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ALWAYS HAVE A PLAN.

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  • ALWAYS HAVE A PLAN.

    REMEMBER the article was submitted to a camping/outdoor/adventure type magazine aimed at the "younger" folks. "NOT what they were looking for... too long, no website links, no pics, no flash or snap, where is the fun?"
    OR
    in other words, no shiny things to keep young minds amused enough for their 30 second attention span.



    ALWAYS HAVE A PLAN

    OR- How I survived WWIII

    The year is 1967, late July, and between Sophomore and Junior year college one of my fraternity brothers who basically had never been out of Michigan asked me about getting away into the wilderness for a fly in fishing trip before school started in September. He had heard me talk about doing fly-ins since I was about 9. I had been out bow and bird hunting with the guy and fishing a couple of times and I knew he could actually walk through the woods without hurting himself so I agreed, after all, we were both fit, young and immortal so what could possibly go wrong? I called a couple of places I knew about and found one with a vacancy for a fly-in camp.

    We drove from Detroit to New Liskeard, Ontario in the second week of August, where, on a Monday morning we boarded a Cessna 180 on floats and headed north northwest. I had flown with the same service/outfitter a couple of times before with my father and knew they had good camps and facilities. The pilot was new to me but he knew I was sort of a return customer and had done bush camps before. I was in the right seat and we talked about where we were headed. Then, about ten minutes into the flight he asked if we were up to a change in plans. He said we looked like we could handle a little roughing it and there was something he wanted to run by us. There was a new lake the outfitter wanted to see about developing but they hadn’t had anyone actually try to fish it other than a few casts off a float plane. There was no real camp at the location, just a cleared spot by the shore with a fire ring, a large tarp lean-to and a canoe. And, if we would go and fish it for our three days and give them a report all we would pay for would be the air taxi and no charge for the fishing or camp. I asked “So, this is a place where no one has camped or fished before?” He said “Yes.” I looked at Ken who said whatever I wanted to try and we agreed to do it. A change in plans… what could go wrong?

    We passed over the camp we were originally scheduled for and kept on going, more northerly now. After about an hour or so in the air we angled for an elevated pothole lake set up on a series of the higher hills for the area. The lake looked small but I knew they had flown in and out of there at least once before so no problem. As we taxied to the shore he told us that when he came back he would have to pick us up one at a time in the Super Cub because a loaded 180 probably wouldn’t make it off the lake. I checked his air chart against the topo maps I had for the area (I always carry topo maps, always) so I knew where we were EXACTLY, finalized departure estimate for three days later and waved goodbye. As he buzzed out of earshot I turned to Ken and said “Ya know, if he went down right now nobody would actually know where we are. He never radioed in to his base of the change of plans.” Ken got a strange look on his face and then I added “But I’m sure this had to be discussed with the people about maybe offering us the new lake so I’m sure someone will know where we are.”

    For the next three days we camped under the stars in fantastic weather for that part of the world. It was the first time in my life I was in an area where no man-made sound penetrated our location. There were no trains, planes, mining, lumbering or any other man-made disturbance. The skies were clear, the sun shone. At night we were surrounded by the sounds of wolves calling in the hills. There could have been only a handful, there could have been hundreds, it seemed they were everywhere from their songs, but try as hard as we might we never saw one. Our second morning there I was awakened by the sound of heavy breathing as I lay in my sleeping bag under the tarp. I opened my eyes and standing over me was about seven feet of bull moose looking at me and trying to figure out just what I was. I was fairly certain it had never seen another human being in its life. I softly called to Ken to wake up but don’t move. I have been around a lot of moose. Ken had not. When his eyes focused on the half ton critter standing over him I thought I was going to have to remind him to breathe. A bull moose at about three feet can be very impressive. Its curiosity satisfied we meant no harm and wouldn’t be very good to eat, it plodded away along the shore.

