On her 71st birthday in mid July, Sajean Geer decided to spread her husband's ashes near Obstruction Point, inside Olympic National Park in Washington state. She had already spread some ashes in his other favorite spot, the Kona coast on the Big Island of Hawaii, and was finally ready to say goodbye, reports The Seattle Times.
When she was finished, she realized she had become disoriented.
“I didn’t think I walked that far, but I could have, because I was emotional,” Geer told the Times.
She climbed a hill in hopes of catching sight of a road, but stumbled and lost her grip on the urn, which went tumbling away.
Dusk started to fall and Geer became frustrated. She thought of herself as an experienced hiker, but she wasn't prepared to be in the park for such a long period of time. She was only wearing capris and a Hawaiian shirt and wasn't carrying any water. She had her Chihuahua-terrier mix, Yoda, with her. She had a cellphone, but there was no service. And worst of all, she hadn't told anyone where she was going because she hadn't expected to be gone for long.
“All my outdoor experience has been hiking on trails with signs, and I hadn’t had experience in total wilderness like that. All I could see is trees. I couldn’t find anything to orient myself with,” she said.
She spent that first day trying to find her way out of the park but was unsuccessful. That night, she curled up under a log with Yoda and realized she'd have to hatch a plan.
Survival skills and a good attitude
A voracious reader, Geer remembered knowledge she'd picked up from several outdoor survival books. One key tip stuck in her mind: it's important to have "a positive mental attitude and a fighting spirit that you're going to live through this. I said, 'OK, I'm gonna do this.'"
She told KIRO, "What I figured was, I had to survive until I could get rescued."
So she figured out what she needed. She started by constructing a shelter out of logs with moss to fill in the roof. She and Yoda walked down a ravine to a stream three times a day to get fresh water.
She said she wasn't hungry for the first few days, but eventually she began to nibble on currants, pine needles and even bugs.
“This ant bit me,” Geer told KIRO. “Then I remember watching on television, you can eat ants, and I go, ‘Well, I have a bigger mouth then you,’ so I ate him when he bit me.”
Yoda had the same idea, snapping bugs out of the air for his dinner.
Ticking off the days, she realized she had spent six nights in the wilderness. All the while, she remained upbeat, remembering that adage about a positive attitude.
“You have to have something in your head, to keep you motivated and alive," she told The Seattle Times. She said she thought about her friends, family and life.
Finally, a rescue
Meanwhile, a friend in Hawaii grew worried when she couldn't reach Geer for several days. She contacted Geer's brother, who asked police to check on her. Family and friends organized a search. Eventually, a park ranger noticed her car and they began to look for her from the sky.
When Geer heard a helicopter overhead, she jumped onto a sunny spot on a log and frantically began waving her arms. They tossed her a note to told her to hang tight. Not long after, a rescuer hiked to her and she hugged him, thrilled to have been found. Because the terrain was too rugged and long for them to hike back out, a Coast Guard helicopter was called in to help. They lowered a basket and hoisted her and Yoda up to safety, which you can see in the video below.
Someone even located her husband's urn during the search.
Geer had a few scrapes and bug bites and was dehydrated, but other than that, she was in good shape and in good spirits.
Now, she told the Times, she views the experience as a good one, allowing her to learn about herself and reflect on what's important in life.
“When you’re by yourself up in the wilderness with nobody to talk to except your dog, you learn a lot about yourself,” she said. “I forced myself to look at … decisions I made that put me in my situation. I made a lot of mistakes.
“I was really encouraged by myself. I didn’t panic. I was calm. I was glad I had the knowledge to figure out what to do,” she said. “I was grateful for everything in my life — my friends, my family.”