Bruised but not defeated, outdoors guide is healing from injuries

By Michael Carman

Olympic Peninsula News Group

He’s lost time — about 24 hours from before he was struck by a minivan while aiding a bear-hunting friend, plus time in the field and time on the rivers — but Forks outdoors guide Caylen Phegley feels fortunate for the support he’s received from friends, family and his clientele on and off the North Olympic Peninsula.

Phegley spoke Wednesday from Seattle, where he was awaiting a facial surgery Thursday at Harborview Medical Center.

“They took a 3D image of my skull, and it shows a fracture from near my ear all the way across my face,” he said. “My eye sockets are broken in a couple of spots. They are going to put plates in and pull bones out because my face is sunk in.”

Phegley was helping his friend and fellow guide Nick Tucker pack out a bear on the Sekiu Mainline south of state Highway 112 in the late afternoon Aug. 8 when he collided with a van traveling the opposite direction.

“I don’t even remember getting back on the dirt bike, that’s how rattled I got,” Phegley said.

“I’ve been riding quads and dirt bikes since I was 2, so I have a hard time believing I didn’t try to dodge the van. But I slid out, slid sideways, and that’s how I hit the front bumper. My face bounced off the bumper, and I was dragged into a ditch and next to a boulder.

“The right side of my face is the part that is annihilated. I have a huge gash on my left eye socket, and that’s from when my head bounced off the rock.”

Phegley also suffered a broken back in the collision and a pair of broken ribs.

“I fractured my L1 through my L5 [vertebrae], and my L4 is pushed up in a funny way, ” Phegley said.

Phegley was found lying in the ditch by Tucker, who carried him another half-mile out to his truck.

“Nick Tucker and Fred Crawford screamed me over to the Forks hospital,” Phegley said. “If they weren’t there to find me, I would have been sitting in that ditch a while.”

Phegley was treated in Forks, but the extent of his injuries required a helicopter flight to Seattle.

“I was life-flighted to Harborview about 1 a.m.,” Phegley said. “But I didn’t mentally check in until about 4 or 5 p.m. that day. Apparently I was talking and stuff, but I woke up mentally, asking, ‘Where am I?’ ” With my dad [John] next to me.”

An outpouring of care, concern and support soon developed steam.

“The response has been a little overwhelming,” Phegley said. “I woke up to 93 text messages on my cell phone, 30 Instagram messages, 50 Facebook messages. People have offered financial support, Dungeness crab dinners, meals and crepes. I’ve been very well taken care of.”

More than $32,000 has been raised toward Phegley’s medical expenses in a GoFundMe account set up by Phegley’s friend and former Port Angeles High School classmate Chase Jangula. To donate, visit tinyurl.com/PDN-CaylenFund.

“I was astounded when I heard about it,” Phegley said. “I never thought I’d have a GoFundMe for myself. That’s probably been the hardest part of this thing because I’ve never really needed help from others. I’m always offering help, and it’s hard to accept it.

“But it’s been a lot of people from the fishing community and from my client list. A couple of my clients have donated $1,000 apiece.”

Alaskan fishing lodges for which Phegley has guided have stepped up with generous donations, he said.

E-Z Pawn East’s Brian Winters also is running a raffle for Phegley with a $1,500 Mathews Vertix compound bow as a prize. Tickets are $10 and available in person at 2416 E. U.S. Highway 101 or by phone at 360-452-7296.

Phegley formed River Journey Guide Service and moved to Forks after he attended Northwest Lineman School in Idaho and worked in that industry in southwest Washington.

But the pull of the Peninsula and its fishing and hunting opportunities was powerful.

“I was coming back every weekend to fish,” Phegley said.

A pro staff fisherman for Western Fishing Operations, Phegley also is sponsored by Lamiglas, a rod and reel manufacturer.

Jerry Wright of Jerry’s Bait and Tackle in Port Angeles has forged a friendship and mentorship with the younger Phegley over the past few years as Phegley’s enthusiasm and aptitude for the outdoors reminds him of his younger self.

“When I first met him, I wanted to teach him and help him out,” said Wright, who said Forks guides Joe and Jeff Gort showed him the ropes back in the day. “One of the main things was to teach him boat etiquette, treating other guys with respect and courtesy, while also not to be intimated by the other guys.”

And he’s tried to convert Phegley to drift fishing.

“He casts floats all the time, and I told him to put some lead on there and bounce it off the bottom,” Wright joked.

He said the level of support given to his friend isn’t a shock.

“Not at all, I wasn’t surprised at all,” Wright said. “He’s just got that special something about him. People are drawn to him. He’s a leader, not a follower type of person.”

Wright is concerned Phegley will try to return to the rivers too quickly.

“I am worried about him talking about guiding this fall,” Wright said. “When you are rowing a drift boat, that’s all you are using is your back and legs, so I’m worried he could do lifelong damage. He’s at the age where he doesn’t think anything will hurt him.

“He’s going to start seeing people catching fish this fall, and he’s going to get that itch and want to compete.

“I hope he’s smart, and his dad or somebody will scare him out of it. He listens to me, but I don’t know if that will take.”

Phegley said he’s going to try his best to heal in time for fall salmon fishing.

“I was booked all salmon season by May this year for September through November,” Phegley said. “I’m going to try and come back as soon as I can unless a doctor tells me I shouldn’t because I’ll go crazy [sitting at home] if I don’t.”

Phegley’s dad knows his son’s makeup, and he understands that sentiment. Even if it fills him with concern.

“Caylen can’t sit still at all,” John Phegley said. “So, from a father’s standpoint, I’m nervous as hell. Nervous as hell about him getting antsy and pushing it too soon.

“There are some local guides who know he has trips scheduled, and they’ve talked about each one of them taking one of his trips and giving him the money.

“If he plays his cards right and does get back out there soon, it could be therapeutic for him,” Phegley’s father said. “The rivers out there don’t have extreme rapids, so the exercise involved is more of a softer rowing style. And, mentally, the outdoors is his realm. It has been since he caught his first trout. That was when he was 3 years old on the Methow River way above Twisp on 9-11. I can only say so much, and I know he will go at his pace.”

Phegley said the financial has given him a bit of a cushion if he’s not able to stick to his plan and get back to guiding this fall.

“With the GoFundMe, I can afford to sit and heal,” Phegley said.

Phegley said his dad, who now lives in Missoula, Mont., was at Harborview and by his side since the ordeal.

“He spent the whole time and just left today to go back,” Phegley said. “My girlfriend [Elizabeth Kulm] has been right by my side. Nick Tucker and I live together and are fishing guides and do everything together. We are pretty much brothers.”

Despite the broken bones and all the bumps and bruises, Phegley feels uplifted.

“I feel fortunate that I’m alive, that I was walking so soon after it happened,” he said. “I never expected that, and I don’t think that anybody was expecting that,” he said. “I’ve been spoiled and very, very lucky.”

His dad agreed.

“He’s so likeable, so lovable, so personable and so passionate about what drives him,” John Phegley said. “I have to think somebody or something was looking out for him.”

Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or at [email protected]