AN INCH AT A TIME.
That Saturday was a perfect day. I hopped on my four-wheel-drive (4WD) Polaris Magnum ATV and headed out for some serious exploration. But the ATV had brake and battery trouble. So, I headed back and transferred to my two-wheel-drive Polaris Trail Blazer--not as much speed but more maneuverability and lighter weight than the Magnum. It would get me where I wanted to go but minus the safety factor of 4WD.
St. George Island, where I live, is paradise in the tidal Potomac River, about ten miles from where the river meets the Chesapeake Bay. I headed for my favorite spot: a long, white sandy beach on the back of the island.
I rode along the clay-based beach, and then I moseyed across the rusty remains of the World War II Navy target facility on Deep Point to get to the southwest beach. The water was sparkling clear, and the deserted white sand was irresistible. I didn't realize until too late that the sand here had no clay base.
I pulled up to take a closer look, easing head-On into the first few inches of the river. I had advanced about a foot out into the water before I realized that my front wheels were acting a little more sluggish than I would have liked. I put the Trail Blazer in reverse and gently tried the throttle. The rear wheels dug in like a plow in a sand pit, and instead of backing me out, they actually settled me a little farther into the river.
About two years before, I had been hit on the back with a flying, 500-pound crane-head and hook while I was helping my Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron reload our CH-53-Es onto a C-5 for transport back to the States from Brazil. [As a result], I am paralyzed from the midchest (T7-8) down. I joined the ranks of retired Marines at a very young age (20).
Now I was stuck out here on my ATV, with no companions, no one in hearing distance, the tide rising, unable to move my legs and most of my torso, and I hadn't tried swimming since the accident that paralyzed me.
I could sit on the ATV and hope someone would notice me or come looking for me; or I could maneuver off the ATV and try out some water-rescue methods they never got around to teaching at Aircrew Training in Pensacola.
I had never transferred without going directly to or from my wheelchair. So l didn't want to cut off my machine and have to climb back on to restart it every' time I needed power. I decided to leave the Trail Blazer running while I worked on wrestling it away from the greedy river. I yanked my left leg over to the right side and lowered myself into the Potomac.
The first attempt I made was to pull myself around to the front of the ATV with the intention of trying to lift, push, pull, and yank it around to a position almost parallel with the beach. This [action] would somewhat move the rear wheels out of their rut, and the front wheels would be on more solid ground. The front end of the ATV is a lot lighter, and the water was about a foot deep, so this would make. the front even easier to move.
Of course, the water's buoyancy was just making things more difficult for me. I was floating around fine, but I needed to brace myself so I could lift on the front end.
Every time I tried to lift the 4-wheeler, my lower end would just slide away. [I had] one possibility for accomplishing my goal: I would submerge completely, brace myself with my back on the river bottom, and lift the front end with my arms. This [would move] the vehicle about a half inch each time.
I stuck with it, and I got that front end around. The vehicle [was] slightly deeper in the water, and the exhaust pipe was pleasantly gurgling as I pulled myself up by the handlebars to put the machine in forward gear. The rear wheels engaged--but they just dug in.
I looked around for something hard to put under the rear wheels. I saw some fallen trees up the beach.
It was a nice swim, that 100 feet, until I had to drag myself across the sandy beach to check out the trees. There was not one, single, suitable piece of wood for me to use. [I had to] drag back to the river, swim the 100 feet, and guess again.
I decided I would work on the rear end and try to maneuver the ATV to face the beach so I could use a forward-drive tactic to exit the water.
[Then] the exhaust pipe's pleasant gurgle ceased. I turned on the auxiliary tank and tried cranking it up. The gurgle returned and settled back into a reassuring rhythm. I don't know how long it took, probably about an hour. But submerging, bracing, and lifting lost a lot of its glamour by the time I had my ATV facing dry sand.
I floated around to the side and got ready to pull myself up onto the ATV. I hoped my extra weight would aid the rear-wheel traction. I moved the gear stick forward and eased on the throttle.
The dry sand was getting closer! My machine was inching its way out of the river's tenacious pull. One wrong move now, and I'd be swimming again. I kept the throttle slow and steady, and that fantastic machine chugged us both up onto dry, wonderful beach.
It's nice to know I can swim again. I think I'll go back tomorrow. With a friend.
This is a true story as told by Daniel Evans to Teresa M. Evans. [C] 1999 by Teresa M. Evans. Used by permission.