When Penelope Bax left on an RV trip last year, the plan was to relax while camping her way through California and Oregon to visit family in the Seattle area.
However, fate had other plans for the 63-year-old flower shop owner from San Diego.
One wrong turn led to her being stranded for four nights and five days in the mountainous area of Shasta County in California.
Fortunately, she was saved when a California Highway Patrol helicopter spotted Bax with her dog, a golden retriever named Walter.
We caught up with her not long after she returned to her San Diego home, in remarkably good health and with an optimistic can-do attitude that saw her already making plans to get RVing again.
I thought it would be a good time to remind all the RVers out there that her story could happen to anyone and that there are some powerful lessons from the experience that just might keep the same thing from happening to you.
“I have so many people to thank who sent thoughts and wonderful prayers,” she said.
Bax said her 25-foot Class C RV was “absolutely perfect” for boondocking and figured she had enough resources to live off the grid for at least a week.
With that in mind as she approached the Oregon border, she decided to stop for the night.
She pulled into a convenience store near the Hirz Bay campground and a worker gave her directions to find area camping.
Once there, however, Bax said she realized she needed firewood. Being friendly by nature, Bax asked some other campers if they needed some firewood, too.
They indicated they did.
“As I was getting ready to leave (another camper) stopped me and I heard him yell ‘By the way, instead of following the signs to Highway 5’ — which is exactly what I would’ve done — he said ‘Go across the bridge, it gets you there faster.’
“One (route) went to the left, one went to the right, and that’s where it all started.”
Bax said she went across the bridge and that there weren’t any signs with directions.
“The next thing I knew I was going up the mountain…the road was narrow enough there was no possibility of turning around,” she said.
Bax said she kept trying to take different forks in the road as she continued climbing higher and higher up the mountainous terrain.
“I just was running out of road and it kept getting rougher,” she said.
On top of that, she was very close to the edge of a big drop.
“I had no idea how many hundreds and hundreds of feet it was down,” she said.
“It was a long ways down.”
Finally, she just stopped driving.
Bax and her dog got out of the RV. But there wasn’t almost no mobile service.
Still, she was able to call 911 and tell a dispatcher that she was lost and afraid of running out of gas.
“The only thing she had time to say was ‘Make sure you stay with your vehicle’ and the call dropped,” Bax said.
Unable to get the 911 dispatcher back on the phone, and with the sun setting, Bax said she decided to hunker down for the night.
She decided to find some firewood. However, she ran into trouble again when the only wood she could find was too small or too big to make a fire.
“One of the things I would do different…from now on I’m going to carry a couple of Duraflame logs because I will at least give me a (lot) of hours,” Bax said, noting she was able to get a serviceable fire going with the help of some charcoal and lighter fluid she had in her RV..
Bax ultimately decided — based on the amount of food in her RV and her not wanting it to attract wildlife — that it would be safer for her to sleep outside. She grabbed all of her bedding to make it as comfortable as possible.
“Another thing I would do different is bring a sleeping bag,” she said, noting she also avoiding cooking so that wildlife wouldn’t be attracted to her RV.
On the morning of the second day of being stranded, Bax said she felt her RV was too close to the steep edge of the road so she tried to back it up. Unfortunately for her and Walter, the RV became stuck in some loose dirt. The RV tilted to such a degree that Bax said sleeping in it would no longer be an option (though she had slept the first night outside anyway).
She kept her cool. Bax said she felt an added sense of protection because of her dog, especially at night.
“That dog was sleeping with his head on my chest, right next to me,” she said.
Her biggest fear?
That people would stop looking for her for some reason.
“I kept thinking ‘This is a really long time you guys, why haven’t you found me?’” Bax said.
Bax said another lesson she learned from the ordeal, in fact, was to always carry a flare gun in her RV. She also said she was adding an emergency beacon phone to her RV.
Still, and despite not have a beacon or flare gun, Bax said she never really panicked.
“Little did I know all this was going on behind the scenes,” she said.
What was going on was a massive search for Bax that had been spearheaded by her family.
As the NBC-TV affiliate in San Diego reported, she was supposed to arrive in the Seattle area either late Friday or early Saturday. Family concerns grew since she had last been heard from the Thursday prior.
When officials from the U.S. Forest Service and Shasta County Sheriff’s Office couldn’t find her, an all-points bulletin was issues for Bax in California, Oregon, and Washington. Frantic relatives posted missing person alerts on RV websites and social media, while more than 40 search and rescue volunteers combed the area.
Many feared the worst.
Then, Bax heard the glorious sound of a helicopter.
She dashed from her RV and grabbed two white rugs on the way and began waving them frantically once outside, trying to get the helicopter’s attention. It worked and a signal was given to Bax that they would return (the helicopter couldn’t land in the area due to the terrain).
“I was grateful to see them by all means,” she said.
Bax and Walter were then airlifted and taken to the hospital.
Her only injuries were a mildly sore back and a broken toenail. She left the hospital after just a few hours. That next, she opted to stay in a luxury hotel.
Oh, and the last lesson Bax said she took away from the ordeal?
“Don’t take directions from a man unless you confirm it,” she said.