Books Drama in Real Life Survival Stories

A Widow Set out to Scatter Her Husband’s Ashes—Soon She Was Lost

Lost in the woods
Joseph Sohm/ShutterstockShe set out to scatter her husband’s ashes in a nationwide park. Would she make it out alive?

For 34 years, Jean and Jack Geer doted on one another as they moved from San Francisco to Hawaii to, lastly, Port Angeles in Washington State. Then, in December 2016, Jean walked into their bucolic yard and located Jack crumpled on the bottom. Seemingly in good well being, he had died of an enormous coronary heart assault. He was 72.

Within the following months, Jean devoured books on grief and loss, hoping she would discover the desire to go on with out him. One activity she thought might assist: Jack had informed Jean that when he died he needed half of his ashes scattered in Hawaii and half in Olympic Nationwide Park, a few 25-minute drive from their house. So in March 2017, Jean dutifully flew to Hawaii to disperse the primary a part of Jack’s stays within the ocean. However she dreaded the considered parting with Jack perpetually. She postpone spreading the remainder of Jack’s ashes till she was prepared. That day got here on July 17.

Jean, 71, took the urn holding Jack’s stays, grabbed Yoda, her five-year-old 11-pound Chihuahua combine, and climbed into her 2004 Ford Explorer. It was four p.m. A slight lady, simply 5 ft tall, Jean wore capri pants, a Hawaiian shirt, and canvas espadrilles. No want for a coat on what ought to be a 30-minute stroll. She deliberate to be residence in time to make dinner.

With its dramatic peaks and old-growth forests, Olympic Nationwide Park covers almost one million sprawling acres. Jean was heading for one particular spot off Obstruction Level Street, an eight-mile filth and gravel byway. She drove in about three miles, pulled her Explorer over on an untamed stretch of street devoid of indicators, and acquired out. She grabbed her cellphone and the urn, stashed her purse within the automotive, and locked the doorways. After which Jean and Yoda entered the woods.

Jean GeerCourtesy Jean GeerJean Geer, months earlier than she and her canine disappeared in Olympic Nationwide Park

The park options one of many world’s most numerous populations of wildflowers, and Jean was on a quest for blue alpine forget-me-nots. Their magnificence, Jack had as soon as informed Jean, moved him. When she didn’t see any, she walked deeper into the woods and eventually noticed a blanket of blue by way of a small opening within the timber. Relieved, she walked to the flowers and distributed Jack’s ashes. She stated a quiet blessing and turned to depart.

Then she paused. Had she come on this method or that? The place was the path? Jack would have laughed. He’d ceaselessly teased her about her horrible sense of course. His nickname for her was “wrong-way Jean.”

She noticed a hill and headed towards it. If she might make it to the highest, she might scan the horizon and spot Obstruction Level Street. Her footwear, which had clean treads, have been ill-suited for the climb. Yoda ran forward whereas Jean struggled to keep her stability. She slipped, dropped the urn, and watched it roll over the sting of the hill and tumble right into a gully. Jean crept her approach to the slope’s aspect. She noticed the darkish plastic urn, barely seen within the underbrush. She hated abandoning something associated to Jack, however the steep hillside was too harmful to navigate. She ultimately made it to the highest of the crest, the place she noticed nothing however timber and extra hills. She’d been gone from residence for a number of hours, and it was getting darkish.

She reached for her cellular phone to name for assist. No service. Thirsty, Jean wanted water. She randomly picked 
a route, pushing her means via 
underbrush and branches that reduce and pricked her, till she came across a small creek. She and Yoda drank deeply. As night time fell, Jean was chilled by an terrible realization: She can be spending the night time within the woods.

