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A cry for help

August 27/Day 41. This is a day I spend in the campground just puttering around in the forest. It’s memorable for one incident, however. As I’m riding my bike through the little-used picnic area, which is somewhat removed from the camping area, I suddenly hear the sound of a person running on the road somewhere behind me, screaming hysterically, “Help, help! Oh please help! Help me!” There is the sound of sheer terror in the voice.

Wanting to help, of course, but nevertheless apprehensive about what kind of situation I might find myself in, I make U-turn in the road and ride back toward the voice. It’s a boy, who can barely get the words “I’m lost” out of his mouth as he continues to scream, tears running down his face.  “Help me, please, help me! Oh, my mom’s gonna kill me!”

I try to calm him down by saying, “Don’t worry. We’ll find find your mom. I’m sure she’ll be happy to see you.” I ask if he knows his campsite number, and fortunately he does. “It’s 96,” he manages to say between great heaving sobs.

Just looking at him I think, by his size, he must be about 14 years old—a little too old to be carrying on this way. Later I figure he’s just large for his age, obese as well as tall. Maybe he’s 9 or 10. I get off my bike and start walking toward the ranger station with him, asking his name.

“Jonathan,” he sobs.

“Where you from, Jonathan?”

“N-n-n-nome, Alaska,” he stutters between sobs. He looks like he’s of Eskimo heritage.

“Wow, that’s a long way. Ever been here before?”

“N-no, I’ve never been anywhere before.  Th-this has never happened to me before.” He’s still sobbing heavily and crying.

I tell him not to worry, we’ll just get a map from the ranger station and take you right to your camp.

Only after we’ve talked to the ranger and she’s marked his campsite on the map does Jonathan begin to calm down. He even explains that he was sent through the woods to his aunt’s campsite to get some diapers for his baby sister. (Now I see that what he’s clutching  in his hand are tiny diapers. Before, I thought they were feminine hygiene pads and didn’t want to ask….)

I say, “Look, we’re right here,” pointing to our position on the map.

He takes the map from my hand, turning it this way and that. Then he says, pointing, “We go that way.” Using the map he guides us all the way to his campsite, where there’s a tearful reunion with his mom.

It was a harrowing experience for Jonathan and an unnerving one for me. But I ride away feeling I’ve accomplished something today.

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