Four Nights Lost in the Cold

Lost in the Pecos Wilderness with her aid dog, Shannon Baruth faced extreme weather conditions for four nights. Together, they fought to make their way back to safety.

Photo: Cavan Images via Getty Images

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Join us on Out Alive for the incredible story of Shannon Baruth and her aid dog, who survived for four nights in the Pecos Wilderness in New Mexico after getting lost. What began as a beautiful hike turned into a harrowing ordeal when they took a wrong turn and became disoriented off-trail. Battling extreme weather conditions and relying on their human-animal bond, they fought to make it back to safety. Don’t miss this remarkable tale of resilience and survival in the face of adversity, as we explore the power of gratitude in survival.



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Usually episodes of this show go a little like this. A hiker is lost. They wander determined to self rescue. Things get worse before they get better. And yes, it’s fair to say that today’s story takes us deep into the wilderness where a hiker and her service dog embark on a journey that quickly turns into a fight for survival.

Things go wrong, and the trail is lost. As I listened to our guest share her story, I was reminded of a common scenario I’m sure some of you can relate to. You’re stuck in traffic. You think you know a back alleyway to get where you’re going, so you pull off making an endless series of turns, encountering traffic lights, cutting through parking lots, and eventually making it to your destination.

Nine times out of 10, I’m not certain I’ve actually saved any time, and I usually get where I’m going more stressed and sweaty than if I had just stayed the course. But I do know it simply feels better to be moving than not. That is exactly the kind of thinking that leads so many hikers astray when we’re lost, and it’s also exactly the opposite of what our next story is about.

Through incredible feats of strength and endurance, our hiker braves treacherous terrain, battles the elements, and fights off fear and exhaustion, but it’s not physical strength that saves the day. It’s the remarkable sense of restraint and self-discipline that our hiker shows even in the most dire of circumstances.

A steadiness and a willingness to stop, the unwavering sense of purpose and control, and even a sense of gratitude can be the difference between making it out alive and not.

Shannon: My name is Shannon. I am 47 years old and I live in northern New Mexico. I hike with my dog, Annie. She’s a little 24-pound service dog. I’m getting back into hiking after a hiatus, and it’s been such a joy. Annie and I have been doing progressively more challenging hikes. This time when we went out, it was October, and I knew we were going to be heading into winter. This was probably going to be our last trip out. 

Host: Shannon planned to camp in a Pecos Wilderness Forest Service campground Friday night to do a dayhike on Saturday, return to the campsite that night, and go home early Sunday morning. The weekend aligned perfectly with a short weather window, so Shannon told some family and friends her plan and set out.

Shannon: There was a stormfront moving in Sunday night. I did not want to be in the mountains when that happened. 

Host: The Pecos Wilderness northeast of Santa Fe is the second-largest wilderness area in the state, ranging between 8,400 and 13,000 feet in elevation.

It’s a rugged region of forested mountains, broad mesas, narrow canyons, and vast meadows. The Pecos include the southernmost section of the Rocky Mountains and has some of the highest peaks in the state. 

Shannon: Friday night went fine, and Saturday morning before we started out, I checked with a fellow camper who had an inReach, and he was able to get a weather report. There’s no cell signal up there. He said, “Yep, snow’s not coming in until late Sunday night. Enjoy your hike.” I always carry a lot of supplies. I have a medical condition that could mean that I would need to stop for the night or stop for more time than I anticipated. 

I had a fleece top, I had a shell, a wool hat. I had five quarts of water plus a water purifier, a filter, a first aid kit. I do have some meds I need to take daily, so I had enough meds for four days. I had the survival shelter. I had a map, compass, and whistle. I had food, enough for three days. That’s what I thought; it was more for two days. Two headlamps, things like extra socks.

So I go out prepared for an extra night, maybe two. Didn’t anticipate what ended up coming. So the first 3 miles went easy. We’ve hiked that trail about six times. We got up to the place where we would join the trail that I had planned to take that day. It was across a high meadow, and it was not challenging.

We weren’t going up to high altitudes. There wasn’t a lot of elevation gain. Like I said, it’s across the meadow. It should seem pretty straightforward. There’s usually a small place where you can get a cell signal and I stop there in general to send texts to my loved ones and say, “Hey, this is where I am. Things are going fine.” And to catch a weather report. And that day, I couldn’t get it. I wrote some texts and I moved around trying to get it. It’s really like a 10-foot square area. It’s really small, but I couldn’t get it. I thought, “I’ve heard things were okay. We’ll just keep going.”