She’d heard tales about individuals who had died within the park, together with one who had been mauled by a bear. Simply keep calm, she thought, forcing herself to give attention to the duty at hand. First issues first—she wanted a spot to sleep. She noticed a downed tree, about seven ft in diameter, that had fallen on an enormous rock subsequent to the creek. The area beneath was giant sufficient to shelter her for the night time. She crawled beneath the log and lay there. Yoda snuggled shut, warming her because the temperature dipped into the 40s. An skilled camper, Jean wasn’t frightened by the forest’s unusual noises or creepy-crawlies. However her predicament did hold her awake. To distract herself, she thought concerning the dinner she’d deliberate however wouldn’t get to eat: noodle soup with pork and greens, and recent cherries for dessert.

And she or he considered Jack. Jean recalled the primary time she’d laid eyes on him. It was 1982. Armed together with her MBA, she had utilized for a job at a San Francisco financial institution, the place Jack served as a vice chairman. After she was employed as an assistant vice chairman, Jack took her to lunch to congratulate her. Mutually attracted, they started to date, fell in love, and have been quickly married. Excited about Jack made her calmer, permitting her to conclude that if she might make it till daylight, she’d discover her method out.
Jean's shelterCourtesy Rick Prentics/Washington Explorer Search and Rescue KitsapThe shelter Jean made. She and her canine, Yoda, finally lived in it for 3 days.

At daybreak, Jean left the shelter, forging her personal path via underbrush with Yoda now making an attempt to sustain together with her. At residence, Yoda had the run of almost 5 acres, the place he chased deer and explored. However this journey was totally different. The bushes have been excessive in lots of locations, and he had to tunnel by way of. Together with his brief legs, he couldn’t bounce over the logs. Discouraged, he’d yelp for Jean. However Jean couldn’t carry him. It taxed her power, and she or he may fall. Yoda was on his personal.

Jean, in the meantime, was preventing her personal battles with panic. A lot might go incorrect within the wilderness for even a younger, able-bodied hiker. However for a septuagenarian, the perils have been magnified. Crossing over slippery rocks, she nervous she’d fall and break a leg. She prevented ravines, figuring out that if she plunged into one, she might by no means climb again up.
Earlier than she knew it, one other day had handed. Her probabilities of being rescued had not improved. As night time fell once more, Jean and Yoda discovered one other fallen tree to sleep underneath.

The subsequent morning, her third day misplaced within the park, Jean had given up on discovering her personal means out. She’d learn tales about individuals who’d endured within the wild, and the principles of survival have been easy: Discover a water supply, don’t get injured, and discover an open spot to make it simpler for rescuers to discover you. Then keep put. Discover out the confirmed expertise you want to survive any emergency.

By midafternoon, Jean had scouted out the place she’d name house for nevertheless lengthy she wanted it. She’d discovered two timber that had fallen subsequent to one another. She used branches to construct a roof and to shut off one finish of the area, leaving a gap for a “doorway.” Inside, she stacked branches to use at night time to shut off the opening. She used moss to make the bottom softer.

On the finish of day three, Jean and Yoda entered the eight-by-five-foot shelter. As she settled in, so many ideas, some absurd, ran via her head: She’d purchased tickets with a good friend to go on an October cruise that might take them to Greece, Italy, and Spain. Would she get to go? After which there have been these cherries. She couldn’t cease excited about them.

The subsequent day, her fourth misplaced, Jean settled into her survival routine. A number of occasions over the course of the day, she made her method down a steep hill to drink water. Taking care not to fall, she dug her heels into the bottom and clung to the bushes.

She tried constructing a fireplace by gathering dry pine needles after which rubbing a small stick towards a stone, hoping the stick would get heat sufficient to ignite. It failed, however she stored making an attempt. Make sure to carry these things with you on a regular basis—they might save your life someday.

Ravenous, she ate wild currants, tender pine needles, and even ants, which had a lemony style. Yoda, for his half, impressed Jean together with his newfound potential to snatch flies out of the air and dig up grubs for dinner.

By four p.m., Jean and Yoda had climbed into her shelter. Regardless of the moss, the arduous floor was depressing and the chilly was embedded in her bones. However she wasn’t giving up. Though Jack had taken care of her for therefore a few years, Jean now harked again to a time when she hadn’t been depending on anybody.

