Davis L. Bigelow
Dawn crept quietly over the Mistawasis Mountains, first striking the snow capped tip of High Tor. Once the light had condescended to touch the lesser peaks, Ravenscrag Mountain found illumination too. The thick nimbostratus clouds were giving way to the power of the sun and were beginning to break up and move eastward. In a few minutes, several shafts of sunlight would once again reach down to touch the rugged landscape. A mile away from Ravenscrag Mountain, sandwiched between the Lajord and Mistawasis mountain ranges, two bruised and broken men slept. Their battered tent stood silently at the southern end of Green Canyon. The chilled waters of Maple Creek churned nearby, swollen to a torrent by the precipitation. Overnight, the rain had ceased but the ground was still damp and soft.
Stan’s eyes flickered open. The air was cold and the humidity high. His ribs felt slightly improved, but the throbbing in his broken leg was like the nearby creek—it hadn’t stopped once during the night.
In the faint light of dawn, the ceiling of the tent showed its punctures as pinpricks of light against the dark interior of the cool sleeping chamber. Sometime in the night, the candle lantern had burned itself out. Stan eyed the gold lantern housing. It hung motionless from its string. “At least the wind isn’t blowing.” He thought. “Thankfully, the rain’s stopped too.” Stan closed his eyes again and offered a silent prayer. Not only was he still was alive and warm, but there was also hope for him and Glen to make it to medical help before the day was out. He had much to be discouraged about, but in spite of it all, he would try to be positive.
Soon, Glen stirred. His barely audible voice disturbed the tranquility within the tent, but he just muttered something incomprehensible. Stan smirked. “Glen’s probably enjoying some sweet dream. He’ll wake up soon enough.” The big man’s grin melted. “Then, he’ll have to resume the drudgerous duty of being my personal packhorse.” Stan silently studied the tent’s ceiling and tried to glimpse the sky through the largest tear. “No.” He thought, “I won’t disturb my dreaming friend just yet.”
Glen settled into a quiet snore. Stan just listened and let his thoughts run free. “Glen’s given so much of himself already.” The big man let his memory trace their journey back over the past several days. Then he took a shallow breath and soundlessly breathed the words, “Heavenly Father, thank you for Glen.”
Another ten minutes drifted by before Glen McPherson broke from the sweet squeeze of slumber. He sucked in a deep breath of cool mountain air and cast his eyes about the tent. “Mornin.” Stan whispered, meeting his gaze.
“Good morning Big C.” Glen sounded half cheerful. “How did you sleep?”
“Not bad… considering my leg... kept waking me up... every few minutes.”
Glen sat up and touched the ceiling. It was dry. “When did the rain stop?”
“It’s been a... few hours.” Stan dragged his left arm from within the sleeping bag and consulted his watch. “Three-and-a-half… hours since I… first noticed.”
Glen nodded. “Well, that’s good news.” He stated. “I was dreading the prospect of pulling you in the rain. Crossing Paisley Brook and Skull Creek will get us plenty wet enough!”
It was Stan’s turn to nod in agreement. “Glen?” he asked, dramatically changing the subject. “Sorry... but I need to… use the bathroom.”
Glen quickly responded, but the big man was not yet finished dispensing his request. “I need more… than cracks… in the rocks.” Stan finished.
Glen stopped, grimacing before he could stop himself. He bit his tongue and pulled on his chilled socks and pants. “Ok.” He said, now more or less composed. “Let me see what I can do.”
Glen slid his arms into his coat and unzipped the tent door. In seconds, his stiff fingers had his boots laced. Snatching up his makeshift crutch and the hatchet, Glen rose to stand, groaning as his muscles protested. This project was going to take a few minutes.
Moving as quickly as he could, Glen scanned the area. “The closer I can get the bathroom to Stan, the better it’ll be.” His mind reeled. “But what should I do?” Suddenly, he had it. With a workable plan forming, Glen scuttled over to the edge of the forest.
The small man unsheathed the hatchet and stuffed the leather sheath into the back pocket of his pants. He then laid the sharp blade into a stocky chunk of deadfall. He needed a digging stick. After numerous chopping strokes, Glen had the tip of the four-foot stick sharpened to a point. The tip resembled a ridiculously oversized flat blade screwdriver. Glen inspected it. “A bit crude, but it should work.” He stated, sounding like a judge at a primitive tool making contest.