Host: The trail that Shannon had chosen crossed through grazing land and as they hiked, she found herself confused by cow paths intersecting with and shooting off from the main trail.

Shannon: If you’ve hiked on areas where cattle graze, they really mess up the trails because they make their own trails, so it’s not always obvious where you are. Again, I knew that going into it and figured, “Hey, we’re just going across this big meadow. It’s all out in the open.” Unfortunately, there were a couple of really aggressive cows. They were doing the stomping and stamping, so we headed up into the tree line. We can hike off-trail a little bit here. Everything’s really open, no problem. So we did that, came back down after we had passed where the herd was and then it happened again. So we are off trail, we’re off of our time, but not in a big way. Heading back down to the trail again, that we can still see. 

Host: The Pecos Wilderness is home to much more than just cows. As Shannon and Annie made their way back to their route, she got a sense that they weren’t alone. 

Shannon: Get that little prickling. “Ooh, something’s off here.” First, I saw these little ears and eyes and a tail, and it was a mountain lion.

So I got Annie close to me. Again, Annie is not freaked out. I did the “Hi, mountain lion. I’m really sorry. I apologize. We’re in your way.” Just babbling in a quiet, calm voice while we backed away. It was not scary so much, but it informed some of my decision-making after that. Hyper aware of my surroundings, and we got back on the trail.

Host: By then, the two had been on and off the trail about three times. They were hiking toward a field station frequented by ranchers expecting to reach an intersecting looped trail and continue hiking there. 

Shannon: We get up to where I think that trail should be. There’s no trail sign. But there’s a sign that says “Trail no longer maintained.”

And I look, and it really wasn’t maintained. It wasn’t just that there were a couple down trees; it didn’t even look like there was a trail there at all. I thought maybe this isn’t the trail that I had hiked part of before. There was another one just 10 feet away. And then another one. So we’ve got three, possibly three trails intersecting here.

And on my map, I use a Forest Service topo map and a compass, it was about 20 minutes in, and I realized that we were going in the wrong direction. And if we kept going this direction, we would end up at 12,000 feet above the treeline in the high mountains. So I turned around. We ran into a backpacker on the way back and he said, “Oh, hey, I found this trail sign. I just saw it sticking out of the meadow. I put it back up.” Turns out that trail sign, that would’ve been helpful, right then. The only choice that made sense was to backtrack. It was 1 in the afternoon. We had 9 miles to cover, and that was going to cut it close. So I started putting contingencies in my mind.

I didn’t want to hike out in the dark. I carry a survival shelter with me. It’s Mylar, but it’s heavy duty and it sets up like a pup tent. So I thought, “Okay, this isn’t great, but I’m prepared for this.” Like I said, across that meadow, there are so many. These aren’t, they don’t even just look like game trails, like little deer trails.

They’re solid because cattle have been through there and horses. The sky had started to change a little. We had gone 18 miles. I realized that. I said, “We are. We’re off trail. We’re off where we should be, and I’m not clear headed. If we’re going to keep going, I need to be really clear because this land navigation is going to get complex. And while I have a lot of training and I’m pretty good at it, it’s not easy.” And also Annie was tired. She’s hardcore, but 18 miles is 18 miles. 

Host: So Shannon made the decision to stop for the night. She and Annie could rest, and in the morning she tackled the challenge of navigating back out. They descended toward the trees to have dinner and set up camp.

Shannon: Just figured, “Okay, we’ve got a shelter. We’ve got a nice fleece blanket. I’ve got extra clothes. She’s got a little coat. We’ll make it through this cold night and hike out in the morning.” Unfortunately, Annie was terrified of the shelter, which I hadn’t anticipated, but I got her into it. We settled in, and then I saw some lightning in the distance and it did start to rain, and then the winds kicked up.

We’re not exposed. We’re still high up though in elevation, and the winds were strong, and then the snow started and then the shelter started leaking and then it blew apart. This is not just a Mylar blanket that I picked up at the gas station. This is supposed to work. I sheltered us in some scrub oak around us, which is great because we’re not exposed.

