Experience: I was stranded in the wilderness for nine days
I had lost so much weight that I looked like walking skeleton. I was ready to give up
In March this year, as I was about to turn 72, I set off to visit family in Phoenix, Arizona. I was headed there from Tucson when I took a wrong turn. I kept driving until my hybrid car ran out of petrol and then electricity, leaving me stranded in the middle of nowhere. I took out an atlas and realised I was in a high-altitude area in the White Mountain Apache Reservation, surrounded by deep canyons.
I planned to stay in the car with my dog Queenie and my cat Nike. We had jugs of water, crackers, crisps, cans of olives and a jar of Nutella that I had packed for the journey. We spent the first two nights inside the car huddled underneath layers of clothing to try to stay warm. On the third day we had very little food and water left. Queenie and I set out to search for more, leaving Nike in the car.
I grew up hiking and exploring the outdoors with my parents, so knew what to take with me. I brought along a tote bag filled with the food I had left. I also took items I carry in my car: binoculars, my phone, a pocketknife, a lighter, a book of matches, a compact mirror a toothbrush and tissues. I also took a lip balm and lipstick and used them as sunscreen, as well as a hat.
Queenie and I hiked to high ground; it took us almost the entire day. At the top, I used my binoculars to look for water and any sign of human habitation, but didnt see anything, so we started hiking down and stopped about halfway to spend the night. I set up a campfire and huddled next to Queenie to try to stay warm. I was wearing a jacket, trousers and boots. That was a very cold and windy night.
The next morning I finally spotted a creek, hiked down to it, and Queenie and I drank as much water as we could. We spent the next few days walking downstream. I have scoliosis, which meant it was difficult to walk, but I kept going.
I know how to distinguish edible plants from toxic ones, so I ate bitter clovers, along with dandelions and a large green leaf that looked like romaine lettuce. Four days into being stranded on my birthday I spotted a small mud turtle swimming in the creek. I jumped into the water, scooped up the turtle, killed it using my pocketknife, built a small campfire and cooked it. It was the only protein I ate during the entire time I was lost.
When I heard helicopters flying overhead I used a compact mirror to reflect the suns rays, waved my arms, jumped around and shouted frantically to draw their attention. At one point, I set two trees on fire. I formed a help sign using branches, white rocks and bones from the carcass of an elk I had found. But none of it worked I grew angry when they didnt see us. I thought I was never going to be rescued.
Queenie and I had lost so much weight that we looked like walking skeletons. I was ready to give up when, nine days in, I felt God telling me Id be rescued before sunset.
The sun was just disappearing when I saw a helicopter coming down. I would finally be rescued. But Queenie had disappeared. As soon as the helicopter landed, one of the rescuers ran towards me. She grabbed me and held me while I cried. She assured me that both Queenie, whom they found just before me, and Nike, were safe.
I later learned that a search for me had begun six days earlier, after my car and Nike were found. About 30 people scoured the area on foot for days and there were aerial searches. Hopes were dwindling when finally my boot prints were spotted. A helicopter crew then discovered my help sign and as they rounded a bend in one of the canyons, they finally saw me, next to a signal fire, waving my hands.
I was airlifted to hospital where I was reunited with my son Jeff and daughter Erin. I cried my heart out when I saw them. Jeff said: Mom, you stink, but Im glad youre alive. Doctors couldnt understand how I had survived nine days. I suffered from exposure, but was otherwise in good health and discharged that night.
Within days of being home, I was surprised by the floods of reporters keen to interview me. All I wanted was to relax and take in the fact that I had survived. I really thought I was going to die out there.
As told to Griselda Nevarez. Do you have an experience to share? Email email@example.com