Shortly after World Conflict II, her 
household had moved to the USA from China. At college, youngsters would hurl racial slurs and begin fights together with her. Her father had sat Jean down and provided this recommendation: You’re a little individual. You gained’t be robust bodily. You have to be robust internally. Someway, someway, he was saying, Jean had to deal with herself. Hungry, drained, and rising weak, Jean drifted off to sleep repeating her father’s phrases.
map wasington olympic national parkPeter Oumanski for Reader’s DigestUsing her automotive and the urn as guides, groups looked for Jean–and her canine, Yoda–in 4 instructions.

By now, Jean’s brother in Seattle had grow to be involved. Quite a few calls to Jean had not been returned, and when he drove the 2 hours to her house, there was no signal of her. He contacted the sheriff’s workplace, which despatched a 
missing-person report to all governmental businesses, together with an workplace at Olympic Nationwide Park. At 1:30 p.m. on July 22, 5 days into Jean’s odyssey, a park worker noticed the Explorer. He radioed it in, setting in movement a collection of alerts that ended with Zachary Grey, of the park’s search-and-rescue operations squad, gathering a handful of searchers to search for Jean. Discover out the issues you must by no means do in an emergency.

They met at her parked Explorer. Mud and water spots indicated the car had been there for a number of days. Searchers walked into the woods, calling Jean’s identify. They discovered nothing. At 7 p.m., with dusk approaching, the search was halted.

The search started once more the subsequent day at 6 a.m. Grey now had a group of 37 beneath his command, which he cut up into 4 teams heading out in several instructions. Nonetheless, he couldn’t buck the nagging feeling that this may finish poorly. At 71, Jean was possible disoriented and doubtless injured. Grey had been on ten searches already that yr. Almost all had ended when the group discovered a physique.

At midday, Grey’s two-way radio crackled. A searcher had discovered a plastic urn with Jack Geer’s identify on the aspect. Grey had different groups concentrate on a half-mile radius from the place the urn was discovered. Hours handed. Nothing.

Grey radioed to request a helicopter. As soon as aboard, he searched under the place the urn had been discovered. Jean, he thought, may need fallen into the gully and dropped the urn. Injured, she doubtless would have continued strolling downhill till she both collapsed or died. Flying 300 ft above tree degree, Grey noticed nothing however a sea of inexperienced. He had one other concept. If Jean have been by some means alive, she’d want water. He studied the terrain. Distant, he noticed a creek. The pilot made two passes. Nothing. Wait—Grey thought he noticed one thing transfer. He requested the pilot to circle again.

Then Grey noticed a canine. Then a lady with silver hair waving on the chopper. He radioed the staff, giving new directions. From a distance, he watched searchers operating to the lady. He noticed them hug her. His radio got here to life: We have now Jean.

After six days within the woods, Jean was too weak to stroll out on her personal. Grey referred to as in a bigger Coast Guard helicopter, one that would hoist Jean up into the chopper in a basket, whereas the bottom crew carried Yoda out.

On the hospital, docs have been surprised that Jean’s solely accidents have been scratches on her legs. Exams revealed that her potassium was low from consuming subsequent to nothing for almost every week. She was launched from the hospital that night time with a prescription for potassium tablets, which she chased down with an enormous bowl of cherries.

When rescuers mentioned the search, they talked concerning the small urn. With out it, they might by no means have discovered Jean. Grey is satisfied that Jack Geer’s spirit protected his spouse.

Jean doesn’t doubt it. However the lady who questioned her will to go on with out her husband had discovered the wherewithal to survive. And with that got here a life-affirming conclusion. “It’s time to let go and let [my] own light shine, and stand up,” she advised the Seattle Occasions. “This situation forced me. I realized I had to be on my own and move on to my life.”

Subsequent, discover out the 20 on a regular basis fixes to survive principally something the world throws at you.