I thought, okay, “At least we have this going for us.” And it just continued all night long. Annie’s scared. I’ve got her wrapped up in my jacket. We’re both wrapped up under the blanket. I’m trying to hold the shelter together and I was up all night and she was mostly up, and I just kept saying to her, “It’s okay. All we have to do is make it through the night. I’m going to take care of you and we’ll hike out in the morning.” And that’s not what happened. 

Host: Shannon and Annie woke up the next morning to heavy snow and wind. Braced against the cold as she tried to get her bearings. 

Shannon: I hear the river. I thought it was the Pecos and I thought “We are too close to that, and we are not where I thought we should be.”

However, I still had a bit of an assumption that we would get out. We couldn’t be too far off. So classic. So when the snow was really slippery and I slipped and dropped a water bottle, headlamp and cell phone, and they went skittering down the slope, I didn’t worry too much. I had backups and we were going to get out that day.

I spent a couple hours doing plastic lost person behavior of going up high. I knew I wouldn’t see any landmarks, but I thought maybe I could get a cell signal. And then coming back down to get out of the elements, made a small fire to dry off and warm up a little. And then I actually got a decent bearing on where we were.

There were no trails that I could see because they’re covered in snow. There were. Horseshoe prints. So the ranchers had been through there. The light was shifting, and then Annie started favoring her front paw and I fell twice. At that moment. I had a shift. My focus right now needs to be on how are we going to survive this night? This night that’s coming in a lot faster than I had anticipated. 

My dog is maybe injured. I’ve fallen a couple times. I can’t carry her right now. I tried, but it’s too slippery. It’s slippery, and I’m exhausted. My muscles are burning. 

Host: As the volunteer rescuer, Shannon knew that panicking would only make her situation worse. She taught survival skills over the years, like constructing an emergency shelter, now it was time to put that practice to the test. 

Shannon: So I looked around. There were materials I could use to build a shelter. I could hear water nearby. That was the plan. I covered Annie up in the blanket and I built a shelter.

I’m so happy I had that training because right then my brain was not functioning very well. I wanted to make a fire. I’ve made a lot of fires. I’ve made fires with no matches, taught people how to do that, and I was so compromised and shaking so hard, I couldn’t do it. I just had to let that go. Let’s just move into getting out of the elements and getting some water, getting Annie snuggled in checking her paw, and that’s what we did.

Nobody knew where we were. Nobody probably was even missing us at that point because Monday morning would’ve been when I was overdue. This was Sunday night, and having training is great. It also meant that I knew the odds. I did something that, maybe this is melodramatic, but I started recording messages for my kids.

I apologized to all of them for having lost the trails and maybe having died and that I apologize for making mistakes. I shifted into telling each person something that I loved so much about them that was a unique quality and what I hope they could bring forward with the rest of their lives.

When my mom died, I didn’t get a chance to hear any of that from her and in my mind, this was what I wanted to tell especially my kids and just how grateful I had been for getting to have them in my life. I knew that we were in a lot of danger. Annie at that point was pretty warm, which is great. I wasn’t, and I had terrible muscle spasms. They were so painful. And I was shaking so hard. 

Host: Shannon knew that extreme cases of hypothermia could lead to confusion, memory loss, and ultimately death. To stay sharp, to stay alive, she needed to warm up. 

Shannon: And if you’re still shaking, you’re not dead. That’s good. And maybe it was a low moment, but I remember thinking to myself, “This hurts. This hurts so bad. If I’m going to die from hypothermia, could we just get to the stop shaking, fall asleep part?” I didn’t feel like I was giving up. I didn’t feel scared, I didn’t feel resigned. Just it hurt, and I can deal with the pain. And I did. The morning came, and we’re both alive. We’re still socked in.

It’s still cold, it’s still windy, and the snow is, it’s off and on. I needed to get water and my legs were such jelly right then, and it was snowy. It was a snowy, wet slope down to the creek, and I noticed, “Oh, there’s water droplets on these beautiful aspen leaves.” And there was an odd shift again in my head right then.

