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B.C. woman describes 49-day ordeal in Nevada

Albert Chretien has still not been found, but his wife, Rita, was found alive in Nevada in May, weeks after they were reported missing. (RCMP)

The B.C. woman who survived 49 days in Nevada's wilderness has spoken publicly for the first time -- saying she had uttered her prayers in preparation for what she thought was certain death shortly before she heard rescuers in the distance.

Rita Chretien, 56, and her husband, Albert, 59, got stuck on a snowy logging road in northeastern Nevada in March after getting lost on a road trip from their home in Penticton to Las Vegas. Albert has never been found after he attempted to walk out for help.

Chretien, a devout Christian, gave an exclusive interview to the faith-based program Context with Lorna Dueck.

Chretien described how she and her husband left the main highway while looking for the shortest route to their destination.

"We were heading toward Jackpot [Nevada] for the night and we just followed the route [the GPS] said for Jackpot from whatever point it was we started," Chretien said.

A back road became a trail, and hours later they were stuck in the mud on a logging road in Elko County, in the Nevada wilderness.

"[Albert] was very anxious and I was trying to calm him. I said, 'Look, it's very late, we're tired, we'll just sleep. We'll wait until the morning and then we'll decide what to do,' because he was getting frantic."

'I tried to be strong for him'

Unable to dig themselves out after three days, Albert left in search of help."It was very emotional. We haven't cried so deeply for years," she said. "And I tried to compose myself so it would be easier for him to go because I think if I would have broken down very emotional, he wouldn't have been able to go, so I tried to be strong for him."

Listen to Rita tell part of her story:

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Chretien was left waiting -- and hoping for rescue -- alone in the couple's van.

"The first week I still had a little bit of trail mix so I would eat about a tablespoon a day just to make it last," she said.

"I figured I'd be out of there at least in a week, and I had some candies so I'd eat a candy a day and that was it. But I ran out, so then it was a candy a day and I had some fish oil, I took my fish oil pill every day and that's all I ate on a regular routine."

Every other day she walked to collect water in plastic containers.

"The water was sandy. I'd let it settle in the six bottles I had that were empty but the water tasted good, tasted sweet even though it was dirty," she recalled.

'I'm just going to hang in there'

Despite her desperate situation, Chretien remained optimistic by praying and reading the Bible.

"There was a few times ... that I really bawled my eyes out for an hour or two, but other than that I really kept my mind on what I needed to do. I enjoyed my books and just thought, 'I'll pass the time and as long as it takes, I'm just going to hang in there,'" she said.

"I was very alone and the only way to get through it was by praying and trusting in the Lord to be with me and trusting somehow he would get me through each day."

But eventually Chretien started to lose hope -- she was growing weak, her husband hadn't returned with help and she was alone in the hills. She says she hit her lowest point the day she was rescued.

"Up until then I felt quite strong, reasonably strong. It was such a gradual thing that I didn't notice that I was getting weak until the last day I went down to get water, and it was difficult to get back, so difficult I was almost crawling back ... and my chest was sore and I was out of breath," she said.

"I thought I was going to have a heart attack and I just barely made it back to the van and ... then I decided, 'Well, I'm not feeling any better, so maybe I'm going to die.' So I got myself cleaned up a little bit, got my blanket around me ... and I prayed the little child's prayer, 'Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.'"

Chretien then lay down in the back of the van and went to sleep.

"And two hours later, approximately ... I woke up to a noise and it was the ATVs coming around the corner."

'Maybe he is safe somewhere'

Chretien was found by hunters in early May. She was airlifted to an Idaho hospital, where she was reunited with her family.

"It was so precious and so exciting ... I had to almost pinch myself to see if it was really real."

Searchers have spent months combing the Nevada wilderness by air and ground looking for Albert Chretien, but have found no sign of him.

"Mostly, I think he must have passed away, maybe froze to death, but there's still that inkling of hope that maybe something really unusual happened, maybe he is safe somewhere and just surviving, still lost," his wife said. "I just can't seem to put it out of my mind until I know for sure."

For now, she's back running the family's excavating business -- even driving the same van she lived in for 49 days.

"I'm grateful that I am alive, I'm grateful that I can still watch my grandchildren grow up ... so to be here now is just great."

With files from the CBC's Greg Rasmussen

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