Saturday, June 19, 2010
Davis L. Bigelow
Glen’s eyelids popped open and he drew in a sharp breath. “Was I asleep?” The small man looked upwards. The sun now hid behind a thick cloud. The air was still warm, but not as nice as it had been a second ago when the sun was pouring heat down upon him. Glen lifted his head from sagging against his pack and massaged his neck. “If I didn’t fall asleep then why is my neck so stiff?” Glen glared at his watch. “I can’t believe it!” He exclaimed aloud, furrowing his brow. Nearly forty-five minutes had passed! He shook the sleep from his stiff body and stretched. Oh, how he hurt! A wild yawn overtook his face followed by a hard glint in his eyes.
Immediately, Glen began emptying his pack. The freshly consumed calories and unplanned nap had powered the man up, but he had lost precious minutes of daylight. In no time at all, the dirt trail was littered with the pack’s colourful contents. Glen set about sorting. “I need to make the return trip to Stan’s broken body with as little weight as possible.”
Once he had finished the sorting of his own pack, he tackled Stan’s. The first aid kit was a no-brainer, but deciding what food to take and what food to leave behind was a tad bit more difficult. Stan’s pack, like his own, only contained one litre of water – and his litre was now gone. Stan’s hydration pack was only half full! Glen eyed the plastic pouch thoughtfully. “Obviously, I’ll have to hike back to Maple Creek to re-supply before crossing the rocks again.” The bruised Scotsman sighed in exasperation. Maple Creek was nearly a mile away! “Why is everything always so hard?”
With the sorting completed, Glen pulled on his leather gloves, snatched up the folding saw and crawled on all fours through the bushy undergrowth. A squirrel chattered wildly at the man, sounding a frenzied alarm. Big, black and bushy, the pesky bully was incessant! At length, the balding man paused and yanked his hat off, glaring angrily up into a nearby tree. “All right!” he yelled at the loudmouth. “Go away before I find something to throw at you!” The obnoxious squirrel paused and stared down at the unknown invader. Glen stared back. Finally, the squirrel turned tail and scampered off. The Scotsman shook his weary head, pulled on his sweat-soaked hat and crawled on.
A few minutes of searching yielded a suitable tree. Up came the saw, and Glen set to work. Kneeling carefully, the small man watched as the sharp, stainless steel blade gnawed its way through the thin trunk. He had felled several trees before and was careful to have an escape route planned. In his condition, Glen wouldn’t get very far away when the toppling part of the endeavour became inevitable. The tree he was cutting, however, was not large. Finally the Mountain Ash gave way. Like an enormous, three-and-a-half legged Dungeness crab, beached on a parched, alien shoreline, Glen clamoured through the sparse undergrowth. Crash! Behind him, gravity brought the strong and once-vertical sapling crashing to the ground.
The grinning Scotsman scuttled back to his project. As the minutes passed, the fallen tree began to take shape. Glen sat, his back against the nearest standing tree, working the green wood in his experienced, but scraped up hands. Using the saw blade and the honed blade of his Leatherman, Glen skilfully shaped a usable crutch out of the unwitting sapling. The green wood wouldn’t break as easily as deadfall and either way Mountain Ash was a strong wood. The determined Scotsman began to whistle to himself as he worked. “Life is about to get a whole lot better for me.”
With the makeshift crutch under his left arm, Glen’s speed of travel was exhilarating! Smiling at the success, he moved on to the next need; creating a splint for Stan’s broken femur. From his first aid training Glen knew that, ideally, he needed two straight, flat pieces of wood of unequal length. The shorter piece went on the inside of the leg, between the foot and crotch, while the longer one ran from the foot to just below the armpit. He eyed the trees that surrounded him. “Aside from locating suitable pieces of wood, I also need a way to comfortably tie the splints in six separate places.” An ironic smile passed across the determined man’s face. “Comfortable indeed!” As he continued his search for suitable wood his mind ran on high speed. “What can I use to tie the splints in place?”
It wasn’t long before Glen’s plans had morphed. Instead of two splints, he settled on using four thinner pieces of wood. Two rounds, laid side by side would better approximate a flat board. “Besides, one thicker chunk of round tree wood will be a lot less comfortable between Stan’s legs than two thinner ones.”
Soon the ground around Glen was littered with four additional fallen saplings. The sawing and cutting procedures went well. As the saw blade completed its final cut, Glen gazed down at the helpful tool and smiled slightly. “At least things could be worse!”A bizarre image suddenly flashed into his mind and the small man laughed out loud and shook his head. “At least I’m not some lame beaver trying to gnaw all these pieces to length!”
With the splints cut, and all the stubby knots smoothed off, Glen hobbled back to the packs, four tips of wood dragging through the dust behind him and one crutch tip at his side. He dropped the splints into the dirt, gathered up a length of coiled rope from Stan’s pack and headed off again.