“Next, I need two pieces of wood.” Glen’s eyes darted about the wooded area again. It was only a minute before he was chopping at a thick fallen log. It took some time, but the axe was sharp. Wood slowly splintered away under the incessant cadence of steel striking wood in the morning stillness. Like a frenzied beaver, Glen used the hatchet to gnaw off two stout chunks of the log. With two two-foot pieces on the ground, Glen stowed the hatchet in its case and threaded the sheath onto his belt once more. Grabbing the chunks of wood, he tucked them under his right arm and jammed his crutch under his left.
Returning to retrieve the digging stick, Glen soon arrived back at the tent doorway. “Well Stan,” he said. “I think you’ll be able to do your business right here.” The limping Scotsman panted, and set to work.
Digging stick in hand, Glen chipped away at the rain-softened dirt, pausing every few seconds to scoop it out with his hand. In no time at all, he created a hole a foot deep. Stan looked on as Glen positioned the two cut-off logs, one on each side of the hole. Glen stared down at the crudely constructed latrine, frowning but nodding approvingly at his handiwork. From his Boy Scout training, he knew that latrine pits were supposed to be eighteen to twenty-four inches deep, but this one would do for a one-time use.
“Ok Stan.” He said, trying to lighten the mood. “Your throne awaits.” Glen gave his best imitation of game show girl’s wave and smiled. Stan just rolled his eyes and shook his head.
The big man held up an open palm. “I’m sure... it will work.”
“I hope so, cuz our options are pretty limited.”
Glen ducked inside the tent and quickly removed his sleeping bag, mat, flashlight, lantern and the unused bottle of pepper spray. A few seconds later, the tent was again in the air and floating to the damp ground several feet away from the big man. Glen ducked back into the tent and pulled a half a roll of toilet paper from an inside pocket. “At least the roll’s in a sealed plastic bag!”
The next few minutes involved a lot of suffering for Stan. The incessant throbbing in his broken leg was relentless! Slowly, but surely, the big man moved the three feet from his sleeping mat to the unstable log platform. Glen supported Stan’s back, while the logs threatened to roll out from under him.
When the ordeal was over, Stan manoeuvred off the pit and collapsed on a sleeping mat, panting hard. Glen filled the pit with the dirt he had dug out of it.
“Good thing we’re never going to write a book about this!” Glen remarked, trying to relieve the awkwardness of the moment. Stan just offered a fleeting smile and nodded. “How does my wife do this?” Glen asked under his breath. Lillie had worked as an assisted living worker for many years, but up until today, Glen had not fully appreciated the job she did. “I just hope this is one-time thing!” He muttered under his breath.
With Stan temporarily settled back onto his sleeping mat, Glen hobbled over to the pack and lowered it. Using the pack hanging rope as a clothesline, The small man quickly hung up the sleeping bags and one of the mats to dry. He shuffled back to the tent for his final trip. Crawling back inside, he gathered the crinkly Mylar back into his fanny pack and then began to strike the tent. As Glen moved to pull out the poles, he stopped short. His hurry on hold, the limping man stared down at the dirt. From the smooth ground, several grizzly tracks screamed out in silent exclamation.
Glen glanced furtively around. Nothing moved. He looked back at the tracks for further examination. There was no water in the depressions, and that meant one very disturbing thing. “Stan.” Glen tried to speak without alarm in his voice. “What time did you say that the rain stopped?”
Stan thought a moment before replying. “It was three-thirty… when I first noticed… that the rain had… stopped. I don’t know… what time… it actually did. Why?”
There was a pregnant pause. Finally Glen spoke. “There are fresh grizzly tracks where the back wall of our tent was.” He admitted. “They are so fresh that there’s no water in any of them.”
Stan’s brow furrowed deeply. Glen looked stricken. The wary Scotsman scanned his own tracks. They appeared to have been made at the same time as the bear made his. Abandoning the poles, Glen made a rapid shuffle back to Stan. He scooped up the bottle of pepper spray and threaded its black nylon case onto his belt. Together with the hatchet, he now carried two weapons. Stan gazed on as the stressed Scotsman re-buckled his leather belt.
“The bear… is probably… watching us.” Stan wheezed.
Glen nodded in agreement. It seemed painfully obvious that the bear had walked past the vulnerable men only minutes before they had awakened. “Perhaps it was even a matter of seconds.” Glen shuddered. Adrenalin fuelled him now.
“Here.” Glen’s exit strategy was rapidly falling into place. He dug out the bottle of Tylenol and gave Stan two tablets. The big man swallowed the pills and Glen went for their water. “I’m glad I filled these pouches last night.”
