Sunday, June 13, 2010
Davis L. Bigelow
Trepidation tugged at his heart. Ahead of him, Glen eyed the expansive field of jagged rocks. To walk the distance back to their waiting packs would require only ten minutes or so, but he could not walk. As the small man scuttled away from his makeshift sleeping area, he knew the trip was going to take much, much longer.
At first, Glen tried to walk using his two arms and keeping his one good leg nearly straight. The three legged crab-walk technique seemed to produce the fastest pace, but in under a minute, his quad muscle began to burn. He paused to rest and rethink. A glance back at Stan revealed that he had only travelled twenty yards! “Where’s my entourage of faithful porters and packhorses when I need them?”
Glen rose again, but this time he crawled on his hands and knees. “Ow” he muttered, a deep furrow dominating his shiny brow. If he’d been prone to profane language, now would be the time for it. Instead of swearing, however, Glen just gritted his teeth and lifted his black and blue ankle a little higher. Bumping it was painful. Putting weight on the damaged joint was out of the question. “At least the cut on my injured calf is on the back, and out of harm’s way.” He thought. “The only problem I have now is that my knees and hands are ill prepared for this rough rock!” Glen grimaced to himself. “The only problem indeed!”
An hour passed, as Stan Calderbank watched his friend crawl up and clamour over and skirt around the monotone of jagged obstacles. The majority of scattered rocks were less than football sized, but here and there, giant boulders broke the barren landscape. Several mighty, discarded chunks of shattered mountain jutted some fifteen or twenty feet into the sky! In spite of his pain and discomfort, however, Stan found the wiry man’s movements a bit entertaining. The farther away Glen got, the more he looked like a strange alien creature crawling over the surface of a lifeless planet. Humour tugged at the corners of Stan’s dry mouth. “At least I can smile about something!” He thought.
Stan laid his head back on the hard rock pillow. “For now, I’m alive.” Suddenly, a dark thought crossed his mind, but he resisted it. A wave of panic surged over him. “He’ll come back.” Stan told himself. “He will come back.” The big man had known Glen for nearly twenty years, and in all that time, Glen had been a hard worker; fearless and determined in everything he did. It appeared that Glen was taking his time to reach their packs, but Stan knew that Glen was doing his best. “Steady Stan!” The big man thought. “Glen will return soon with water and drugs!” Stan reached along his side, groping. In a moment, he was pouring the last drops from the water bottle into his parched mouth.
“Ow!” Glen panted in protest. It was the umpteenth time in the past hour and a half that he had re-hurt one of his knees. The ragged chunks of crumbled stone offered no mercy! The knees of his stretch denim jeans were shredded and stained with hints of blood. He had been crawling and crab-walking for far too long, but he was nearly there. The waxy green leaves, clinging to the low bushes growing along the sides of the approaching trail, were becoming clearer and clearer with each ragged breath. Glen had even caught a glimpse of his backpack a few minutes earlier.
Glen paused to refuel his oxygen starved brain. His chest heaved. Pressurized blood pounded in his temples. In the past ninety minutes, the hot summer sun had meticulously stripped away all pretence from the small man. “Come on Glen!” He panted, trying to rally. The weary hiker removed his hat and wiped at his brow and forehead. His thinning hair was plastered to his balding scalp. His hiking hat was wet with far too much of his precious internal moisture. His knees were scraped and throbbing. His jeans were torn up. His unprotected palms protested from the rough treatment they were receiving. The stubborn Scotsman stared down at his fingers and scowled. Several of the tips were bleeding. Tough leather gloves waited in his pack. “How I wish I had my gloves right now!”
Glen put hand to stone once more and scrambled on. Again, a flash of red caught his eye. “At last! Just a few more yards to go!”
Glen lurched onto the dusty wilderness trail, crawling now on relatively soft dirt. Then, several long minutes later, a smile crossed his parched lips as Glen McPherson collapsed beside his blood red backpack.
The flexible drinking straw, protruding from the top of his pack, lay undisturbed and waiting for him. Glen snatched it up and pried the protective cover off the mouthpiece. Sun warmed for several hours, the drinking tube was filled with hot water, but Glen didn’t care. He sucked hard on the mouthpiece. Obediently, the pure water slid into his sticky mouth, down his dry throat and into his empty stomach. “Aaaaaah!” He grinned, swallowing a second gulp. “Nothing could be better than this!” The grateful man exclaimed before sucking again on the thick straw.
The water from within the pack felt cold and wonderful in Glen’s stomach. He turned and unzipped a small pocket on the top of Stan’s backpack. This was the moment of truth! Their lives might depend on how the next few minutes played out. Glen withdrew a small waterproof container that protected two items. The small man opened the top and fished inside for Stan’s cellular phone. Flipping the lid open, he pressed the power button. “Now, all I have to do is to wait for it to locate a signal.”
Impatiently, as he watched for the phone to activate, Glen continued to catch his breath. The illuminated display flickered against the daylight. “Searching”, flashed on the tiny screen.
”Come on!” Glen encouraged. Trying to will the phone into action. The small man clamoured to a standing position and balanced on his good leg. He still couldn’t bear to put any weight on his left foot, but he gently rested it in the dirt to stabilize himself.
“Searching”, the phone continued to display.
“I hope my slightly increased elevation helps.”
Then, suddenly, the message on the small screen changed. Glen sighed in frustration. “No signal.”
Dejected, Glen sunk to his knees. “Oh God?” He prayed, “Please have mercy on us!” Until now, he had felt hope that the phone would get them a helicopter. “If we could just airlift Stan to a hospital!” A tear slid from the corner of Glen’s eye. “How can I save myself and my injured friend?”
