Manual Rescuing Riley, Saving Myself: A Man and His Dogs Struggle to Find Salvation

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I'd applied pre-mission preparation procedures drilled into me in the Marine Corps. I'd built in as many precautions as possible, brought more rope than I expected I'd need, and I'd given my wife, Michelle, my location and a "drop dead" time, meaning that if she didn't hear from me by then, she should call search and rescue. Even that didn't mean I'd be safe. Michelle worries because I prefer to explore places like this alone.

The risk I face, and enjoy, exploring solo has changed little since the days when mountain men and fur trappers blazed trails in this forlorn part of the globe — if you mess up, you're screwed. A broken leg or even a twisted ankle can leave you trapped somewhere no one will think to look for you. Canyoneers must also concern themselves with flash floods, particularly in the secondary and tertiary canyons that feed into the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River.

In a wider canyon, if you have enough warning of a flash flood, there are often places you can run to where you may be able to scramble up to higher ground. In a slot canyon like this, there's no way out, no way up without climbing gear, and no way to ride out a flood when constrictions amplify the force of the water. In the summer of , twelve people were trapped in Antelope Canyon, perhaps the best known and easily the most traveled slot canyon in the Four Corners region, by a flood resulting from a storm ten miles upstream where the catchment saw an inch and a half of rain, with three-quarters of an inch falling in only fifteen minutes.

Downstream in Antelope Canyon, it barely drizzled, a few drops falling, until, half an hour later, a surge of water ten feet high raced down the canyon, destroying everything and everyone in its path. I chose to explore alone to get away from people and to test myself.

I didn't necessarily think that other people would either slow me down or annoy me; going solo simply meant having a more pleasant journey without any awkward moments with new partners or arguments about which way to go or how to set something up. The challenge is to be self-reliant. Some people find it difficult to be self-reliant. I have never had a choice. I am self-reliant to a fault, and if I could go back in time to reverse the course of events that have made me so, I would, but I can't do that, so I will only play the cards life has dealt me as best I can. After my second rappel, I stopped to eat a snack and to rest, washing down a Clif Bar with a few gulps of bottled water.

After my third rappel, a descent of perhaps twenty feet, I left my ropes in place and paused to examine the gear in my pack to see what I had left. I dropped my pack and headed down-canyon. I had Petzl ascenders and both locking and non-locking carabiners clipped to my Yates harness. My bolts and anchors and my DeWalt cordless drill were in the pack. I could come back if I needed them, but I was of the mind that if the next obstacle I reached presented too much of a challenge, I'd call it a day and turn around. At some point, the lure of what's around the next corner is cancelled out by the trouble it's going to take to get back, but whenever I stop for the day, it's generally not with a sense of disappointment, but more with one of accomplishment.

It's that point when you think, "I've come this far alone safely; don't push it. I walked about fifty yards down to where the canyon narrowed, the walls only a few yards apart, rising perhaps three hundred feet above me, though they curved and leaned and I couldn't see the top. The sun was no longer directly overhead. It was noticeably cooler as I passed through shadows dark enough that I occasionally had to turn on my headlamp to see the smaller details. The streambed underfoot was sandy for the most part but, in the low depressions that held standing water before eventual evaporation, the sand had caked into tiles of mud that curled at the edges and crunched with each step I took.

The sound brought me back to winters and springs, growing up in Wisconsin. I found it pleasing, similar to stomping on the ice crusted at the edge of the snow banks lining the streets in my hometown. Ahead, I saw daylight where the canyon opened up again.


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I looked up. The walls loomed above me, as if threatening to collapse. I estimated that from where I started my day, I'd come about two miles, horizontal. I regarded the sweep of the striated sandstone walls, red and brown, tan and yellow.

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It was beautiful, and I was glad I came. For a moment, I pretended I was the first man who ever set foot here. I chose this canyon from an old out-of-print guidebook because the description made it sound like a place too difficult to visit, meaning it would be untrammeled by day-tourists in flip-flops. I'd read where they've found large amounts of human garbage washed up on the beaches of deserted islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. For me, finding a candy wrapper or a soda can in a canyon I'm exploring was always more than disappointing — it felt like falling off the wagon, in a way, a setback in my ongoing struggle to be more optimistic about people.

A brief and admittedly amateur accounting of the geology of Utah can explain how the slot canyons of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona formed. At various times over the eons, the mountains in the northern part of the state, including the Wasatch, Raft River, and Uinta ranges, were the only part above sea level, and the rest was submerged.

The warm seas encroached and receded over a relatively flat topography to the west of the Wasatch line and left thick deposits of sediments, including shale, sandstone, and limestone up to three miles thick. Much of that rock contains marine fossils. Eventually, around the time of the dinosaurs, the seas dried up, turning southern Utah into a vast sandy desert, and that sand became the red rock formations found today in the national parks.

Land masses compressed and crashed into each other, creating faults and uplifts and folds and eventually the Rocky Mountains, with swamps and large, lazy rivers draining the coastal plains. Uplifts formed basins, which became lakes and lake beds. Then, about forty million years ago, widespread volcanic activity erupted, leaving thick blankets of volcanic rocks and lava and ash.

About twenty million years ago, the part of North America west of the Rockies lifted up out of the sea to present-day elevations, land flowing east and west from the Continental Divide, and the water that had before flowed slowly in lazy rivers now flowed rapidly down steeper slopes, carving into the landforms and refilling the basins.