    The fishing was interesting. The lake was filled with walleyes and had no outlet so what fish were in the lake never received an infusion of fresh DNA. They hit everything we threw at them but they appeared a little stunted and nothing we caught ran over 3 pounds. You would never starve but no one would pay good bucks to catch those sorry little things. Still, you could catch fish until your arms became tired so it wasn’t a total loss. Maybe there just wasn’t enough food for them to get bigger. Late the second afternoon we went exploring and following game trails we had a good walk and learned a little about the area including a small track to one of the higher points. It was totally virgin territory and it gave a different feeling thinking of being where probably no human had ever been before.

    THURSDAY…Launch day came along and we prepared for a noon departure. We split up the gear and I told Ken he would take the first flight in the Cub since if anyone was going to be left alone I wanted to be the one and besides I was the logical one to stay just in case… but really, what could go wrong?

    Noon came and went. Two, three, four, the hours ticked by and I started setting up for the night because I knew there wouldn’t be enough light for two flights before dark. I had a fair amount of experience with bush flights and spent time around this sort of thing and I told Ken no big deal. Bush planes and pilots do not run on a tight schedule because things happen. He shrugged it off and we settled in for another night and later on the wolves sang us to sleep as they had every other night.

    FRIDAY… Fourth day. Morning came along and around noon I said let’s go fishing and if he arrives he will have to wait. We hopped in the canoe and caught fish until it became boring and then saved enough for lunch fixings. If you have never had fresh caught walleye thrown into a skillet just minutes after they came out of the water, then I feel so sorry for you because you have not eaten. As dusk came on that fourth evening I told Ken not to worry. “He’ll make it tomorrow.” After all, what could have gone THAT wrong?

    In the half moon night, around midnight, the wolves went quiet and the night was still for the first time. Sometimes the silence will scream at you to wake up, it is not natural. Then we could hear the planes coming out of the night. Maybe 15 seconds later this huge black shadow swept over us with a roar. It wasn’t 1000 feet off the deck and it was close enough you could see the 8 flaming exhaust points on the swept back wings of the B-52 bomber that was headed north, followed by 3 more that made up the standard SAC flight formations of the day. (I had soloed my first plane at 17, my father was connected to the Defense industry, I knew a fair amount about planes and the military) Ten minutes later another flight of them passed over a little further to the west. I wondered if they were from the SAC base at Oscoda, Michigan which was only about 20 miles from where the folks had a cabin. Remember, this is 1967, when the Cold War was in full swing. As I watched the military aircraft blotting out the stars I thought that something really had gone wrong. I turned to Ken and asked “I wonder if they are having a war and forgot to invite us?”

    SO, you have two well educated eighteen-nineteen-year old’s who grew up in a world threatened by nuclear war, who were taught “Duck and Cover” in the classrooms, contemplating the end of the world as they knew it, and wondering what would come next as for two days war birds continued to fill the skies overhead. I must admit the imagination does have a field day when in such situations, when you have no credible intelligence on the situation at hand except for a sky filled with the weapons of what would be the LAST world war. We both agreed “This sucks”.

    What was amazing in retrospect, was our total lack of panic at any time, because we had a plan. The morning of the first day of the “war” we had already started assessing our worst-case scenario situation. And, as bad as we could imagine, which was very bad and very graphic, we didn’t doubt our survival at all. Remember, young, fit, immortal, that was still in operation. We knew we could never winter out where we were; too cold, not enough resources, too late in the year already. At that latitude we could be seeing snow starting in about 6 weeks. We had taken stock of our supplies and we were in fairly good shape. We had been eating the fish we caught so we still had most of the food we brought in. So, we still had 3-4 days of prepared foods, cans and such because we had brought at least 5 days of food each for our 3-day trip. We had all our camping gear which included good sleeping bags, a small lightweight two-man tent, all our fishing gear and our clothing was adequate with some good rain gear. We packed heavy because we were flying in not walking in. We had the canoe. The extra “ace” was my AR-7 take down .22 rifle. A handy little semi-auto .22 that would disassemble and pack into its own buttstock, and a full box of 50 rounds for it. Remember, this was a time when we were friends with Canada and everyone wasn’t so anal about so many things. In fact, all considered we were in great shape for survival.