So I’m drinking droplets of water off of these leaves knowing that it’s not going to rehydrate me, but it made my attitude shift, right? Then I thought, “Oh, I am so grateful. Thank you aspen leaves for holding these water droplets.” Right then, gosh, it sounds silly in a way, like not very tough, but it didn’t matter. Then I was able to shift into a place of gratitude. And gratitude can mean a lot of things, but right then it meant that I started naming the things around me. And this is something I did during a really dark place in my life when people said, “You just have to be grateful. Be grateful for your kids. Be grateful.” And in dark, that dark place, I couldn’t just say, oh, I’m grateful. I had to name things and it staved off panic. It improved my situational awareness, and right now we need to regroup. As much as I would like to go and try to find our way out of here, that’s not a good idea, and I was able to get into a very disciplined place of mind.

Host: Shannon realized that wandering in a state of panic would do her no good, and she’d likely get injured along the way. She and Annie needed rest and they needed water. She decided to stay put for the afternoon and prepare to hike with a clear plan the following day.

Shannon: That day passed and we’re getting into bed. It was probably 5 o’clock in the evening because the sun goes down early. I have a friend who I did search and rescue with, a very close friend of mine, and later he became a Navy seal. There’s all of those Navy Seal mottos, and one of them is expect to self-rescue. No one’s coming for you. Hope is not a plan.

Host: That night the storm broke and Shannon couldn’t help but feel a sense of optimism as she gazed at the stars above. Tomorrow was going to be a better day. 

Shannon: In the morning the sun was out, it was bright and blue skies, and Annie was just jumping around happy as the little dog is in the woods, and I’m still not thinking very clearly.

Host: Shannon was officially overdue, and her family back home was starting to get concerned. 

Cassidy: This is actually something that I don’t think I’ll ever fully completely forgive myself for. 

Host: This is Cassidy. Shannon’s 26-year-old daughter. 

Cassidy: My mom was really good about doing check-ins before she would go hiking, ever since she moved to New Mexico and started doing solo hikes more often and she’d sent me one of those on Friday. She sent me a voice memo just saying where she was going to be going. She told me where she was going to be and said that she’d definitely be there that night. The thing that I will never forgive myself for is that I actually didn’t see that voice memo until Tuesday.

I was at work on Tuesday. I was in my office and I got a call from my great aunt and a text from her just saying, “Please call me back as soon as possible.” That was unusual, so I was in the middle of a meeting and I was like, “I’m sorry, but I need to go call my aunt really quickly. I’m not sure what’s going on.”

She’d also gotten a message from my mom on Friday, just the same information. She was really concerned that she hadn’t heard from my mom yet. From that moment forward, everything just spiraled out. I think the first thing that I did was I called all of my immediate family members to see if they’d heard from her and nobody had and I left work.

My stepdad and aunt ended up contacting state police initially. And they went out because we knew where she was hiking or we knew at least the general area. And so they went out and they found her car and it looked like it had been slept in. They didn’t see like any signs of a struggle or anything because at that point we really just didn’t know anything other than the last time she’d contacted anybody had been on Saturday morning when she’d texted my great-aunt, and that was the last time anybody had heard from her. 

Shannon: We were close to the Pecos River. My plan was really simpled then, I knew it will not be simple to execute. I had to be very realistic right then that our best chance was actually this thing that had an element of unknown.

It was a risk, and we’re always assessing risk. It’s a gorgeous day out, and I felt some joy. When you’re doing wilderness survival training, the very first priority is a positive mental attitude. For me, just this consistent gratitude kept me focused, and also I allowed myself to feel some happiness.

Host: Steep cliffs walled the river in on either side, forcing Shannon and Annie to bushwhack, scramble, and in some places cross back and forth across the river. 

Shannon: We’re heading down the bank and we go around a curve. There’s a big old bear. She’s just sitting on the bank of the river, we were about six feet away.

And she just looked at us and in my mind, a couple things went through like, “Oh yeah, okay, we need to get out of here.” And I was blowing my whistle almost this whole day on and off a survival whistle. And so I’m blowing this and Annie, not freaked out. So we scampered up and we’re sitting in some bushes and I just was laughing.

I thought, “This is nuts. We need to go that way.” So we waited a while, and went back. It was after midday at that point. 

Host: By now, the canyon walls have become so steep that there was no passable route along the river bank. Shannon gazed up at the rock walls thinking she wouldn’t be able to climb to safety, especially with Annie.