In the high mountains, glaciers formed to sculpt the topography, and then the climate warmed up, the ice receded, and most of the lakes evaporated. Great Salt Lake is one of the last to do so. The slot canyons of southern Utah and Northern Arizona are evidence of erosion as rainwater sought the shortest path to the sea after the final continental uplift. The most dramatic and most developed is, of course, the Grand Canyon, which is hardly a slot anymore, but at some point in time, around twenty million years ago, it started as one. Walking down into a canyon, big or small, feels like walking backward through time, as marked by the striations on the contoured canyon walls distinguishing different periods of sediment deposits.

Biologically, a slot canyon is a niche most plant and animal species find inhospitable. Very little sunlight reaches the bottom of slot canyons, and when it does, it doesn't stay long. In the canyons that are the most popular with tourists, the best time to go if you want to take pictures is an hour either side of noon, when you can capture rays of sunlight striking the canyon floor, but it's also the worst time to go because that's when everybody goes. At that point, you can't take a picture without taking a picture of somebody else taking a picture.

Early morning or late afternoon, you can have the place all to yourself. Without sunlight, little grows in a slot canyon, maybe a bit of moss somewhere below a shelf where it stays damp and shaded. You might see snakes, scorpions, stink beetles, black flies, and you can see quite a number of birds that build homes on the walls where predators cannot reach them, marked by smears of white bird guano striping the walls below their nests.

You can estimate the high water mark in a slot canyon by where the birds build their nests.


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  • I've hiked in slot canyons where I've passed under logjam thirty and forty feet overhead, left by flash floods. I walked and scrambled over fallen rocks for a quarter mile along a winding corridor, descending another fifty feet of elevation, until I reached what I knew would be my final rappel, a fifteen-foot drop over a ledge and down a chute leading to what appeared to be a somewhat deep pothole. Beyond the pothole, a rise of about five feet. What was on the other side of that, I couldn't tell.

    I pulled myself up to the top of the ledge and looked down into the hole. I saw something, and my heartbeat quickened. The astonishment I felt went beyond mere surprise. There was an immediate surreality, the way you feel when you wake up in the morning and you can't tell where the dream you were having ends and the day begins. I tried to think of what else it could be. The creature had exaggerated pelvic and shoulder bones protruding from beneath matted black fur.

    Rescuing Riley, Saving Myself: A Man and His Dog's Struggle to Find Salvation by Zachary Anderegg

    Maybe a baby calf, I thought. Maybe it had somehow wandered far from the herd and had gotten trapped. I tried to think of where it might have come from. The landscape where I entered the canyon was more high desert than cattle or range land, but perhaps there was a ranch nearby, a fence down somewhere. It felt utterly strange to look at an animal and not know for certain what kind of animal it was.

    Clearly the thing in the bottom of the hole was suffering from extreme malnutrition and starvation, so emaciated that it didn't look like a dog any more — if that's, in fact, what it was. I needn't have worried. It didn't look up or show any sign that it heard me. It only paced back and forth, head down because it didn't have the strength to lift it. It was weakened, desperate, looking for a way out, walking back and forth, as if hoping the rock walls would open up somehow.

    The pothole was perhaps fifteen feet deep from where I crouched and eight feet across. The rim opposite me was maybe ten feet from the bottom, the hole shaped more like a ladle than a bowl. The animal's fur was black and caked with mud. I could almost count the vertebrae in his spine. He had only a cavity where the belly should be. I tried to recall the survival training I received as a Marine. I didn't know about dogs, which I finally decided the creature was, but I knew a man can go as long as a month without nutrition and less than a week without water.

    The mud-caked fur meant there must have been standing water in the hole at some point. My best guess was that the poor creature was in that final stage of starvation. I knew as well that a kind of madness accompanies malnutrition and, in particular, dehydration when it reaches the point that the body can no longer flush itself of toxins, which then affect brain function by causing chemical imbalances.

    I recalled that my mother used to say she had a "chemical imbalance," though not from dehydration. I had no way of telling how far gone mentally this poor dog was. The tail hung limp and seemed incapable of wagging. Sorry Zachary. What could Zachary Anderegg and Pete Nelson have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you? Talk more about Riley's recovery process, the little successes she achieved on her rode to health. The healing of her mind and spirit. Yes, the fact that Zachary cared enough to save him!

    Thank you! It was interesting especially the struggle Zachary had growing up.

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    My heart ached for him and as a child I wanted to hug him and let him know he was loved. However the story drops after he took the dog home from the vet. I would have loved to learn more about how Riley adjusted and became part of the family. Seemed to skip over that part.

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    But overall was a good listen! Was Rescuing Riley, Saving Myself worth the listening time? This book should be promoted as more of a bullying book, rather than a dog rescue story. Interesting but misleading that it's really about the dog. It's way too stong about his childhood. Loved it.

    Each experience prepares us for another. Who was your favorite character and why? His owner. Easy to listen to. Any additional comments? The acceptance that the authors wife has for her husband, accepting him for what he is due to experiences and upbringing. I actually found I am different to my husband now, unreal. Not what I expected and due to the author being real I guess. Thank you. Your audiobook is waiting…. By: Zachary Anderegg , Pete Nelson. Narrated by: David Marantz. Length: 5 hrs and 39 mins. People who bought this also bought Ochlan Length: 7 hrs and 13 mins Unabridged Overall.

    Editorial Reviews In Zachary Anderegg's touching memoir, Rescuing Riley, Saving Myself , the former US Marine sergeant recounts his heroic tale of saving a starving, abused puppy from the bottom of an Arizona canyon - and ties the act back to his own experience with bullying as a child. Publisher's Summary While hiking on a solo vacation in a remote, uninhabitable region of Arizona, Zachary Anderegg happened upon Riley, an emaciated puppy clinging to life, at the bottom of a foot canyon.

    What members say Average Customer Ratings Overall. Amazon Reviews. Sort by:. Most Helpful Most Recent. Amazon Customer It's not about the dog.