When my wife and I were married in June she made me promise that I would take her camping this year. Come December I hadn’t delivered, but with the weather being so warm this winter and her birthday being early in the month I figured that it would be a perfect surprise to take her out to Arches National Park in Moab for a weekend camping trip. We arrived there in the early evening to warm weather and a beautiful camp site.
Around 5:00 AM the next morning we turned on the tent heater we brought in preparation of getting out of our warm sleeping bags and into the cold crisp air. While we waited for the heater to warm our tent we returned to the comfort of our bags and both fell asleep again.
By some miracle my wife woke again an hour later and woke me with “Rob, I can’t breathe, fire…” I jumped to my feet instinctively and all I could see all around us were flames. We backed into our corner - the only area which the fire had not yet spread - and quickly tried to assess what options we had for escape.
I tried to reach for the door's zipper, but the flames were too close and eventually overtook that entire area. Black, thick smoke became all that we could see and each attempt at a breath brought very little air and lungs full of toxic smoke.
Panicked, we turned to our corner looking for any possible way of escape. We finally found a zipper that opened a window, but were trapped by the window’s mesh. I kept trying to tear it, but my attempts did nothing to the material. My wife began to hyperventilate and said that she could no longer see. She was nearly asphyxiated and I could feel that I was close to losing consciousness.
It was at this moment that I knew we would die. Your mind churns so rapidly in moments like this and I was able to picture our unconscious bodies trapped in the tent, our lives ended.
I felt as if I was drowning and I decided that I would take one final breath before my head sunk beneath the water. I would take one final breath and then make a final effort to tear through the net with all of the remaining strength and consciousness that I had.
I turned to the mesh and pulled as hard as I possibly could. I don’t know how it happened, it was so quick and now it's so fuzzy, but somehow we ripped through the window. I tore harder increasing the size of the hole and we both fell out.
In a true Bruce Willisesque action film like memory, just seconds after we escaped, the propane tank inside breached and created hotter and higher flames. As I stared at this rectangle of flame, it was a defining moment of my life.
Though I could barely breathe and my face and hands filled with pain, as the adrenaline wore off and made us aware of our burns, though so many of our things were burning into oblivion, I was filled with the most elated and wonderful feeling I have experienced in my existence.
My wife and I had our lives. She was okay and we were going to live and see our families again. We were going to have each other for time to come and experience Christmas and all of the wonderful things that life had ready for us.
A few nights in the hospital allowed me to reflect on miracles I can’t even explain. If we were to run this scenario 10 times I am sure that we would have died in 9 of them. Had my wife not woken up, had she even woken up a minute later, had we not been able to create that hole in the side of the tent, had our sleeping bags caught fire, had it not been raining and so on and so forth.
Since this has happened to us we have never know such happiness in life. I personally have never experienced the daily happiness that I have now. Several months ago when Coca-Cola was putting all of those names on the bottles and cans of coke I went on e-Bay and bought one for far too much money with my wife’s name on it.
We saved it and said we would drink it for a special occasion. When we finally made it home we sat down together with that bottle and we opened it, drank it, and cried together. I doubt I will ever taste anything as good again. Who can know when your last Coca-Cola will be? With that in mind I drink them much more slowly trying to enjoy all of it.
One final funny thing is the only recognizable items they could find at the campsite were our scorched phones. Melted and fused into the side of mine is the HireVue business card that I had in my phone case. Somehow it survived the fire and is completely legible… so really, this was all just a marketing trip.