Night evaluation

I’m tired, sweaty, and frustrated.

I’m also actually in danger of timing out. You see, I’ve been out here for almost three hours and my search plan has not worked out the way I intended. I have a four hour time limit and I still have no idea where my subject is. My pack is laying on the ground with the map on top as I plot what will be my last hope at putting Grom in a good place to make a find. I am making plans and rejecting them just as quickly. I look down at him as he rests with his head on my bag, silently asking for  “just a 5 minute nap”.

sleepy search dog

I need him awake so we can consult about the plan, and as I look up, my headlamp catches the reflective tape on my evaluators pack from the stump he’s seated on 10 meters away. He’s just as tired and hot as me and the dog.

How did I get here?

This is my night test. Even though my briefing was actually fairly casual and I got to ask lots of questions as we went through all of the requirements and criteria, it’s still a test that I can fail. My spirits are high as we joked and laughed about how all the young rangers in the park were crushing on one of my evaluators. I packed up my gear, while we waited for the darkness to set in.

Here’s the thing though,  I have heard horror stories from everyone about how they got lost on their night evaluation and panicked. I’m desperate to not be that guy,  so I really took my time with my undefined boundary. Even though I opened the glow sticks and cracked them at the trail head, I didn’t realize that they didn’t have hangers on them until I started hanging them. Plus, I didn’t open enough of them. One hour of my test gone and only my undefined boundary is marked.

light sticks

By the time I’ve done my second grid line I realize that if I’m going to grid the whole sector, I will be here until the sun comes up.  I’ll be there alone because my evaluators will have given me a fail and gone home. The pressure to abandon search strategy plan “A” is mounting both internally and from my evaluators.

I’m all up for changing my plan, except there’s no good plan to be had. The hot and sticky day has turned into a hot and sticky night with no breeze to cool me or Grom, much less carry a scent to his sensitive nose. All I know for sure is that if I keep going this way, I’ll time out before I hit the road on the other side of my sector.

A little detour to get here.

“We’ll walk contour lines of the drainages,” I guess.

night search test

There’s nothing moving in the woods tonight except me, my puppy, and my two evaluators. I’m starting to get frustrated because there is no good plan B, so I’m going with what I know. It’s half way through the second dive down into the sector that I see Grom start to perk up.  I tell one of my evaluators to stand right here while I see what the dog is into.  I start to slide up and over fallen trees and under big branches following the dog a good 30 meters from where I left my mobile land mark.

When I turn around to check my path, I see both my evaluators standing not 5 meters from me.  My dog is crossing the hill top in the opposite direction. I make a mental note; I can’t really leave one of them standing there, not evaluating. Mentally I put a flag on my map that says “Stand right here” where we were and hang a little flag I’ll never see again on a tree.  Grom is speeding off higher onto the hill and I follow him the next hundred meters before the scent peters out and he’s left standing in a clearing with that same pained, frustrated look that says

“but my toy was right…um… somewhere!”

I’ve burned off a good two and a half hours at this point

A find right now would be excellent. The wind and my plan are not cooperating and so we cruise down the other side of the hill, hoping to catch something.  I see my undefined boundary marked by glow sticks off in the distance.

Time is not my friend tonight.

I start to work a different plan out in my head.

If I break the sector into parts, I can cover the rest of the center area I’m in then move northwest to a different section. My plan was to work up the second drainage in the sector until I get to the flat portion and then work the hill that’s left in the middle.  But now that I’m in the middle section on top of the hill, my plan starts to seem foolish. Even Grom is beginning to give me the eye.  I get really frustrated and call for a break to rest my dog and drop my pack.

Here I am again…

With Grom’s head resting on my pack, I start to really analyze my plan. I know I’m going to have to write off one portion of the sector to make time and I hope my subject isn’t there. Looking at the map I start to take inventory of what we’ve done and where we are on the map. The more I roll it around in my head, the better my plan seems. I can feel the weight of indecision being lifted off my shoulders. I’m feeling better about this, even if it’s not a winning plan it’s a plan I can justify.

As my spirits start to pick up, I rally my evaluators. Grom starts to get excited. He’s rolling around on the ground trying to wrestle my pack into submission so I know he’s ready for the next hour be it a pass or a fail. Once I’ve explained my plan to my evaluators, it’s time to restart my partner. Grom is so excited, he starts to bite at the moths gathering at my head lamp, not three inches from my nose.

I think he’s ready to work some more.

I send him off in the direction I want to cover . We’re not on the move for more than a couple minutes before he’s leading me off my line with an excited gleam in his eye; his ears and tail pointing straight up. When he comes back to me it’s not to bark, but to give me a look that says “Follow Me.”

light on dog

So I follow the dog.

As he leads me into a clearing I turn to check on my party, turning just enough that I loose sight of Grom at the edge of bush.  The next time I see him it’s the bright green glow of his eyes looking straight into my light as he looks for my face to give his indication. The first bark is real, the second is powerful, and the rest are just lots of exclamation points. He’s not faking it so I tell him to take it away and he bounds off into the bush… to the wrong tree.

Once he’s back on to the subject I can finally see her. As we run toward her I look down and see the second drainage we’d walked 45 minutes before. It is not more than 30 meters from her. If I hadn’t been so busy running I’m sure I would have let a couple choice words out. We’re on top of the subject before I can let any go.

My subject turns out to be a belligerent drunk who is neither happy to see me nor thrilled at the prospect of going back to the real world. I’m trying hard not to bust out laughing as she says she’d happily walk out for a bottle of rum. My report back to base is to give co-ordinates, and request someone with more “people skills” to come talk to her. My evaluator  takes my report, checks my location against his GPS and says

“Roger, we’ll send someone out…. Okay, someone play with that dog.”

I look down at my watch and breath deeply for the first time all night long. Finished with 20 minutes left.

Now, I have to go thank Grom for being so awesome.

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