Shannon: Annie seemed fine. She had run off and she came back and just trying to get me to move with her. It was a really smart dog moment. She had found an intermittent stream, but it was a very steep ravine. If I had looked at that on a normal day, I would not have said, “Oh yeah, go, yeah, let’s do that. That looks great.” But it was the best option in a bad situation. And I looked at her and I said, “Give it a try,” and started up. And when we got up to the top, bingo, I could see landmarks. I never wanted to be like, “Oh yeah, that’s it,” because well, I’m superstitious, I didn’t want to jinx much myself and also you have to be humble in the mountains, they will win. 

Host: Meanwhile, back at home, Cassidy was in contact with Search and Rescue. 

Cassidy: Mostly what I remember about that day is just calling people constantly. I got the number for Search and Rescue and I spoke with them. Something that my mom always used to do when we were sick was chart like she would literally like just write everything down. These are our symptoms, this is like what medicine we’ve taken at this time, and this is when we’re due for our next Tylenol, or it might have been. I was thinking about that a lot during that day. I was like, okay, this is what I know how to do. I know how to write down who’s talked to whom when, and create a narrative and make sure that everybody knows what’s going on, which wasn’t very much, but they did do a helicopter search that day.

Shannon: I saw what I think was a search helicopter. I tried to signal, didn’t work, and again, I just said, “Okay, that’s what happened. It’s done. I am fairly certain we are three hours from getting outta here.” It’s about 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

It’s going to get cold, really cold soon, and we need to stop. That was hard. The hardest part was maintaining discipline, overriding the classic human desire to keep moving or to keep making better plans, new plans. 

Host: On their fourth night out, Shannon gathered enough downed wood and pine bows to make a debris shelter. It was just big enough to fit Shannon, Annie, and a backpack on a bed of pine needles. 

Shannon: Annie loves these little shelters. She hated the survival shelter. I get it. It’s crinkly. It was crinkly noisy, and it did tear apart. Our little shelters were like little dog dens. I guess for her. She thought they were the bees knees.

I did think at this point, my family, they do know I’m missing and they don’t know that I’m okay, and I can’t tell them that I’m okay. 

Cassidy: That evening, I went outside on a walk and it was really cold outside and I couldn’t last much longer than like 10 minutes, just like a little walk around the block.

I was just like, I need to be outside for a little bit, but it was just too cold and so I had to come back inside. I think just feeling that and then realizing I don’t know where my mom is and I know that it’s cold, and I was really just so afraid for her. Then in that moment, I was afraid that she was lonely.

My primary feeling at that moment was just how scary it is to be in the cold. It’s another cold night. 

Shannon: This is our fourth night out. Things should be getting worse, and actually things were better. I wasn’t feeling fear. That was not a useful emotion for me at that moment. 

Host: In the morning, Annie’s water bowl was frozen solid, and although they were cold, spirits were high. Shannon was able to get a bearing from the landmarks and was hopeful they’d reach the trailhead in a matter of hours. 

Shannon: Annie is full of joy at this moment, and I let her lead because I had a bearing. I’m smiling and laughing and the terrain is really tough and I’m trying to stay focused and I see we’re up pretty high and I see the bridge that intersects with the trail that intersects with the meadow that goes to the campground.

No way, but it was, so we head down, we are on the little trail. We hit a little meadow and I see a figure across the meadow and he waves and he says, “It’s okay. I’m just a fly fisherman.” I checked in with him about, Our location. They gave Annie and I a couple of Clif bars and we hiked out.

I didn’t know what we were hiking into. I didn’t know if there was a search. We get off the trail and I stepped on, on this asphalt, that change of sensation. You are safe in civilization now. My whole guard dropped, but it was silent. 

Host: The lack of activity off-trail was eerie. She never assumed there was an active search for her, but she remembered seeing three helicopters pass the day before. Still she was relieved. 

Shannon: I did know there was no one there, but I figured there was going to be a lot of stuff happening later that day because if nothing else, my family was worried. So I took some time and just cleaned up. I’m pretty out of it right then. But I knew I needed to get centered, I thought, “Should I take a nap? No, I couldn’t take a nap.” I was going to have to drive down the mountain. It’s only, it’s about 25 minutes back into the town of Pecos, but that’s where you can usually get a cell signal. 