    AT one time I did... unbelievable things for this country without question, because it was my country and right. NOW, my country, that country, no longer exists and I now I feel I am the Philip Nolan of my age.
    God carries a 1911.
    Just another day towards 20...

  • #2
    CONTINUED...

    A study of the map showed we were about twenty-five miles from James Bay as the crow flies. As an interesting side note, as we plotted a course to the Bay using lakes and rivers we figured we would come within about ten miles of the south boundary of the Ontario Provincial Polar Bear Park. Since we were still in late summer headed to fall if there were polar bears about they would be on shore and that could or could not be a problem, but we figured that would be way down on our list of things we might have to deal with. Once we made it to James Bay we would turn south and run down the coast until we reached “civilization” which would either be an Indian settlement or Moosonee, which aptly enough is located on the Moose River about fifteen miles in from the Bay. We were trying to figure the best route, thinking it would be better to detour a little by using rivers as much as possible instead of heading due east as the birds flew and have to carry everything, including the canoe, over distance through some very nasty bush. But it wasn’t necessary to finalize the plan just yet.

    We agreed that we would stay in place for one week. The time would allow for a lot of things to shake out, including someone maybe remembering we were out in the bush and come get us, if they were able and IF “they” still existed. (remember, imagination) But preparations for the trek had to start immediately. First and foremost, we started catching fish. LOTS of fish. Then while Ken kept on catching fish, I built some frames and a small enclosure made of pine boughs and we started smoking fish, LOTS of fish. Best case, we had a couple of weeks of hard traveling ahead of us and there was no reason or excuse to run out of food when it was so abundant. If we weren’t catching and cleaning fish we were checking gear and making sure we were ready to go when the week was up and finalizing our exit strategy.

    TUESDAY… So, we are now morning of the fifth day past our scheduled exit day. We were still catching and still smoking and drying fish. Probably had 20-25 pounds of good edible fish flesh for travel. (It took a LOT of those little fish to accumulate that much) The bears were staying away and the wolves were back to singing to us at night. Then about 10AM we heard it… the faint buzzing of a large mosquito. It grew louder and then over the horizon we saw the outline of a small plane. It swung down the length of the lake downwind and then turned and settled in. The Super Cub had arrived. Obviously, we were overjoyed that at least one other person had survived on the planet. The engine shut down and the plane coasted to a stop against the shore. The pilot exited and before we could say anything he yells out “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU GUYS DOING?” He seemed to have noticed the racks of fish and the uncountable fish remains that were under water near the beach.

    And the explanations began.
    PILOT- On Wednesday, the day before we were scheduled to be picked up the pilot was at another camp with the Super Cub. It was late afternoon and as he was getting ready to take off the engine blew a piston. Not that big a deal unless you are a hundred miles from a repair facility and a mechanic and parts. When he didn’t show up that night the next morning another pilot went looking for him. (remember, this was long before SAT phones and cell phones and GPS and the little VHF radios in small planes were pretty much restricted to line of sight reception and sending.) The next day was spent getting the parts and a mechanic to the plane. Then the NOTAM went into effect.

    A NOTAM is a Notice To Airmen. This one was issued by the Canadian Government. Basically, it was notice that because of a joint training exercise between the RCAF and the USAF several thousand square miles of airspace were being closed off for “war games” and all civilian air traffic was banned from the area for three days. The area was uninhabited except for maybe a couple of Indian villages, so who would it bother? The outfitter knew of the notice but we were supposed to be long gone before it came into effect. So, the Cub was being repaired while it sat on another lake and grounded because of the air exercise. Then once it was flyable the mechanic could not clear it until he got it back to the facility where he could use his test equipment and certify it fit for commercial use again. So, Monday afternoon the plane made it back to the facility and on Tuesday morning the pilot left to come for us.