In a matter of minutes, Glen located two additional trees and began the dangerous felling process again. In no time at all, two four-inch trunks were severed just above the ground level and resting safely on the undergrowth. Glen trimmed the branches and estimated fourteen feet. Cutting the trees to length while they lay in the horizontal position was much easier than making the felling cuts. With the first piece sawn to the right length, he dragged it beside the other fallen tree and cut a second length to match. In spite of the gravity of the situation, Glen grinned at his handiwork. “A perfect pair.” The small man scuttled back to the nearest tree and began to saw again. “All I need now is a couple of shorter lengths to use as cross pieces for the travois.”
Tiring minutes passed as the third and forth pieces fell from their mother trees. Shredded wood littered Glen’s pants and spiced the ground around him.
With the wood cut, the small man tossed the four pieces together and uncoiled the rope. With a practiced hand, the small man tied a bowline in one end and pulled the standing part through it to form a loose noose. He slipped the noose around the four logs and completed the constricting knot by adding a half hitch to lock the loop. Holding the free end of the rope, Glen gathered himself up from where he had been kneeling and leaned on his crutch for balance. He flipped the rope over his shoulder, coiled up the rest of it into his free hand and began to move. The travois parts slid easily behind him, bumping softly over the undulating floor of the alpine forest and leaving a strange looking track in the dirt. Soon an assembly of logs lay in the dirt beside the makeshift splints and backpacks.
Several seconds later, Glen held Stan’s empty hydration pack in one hand and wiped his moistened lips with the back of the other. His eyes swept the field of stones. Standing in the warm summer sun, Glen could see the brilliant glint of silver Mylar in the distance. Stan was there; waiting; suffering. The bruised hiker breathed in deeply and peered up at the hot sun. “You seem to be doing your job of providing daylight at a faster rate than I am doing my job of saving myself and my friend.” He muttered.
Fuelled by renewed determination, Glen knelt down. Gathering both hydration packs, the water purifying pump and a protein bar, Glen stuffed the four precious possessions into his empty backpack. Donning the light pack, he struggled to his feet, cradled his armpit in the crutch and was off.
The trail heading back towards the truck was a freshly paved freeway compared to the field of crumbling rocks he had recently crawled across! Compared to moving sluggishly on his hands and knees, his crutch was like a set of wings! While not yet able to move at a normal pace, the small man did cover the ground at a steady pace.
Below his sweeping gaze, yard after yard of dirt, littered with red and green pine needles, passed under his shuffling foot and knobby crutch tip. Glen’s hands hurt from their earlier chafing, but his gloves relieved some of the discomfort. Here and there, roots snaked across the trail’s surface. Glen had no difficulty stepping over them. His keen eyes scanned both the trail ahead and the terrain nearby. Thing were looking up but he still needed to be wary. “If there’s a bear in the area, it’ll help to know it before I stumble into its path.” Glen grimaced. “Or into its mouth!”
Just forty uneventful minutes later, Glen stood at the edge of Maple Creek. Massaging his left armpit, a triumphant grin adorned his dirty face. Only yesterday morning, the two men had refilled their water pouches in this very spot.
Glen shed the pack and set the crutch close by. He pulled the pump from its case and dropped to his knees. Glen scooted across the scrub grass and up to the loose dirt bank. After attaching the hoses, he opened his hydration pack. Holding his good leg out over the water, Glen dropped the pump’s intake into the lazy current and supported the hose on his outstretched foot. The discharge fit snugly into the top of the hydration pack. The tired hiker methodically pushed and pulled the pump’s plunger. It required long, slow strokes. The pump moved water at a snail's pace, but once the life-giving liquid had passed through the filter, it was free of any sediment and bacterial impurity. As the pouch filled, Glen’s mouth began to water in anticipation.
The creek gurgled gently past and the filtered water trickled quietly into the hydration pack, but Glen was still panting. The exertion of the hike had taken its toll on his bruised body. When the second flexible pouch was full, Glen removed the discharge line and guzzled greedily before topping it up again. “If Stan and I are going to survive the next twenty-four hours I need to maximize my own hydration levels while I have water to spare.” The capacity of their combined water pouches totalled only two litres, and Stan would require most of it. Glen shook his head. “I should have brought Stan’s pocket water bottle!” He lamented aloud. The bottle wasn’t especially big, but it would have added to their storage capacity. “Oh well.” The small man sighed and looked at the plump pouches. “I hope this is enough water to keep us alive.”
Glen stowed the cool pouches into his pack. The tired man mechanically moved back to the creek and rinsed the sweat and dust off his face and forehead. The water was cold, but the shock to his skin somehow gave Glen a bracing boost of confidence. “Ahhhhh!” He breathed with audible relief. “That feels much better!” He then rose to stand, his face still dripping fresh creek water. With his crutch tapping out a muted cadence in the powered dirt, the determined Scotsman took one last look at the precious water source, snatched up his backpack and left the creek behind him. “The faster I get Stan to this water source, the better our chances of survival!”