Host: Shannon didn’t want her phone to send her family the goodbye recording she made on the second night in the Pecos. So before she drove into town, she deleted them.

Shannon: Took some time to get my thoughts in order, plugged in my phone, and started driving down the mountain.

And I said, “Oh, there’s Pecos Santa Fe National Forest Ranger Station.” So I just pulled in and then I thought I should just pop in because there’s obviously not a search going on, which is fine, but if somebody’s called, I should let them know that I’m all good. 

Host: Meanwhile, a rescue crew had planned to initiate a ground search that day. A state trooper was on his way to the campground and noticed Shannon’s car parked at the ranger station. He came in to verify that she was safe. 

Shannon: I called my auntie and she said, “You come to my house right now.”

Cassidy: I was on the phone with one of my mom’s sisters, and I saw that I was getting a call from my great aunt who lives in New Mexico, and I was like, I need to take this.

And so I picked up and it was just, it was just my great aunt saying “She’s okay. She’s out.” And just like saying she’s okay over and over again. I don’t think I’ve ever felt relief like that before, and I hope I never do again to be honest. I hope I never have to feel that intense relief of just knowing somebody that you love so much is safe and is alive. 

Shannon: And I got there and there were, it was just my aunt, and she said, your dad and stepmom are flying in. My mom died 12 years ago, but my parents, they were there. I talked to my daughter. 

Host: I think what struck me when I was hearing her was just that she sounded so normal. Like she sounded so much like herself. And I was realizing too in that moment as she was calling, like I didn’t know if I’d hear her again. I didn’t know if I’d hear her voice again. 

Shannon: The gravity of the situation was obvious, but I was also so grateful to be okay and to be back. One of my sons left me a voicemail and he said, “I love you.” He hasn’t said that since he was maybe 7 years old. I got cleaned up, tried to wash all the sticks out of my hair. My daughter asked the night before, “Can I come?” 

Host: Although Shannon tried to delete the messages to loved ones, some slipped through, including one to her daughter Cassidy.

Cassidy: A voice memo from her came through and it was something that she’d sent when she was up on the mountains on Sunday night, and it didn’t come through until literally right after I heard from her that she was okay.

It was a goodbye, basically, because she didn’t know if she was going to make it out. And so all you hear in the message is her teeth just chattering, and it’s hard to hear what she’s saying because she’s shivering so badly, and she didn’t know if she was going to make it.

I think knowing that my mom was in that place where she didn’t know if she was going to come out alive, if she didn’t know if she was going to make it out, and that she was thinking about that and that she was thinking about it enough to try to leave like a final message, that was really hard. I just lost it and I was like, “I need to go see my mom and be there with her.”

Shannon: One thing that kept going through my mind was, “What are you learning from this? What are the things that you’re going to change?” Some of them were really basic. Learn the new navigation technology, get an inReach or another site messenger and always carry fire starters. Even if you know how to make fires without matches, with wet wood, when your hands are shaking so hard to be able to just light that little fire starter and have it take off with no problems, that’s not cheating. That’s just stacking the odds in your favor. The survival training I’d had for all those years, that was important, but there was this level of training that I hadn’t realized, and that was the mindfulness and the gratitude that came from meditation.

It also came from raising kids. That surprised me when I talked to people. The biggest questions are, “Were you cold? Were you hungry?” Yeah, but I wouldn’t have expected to smile and to laugh and to joke about things. It’s dangerous. Also, I’m going to be okay with smiling here, and I’ll be okay if I’m crying. Just to be all right with those emotions. 

Cassidy: She’s amazing. She is amazing, and I will always be really impressed by my mom.

Shannon: I was like, “You know what? I don’t have to listen to the nonsense in my head or what I hear from society about what middle-aged women can do because this middle-aged woman with her dog just actually made it through a pretty intense experience.”

And do I have the body I had when I was 20 and was rock climbing and backpacking all the time? No, I don’t. But we do learn some things as we get older that gave me an ability to reach deep into my soul. I was more capable and competent than I had realized. That felt really good. 

Host: This episode of Out Alive was produced by me, Louisa Albanese, along with Zoe Gates and Emma Veidt. Scripting was by Emma Veidt.

Composing and sound design was by Jason Patton. Thank you to Shannon and Cassidy for sharing your stories with us. If you have a survival story that you want to share, you can email me at

From 2022