Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Out of the Woods

We're out of the woods and this mission is a wrap. It's been a crazy few days full of ups and downs and perseverance. I am so thankful that we recovered the payload. We can't believe it.

I wanted to take some time, while it was fresh in my head, to talk about the recovery and the recovery site. You've seen the photos so you know that we were mostly tromping around in the woods near a tobacco field (spoiler alert). Those woods were totally brier infested, teeming with insects, snakeville and in some parts impassably crowded with brush. You'd be trying to track a diagonal from the corner of the pond to the field and you'd be bushwhacking so much you'd end up off track. When Jimmy and I were setting points last night we ended up way off course from each other and even though he was 20 ft away I couldn't see him.

The day we got there, we were using an indirect path to get into the woods that made it hard to tell where you were going. I was wearing a skirt, like always, and getting snagged on everything and fenced in by briers. Very quickly we were all dirty, sweaty and bleeding. My legs and arms are shredded. Every second I was out there I felt so, so close to recovering the payload. The first day we were full of hope that any second now we'd stumble upon it and go home. I think that really drove me to keep out there. That and dreams of sno cones and swimming pools!!

Shout out to Jessica Frega for being my Mindy and looking at maps for me from afar. Big cheers to everyone who sent supportive texts, chats and emails. These were little bright spots that kept me going. (Balloon Chase Playlist 2 coming soon...)

Driving home from Linden on Monday night with empty bellies and pounding headaches was exhausting but then, after showers and food, we got back onto the computer and started consulting the GPS, imagery and all known data in order to make a better plan for Tuesday.

Tuesday morning I picked Jimmy up at Walmart and we spun out to Linden as fast as we could. The first item of business was to make sure the pinger was still working. As you've read, we had a scare on our first pass because we couldn't hear it...but then after a radio change and a doughnut in a church parking lot, we were back on the chase. While viewing the imagery, we found some likely roads around the perimeter and decided to examine the signal strength there. One major score was a gravel road with a Baseball Center that had shade, parking spots and convenient access to the woods. We also got some great readings from a pig farm in the back of the property. We saw a huge hog and piglets! And deer!

After that we met up with Naomi to commence the serious searching. It was couchrex hot already but my morale was improved because I had 48ml of water, leggings, and garden shears. Oh yassssss...those garden shears were my jam. TAKE THAT BRIERS. YOU'VE MET YOUR MATCH NOW. I clipped things I didn't have to just out of spite. It was very satisfying. I recommend that you add some shears to your TURDS.

We searched for a few hours before David and Erick joined us. It was so good to have the entire team search with us. I could feel the love. David, Erick and Naomi kept at it systematically while Jimmy and I went to fuel up at Panera and buy a $$$ drone. Then we jetted back through a million red lights and caught up with Erick and David before they had to pack it in. Jimmy and I spent some time in the field triangulating where the pinger fuzzed out before taking a cartography break. Then we hoofed it BACK out to the field to use the rest of the light. The blood birds were aggressive, the flies were out and all of our precious map making seemed to amount to zilch. Before too long we agreed that the light was fading too much and we'd have to regroup and come back with the new drone in the morning.

On the way to the car Jimmy was nattering on about like, boats or something, while I was looking at the fluffy clouds over the field. I paused to take a picture and say, "Dude. I hate this field" and I was explaining to Jimmy how, generally, I would email him a photo like the one I just took (I call it Jimstagram) but that since he was there, he'd just have to settle to listen to me whining about the field...when...I saw...the tiniest...farthest away...most improbable....bit of blaze orange.

"Julie," I thought to myself, "Don't even say anything. You're imagining things."

But instead I said, "Jimmy do you see that?"

He didn't...but he was willing to check it out. Probably because he knew there'd be no appeasing me until we did. As we trudged through the sandy soil we'd crossed so many times before, we explained it away.

"It's a Doritos bag."

"It's a trick of the light."

But as we got closer we both got more excited until Jimmy jogged ahead, turned and beamed at me. "Come look at this."

I can't really explain how I felt seeing our payload sitting there after searching for two days in the adjacent woods. I was relieved to see it. I was surprised because I had made my peace with never seeing it again. I was...a little pissed. I was thrilled. I was exhilarated. I was hallucinating that I could hear the pinger....I still am. IT WAS GLORIOUS.

I'm totally addicted to this balloon business.

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