Just over a year ago, Robert Root of Modesto spent two very cold nights on a mountainside in Placer County.
Running on a mountain trail near Foresthill on March 30, 2014, Root said he went straight when he should have veered left.
“I didn’t realize I was in the wrong place until I saw the hairpin turn of the American River,” Root recalled this week. “I wasn’t supposed to see that.”
Which, in effect, meant he was lost. A member of the Valley’s ShadowChase Running Club, the 56-year-old soon became the subject of a widespread search that involved scores of sheriff’s deputies, volunteers, four search dogs and a couple of helicopters. ShadowChase club members established headquarters at a coffee shop in the mornings and a pizza parlor in the afternoons, said Chad Johnson, the club’s president.
That Tuesday, Root found the rescuers who were looking for him, and all were thrilled with the outcome. In addition to coverage in this newspaper and others, the event drew extensive attention from Sacramento-area TV stations. In fact, you could say he made the 52-hour news cycle. It became a big story for the time, made bigger and better by the fact that he lived to tell it: all the suspense with a happy ending.
You see, too often, these things don’t turn out so well. Many other things could have happened, few of them good. He had lost his cellphone and didn’t carry his whistle or snakebite kit. He didn’t bring along a GPS device, nor did he pack enough food or water. He got lost on Sunday, and it snowed that Monday morning, though he stayed below the snowline. It did rain, however, and was cold at night. Clad only in his running gear, Root could have gotten hypothermia. He could have fallen down a hillside. He could have tripped while running on the rocky trail and suffered a head injury or something. Or a newly awakened bear or a mountain lion might have seen him as a snack.
Instead, Root willed himself to survive, to the glee of searchers and running friends alike. He maintains his sense of humor about it. His friends celebrated his return with a party in Modesto. They enjoyed themselves, he said with a laugh.
“I didn’t get to go,” he said. “It was while I was in the hospital.”
So they had another party a few days later and life returned to normal. Within a week, he and his friends were back to running here in the Valley. He’s been back to Foresthill since, but their trip this weekend will be special. As many as 60 members of ShadowChase and the Dusty Bottoms Trail Runners, also based in Modesto, will head up to there Sunday for an 8- to 12-mile run.
Then, they’ll meet at Sugar Pine Pizza in Foresthill, “to give them some business and say thanks,” Johnson said. “They were great to us.”
Like most other businesses in the Sierra, the pizza parlor has been hurt by the lack of snow over the winter and can use the customers.
Also, Root’s adventure becomes a teachable moment for other runners on the mountain trails – the opportunity to emphasize the importance of being prepared; of carrying food, water and an electronic locator device; of marking trails ahead of time and, mostly, of running with others. Root got lost when he left one group to catch up with others who had gone ahead.
“One thing I learned,” Root quipped, “is don’t do it again. Make sure you’re with someone who knows the area. Don’t go exploring. Hydrate and carry electrolytes. And a phone or some means of communication – a personal locator.”
Verizon offers better cellphone coverage in the mountains than AT&T, he said, although it doesn’t matter if you lose your phone, as he did. This time, he’ll bring along both his phone and a Garmin GPS device.
“We want to educate people,” Johnson said. “Use the buddy system. Mark the trail. I told Bob, ‘We’re going to keep you on a leash.’”
Root should be well prepared this time out, courtesy of his co-workers at the Modesto Irrigation District, where he works in information technology.
“When I got back to work, there was a backpack on my desk,” Root said. “It was filled with survival stuff: a first-aid kit, a flashlight, a blanket and food.”
Indeed, the experience of being lost in the mountains wasn’t lost on him. He’s been there, done that and doesn’t intend to repeat the experience.