A year ago we lost Gwen in the mountains. I can't believe it has only been a year. It's crazy.
We had just had a whirlwind couple of weeks with the birth of Tess Leone, complicated surgeries and recoveries, all piled on the stress of Blaine taking the patent bar and Texas state bar. We felt we were in the eye of the hurricane with those stresses behind us and our move across the country looming on the horizon.
We decided to meet the family up at the family cabin near Donut Falls. Our little family arrived a few hours before everyone else did. Blaine decided to take the three big kids up on a hike to Donut Falls while Tess and I went back to the cabin to wait for them.
An hour or so later I was at the cabin with Tess when the rest of the extended family started to trickle in. Amidst the arrivals Blaine came running up to the cabin (which is about half a mile or more away from the Donut Falls trailhead). In all the commotion it came out that he couldn't find Gwen. And he didn't mean that she had wandered off on their walk back to the cabin, she was lost somewhere up on the trail. Lost enough that his only option was to run, carrying Bentley and Ivy, all the way down the trail to drop them off so he could search with more intensity.
The gravity of the situation hit me like a ton of bricks. Lost. Like legitimately lost. My nine year old. The nine year old who stubbornly would not change in to jeans before we left and also refused to put on a jacket. It was evening and dusk was fast approaching. It was hard to know what to do. We had no cell reception, we had babies and kids to look after, and limited man power. It was getting cold and dark fast.
Blaine, of course, was long gone, running back up the mountain. I recruited Blaine's mom to watch Tess and the other kids as I ran with all the might my postpartum body could muster. As I was taking off Blaine's brother Nick and his family pulled up. I pleaded for help. We also had a few other cousins able to join in the search. We all took off in different directions with me bringing up the rear.
I was so far behind that I was expecting for any minute to see or hear someone with the good news that Gwen had been found. Or certainly someone had seen her. Every person I asked had seen people looking for her, but not her. Certainly Blaine had found her, I mean, right? Where could she have possibly gone?!
Soon I had worked my way all the way up to where the rest of the search party was convening. No one had found Gwen.
Now, trust me, panic had set in when I first heard she was lost. At that point when she had still not been found a deeper, more intense, horrifying sense of panic set in. This was real. This was happening. We had scoured the entire donut falls trail. She was nowhere.
It was growing ever darker and colder. I tore off down the mountain, set to call search and rescue. We had to drive down to the main canyon road to get reception for me to make the call. It was only a matter of minutes before an officer arrived and gave me a ride back to the trail head.
That really intense sense of panic gave way to downright despair when, upon arrival back at the trail head, she STILL had not been found. Another officer arrived. Everyone in our search group was there except for Nick, Blaine's brother.
Nick had taken off on a fork in the trail that led to Cartiff Mine. He is an elite runner and had been running up that trail during this whole ordeal, which had now been going on over an hour. A few moments after the second officer arrived we heard a loud holler!
The message relayed along down the mountain from person to person that she had been found! Nick had found her way, way, way up on her way to Cartiff. She hadn't even seen another hiker on the trail since she had gotten separated from Blaine. She hadn't even quite realized that she was lost, she was just going forward.
I can feel my heart racing as I relive the story. I feel like I went through a lot of really scary things last year, but that moment, when I really thought she was gone for good - that is #1 on my list of scariest moments ever.
Miracles happen. I am so grateful that they do.