Glen puzzled over the answer to his question. Kneeling in the dirt, he spent precious seconds thinking it through, but there seemed to be only one remaining scenario that could save them both. “If I hike directly to the truck to obtain assistance, Stan could very well die of dehydration before anyone can reach him.” The thought felt like a pool of black ink profaning a pure white sheet of paper. Glen shook his head. “And then if I do just go for help, there’s the little matter of limping alone for endless hours on a trail potentially prowled by Grizzlies!” Glen rolled off his knees and sat in the dirt. Absentmindedly, his hand reached to massage his throbbing ankle. “Considering my injuries, it might take me two days to reach the truck.” He drew in a long breath and blew it out through pursed lips. “If I cut poles to make a travois and take water back to Stan, it’ll take most of the remainder of the day. That’ll keep us both going, but by tomorrow, we’ll both need more water just to stay alive.” Him mind grappled with the problem some more. “Crossing the rock field is another matter of concern.” Glen rubbed at his battered knees. “My body isn’t designed to withstand the sort of abuse demanded by this disaster!”
Frustrated, Glen looked up at the sky. Several puffy clouds paraded slowly over Ravenscrag Mountain. “I could make it back to Big C today, but dragging him out would have to wait until tomorrow. By then, we’d be out of water again.” Glen continued to puzzle through the various possibilities. “If I get Stan to a water source and then leave him to go for help, the big man will be in grave danger of being attacked by a bear.” Glen grimaced. “The fact is, Stan is in less danger of being eaten if he remains where he is.” The bruised Scotsman rubbed his face. “Ok, I have to leave Stan where he is.” There was only one choice that made complete sense. A long sigh escaped his parched lips. “I have to take water to Stan and then drag his large body to the pickup truck.” Glen thought some more. “But I’m injured.” He reminded himself. “How can I do it?” He rolled back onto his bruised knees and prayed again, “Heavenly Father, please give me the strength to save both our lives.”
Glen opened his eyes and stared down at his scratched hands. In one he held the useless phone. Lying in the dirt beside him sat the waterproof pouch, still protecting the distant truck’s precious ignition key. Motionless, Glen might have been asleep, but the small man’s mind was still churning. “How can I drag Stan to the truck? Maybe I should go for help? No!” The small man answered his own question. “I have thought it out. I have to return to Stan.” Glen clenched his teeth together, flexing his jaw muscles and furrowing his brow. His eyes swept the field of boulders that lay between him and Stan. Slowly, his face relaxed and a distant look filled his eyes. Glen tilted his head a little to one side and gazed up at Ravenscrag’s rocky summit. A wry smile played at the corners of the small man’s dirty, unshaven face. Glen looked back in the direction of where his big friend lay helpless and awaiting his return. Tears welled up in Glen’s eyes and he nodded head slightly. “If it is our lot to die, I will not allow my friend to die alone!”
Famished, as well as thirsty, Glen unzipped a pouch near the top of his pack and fished inside. In seconds, the candy bar he found was consumed and he was looking for more. He crunched down some trail mix and drank more from his hydration pack.
As the minutes ticked slowly by, his stomach finally felt satisfied. Glen leaned up against the softness of his backpack and sighed. Like copious quantities of water from an agitated garden sprinkler, pain pulsed from his pummelled body. Glen’s frustrated mind tried unsuccessfully to force the aches from his limbs and torso. He desperately willed his wounds to slip silently away, but they would not. His ankle still throbbed. His palms still stung. His knees still felt battered. The back of his head still felt tender. His tailbone still ached. The small man shook his head and closed his eyes. “I feel like I’m in the ring with Bruce Lee, laying face down on the mat after having received the thrashing of my life!” In his mind, Glen could hear the referee counting to ten. “Maybe I am beaten? Maybe I cannot win this fight?” Glen blew out a long breath. “Isn’t it time for the bell to ring?” The question cried out, echoing down the corridors of his frazzled mind. “Can’t this bout be over already?” How he wished it could be, but the truth was painfully obvious. He was only at the end of round one! The referee continued the ten-count. Frenzied spectators cried out for him to quit but Glen could not. “I will not admit defeat just yet. I will not stop until I am no longer able to draw a breath!” Renewed resolve filled his mind. “My fight might seem pointless. The inevitability of death might loom ominously on my horizon, but I will not flinch!” In spite of the odds, in spite of his pain, in spite of it all, the determined Scot knew he would not cease struggling to keep himself and his friend alive. “This fight will only conclude when I say it’s finished!” He proclaimed aloud to the trees but concluded by muttering under his breath, ”I just hope my determination is enough!”
Painful minutes ticked by. Glen rested for as long as he dared. He knew that he couldn’t afford to fall asleep. “Too bad I can’t stay here all day.” He thought wearily, stirring and grimacing. Glen fished into his pack and located a tensor bandage and a pair of clean wool socks.
Shedding his left boot and the accompanying sweaty sock, Glen carefully wrapped his swollen ankle. The colour of the reddish bandage clashed with the deep shades of purple, black and blue that dominated his skin, but that mattered little to Glen. “I just hope it’s not broken.” He winced, securing the end of the wrap. Glen gingerly slid a clean sock over the bandage, followed by his boot. Pain shot through him like a wild fire. Finally, with gritted teeth and a throbbing heart, Glen finished re-lacing the stiff hiking boot. He lay back again and shut his eyes. His lungs were heaving, but his ankle was now stabilized. He raised the brim of his hat and stared upwards. Warm on his body, the sun shone brightly between two white, cotton candy clouds. It felt so good to rest! He closed his eyes once again and soaked in the sun.