The small man was bordering on hysteria, but he forced himself to voice his thoughts clearly. “We have to leave as quickly as we can. Bears are unpredictable, and this particular one clearly has little if any fear of us.” Stan nodded but remained silent as Glen continued. “Since we’re going to reach the truck by nightfall, we should leave anything else we can spare to entertain the wandering bear.”
Glen carried some water back to Stan. Between the two of them, they emptied the one litre pouch in under a minute. Glen then moved to the tent and finished pulling out the poles. The gentle southerly breeze caressed the fabric as he lofted it and hauled it to the rope clothesline.
With all their wet things on the line, Glen focussed on his backpack. “I’m going to leave as much as I can.” He said repeating himself without realizing it. “We should make it to the truck tonight and there’s no point in me dragging any more than I absolutely have to.”
“Ok.” said Stan. The big man was in total agreement, but even if he hadn’t been, he was in no position to argue anyway. Glen was right, however. They had to get to safety before the bear became bold enough to harm them. The longer they took to flee, the more inevitable a close encounter became. “And an encounter with a bear would end badly at best.” The big man thought darkly.
Big C lay helpless on the ground. Glen had done everything for him for days now. Frustration burned through him. “It just isn’t fair!” He thought. “How would it be if a bear attacked Glen and I’m forced to watch?” Stan willed the tragic spectacle from his mind, but it refused to leave so easily. The fact was, the dark thought was a definite prelude to a potential reality.
Glen continued to sort things. He spilled everything from the backpack. Moving to the sleeping bags, he took one and stuffed it into his pack. Then he spread the tent out beside Stan and laid the second sleeping mat on top of it. He glanced around again, just to be sure they were still alone, then went back to work. “Ok big fella.” Glen said, trying to sound cheerful. “Let’s get you onto this travois.”
The two men worked together and after considerable effort, Stan was atop the tent and nestled on the double set of sleeping mats. Glen hobbled to the immobile travois and dragged it over top of the big man. The worried Scotsman slid the litter into the perfect position and then began the process of tying the tent to it. “I hope I can stretch this tent tight enough.” Glen muttered. “I expect that dragging your hind parts on the ground would probably be a bad thing!”
It required several minutes of trying and retying before the litter was ready to support Stan. The slice Glen had cut in the tent floor proved to be challenging to work around, but the small man managed it.
With the job completed, Glen covered Stan with his sleeping bag. As an emergency measure, he put the tent poles into the pack and then thought about the rest. They still needed to eat and drink, so he stuffed in the stove, two freeze-dried suppers and two energy bars. From the discard pile, Glen pulled the pot, and the two hydration pouches, but the rest was going to remain. One water pouch was empty and Glen paused to consider. “One litre will be enough to get us to Paisley Brook where I can refill both pouches.” Without further consideration, he stuffed the pouches and the pump into the waiting pack.
They were ready to go, but Glen’s ankle was throbbing mercilessly. The injured joint needed some serious rest and relaxation. The frustrated man sat down on the damp soil. Shedding his boot and sighing, Glen spun the tensor wrap off. The black and blue ankle was still very swollen. The only positive part was that some of the swelling around the edges of the damage had begun to go down. The small man curled up his lip and his thoughts snarled inside his racing mind. “If I just had the use of both my legs, Stan and I would’ve already made it to the hospital.” Glen’s brow furrowed deeply. “And this prowling bear would not even matter!”
Glen blew out a frustrated breath. Holding up one end of the tensor bandage, he removed all the twists. Then, he rolled the wrap and began to apply it to his ankle once more. I seconds, his ankle was protected anew and his boot re-laced.
Turning over onto his knees and then standing, Glen tentatively tried to put weight on the injured ankle. He balanced on his good leg and crutch. As the dangling foot touched the ground, even before any weight was on it, Glen winced in pain. “Perhaps it is broken?” he thought glumly, gazing down at the injured limb. “No matter what its status, the ankle is still useless to me!” Glen scowled and sighed again.
“Almost ready.” Glen said, pulling himself from his unsuccessful attempt to diagnose his ruined ankle. The handicapped Scot hobbled over to his backpack and dragged the light pack to the bottom of the travois. In moments, he had the red pack lashed securely in place. “Ok Stan. Time to leave.” While Glen scuttled to the head of the litter and lifted, Stan tried to mentally prepare himself. The pack mule portion of the day had begun!