Nine Lives? Just Not My Time

By Rick Pedersen –

Growing up as a kid, I always thought I was invincible and never gave thought to the possibility of contributing to my own demise. As an adult, I think back to past deeds and have second thoughts about invincibility. I consider myself a spiritual person, and that means, I believe there is much in the universe that is not understood, but higher forces have a plan in mind about how things will go. I think we have free will in our decisions, but ultimately, they lead to the intended destination. In other words, “if it’s not your time, then it’s not your time.” I say that within reason, because that does not mean you can step in front of a bus and survive it, just because you don’t think it’s your time. I will share several stories to illustrate my opinion on my life experiences.
From my earliest memories, adults have instructed me on the do’s and don’ts of life to maintain safety. At my grandma’s house, this meant if you were walking across the street to fish at the river’s edge, then you must be wearing a life jacket. I never understood that, because even if I tripped on shore and got my feet wet, I could not picture how that meant I was going to drown. It did seem more relevant to require that in a boat or standing on a dock. Also, things like looking both ways before you cross the street made a lot more common sense to me.
Almost 50 years ago, I was a grade school kid, and my grandma would send me to the corner market a couple blocks away. She would give me money and a note that I would give to the lady at the store, who would gather the grocery items and return with them bagged. She would also ask me how my grandparents were doing, tell me to look both ways when crossing the street, and finally advise me to not lose the change. I would walk several blocks to return with items such as bread, braunschweiger, peanut butter, and either a pack of Marlboro Reds for my grandma or a box of Chesterfield cigarettes for my great grandma, It was the sign of times long past and would certainly not be acceptable during the period we live in now. Nobody ever bothered me on my grocery run, nor did I ever have issues crossing busy streets, or trouble with barking dogs.

My dad lived a couple 100 yards from the river when I grew up, and, in the wintertime, it was a race to see who was able to cross the river once ice started to form. I’m not exaggerating when I say that my tiny frame was out on that ice when there was an inch or less covering the river. Many times, I slid my feet across the glassy ice and judged the thickness by the cracks that formed as I hurried across. If I kept moving, things were OK, except for my first experience falling through the ice. I was checking muskrat traps on the other side of the river and successfully arrived at the first location unscathed while sliding across the bright surface in my rubber hip boots. As I stopped before the river’s edge to remember the place of my trap, the ice cracked, and I was instantly in water over my head for a quick reality check. As I struggled to get out, I could not touch the bottom nor lift myself out because my wet down jacket kept sliding on the ice, and there was nothing to grab and get free. My waist-high boots were filled, and my down jacket felt like it weighed an extra 40 pounds, which by the way, was about half my total body weight. I began pounding my elbows on the edge of the hole until I had broken out a space close enough to shore that I was able to touch bottom. Then I was able to use my boots and stomped the remainder of the ice, which allowed me to get back inland. I thought about removing my footwear, but it was cold, and I quickly decided I would never be able to get the wet boots back on my feet or get home. I laid on the ground and lifted my legs in the air allowing the water to empty out. My trapping supplies were collected, and I chose a different route to get across the channel to my house. The temperature was cold enough by the time I had walked a mile to get home. My down jacket was solid ice, and I could not bend my arms. Nobody was at home, and after leaving my wet boots and jacket on the porch, I sloshed my way into the house to prepare a hot bath. It took about 20 minutes to begin warming up in the tub. That was the first of many experiences almost drowning.
My next challenge with invincibility occurred in my late teens at a local campground. My brother and I had parked in an area near the check-in building and walked back to a campsite where friends were set up. After hanging out a couple hours, we decided to walk back to the car. Shortly after we left, there was a car coming up behind us from where we just left. It seemed a good idea to run into the woods and hide from our friends to make them wonder how we disappeared so quickly. I did not realize as I ran as fast as I could into the dark woods that I would run straight off the edge of a cliff that led to a dry creek bed below. In Wile E. Coyote fashion, I could feel myself running, but my feet were not touching anything. As my brother followed behind, he was able to catch himself and slid down the sides of the bank as I continued launching myself into the air? I landed flat on my back and had the wind knocked out of me while lying there for at least 10 or 15 minutes, unable to speak. My brother called out in the darkness and was sure I was dead because I did not respond during that time. Eventually, I was able to utter a reply, and my brother helped me climb back to the top. My back and kidneys were incredibly sore as was my elbow, which was bleeding profusely through the large hole torn in the arm of my denim jacket. We then drove home and went to bed, only to return to the scene of the crime the next morning. I stood in shock as I looked at the dry creek bed below, which was littered with rocks and large boulders. The height from top to bottom appeared to be at least the height of a two-story house. How I survived without cracking my skull open or breaking a bone, let alone dying, is something I am unable to answer.

