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My Near Death Experience

My Near Death Experience

A few years ago, we packed up the family and headed north to Glen Arbor, Michigan.  While packing in a late breakfast and a swimming session, I decide to go fishing alone while the kids take a rest.

I get in the Honda minivan and drive up the M-22 North to a familiar spot where a long country road ends to reveal a private beach.

I walk right to the water and start fishing from the beach…Casting my line into the waves and wind feels totally hopeless, so I decide that the long country road I’d taken from the M-22 to the private beach had a wide enough stream going under it that appeared fishable as I passed.  I promptly give up fishing into the wind and return to the country road stream thinking, I could just cast a few and be on my way…..

So when a stream must be interrupted by a road, a pipe is channeled under the road for the stream so the stream can still flow underneath.

Before these ‘bottlenecks in the stream’, the water tends to widen out at both sides of these passes and allow for some banking, and it  forms a ‘pond’ of sorts.  The stream water collects on either sides of the roadway creating wider fishing areas on either side of the gravel road.

Michigan has such purity.  The pines, the fresh water, the forest at every turn.  The water at this stream, and in the mini ponds surrounding both sides of the road is so clear, that you can see thru to the bottom, and it’s easy to see a few swimming fish, which on this day, gave me ample reason enough to stop the car here: in the middle of nowhere on a country road, to do some fishing.

Surveying my casting area, I make a mental note that the only thing I couldn’t do from my perch on the gravel road above the stream was to hit the fallen tree some 35 feet away from me.

This old fallen tree covers most of the stream before the collection pond and would surely snag my line if I were to hit it.  About the time I’m thinking this warning to myself, I sink my fluorescent lure right into the soft wood, rendering it immediately and mercilessly wedged.

There is hope.  The bright yellow lure is still visible.  Even from 35 feet, the clear water can be seen into to several feet of depth and the  lure is directly in sight.  I yank and yank harder.. no budge whatsoever.

Now, I was not raised to walk away from $6.50 lures.  These special hand painted lures are collectible, beautiful and very effective and after all..a fisherman has his pride.  I decide that I will have better luck pulling this thing free if I can pull on it at an angle.

This angle will have to be achieved by way of climbing down the bank, and walking across the stacked dry river rocks that bank the left side of the stream cascading down to and under the waters edge.

I am not afraid to get my feet wet, I am wearing an excellent pair of sandals that are rugged and rare and have golf spikes on the bottom of them.  I have owned them for 10 years and they give me sure footing, fit like a glove and rinse clean instantly.

The rocks, as I stand on them near the waters edge are holding firm, but my angle of approach has not managed to help my plight.  I yank again violently tugging at the line but I appear only to be sinking my hook further into the soft dead wood which is still some 20 feet away.  By now I am also committed.  I must get this lure retrieved.

I can see the bottom of the crystal stream, or what I believe to be the bottom of the stream from where I presently stand upon the last of the submerged basketball-sized river stones.

There are no more stones to walk upon.  So, I take my next step onto what appears to be the light brown sandy earth-bottom of the stream.  I find immediately as I sink deeply thru this layer that it is not at all what I thought.  I stepped instead onto what is the top ‘illusion layer’ of earth and sand.

This layer wasn’t even a layer.  It was a haze, providing cover over several murky quicksand layers of soft wet sandy pillowing mud.  I have created a sink hole with my leg jutting down into a pit.

Water that appeared to be 3 feet deep is now 6 ft deep.  The murk that I have penetrated in an instant has also erupted with it’s muck outward into the crystal clear water, fully clouding the entire 10 foot area around me.  There is now zero vision in the water.  In this instant, my foot does not ever strike home down below.

I am plunging now deeper than I suspected and having to process instant decisions.  I try without a leverage point to pull up my leg and my shoe is sucked off like a vacuum.

