Sunday drive detours into struggle for survivalTwo 86-year-old men in Lake County found themselves stranded in the middle of the night after their vehicle became stuck on a logging road.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
SILVER BAY — Warren Symons and Allen Thorngren were born on the same day, met when they attended high school in Two Harbors and drove around in Symons’ 1923 Studebaker Big Six together. Both served in the Navy during World War II, and when they came home to Lake County, they worked on some of the same construction projects.
At 86, the lifetime friends still go on road trips together two or three times a week, now in Thorngren’s Ford Ranger pickup. On Sunday, one of those road trips nearly ended in disaster.
They left the Silver Bay Veterans Home, where Symons lives, at 2 p.m. Sunday. They had driven to Lax Lake and were headed to Finland via a logging road. They didn’t quite make it.
“There was a little bit of water running on the road, and I suppose if I had hit it hard, I would have maybe bounced through,” Thorngren said with a rueful chuckle during an interview with both men on Tuesday at the Veterans Home. “But I went in real slow, and, boy, that front end went in just right down to the frame. And there we were — stuck.”
Symons, who was born in Two Harbors on April 4, 1925, and Thorngren, who was born in Beaver Bay on the same day, weren’t well-equipped for a hike. Symons was wearing a light, long-sleeved shirt, Thorngren a polo shirt. They had no sweaters or jackets, no food and no water, no cell phone. But it was a beautiful day, and both men enjoy a good walk.
They stayed on the logging road, hiking toward state Highway 1. They figured they could hike into town on the highway, or perhaps catch a ride from someone. But a branch of the Beaver River crossed the logging road, and they realized they couldn’t walk across it.
“It was flowing too fast for either one of us to even try. It’s just a crick, but now in the spring, we couldn’t take the chance,” Thorngren said. “So we just turned around and came back.”
By now, it wasn’t a fun hike.
“It’s getting later, and later, and later. It’s getting dark,” Thorngren said. They knew of another road and figured once they got on it someone would come along. But when they got to that road, Symons saw a “road closed” sign. It was washed out.
‘They had to be in trouble’
Back at the Veterans Home, the staff were getting worried about the pair’s failure to return. They called Symons’ daughter, Judy Anderson, who lives in Two Harbors. It was 9:23 p.m.
“My thoughts were, they’re stuck somewhere, on some road, but I had no idea where,” Anderson recalled. “Because they’re very responsible about being back on time, and they had to be in trouble in order to be that late.”
The Veterans Home called authorities with the missing persons report, and Silver Bay police and Lake County Sheriff’s deputies began a search.
Meanwhile, Thorngren and Symons had made their way to Hefflefinger Road and were slowly working their way toward Finland. They were cold, their feet were blistered and their arms were cut from brush they had gone through. They were hungry and thirsty, and they knew they were in trouble.
“We were holding each other up, for crying out loud,” Thorngren said. “We’d go about 50 yards, stop, and try to rest a little bit. But we had no alternative. We had to keep trying.”
Symons didn’t say out loud what he was starting to think.
“I didn’t say too much, but I figured another 15 minutes … and we were done,” he recalled.
Added Thorngren: “If either one of us had fallen, and there was nothing to get a hold of, I don’t think we could get up.”
Their minds were starting to play tricks on them, too. A couple of times, Symons thought he was seeing car lights, but Thorngren said there
wasn’t a road in the direction he was looking. Finally, though, he really did see lights.
“Boy, were we happy when we saw that,” Symons said.
It was 1:20 a.m. The car was a Lake County Sheriff’s deputy’s vehicle. The deputy told them he had been told Hefflefinger Road was closed, but he decided to drive up it anyway. The deputy estimated they had walked 12 miles. The temperature was 31 degrees.
The men were driven to the Veterans Home and taken from there by ambulance to Lake View Memorial Hospital in Two Harbors, where they were treated primarily for dehydration. Anderson drove them back to Silver Bay on Tuesday. Thorngren lives near the Veterans Home in an apartment.
A friend called Thorngren on Monday and told him he had gotten the Ford Ranger unstuck, although it took 100 feet of cable to do it.
Will they go on road trips again? “Not today,” Thorngren said, chuckling. “We’ll wait till tomorrow. We’ll retrace our steps.”
But there will be a difference, Anderson said. The Veterans Home will equip them with a cell phone with GPS, so the men can be traced on their journeys.