Davis L. Bigelow
For the next few minutes, both men rested. Finally, Glen crawled from the ground and began to set up their camp. They needed the backpack unlashed from the litter, the tent erected, and some supper made. As the remnants of the day wore on, Glen set himself to work. His first order of business was to get Stan off the tent.
The small man removed the backpack and untied the lashings holding the frazzled tent in place. Next, he moved the litter out of the way. With the travois clear, he helped Stan roll back and forth; bunching the fabric up under one side of the big man before rolling him the other way and pulling the tent all the way out. Just like the night before, the helplessly injured man paid a tremendous toll of pain for such a small manoeuvre.
When the tent was free of the big man’s weight, Glen dug in his pack for the poles. The pegs had been abandoned at their last campsite, but at least the tent would stand without them. Glen scowled. “Putting up this tent is much easier with pegs to hold the corners!” The small man scuttled around, unsuccessfully trying to spread the fabric. Finally, Glen placed baseball sized rocks on the tent’s corners. A few awkward minutes later and the tent was erected.
“Ok Big C, my next trick is to get you inside the tent again.”
“First... I need a... bathroom stop.” The big man said.
Once more, Glen employed the sharp hatchet. First, he created a new digging stick; then a pair of forearm-thick logs for a latrine seat. Glen missed the wonderfully sharp folding saw that he had left behind to conserve weight, but the small axe was definately better than nothing. Soon the wood was cut and the small man scuttled back into camp.
The worn Scotsman sowed the hatchet and stared down at his hands. They were bruised and blistered and scraped and strained. He was kneeling beside his backpack, catching his breath. Glen closed his eyes. “Heavenly Father?” He prayed. “Please help us to live through this night and then help us to be able to cross this deep river in the morning and make it back to our families.”
Silver lines wandered down dirt-stained cheeks as Glen McPherson’s prayer concluded. He wiped his tears with the back of his haggard hand and looked over at his large friend. Stan lay helpless on the ground, silently waiting and watching. As their eyes met, Glen saw silent understanding in the big man’s eyes.
Soon, Stan was again perched above a deep hole, attempting to remain atop the pair of rolling logs that Glen had fashioned for him. The ordeal might have seemed rather funny if it hadn’t been such a privately serious moment in the big man’s life.
When the ordeal was finally over, Glen assisted the panting man off the makeshift latrine. With the big man’s shoulders on the sleeping mat, Glen pulled his friend away from the hole. Following the short trip from the bathroom, Stan collapsed onto the softness of his sleeping mat and attempted to rest. The big man was still groaning as Glen shuffled over to fill the hole.
“Ok Big C.” Glen puffed. “Now let’s get you into the tent.” The wiry Scotsman positioned the torn tent bottom over Stan’s moaning, but unmoving form, and helped the big man emerge inside.
“Thank you.” Was all the big man could offer. Stan Calderbank was spent. His ribs ached. His leg throbbed. The muscles in his fingers and hands spasmmed and cramped from the endless hours of clinging to the travois poles. “Is there no mercy?” The big man’s unspoken question echoed down the empty halls of his mind. “Oh God? Please help me?”
Stan lay still while Glen prepared their supper. Except for two freeze-dried meals, all their food was gone. Tonight’s nourishment would truly be their last supper. The roar of the roiling river made talking a chore, so both men kept mostly silent. Finally, Glen attempted to lighten the mood. “Considering this nasty river, it seems we’re most definitely up a creek without a boat or a paddle!”
Stan grinned, but reality wiped his smile away in an instant. The big man peered up through a trail-enlarged hole in the tent’s roof. The irony was painful. He rested beside a beautiful mountain stream at the end of a warm summer’s day. Nearby, a spectacular cataract of freshly blended, sun-kissed frosting cascaded glacial water over slick black boulders and into secluded pools. Majestic mountain peaks tickled the deep blue sky and marshmallow clouds. Vegetation painted the undulating landscape with infinite variegations of green. Multi-coloured wild flowers proliferated alpine meadows at every turn. “Who could dream up a prettier place to relax and take in the bounties of nature?” The big man closed his eyes and saw the face of his wife. He saw the faces of his children and grandchildren. “I can dream up prettier places!” he thought bitterly. Yes, his surroundings were spectacular, but he loathed the prison they had become. “Just help me get home in one piece.” He prayed though unbidden tears. “Just help both of us to get there.”