This water is shockingly cold.  My breath is taken.  Immediately, I realize my thigh is embedded in mud.  There is 3 feet of water above the mud.  The water from the bank that my feet could easily tolerate is not received well by my thighs, my midsection, lower back and shoulders.  Its life sucking cold water.  It snowed here less than 30 days ago.  I am in northern Michigan.  What I am I doing under water?

I try to free my foot and in the same instant I feel suction.  My thoughts become quick and panicky.  My shoe is off.  Gone.  No, I gotta fight for it.  Get that shoe.  I’m not losing this shoe.  I try to stand erect again.  That shoe is gone for good.  Why did I stand erect again?  How deep does this go?  What is that wretched smell?  Why am I now soaked?  Where is my fishing pole? How is it so icy cold?

A panic strikes my body.  It’s shockingly cold water.  Is it dangerous?  Is it cause for great concern?  How fast is this water rushing?  What creatures may be stirring under me?  I do not like this.  I can’t see anything in the water.  Win. Against any odds find the humor here.  I’m a swimmer. I got this…I decide to Float, don’t fight, float!!  I submerge again.  I decide that I am losing the fight because I am standing vertical.  I have to free my foot.  I plunge my other leg into the murk.  My 2nd shoe is sucked into the abyss below.  My bare legs are kicking up.  I can’t find footing.

I decide I must get going horizontal, vertical is not working. Vertical is a lose lose.  But, horizontal will mean being under the cold water again.  But horizontal may allow me to swim free.

Internal dialogue is shouting now. “Don’t lose your glasses!, Don’t panic!, You got this!!!”.  But wait, where’s my fishing pole?  I don’t have my fishing pole.  Line, fishing line..-I was snagged wasn’t I?  Where’s the lure?  Where’s that fallen tree?  Which way did I come in from?  Am I in the middle of the stream now?  Why is the once clear water now completely murky and black?  Whats that feeling on my foot?  Wasn’t this water serene?  False advertising!

Cold.  Whole body cold.  Where did that serene stream go? This is a death trap.  Fishing Pole! My favorite, where are you?  Where did you go?-my shoes have been sucked into hell, but, where is the pole?  Reach in. I am floating horizontally in the freeze.  Pole!!  Reach for a pole…Pole?  I grasp something that feels like a pole.  Rats… Stick covered in mossy growth….Pole is snagged….I decide to barrel role myself, see if I can get my bearings.  Find the line!  Find the fishing line.  Line, line, line!!!! where’s the line? If I can find the fishing line, it’s attached to the pole.

I got it!  I upheave a tangled mess of fishing line in my hands.  Internal dialogue screaming again: “Am I on my back?  Roll!  Twist!  Line.  Bare feet.  Line.  pull the line! The pole is there.  Pole!  Rod! Rod & Reel!!!  There you are!  I’M FREEZING!!!”

Why am I trying to save face and recover this stupid pole!?  You mucky, black treasure! My rod and reel!!!  This is not a total loss. There is life..I got this.  There is a win.  This was never about survival….It was about my fishing pole!!….I have my fishing pole!!!.  Safety.  How do I get to safety???.  Wait.  Am I in trouble?  Isn’t my line snagged on that tree?  What happened?  My line is free?  Freezing water…My 8 pound fishing line is broken??.  Swim.  Forget it.  Swim to safety it’s cold and it smells now like a rotten sewage eruption cloud.  Am I safe yet?  Can I get to safety?  How did my line get free?

I push forward on my chest swimming now remaining completely horizontal and avoiding any and all contact with the bottom.  I am barefooted, and I have created an enormous black cloud in the water.  The water is ice cold, but I have adjusted to its initial shock.  I can’t get stuck. I am not touching that horrifying bottom.