    WE- explained what we were doing, our thinking and perceptions and plans thus explaining why we had caught a few hundred more fish than allowed on our license. By the end of our story the pilot was laughing his ass off. He did compliment us on our preparations although as he put it, “I wouldn’t want my worst enemy in the world to have to portage out of here like you guys were planning to do.” We distributed our fish for the wildlife and the starving fish since the pilot said they were not going to open that spot because of the poor fish situation. The rest of the trip was uneventful. Other than for the outfitter to return for the canoe and break down what there was of the camp I don’t know if anyone has ever been back there.

    NOW… the whole point of this recollection. When the plane didn’t pick us up as scheduled there was no panic because I had seen this happen before in bush flying. When the bombers were flying at treetop level and it seemed everything was headed over the poles, I can tell you as someone who was a child of the Cold War, who was living in Washington D.C. when the Cuban Missile crisis was playing out, nuclear war was never “silly talk” that would never happen. It was a very rational thought process to lead us to believe the world might have changed and we were on our own. That said there was never a moment of “Oh woe is us.” Or, “What is there to live for?” or “What are we going to do?” and feeling lost and forsaken. We made a plan for surviving and whatever it took. “What, no plane?” “OK, then how do we get out of here and let’s get to it.” THAT is the message. We were debating the literal end of civilization and the end and death of everyone we knew and we did not let it get to us because we had already made up our minds that we were responsible for our own lives and we had to get out and all our efforts were to make it happen. Deep in the recesses of our minds maybe we didn’t really want to believe it and that helped us deal with our worst-case scenario, but to not plan for the worst and then have it actually be reality, that could also be the death of us. We didn’t ever contemplate just giving up or waiting to see if someone else was going to save us.

    IF something unexpected happens you do not let it beat you. If you had the forethought to buy and carry a PLB, then more power to you, but, you still do not think someone else has the responsibility to save you and then die in place when they don’t. Maybe that emergency beacon did not work, maybe no one heard the message. How would you know for certain? You make a new plan and get on with surviving and getting out, and if that one does not work then make another plan, all the time you are assessing your options, your supplies and equipment and capabilities and any other variable that you can work in your favor that removes limitations on your going forward. We were looking at having to traverse miles of trackless bush and river country, which if you ever experienced it, you would never forget it. It didn’t faze us because we had a plan, a good plan or at least as good as we could develop given our situation. Working on surviving keeps you from sitting around feeling sorry for yourself, something that seems more prevalent anymore. If you are working on a plan you will not panic because there is no reason to, you have a plan. Make it, follow it and get on with it.

    On reflection fifty years later, did our reaction seem outlandish or foolish? Even all this time later I have to say “No” and for a couple of reasons. As previously stated we were children of the Cold War and me especially. I was in grade school in Washington D.C. during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was so bad my father had the company plane standing by with pilots at a small private airport just 4 miles from the house. My mother, sister and I were not allowed to leave the house for three days. We had to be available for when the call came in to meet at the airport because my father, who I said was wired into the Defense Department, was told by his military contacts that with the intelligence the US had available there would basically be a four-hour window of “get out” time before the bombs started going off; in four hours we would be in Canada. As a child you will never forget times like that, hearing that phone ring in the middle of the night and just barely understanding how terrible things could be.
    Further, it was simply prudent to plan to survive the worst case scenario and immediately start to self-rescue as opposed to losing a week or so of valuable time, then try to make plans and get out before the bad weather closed in. I have always had the philosophy of prepare for the worst, then if/when it doesn’t happen getting through the next step is so much easier because you have already prepared for it and more. If something happens that changes everything, stop and THINK and plan to deal with it and you won’t have time to feel sorry for yourself or panic or any of those other things that cause people to give up and die.


    AT one time I did... unbelievable things for this country without question, because it was my country and right. NOW, my country, that country, no longer exists and I now I feel I am the Philip Nolan of my age.
    God carries a 1911.
    Just another day towards 20...

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