My next brush with immortality occurred while teaching my younger brother how to drive my motorcycle back in the middle 1980s. Instruction consisted of him learning the controls and necessary maneuverability of the 1982 Harley super glide. We moved from a large parking lot to township roads, and later to the county highway, which headed South and paralleled the Mississippi River. There was heavy traffic in both our lane and the oncoming lane with all vehicles traveling breakneck highway speeds. Instantly, there was an accident in front of us, and everyone locked up the brakes with a few cars rear-ending the car in front of it. Everything seemed in slow motion as my brother applied the brakes and downshifted the bike. It was immediately apparent we were headed for a crash. Upon seeing the fast approaching bumper of the car in front of us, he finished downshifting, and, at the last moment, he counterstered into the oncoming lane only to find a vehicle was right there to meet us. He rode the double yellow line, and his acceleration was announced by rumbling backfire and flames that shot out of the Harley drag mufflers. We rode the centerline with vehicles in our lane and the oncoming lane. With cars within arm’s reach on both sides, we continued to accelerate past crashed vehicles and startled drivers. About a mile down the road, we were able to ease back into the correct lane and later safely pull into a wayside parking area. Neither of us had a scratch on us, nor did we need to change our underwear.
I’ve had multiple times where I legitimately almost drowned, but I do not consider myself careless nor ignorant. Once in my adult years, we had warming temperatures that combined with rain in late December. The river was rising fast, and made retrieving my traps difficult if I waited too long, so I gained access to the ice from shore near my dad’s house. I carried a long-handled pole with a chisel on end called an ice spud. This allowed me to check the safety and thickness of the ice for the 2-mile round trip walk of my trap line. Once I reached the far end of my destination, I decided if I returned on the same path that I no longer needed to check the ice. Unfortunately, when I was several 100 yards from the end of my walk, the ice cracked, and I plunged into the freezing water that was again over my head. It caught me by surprise, and the icy water quickly lowered my body core temperature to the point I was having trouble breathing and moving my limbs. Fortunately, I was able to get myself back on the ice with the aid of the spud. My heart was racing, and both my fingers and toes were rapidly becoming numb. After taking a shortcut through the woods, I ended up collapsing on the ground and began crawling on my hands and knees, then later my stomach to the edge of the street. As I got closer, I noticed a vehicle approaching, and I waved at it while lying flat on the ground. Luckily the car stopped, and it was a childhood friend who opened the door and asked me what the heck I was doing. He helped me back to my vehicle and called my wife to inform her of what happened. Once again, the Grim Reaper had been cheated.

My most terrifying brush with the near afterlife occurred in mid-October the day before waterfowling began. I launched my boat like any other day, as my dog and I made sure everything was in working order. The test voyage went well, and we were quickly back at the landing. As I shut down the motor and the boat glided towards shore, my dog jumped out and scanned bushes to mark his territory. The boat stopped against the bank, and after calling my dog once, he did not return, so I walked over to grab him. When I turned around, the boat had begun to float away on the glass calm lake. It was the only boat at the landing and quickly decided to strip down to my underwear and walk out to grab the Jon boat.

The water was shallow, and I was confident in retrieving the craft. As I walked, the waves I created kept things just beyond my reach. At the 50-yard mark, I entered chest-high water and, as a former lifeguard, decided I could swim to grab the boat. At the 150-yard mark, the water was well over my head with the ship several feet beyond my reach. While my breathing increased, I was tiring quickly from the 40-degree water. I decided to roll over on my back and float so I could catch my breath and later continue swimming. The oxygen in my lungs was depleted, and my attempt was met with me going underwater.

My head popped up as my pulse and breathing began racing, and the second attempt to float produced the same results. I frantically began kicking and paddling to tread water with my nose and lips barely above water. I went underwater for the third time, thinking that this is the end of me, but my life didn’t seem done. As I sank below the surface of the water, I discovered I was able to touch the bottom even though I was now more than 200 yards from the shoreline. As I stood on a sand mound the size of garbage can lid, my chin was at the waterline. I was thinking this is the end and suddenly my life flashed before me. Then my boat began to float back to me, and I was able to grab the rail of my boat and hang off the side. Hypothermia was consuming my weak and helpless body. After about 10 or 15 minutes, I managed to flop myself over the rail and into the bottom of the Jon boat, where I laid for another 10 or 15 minutes as my body seemed colder with each passing moment. Finally, I got myself into the seat, and with one push of the button, the boat started immediately and propelled me back to the shoreline where my dog was waiting for me.

 Upon reaching land, I was so cold and helpless. I could no longer stand, let alone walk back to the truck. Rolling out of the boat and into the mud, I crawled inch by inch back to my vehicle while still wearing nothing but my underwear. Eventually, I got in the car, managed to start it up while I cranked the heat on high, and sat alone for 20 minutes. I regained my faculties and was able to trailer the boat after putting my clothes back on and managed to get back to my garage. I could barely move, and I had to call my teenage daughter to come out and help me in the house. The feeling of coldness and helplessness will haunt me forever.
I cannot explain how I have survived these adventures, let alone some of the stories I have not yet told. Many would say divine intervention allowed me to come home on that scary day, and I cannot debate or discredit that idea. For now, I will say, “it’s not my time.”