Sad outcome, lessons to learn

Ron and Beverly were, like Deb and me, long-haul RVers. The Indiana couple traveled in a Class C motorhome, towing a Kia Soul on a dolly. Reportedly they left Albany, Oregon on Saturday, March 26th, bound for a meetup in Tucson, Arizona on the 29th.

They bought gas at a station in Stagecoach, Nevada on the 27th. Beverly spoke by phone with relatives around noon that day. Two hours later their motorhome-and-toad rig was captured on home-security video, driving southbound on US Route 95 near Luning.

After that, Ron and Beverly and their RV disappeared. Calls to their phones went to voicemail. The 29th came and went. They didn’t show up in Tucson.

Concerned family contacted Nevada authorities and asked them to launch a search. State police couldn’t issue a “silver alert” for anyone who isn’t a Nevada resident (they did put out a BOLO) but smaller agencies and private citizens got involved. Civil Air Patrol committed four light aircraft to the search.

Family set up a Facebook group that drew nearly 10,000 people. Deb and I were among them.

Around midday on Tuesday, April 5th, almost ten days after the couple went missing, Esmeralda County sheriff’s deputies came across the RV — stuck and abandoned, absent its toad vehicle. Six hours later they found Ron and Beverly in their Kia, also stuck.

Beverly was alive and would survive. Ron had died the day before.

The end of this story, obviously, is sad. Here were two good people out for adventure, enjoying the freedom of an American Life on the road — then, as the sheriff said later, “one bad decision after another” led to tragedy.

I think it’s important to take a hard look at what happened and try to learn from it.

Ron was 72 years old, a 26-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Beverly 69. Both were diabetic. He was a cancer survivor and she has mobility issues requiring her to use a walker to amble even a short distance. They were experienced RVers and, by all accounts, tech-savvy.

The pair relied on GPS to guide them in their travels. According to a nephew who spoke with Beverly afterward, on this leg they’d set Google Maps to plot the shortest route to their destination by avoiding highways. That disregarded travel time and road conditions in favor of reducing physical distance.

It directed Ron and Beverly off paved highways and onto a gravel road northwest of Silver Peak, Nevada. They didn’t question the GPS, pressing on into the mountains. Plotting their likely path from the desert floor, it appears that they climbed from 4,200 feet to near 8,000 feet and encountered grades (both up and down) of 15% or steeper.

Even as road conditions worsened, they kept going. Dusk came, and they kept going.

Optimists and adventurers that they were, they kept going. And the RV got stuck.

They decided to stay in their well-stocked motorhome overnight. The next morning they unhooked the Kia, figuring they could simply drive it “right back down the mountain the way we came up.” The tiny SUV’s low ground clearance made navigating the rough roads a challenge, but they kept going. They took a wrong turn. Then the Kia got stuck, just two miles from the RV.

Silver Peak Range, Nevada

Since it was to have been only a quick trip, Ron and Beverly hadn’t brought food, water or other provisions. Spring hadn’t yet arrived in the rugged Silver Peak Range where they were stranded, and nighttime temps dropped into the 20s. They cuddled for warmth.

There was no cell service. Every so often Ron would tap out an S-O-S with the car horn and taught the drill to Beverly. The sound later would alert rescuers to their location.

On the second day Beverly spotted a patch of snow upslope from where the Kia was stuck. Despite her condition, repeatedly she used her walker to make her way to the snow, gathering it in two small bags and bringing it back to the car. She and Ron apparently used their bodies’ warmth to melt it — which kept them somewhat hydrated but also would’ve sapped precious heat.

They did have a Bible. Beverly read from it to Ron as he was dying from the effects of dehydration.

It’s not my intent to speak ill of the dead or disrespect the grieving, nor do I mean to thoughtlessly second-guess what Ron and Beverly did and didn’t do over those ten days. But if we’re going to take lessons from this, however sad the outcome, we can’t flinch from calling it like it is.

