evaluated and it was recommended to him that he accompany them for admission and treatment. The excitement built up briefly again as the chopper arrived and flew its first approach to determine an appropriate landing place, soon making a feather-light touchdown on the asphalt 300 feet from where Vicki had lain.

Once his wife had been loaded into the helicopter and was on her way to San Jose, I stepped back into the fray and mentioned to Chuck that, while it was probably the farthest thing from his or his wife’s mind, I would be happy to collect their bicycles and other possessions and take them back home with me to my home in San Jose until they arranged either to pick them up or have me drop them off at their home in Boulder Creek. He graciously and profusely agreed. We exchanged contact information, and I engaged one of the officers to help me transport the bikes and equipment to my car.

If I’d actually owned a Jeep Wrangler (a life-size version of the yellow replica travel bug #4490), I probably wouldn’t have had to take apart their bicycles, barely cramming them into both the back seat and trunk of my Saturn, lightly soiling my leather seats, the interiors of rear passenger doors, and my trunk with chain grease and blood. I collected their helmets, biking gloves, Vicki’s jacket, and pieces of her sunglasses and tossed the whole bloody mess (no pun intended) into the small trunk. My eight-year-old sedan vehemently protested as I repeatedly attempted to close the vehicle compartments without damaging the cyclist’s possessions, but I eventually won the battle.

One of the law enforcement trainees who had happened by callously spoke of the now-absent Vicki and her “messed-up” condition, vocalizing his disbelief that she would “make it”; Chuck was only feet away, strapped to a hard board in a gurney, his head and neck supported by a cervical collar. I briefly reflected on the young officer’s lack of compassion and understanding, and engaged once again in conversation with Chuck, assuring him of my commitment to the safety of his property. He smiled and thanked me.

Chuck came this afternoon to my house to pick up his bikes and equipment. For the umpteenth time, he thanked me, this time offering me money as compensation for my humanitarianism. Repeatedly I refused, but I caved with regret when he eventually stated that it would make him feel better if I took it. His wife is recovering in critical but stable condition in Intensive Care, and tomorrow she will receive flowers at the hospital thanks to his unnecessary generosity.

Looking back, Vicki was lucky. She was lucky to have worn a good helmet. She was lucky to have survived at all. She was lucky that I wanted to travel down Inter Garrison Road at 1:26 on a Saturday afternoon to be a small part of her rescue.

All thanks to geocaching and a two-inch-long Jeep travel bug, #4490.

Which, by the way, I picked up at 2:17 p.m.. about 50 minutes after turning the fateful corner…

4 Responses to “Did Geocaching Save a Life?”

  1. Lil Y

    I’m glad that Chuck and Vicki are ok. And I’m glad you are there to offer your help. Geocahing didn’t save her life. You did.

  2. Brent

    There are several lessons to be learned from this story. First, of course, is to always wear a helmet. Second, when mother nature (or negligent repairmen) throws a seemingly impassable route of travel your way, you can count on a Jeep to help save the day. Good job!! Good to hear that Vicki is in stable condition… I hope she’s able to get back on a bike soon.

  3. Linda AKA MomLady

    Thank you for all your assistance in helping Vicki and Charles. They both have my prayers and thoughts for a full recovery. My son, TrekkinD, is the one who dropped Jeep TB #4490 there as our last stop before heading home to Sacramento. He and I are glad we did since that was your reason to be in the area and therfore in a position to help. Great job, Richard! Thanks for sharing your experience.


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