Many thoughts are now erupting to the surface as I am monumentally embarrassed by my own fear and happenstance.  How much time just went by?  What time did I go in?  How do I share this story?  Am I smiling?  Was I screaming as I flopped thru this murky chamber?  Is there anyone within 5 miles of me right now?  How much time did I spend in that fight?  Was it 5 minutes? Was it 8 seconds?  I simply do not know.  I was in a thoughtless out of body frenzy that knows no time.  Collect your thoughts. Stay horizontal.  You are now needing to climb on to those river rocks and avoid that 4ft wide suck hole underneath the road.  Slide up to the bank.  Get to the side of that  huge stream pipe without getting sucked in.  Breathe.  Look back at where I was.  What the hell happened?

A few days of healing after the lure injury.

I slide atop the rocks now by the roadway again.  Why do I feel such a breeze?  I glance down.  I have lost my trunks! Oh my God I’m naked from the waist down.

And what is that odd sting?  I look down at my left foot and there is a 3 inch long bleeding gash on the inside of my ankle.  Skin split wide open.  Turns out I did free the lure!  It was briefly in my foot.  I kinda caught..Myself?!  Well that’s where the lure was.  No idea how.  Hobble on gravel to the car….Wow, I left the car on?  Who would have known? Who would have come first? I would have killed for some help 5 minutes ago, now I’m hoping like hell nobody arrives for this scene.

My poor brand new Columbia Pro Fishing Gear shirt is now deep brown greys speckled thick with peppery sewage soup.  Oh my God does it stink.  Pro Fishing Gear?  Does this kind of thing happen to pro fishermen?  The irony of my attire will be saved for later.  I have not lost.  I may be naked.  But I have not lost.

I glance at my arms.  My whole body is speckled by stream waste sewage pepper flakes.  It is a rank soupy effervescent foul.  Thank God there is a swim towel in the back of the van.  I tie my  shirt to the back windshield wiper.  I am now a soaked dirty smelly naked man wrapped in a small kids beach swim towel.  I gotta go.  Drive.  Go, far from here.

As I drive, I have urges to laugh.  Urges to cry.  Gotta tell my wife. How do I tell her?  How serious was this?  Can I be trusted to fish alone after this?  Did I make some fundamental errors in judgement? Am I taking too many risks?

I Drive on.  I’m back in the brilliant comforting familiar stretch of the scenic M-22 highway.  Rounding curves and enjoying the scenery like I’d never seen it before.

When I get back to our room, the kids are all napping.  I learn I had been gone for an hour and 15 minutes.  The drive was less than 10 minutes.  How long did my episode last?  My mind is racing and a sick feeling surrounds me.  I get into the bathroom and jump into the shower holding with my soiled clothes and I stand there in the steam.  I have created a strong, sewage smell and a 20 minute shower is in order to begin to clear my head and begin to infiltrate the aroma which still lingers in the shower 24 hours later, but sure to always remain a unique scent to my memory.

Refreshed, and expunged of this experience, I towel myself dry and rush to find my wife.  Resting on the bed, belly 8 months extended and our little Lily Bear happily giggling and sucking her thumb cuddling Mommy.  What a sight for sore eyes.  I kiss them both and only say that I have quite a story to share.

I tell Jen the freshness of the whole incident as it has only begun to resolute itself in words.  I won’t be able to tell the kids about this until I can pepper in enough levity for balance to extract a lesson.  Over 4 hours later, I am able to do so over pizza in Empire, Michigan.  I can’t seem to do the story justice. I still don’t know exactly what happened, but I am sure glad that I am able to try to share these events with them and now with you.

We spend a few more wonderful and quiet days in our paradise, safely enjoying time with the kids and making memories to last a lifetime in Glen Arbor Michigan, the most beautiful place in the world.  A place where we will return soon and often, probably forever.

Ben Smith is the Founder, President and C.C.I.C. of Always There Home Care.  When he’s not in Columbus, maybe he’s up north with his family trying again to land the one that got away, and hopefully without the fishing dramatics.

Call or Text Ben directly if we can help your Senior Loved one: (614) 649-0684

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