OAKDALE — Tori Cadwell is an 8-year-old from Oakdale with a sense of humor after a harrowing experience.
After a trip to Utah in July, she told her parents she'd have a good story to tell when she returns to school and is asked to write a report on her summer vacation.
"How I almost died in Moab, Utah," she told them.
They can laugh about it now, because they didn't die, and because humor helps people get through some difficult predicaments. But on a hike last month near Moab, they would have preferred bottles of cold water over making jokes about it later.
For the Cadwells, it was one of those moments that happen only to others, except that it happened to them. You never want your outing to become a headline or worse yet a movie, as happened to Aron Ralston, who cut off part of his arm to survive a 2003 hiking catastrophe, and the Stolpa family, which was caught in a 1993 snowstorm, suffered frostbite, lost toes and nearly died.
Here's the Cadwells' brush with disaster:
Glenn and Sarah Cadwell took Tori and her 6-year-old sister, Brooke, to visit family in Utah. Glenn is a retired Stanislaus County sheriff's sergeant. Sarah is a veterinarian.
Sarah's mother, Sondra Rozier, lives there and joined them on what was supposed to be a relatively easy hike in the rocky trails near Moab.
Instead, they ended up taking a wrong trail at the wrong time as the temperature soared to 111 degrees and without enough water. Hence, what was supposed to be, "as Gilligan would say, 'a three-hour tour,' " Glenn said, "turned into a six-hour ordeal with enough water for three hours."
They set out under an overcast sky, with the thermometer at 82 degrees, to see some American Indian petroglyphs. Following a well-established trail and carrying enough water for the three-hour hike, they reached their destination as the cloud cover burned off and the heat began to rise.
On the return trip, they took the advice of a relative who told them they could take another trail that would loop them back to Moab. It was only a couple of miles, they were told.
It turned out to be more than twice that distance, and in country that looks basically the same in every direction.
"The area is 1.3 million acres of rocks and no shade," Glenn said.
And no cell phone reception, except on the highest points. So they walked. And walked. The afternoon sun beat down upon them. Soon, their water was gone.
"I'd run ahead a quarter of a mile or so to see what was next," Glenn said. "It was the same thing every time."
More rocks, more heat. Pretty soon, the ground itself radiated heat.
"Sondra (Rozier) had become very dehydrated," he said. "The girls were getting headaches. They ran out of energy."
They found markings that led to a trail for off-road vehicles and followed it in hopes someone would come along. No such luck.
Glenn knew the Kane River was somewhere in the vicinity four ridges away, as it turned out. Not an option.
"We had a few moments of panic," he said. "Out of earshot and visual of the kids, the conversation went directly to, 'Are we going to get through this?' And the answer was, 'If we don't get water, I don't know.' I credit my wife for being the calming influence. When the panic set in, she's the one who said, 'Let's take a deep breath,' and calmed everyone down."
Relatives knew about where they were, and would have come looking for them within another hour or so. Sarah, who grew up in the area, knew they weren't that far from safety. But her GPS had drained her phone battery. Glenn didn't want to take any unnecessary risks and made the call to try to call.
They parked the girls and Rozier under what little shade they could find.
"I took off to find the highest place I could in an attempt to get cell service," he said. "A quarter of a mile from where the family was, I held the phone out. No service. No service. No service. Then, all of a sudden, I got one bar (strength signal)."
As a deputy, he had responded to countless 911 calls during his career. "Now, I was on the other end of 911," he said. "It's a helpless feeling."
Added Sarah: "Glenn and I are both rescuers. He rescued people, I rescue animals. It was hard for me to accept that we needed to be rescued. But I'm happy Glenn made the decision."
He gave the dispatcher an approximate location. Authorities were able to lock in on his position using GPS.
"They said they'd be sending a fixed-wing aircraft," he said. "With all due respect, that wasn't going to do us any good. How are they going to drop water to us at 160 miles an hour?"
He pleaded to have them send a helicopter which could easily land on a flat spot but they didn't have one readily available.
The Bureau of Land Management did, however, and within an hour, the chopper arrived to whisk them away. Rozier spent about five hours in a hospital to treat her dehydration. Afterward, one of the EMTs confirmed how perilously close to disaster they had come.
"We didn't do anything egregious. We just took a wrong turn," Glenn said. "Even so, (the EMT) told me that had we not gotten a bar on the phone, we probably would have been looking at a recovery, not a rescue."
The lessons they learned:
Carry more water than you think you'll need.
Make sure people know where you're going to be which they did, but Aron Ralston and the Stolpas did not.
Among the group, keep at least one cell phone turned completely off and charged 100 percent.
Most important, "You can never make the wrong call by calling 911," Glenn said.
He understood that, made the call, summoned the chopper and averted a tragedy.
Because he did, daughter Tori will be able to tell her schoolmates all about it.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.