Stories from an Alaskan Cabin: Chapter Eleven

This is the story John told:

I have a friend who works with Fire and Rescue in Anchorage. Every year, he has to go down to the mud flats to rescue tourists who think it’s fun to hike on them. They don’t realize that Turnagain’s bore tide comes in so quickly, and sometimes, they get stuck in the mud. More than one pair of shoes has been left on the flats as people fled the coming tide. Still, in spite of numerous warning signs, it seems that many tourists are oblivious to the danger. Some are more oblivious than others.

A couple of years ago, two couples took their tents out to the mud flats. They had everything they needed to camp overnight. They laid down a couple of blankets, pitched their tents, and started a fire. They made a meal, roasted marshmallows, and disappeared into their tents.

Fire and Rescue go the call about the tent late. The tide would be coming in soon. They got in the ladder truck, turned on the sirens and rushed to Turnagain Arm where the tent was. As the truck was pulling to the side, the navigator used the truck’s PA system to shout down a warning to the tents, but there was no movement. He tried again. Nothing. The truck parked, and the tents remained still.

My friend didn’t want to risk his men. He lowered the ladder as close as he could to the flats, grabbed a bullhorn, and walked onto the mud. The navigator kept using the PA system; my friend used the bullhorn. They made as much noise as they could, but the people in the tent were ignoring them. My friend could feel the vibration in the mud of the approaching water. The standing pools of water around him rippled.

“In the tent! Attention,” he used the bullhorn. “You need to clear out now. You are in danger. I repeat. You are facing a life-threatening situation. You need to get out now. The fire engine above echoed the information.

The vibrations under his feet got more intense. He made it to the tents. He unzipped the first one and shouted at the couple inside. “Get out! Get out!” He went to the second tent and did the same. The four people emerged in different stages of undress. One man was only in his speedos. One of the women was only wearing a crop top.

Water came up around their feet. They tried to pack up their belongings, but my friend gently pushed them toward shore. The water was up to their ankles when one of the women lost her flip flop. She stopped to get, but my friend grabbed her arm and led her to shore.

“Run! You must run!” My friend ran behind them shouting encouragement. He could feel the approaching tide bearing down on them. The water was getting deeper, and then it disappeared. My friend leapt onto the shore as the tide bore down around them. He saved four people’s lives that day. It would’ve been so much better if he didn’t have a need to.

“Why do people do things like that?” asked George. “It’s like petting the moose: a terrible idea.”

“Yeah, I don’t know, man,’ said John. “People come to Alaska and do stupid things because they don’t understand how dangerous it can be here.”

“I guess,” said George. “Common sense isn’t so common if you’re not familiar with what common is.”

“That’s about the size of it,” said Gerald. It reminds me of a story…”