Before I talk about the couple’s actions, though, I want to address the matter of Nevada’s policy that missing-persons alerts are issued only for state residents. Yes, it’s dumb and needs to change — but that’s not what cost Ron his life.

The first rule of survival, in my opinion, is to know where you are. In a general sense, and when traveling, that means understanding terrain, topography and the availability (or not) of services. Over the last year Deb and I passed through some rough country and remote areas — but we never did so without first gaining a clear understanding of what we’d likely face.

An RV, whether it’s a motorhome or a travel trailer, complicates things. There are places it can go but shouldn’t; and there are places it shouldn’t go but can if it’s in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing.

Regardless of the driver’s skill, leaving pavement and traveling on gravel and dirt should be attempted only with certainty about the condition of the track and knowing exactly where it leads. “Let’s see where this dirt road takes us” is rarely wise in an RV. The road always gets worse.

And that brings me to GPS. It’s been our experience that GPS lies — every GPS eventually will screw up and try to get the operator lost or killed. It’s happened to us many times.

We never trust GPS. Even more important, we never let GPS lead us — we choose (ahead of time) where we’re going and how to get there. We give that information to GPS and it alerts us to turns, traffic and so on. Veto power remains with us.

Specific to this tragic case, choosing the “shortest route” setting — whether intentional or inadvertent — was a key mistake.

So Ron and Beverly trusted GPS and ended up on a road they shouldn’t’ve been driving with a Class C motorhome pulling a toad. At some point, it seems to me, their good sense should’ve overtaken their sense of adventure — either when road conditions deteriorated or when they saw dusk approaching.

The plain fact is that they were lost and didn’t admit it — and when you find yourself in a hole, as the saying goes, stop digging. They should’ve stopped driving until they knew exactly where they were and exactly how to get where they were going.

They didn’t. In the gathering darkness they got the RV stuck.

Whether they wanted to be or not, now they were stopped. Let’s freeze here and look at their situation — they had food, water and shelter. They probably had heat, certainly blankets and warm clothing and medications, and they may have had a way to generate power. They didn’t have a cell signal, but they had resources that would’ve allowed them to wait (in safety and relative comfort) for help.

Ron and Beverly made the wise decision to stay in their RV the night of the 27th. The choice to set off in their SUV the next day, however — not knowing exactly where they were or exactly where they were going, and without taking provisions that might’ve helped them survive — proved fatal for Ron.

They had no food, no water, no blankets, no way to start a fire that would’ve warmed them and, with some improvising, could’ve allowed them to melt snow.

But they had a Bible. That irony infuriates me.

Now comes the hard part — drawing honest conclusions about what happened. Based on the information I have, I say that Ron and Beverly put themselves in a bad situation by operating as if they were somewhere other than an isolated region of Nevada desert.

  • They were unaware of the lay of the land — terrain and topography.
  • They misjudged (or were overconfident in) their own abilities, their physical resilience and the capability of their vehicles.
  • They placed unwarranted trust in technology and allowed it to lead them toward even more remote and inhospitable terrain.
  • They didn’t admit that they were lost.
  • They didn’t stop and wait to be found.
  • They drove away from everything they needed to survive.

Ron’s death certificate will note a physiological cause, probably heart failure brought on by dehydration, perhaps accompanied by factors related to his diabetes. But the awful truth is that it was a combination of unawareness, denial and lack of preparedness that took his life.

That wasn’t easy for me to say. Our hearts are with Beverly and the family.

Deb and I aren’t perfect, of course, and we’re not always perfectly prepared. We’re not immune to making bad decisions, either. We believe that our attention to preparedness and awareness, however, along with a deliberate approach to travel and a candid assessment of our own abilities, give us a fighting chance of surviving our own shitty choices as well as unexpected misfortune.

Still, we’ll take lessons from this story. We hope you will, too.

Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.

#WiseUp #LibertyOrDeath

#LetsGoBrandon #FJB

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