Glen knelt beside the stove, looking at his watch. The water in their only pot had been boiling for nearly five minutes, but with the turbidity of the rushing river water, the small man was going to give it another five. They were already in severe distress. The water they consumed needed to be free of any live bacteria and other obnoxious microbes. The weary Scotsman shuddered. “Adding a case of the turkey-squirts to Stan would not be pretty at all!” He shook his head. “No!” He muttered, forcing his thoughts to head elsewhere. “I won’t even imagine that sickening scenario!”
The sun was nearly down and darkness threatened to envelope their campsite in less than thirty-five minutes. From outside the tent, Glen McPherson gazed skyward. The clouds were nearly gone now—just four puffy white specs exiting over the jagged peaks of the Lajord Range. They would disappear any second now. “Well…” Glen broke the silence. “Without cloud cover, there seems little chance of a red sky to promise positive potential for tomorrow.” Glen sounded a bit sarcastic. Stan pulled out of his thoughts and smiled a bit. The alpine air was not very warm, but unspoken thoughts of embracing their loved ones, in just a few more hours, warmed both of their faint hearts. The water in the kettle still boiled. Nearby, Skull Creek churned on.
“Looks like… no rain tonight.” Stan said, gazing skyward through the open tent door. The prediction was, after all, not too surprising, taking into account the big man’s predominant view for past three and a half days.
Glen regarded the big man with interest. “I guess you’ve studied the sky more that any weather man does.”
Stan grinned. “A sky… that clears after… the sun goes down… means rain… before morning.” Glen nodded while Stan continued. “The sky… is clear now… and it is… still light.”
Soon, Glen was hunkered in the tent doorway, spoon-feeding Stan from the steaming Mylar pouch. “It could be worse.” Glen commented, manoeuvring another bite of stew into Stan’s open mouth. “At least we’re eating and still alive… Even if I am in a bad mood.”
Stan smirked a little, but continued to chew. Eating while laying flat on his back was a risky endeavour. The big man had no interest in coughing―should the urge arise. The truth was painful enough though. They were trapped by a river—a river that would have been relatively insignificant had they both been able to walk normally! “It really isn’t fair.” He thought. “One quarter of a mile is all that separates us from escape.” The big man swallowed the bite of rich, juicy stew. “All we have to do is to survive for one more night.”
Once Stan had consumed his portion of supper, Glen dug into his. When he finished eating, Glen limped to the water’s edge. Just like the night before, the small man crushed the two supper pouches and prepared to throw the refuse into the river. It wasn’t much, but even a small advantage over preventing a bear attack was better than nothing. “It’s not so bad.” The small man rationalized as he tossed the crushed Mylar into the current. “Our lives are on the line.” The shimmering balls of Mylar were swept away quickly by the swift stream. Glen watched them go. “And staying alive definitely takes precedence over having a clean environment.”
The garbage hurried quickly out of sight, but Glen remained motionless on the riverbank, gazing at the rapids and lost in thought. The crushed plastic had moved so fast! “I hope that doesn’t happen to us tomorrow.” He thought darkly. “Even with the water level down, dragging Stan across will be a tough assignment.” Glen’s heart was full of dread. “Heavenly Father?” he prayed. “Help me to be able to get us across this river in the morning.” As his quiet prayer left his chapped lips, he felt a little comforted. Whatever happened tomorrow, at least his God had heard his plea.
Glen hobbled back to his pack and prepared to hoist it into a tree. Before he dragged it away, the determined Scotsman took one last drink of cool water from a hydration pouch. Then, with his crutch under one arm and the pack dragging along behind the other, Glen located a tree with a suitable branch and hoisted the light backpack well above the reach of any marauding bear.
With the pack safely lofted in the tree, and the lifting rope secured at an angle to it, Glen shambled back to the tent. He slipped off his dirty boots and set them just outside the door. He placed his crutch on the tent floor, between him and Stan. With the zipper done up, the small man began to settle himself for the night. Stan lay in silence. In the flashlight’s glow, Glen attended to his swollen ankle. After massaging it, the exhausted Scotsman re-wrapped the tensor bandage. Placing his socks, pants and shirt in the corner of the tent the exhausted hiker climbed into his sleeping bag.
Before lying down, Glen carefully placed the pepper spray, the sheathed hatchet and the flashlight between him and Stan. “Our weapons are all right here Big C.” He said warily. “I hope we won’t need them, but just in case we do, either of us can reach them.”
“Thanks.” Came the raspy response. “We just need… protection for… one more night!”
The men were quiet for a second before Glen spoke again. “Big C?”
“Let’s have prayer.”
“Ok.” Stan whispered, “I’m ready.”