This morning I took part in a photo shoot for an upcoming article regarding Groupon and its success with my business, Adventures in Florida. It was a fun shoot with me kayaking with a bunch of friends and of course Gator paddling beside me in his mini-kayak. (Check Sundays Orlando Sentinel for the article) After the shoot the reporter/photographer ask me a few questions about the more interesting aspects of my job. His last question was "what was your hardest day of work"? I told him and he suggested I write it in my blog. So here is Greg Pflug's hardest day of work:
It was the week after Christmas last year and I was guiding the second back to back Sierra Club kayaking tour of the Everglades. Its a wonderful trip for three reasons, its a base camp so great meals and no picking up and moving camp, I love the Everglades and know it better than most, and all the participants just spent Christmas with their families and are all ways super happy and joyful. It was the first night in camp and my 8th, everyone is hanging around the fire enjoying a glass of wine, sharing stories, getting to know each other and waiting for what is all ways the best meal of the week. I'm cooking my butt off trying to get the food done in time for the sunset.
Right as I was laying the food out for my guests a Park Ranger walks into camp and asks for the Sierra Club. I hand him a plate of food and inform him that we were the Sierra Club. I was handing him the food as a gesture of kindness because law enforcement doesn't just walk into camps to shoot the shit, thats what campground hosts due. The armed ranger then asked to speak with Greg Pflug. He didn't have to read my name off a sheet of paper. The ranger knew my name or rehearsed it on the 40 mile drive from park headquarters to my campsite. When I spoke up and said "yes officer thats me", he set his untouched food down and stated very firmly "please come with me". I thought for sure I had been accused of some major wrong doing, like poaching, or molesting wildlife. When he walked me to the opposite side of his squad car I thought he was blocking my participants view so he could beat my ass and may be get the chance to use his taser.
I was wrong, way wrong he instead put his massive arm on my shoulder like an embrace. It confused me so I kind of took a half step back and looked at him. His eyes had become puffy and the hand he had on my shoulder tightened and grabbed my clothing and a large chunk of my flesh. Before I could figure out what was about to be said he told me that there had been a horrific accident and that my youngest son had been killed.
Now I could try to explain the feeling that came over me and of course the officer (this was not his first time delivering horrible news), however, its hard enough just to write this story down. Just know that my youngest son is not dead but the emotional cut made by being told other wise is a cut that never heals.
The ranger asked if I had a cell phone which I did but had no service so he handed me his and then took a walk so not to witness "the call home". When Melissa answered the phone she acted fine so I just asked about Gator, she said he was fine and handed the phone to him. After telling him how much I loved him he put his mom back on the line. I told Melissa the whole story and she couldn't make sense of it. I walked a ways before catching up to the ranger. When I reached him I gave him a hug and told him that a mistake was made and my family was fine. He apologized a million times and tried to explain that he didn't take the call he was just commanded to give the message to me. I told him I understand mistakes will all ways be made and this was in no way his mistake or fault. He left like he was out to wring some necks.
I returned to camp to do everyones dishes and serve dessert. Everyone wanted to know what was going on. I just told them there was a serious mix up and we figured it out. Performing a routine chore like dishes helped ease my blood pressure and anxiety. I did a thorough job and finally found myself relaxed and back into the moment. A happy place on the water in the Everglades.
Everyone was in bed and my assistant leader offered me a hot cup of tea then sat beside me. I told her what unfolded and she just cringed. She then suggested I check my phone messages with her SAT phone to see what might have caused the confusion. I grabbed a pen and paper and listened to eight days worth of messages. About half way through 68 messages I got the message. My anxiety shot right back up to the level it was when the Ranger talked with me. One of the participants on my current trip had the son in the horrific accident. I almost threw up knowing that now I had to embrace a father and hold him up so he wouldn't fall when I told him his son, his own flesh and blood, had been killed. I had to stand by a man and tell him that his worst fear of outliving his children had come true.
Again, I'm not going into painful details, just know I now had created that deep never healing wound on a man I had just met hours before. I helped him pack up then drove him to the Miami airport all the while witnessing the painful phone calls he had to make. Sometime pulling over to try and comfort him when his crying became more like whaling and his body became painfully contorted. I waited with him at the airport until he arranged a flight out.
Afterwards I drove back to the Everglades and our campsite stopping on the way randomly to collect my wits. I returned just in time to start boiling water for coffee and to begin my daily routine. Only my assistant new anything about the ordeal.