Surrounded by rescuers, there were emotional words of thanks from Robert Root – a man friends and family thought they may never hear from again.
After an exhaustive search from the air and even from the ground in darkness and mounting snow, he was found just two and a half miles from the start of the Placer County trail that became his own personal journey into disaster.
Relieved friends spoke out at the hospital where Root was taken to be examined Tuesday.
“To walk in and just see his normal smile and then hear him tell the story of how he just walks up and to the search and rescue and, ‘You Bob Root?’ ‘Yeah,’” friend and fellow running club member Chad Johnson said.
That easy exchange Johnson described came after Root spent three daunting days outside alone – his nights in freezing temperatures with falling snow.
He was wearing only running shoes, shorts and a light jacket.
Root set out to tackle the Western States trail Sunday with his running club.
He left one group to try and join a faster one, when he simply took wrong turn and got lost.
While search teams used every resource to find the 55-year-old, he unwittingly spent his first day lost walking in a big circle.
On day two he stayed put, clenching his muscles to create warmth.
For food he ate snow and the glucose tabs and gelatin packs runners often carry.
As day three dawned, he told investigators he felt he had to take action.
“In the morning, he says about 10 o’clock, he decided that he was going to have to make a push to get out of there. His words were that, ‘I needed to go up and west,’” Placer County Sheriff’s Lt. John Poretti said.
That plan led Root to his rescue, but only after he had to climb out of the thick brush he’d been using for shelter and hike about 30 minutes.
A man used to running 20-30 miles every weekend was not going to be undone by the two miles between him and safety.
“He started cool, calm and he’s just in great physical condition to where if he hadn’t been at that level, we probably wouldn’t be seeing him,” Johnson said. “Literally, he looks fine.”
“We had a lot of searchers out there, but we have to give a lot of credit to Mr. Root for being a survivor, quite honestly,” Poretti said.
Root has been released from the hospital and is already talking about getting back out on the trails.
Some of his friends say he could be running again this weekend.