By Jill J Easton
Blood, sticks and a tangle of blonde hair, a big man staggering into our clearing just as the last light was fading was a sight that got our attention quickly. He waved an axe in one hand and the other held a flashlight. His clothes were bloody, dirty and ripped.
Jim, our neighbor, Ken, and I were sitting on the front porch absorbing the moon rise over Wingard Mountain. Suddenly, the apparition appeared seemingly out of nowhere.
“Help, help me, I’m hurt,” he hollered. He looked more like the bad guy in a slasher movie than a wounded hunter. Anyway, hunting seasons were all closed, it was summer.
Jim went down to see if he could help. Ken and I waited on his porch to see whether to call the sheriff’s office or an ambulance. Jim loaded him up, yelled something and took off 90-to-nothing down the dirt road toward town.
Half an hour later, no word. Jim hadn’t come back and he wasn’t answering his cell phone. Ken and I, who had become more and more convinced the guy was an axe murderer, went for our guns and took off in tardy pursuit.
Before we got to the truck, Jim pulled in; he wasn’t being held hostage. A weekend visitor, Sandy (his last name withheld to prevent him from looking stupider than he was) who was staying down the road, had decided to take a dusk ATV ride in Sylamore National Forest and failed to tell anyone where he was going. Mistake #1.
Alcohol was involved. Mistake #2.
Sandy left the Forest Service road and headed out on an unmarked ATV trail. Mistake #3.
He was “too stupid” and attempted to power his big machine over a log that blocked the trail. The vehicle’s wheels couldn’t get traction and flipped; the ATV fell on top of Sandy. Man and machine slid down a steep slope landing with the ATV pinning Sandy’s leg.
After the dust settled, Sandy took stock of the situation. It wasn’t good. Dark was closing fast, no one knew where he was, he was trapped on an unmarked four-wheel trail that in summer didn’t see three people a month. He tried his cell phone only to hear nothing but static.
It would be morning before anyone ventured off the main roads looking for him. Unless he got out from under the machine and rescued himself, it would be a long miserable night.
“Gasoline was leaking, I smelled it. Something was burning deeper and deeper into my leg,” Sandy said. “I didn’t want to lay there and burn up or end up crippled. It was time to save myself.”
After considerable effort, Sandy managed to reach the tool bag on the rear of the ATV. Most of the bag’s contents had been spread along the slope, but his cable come-along was still inside. This was Sandy’s first bit of luck during the entire fiasco.
“I managed to get the rig hooked to the log and then to the frame of the ATV,” Sandy said. “After two or three unsuccessful tries it lifted enough of the weight off my leg that I could slide it out. My leg was in bad shape from a cut and leaking battery acid, but I could still hobble.”
In his addled state, Sandy grabbed an axe and the flashlight to ward off bears and other critters on the narrow trail back to a marked Forest Service road. A slow, shaky mile later, we saw Sandy for the first time as he hollered for help when he staggered into the edge of our clearing looking like a madman waving the axe and flashlight. It was an unforgettable entrance.
Sandy’s friends got him to an emergency room where they did X-rays, cleaned the wound on his leg and found that the only serious damage was the cut infused with battery acid that later required several surgeries.
The next day, his buddies went to pick up the four-wheeler and gather up the odds and ends from the saddlebags; it was a collection that would make a pack rat proud. The machine came out of the accident much better than Sandy. It cranked up almost immediately and there were only a few scratches and dings on the fenders.
“I was a fool to go out after sunset, without telling anyone where I was headed,” Sandy said. “It was pure luck that I could get to that come-along. Never again will I leave home without someone knowing my plan.”