Where Did I Leave That Fire?
Neko Case

I owe Brian for hiking my butt up the Tachycardia Trail. We named it after a bout of tachycardia that hit me while he and I were deployed somewhere with our Air Refueling Unit in 1999. It ended my flying career that year and my military career eight years later. But enough about me.

We’d dropped into a canyon out on the Cedar Mesa and explored around for several hours, ending up about four miles from the Jeep. We ate lunch, siesta’d a bit, and started back.

I couldn’t get my trekking feet under me. I was weak and having to stop a lot. This tachycardia thing manifests itself most often after I eat. I need a half an hour sitting or lying down to settle it. Then I’m fine for the rest of the day. We’d already siesta’d but I told Brian I needed another half-hour and why. He said, “You got your meds with you?”

I hate it when he asks these kinds of questions because for some reason I often have to admit to a planning deficiency. “No”, I said. “They’re in the Jeep.” I knew what was coming. Brian is a master of body language, looks that could kill, colorfully verbalized, impeccable logic in that gruff voice of his, and a proponent of reality to the third-most degree. If it were all water, there’s not a duck in the world whose back would shed it. I love the guy. He’s smart, experienced, and capable. When things go wrong, he’s who you want to have along. No rhyme could be truer.

I’d taken my first dose of meds that day and wasn’t due my second until evening. I really thought things would calm down pretty quickly. In a short time, we set off up the canyon again. I made about fifty yards before I had to stop. I told Brian my heart wasn’t acting like it usually does. “Come and take my pulse,” I said. 240 bpm. “Try that again.” 240 bpm. Apparently it had been that way for about 45 minutes, ‘cause how I felt wasn’t changing. I was charting new territory on my electro-cardiac map.

Brian has an emergency locator device. It has two buttons. One delivers a Lat/Long and an “All OK” message to the selected recipient. The other delivers a Lat/Long, “Send Help” message to Search and Rescue. We talked about how I felt, how far we had to go, and which button to push. We decided to keep walking and keep an eye on my heart rate. It stayed at that inefficient 240 bpm. We found an easy way up out of the canyon. Even so, I could only muster about 10 yards before having to lie down. But we got up and out. The rest of the hike was generally uphill, but mildly so. We chose the least undulating terrain. I cycled into 50 yard forays with five minute rests.

Three and a half miles to go. This was gonna take a while. And it was gonna get dark. We started getting ready for it. We donned headlamps as the sunlight faded. On the march I’d just put my feet, one after another, in Brian’s bootprints. Brian kept us on course, the canyon to the left and a nice, Cedar Mesa sandstone outcropping ahead of us in the distance. With those as guides he’d scan for the most level path he could find. 50 yards, 5 minutes rest. 50 yards, 5 minutes rest. On and on.

I started to get nauseated. 50 yards, puke, 5 minutes rest, 50 yards, puke, 5 minutes rest. On and on. I wasn’t getting better but, other than nausea, I wasn’t getting worse. I pushed on as best as I could. I wanted to live and really thought I would but maybe because I really didn’t want to do that helicopter thing more than I wanted to survive. I mean, you get to be on the news and all but I’m more famous than I want to be already. So I was pretty determined.

We had to head the canyon in order to get to the dirt road we’d come in on. Things were a little steeper up that way and the ground more undulating. I slowed us down even more. Finally, we got to the road. The Jeep was actually about .75 miles down track. I plopped down on the road and Brian, freed from towing the invalid, beat feet down to get it. Storm clouds were coming and I began to chill. I walked a few feet down the road and another few feet off the right side to build a fire. When I was ready to light it, I couldn’t find my lighter. I figured I’d left in my pack on the road. So I went back to get it. Moonless night. Dark clouds. Very dark night. I found the lighter by feel, and started back to my fire place. It really was only a few feet away. I walked too far down the road, backtracked, and walked too far up the road. Then too far down it again. I could not find where I’d prepared that fire. Simply couldn’t see it, although I knew I was within just a few feet of it.

Presence of mind kept me on the road. It’s a rough one, and Brian wasn’t going to make much more than walking speed in the Jeep. I knew that, which is why I knew I had time to light a fire. But where was it? Where did I leave that fire? Finally, I found it. Right where I’d left it. It hadn’t gone anywhere. All set to light it. Engine noise. Ready? Light. Louder engine noise. OK it’s going. Heat. Headlights. Brian arrives. Engine off. Extinguish fire. Well, hell….

My pulse rate was still high and I dove for my meds. I got them down and threw them up. More, please. Got them down. Kept them down a little longer and threw them up. This became my new cycle. But we had no real clue about the dosages I was getting out of the meds I was throwing up. So we checked my pulse a lot. And it did start to decrease. Wanting to be somewhat scientific about it, we decided that when it got to 180, I’d stop the meds and see what happened. I think it came down to about 150. Another shot of meds. I threw them up too and I think one or two more doses after that one brought me down to about 60 bpm. That really felt good.

Brian had been driving all this time, since it was over an hour back to camp. He wanted to take me to the clinic in Blanding. I resisted this fervently. Electro-cardiology in Blanding meant transportation to Denver or Salt Lake City. Besides, I know my condition well and I knew I just needed rest. And even though this was “Something New Day” for it, for some reason I still knew I just needed my meds and rest. I think it was because I didn’t even try to keep a straight face through such sick logic, and actually chuckled, that I persuaded Brian not to take me into Blanding. We pulled into camp and got me bedded down. It rained.

I slept. Over in his tent, Brian did not. This was because I didn’t snore. I’d snored every other night on this trip but I was silent on this night. This bothered Brian because he couldn’t tell if I was asleep or dead. And if I was dead, what was he going to tell Lori when she’d ask why he hadn’t taken me to the clinic in Blanding? Personally, I carry a one-way ticket to Belize with me at all times in case of troubles like that but I don’t know if Brian would’ve had the presence of mind to rifle through a dead man’s stuff for it.

I was still alive in the morning and Brian was tired. My arrhythmia was under control and I’d stashed meds in my pack. We broke camp and drove out to some ruins Brian hadn’t seen before. I waited up top while he hiked into them. That finished up the trip and we headed home.

Brian had gotten me up my Tachycardia Trail. I really don’t think I could have done that by myself. He’s a great coach, firm but patient with the sickly, and a great friend.

Thanks Brian!

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