In December of 1991 a friend and I decided to talk a walk along the beach at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, Washington. Point Defiance Park is the largest inner city park in the nation after Central Park in New York City. I agreed to go on the hike weeks after nearly being killed by a drink driver. The drunk driver hit me on September 19, 1991. I did not know I had MS at that time and I was still recovering from the accident. All I know is I love being near water, love the outdoors, beaches, the Pacific Northwest climate, and I put full trust in my friend’s navigation skills because she is very outdoor oriented and was studying to be an environmental biologist.
Everything was fine at first. The light was beginning to fade from the sky, however, and then the horrific truth hit us. We had gone too far along the beach. The tide had come in and we could not turn around without swimming through the water of the Puget Sound. The water level ahead of us was much lower than the water in front of us and we also knew we could climb up embankments as necessary to prevent swimming in the water and hence risk getting hypothermia.
My initial reaction was to call out to the Coast Guard. There was no Coast Guard presence that evening. It was December, the sky was going completely dark and the idea of a rescue was a ridiculous idea. We made the determined decision to keep walking around the point of the park until we came to the safety of a waterfront community called Salmon Beach. It took six hours to reach that community and I think at times I thought we might die, but we did not die. My friend made certain we did not die. She unwaveringly encouraged me to keep going. At times, we waded in water levels up to our chests. We saw baby seals resting on the sandy beach. I saw phosphorescence coming off her shoes as she stepped into the sand. The greenish glow coming from her shoes encouraged me somehow. I began to narrow my focus. I began to view this problem as a one step at a time venture. I began to realize we would not freeze on the beach that night in the cold. Most terrifying to me was the idea no one would even know we were missing as I was house sitting and my friend was spending the night with me. No one would know to call for days. We had no choice but to keep moving forward.
Six hours passed until we emerged at the Salmon Beach community. We climbed up a set of wooden stairs to safety and a young man with wire rimmed glasses passed us asking how our evening was going. It was far past evening. It was the middle of the night. We could not even respond. We just looked at one another and began laughing hysterically. It was the hysterical laughter of two women who could have lost their lives that night. However, we did not lose our lives. We kept going forward. All of us have to keep moving forward. I recently read that the reason the rearview mirror in a car is so small the windshield is so large is that we are driving forward, not looking backwards. I am no longer in contact with my then friend. Friendships sometimes go that direction. It was not the hiking issue that drove us apart, it was life circumstances. She moved to another state to pursue graduate studies and we drifted apart like driftwood floats around in the water from location to location. I always hope she is well. I am certain she is. In my mind she is well. In my mind we are both continuing to be the strong women we were and continue to be and we are both moving forward. –Alison Whiteman