Davis L. Bigelow
First, Glen pulled out a flashlight and then untied the backpack from the travois frame. The night was deepening quickly and the dew was falling fast. “I’m sure it’s alright with you.” Glen said, “But I think we’d better just leave the tent and both sleeping mats under you for the night.”
“Getting anything out from under you tonight will just cause you too much pain. And besides,” Glen added, “then we’d have to waste time in the morning redoing the travois. I’ll just level the ground and sleep on the rocks.”
Glen frowned at the thought of bedding down on the rocks again, but kept his thoughts to himself. “At least it’ll be a little more comfortable than last night!” He thought. The small man withdrew the sleeping bags from his backpack and began to untie them.
“Guess what?” The big man asked, breaking into Glen’s ponderings.
Glen stopped unzipping the main pouch of his pack to listen. “What?”
“The dew… is falling. No rain… before morning.”
Glen extended a bare hand to touch a nearby rock. Sure enough, a tiny brush stroke of water lay there. He sighed, obviously relieved. “I guess that means it won’t be a mistake to keep the tent under you.” He concluded, a wry smile on his face. “That’ll make things a whole lot easier for tomorrow!”
“I need a few… Tylenol before… we go to sleep.”
“I’ll get you some as soon as I cover you up.”
Stan nodded as Glen covered him with a sleeping bag and then protected it with an emergency blanket. Glen worked as quickly as he could, but it still took a while. Soon, the Mylar space blanket was held along the edges by a row of fist-sized rocks. The cooling breeze, puffing down the canyon, would make no difference to Stan tonight.
As soon as the warmth hit Stan, his eyelids grew heavy. His day had been an marathon of pain! “Tomorrow will be an ultra-marathon!”
“Here are three Tylenol.” Glen offered. Stan downed them in a jiffy, washing them into his stomach with the last of their precious water.
Glen frowned as he stowed the empty flask and then immediately went to work on his own sleeping arrangements. The flashlight beam illuminated the uneven rocks, causing animated shadows to dance in the gathering darkness. It didn’t require an engineering degree to see that a bit of ground levelling was in order to create a level sleeping area. As the exhausted Scotsman scuttled and scraped and tossed and filled, his stone bed slowly took shape.
Glen spread his sleeping bag over the relatively flat surface of discarded mountain rock and covered it with the other Mylar blanket. Since he wasn’t yet inside the bed, he pushed the centre of the plastic sheet together, creating some slack for his body to fit in. In a few more minutes the rock perimeter, holding down the Mylar, took shape. Glen felt thirsty, but nothing could be done about that – at least not unless he was willing to use his filtering pump to recycle some urine. Glen screwed up his face at the idea. “I would have to be knocking at death’s door before I embraced that option!”
Pulling his pack close to the top of his sleeping bag, so the bottle of pepper spray was near at hand, Glen carefully slipped off his boots. His ankle still throbbed, but at least he would be a little more comfortable in the warmth of his sleeping bag. In seconds, Glen had the sprained ankle unwrapped. The LED illumination highlighted the few patches of unbruised skin. Glen tentatively rubbed the aggravated joint. It was so tender! He was so tired! After a several minutes of lightly massaging the severe discoloration, Glen re-wrapped the ankle and gingerly slid his sock back into position. Scraped, bruised and exhausted, the small man switched off the meagre flashlight beam and nestled into his lumpy bed – clothes and all. “Glen?” Stan’s voice rose over the crinkling of Glen’s Mylar covering.
“I’ve been thinking.” The big man trailed off. “We are out of water… and still a long way… from the trail.” This was information the worn Scotsman knew all too well, but he listened politely while Stan continued. From the big man’s breathy voice and laboured gasps, Glen knew that Stan’s broken ribs were still greatly paining him. “I think… that you’re not… going to be able… to pull me… all the way… to Maple Creek….” Stan paused to catch an extra breath. “I think… you should go… back to the creek… for more water… before you move me… any further.”
The stony campsite went silent for several seconds. Glen pondered the suggestion. It was true that they were out of water. The two litres of liquid Glen had lugged back to Stan were mostly inside the big man. The last good drink Glen had taken was at Maple Creek that afternoon.
A light breeze caressed twin chapped faces. Both men stared upwards at an inky black sky. “Maybe with the cooler temperatures, I will be OK.” Glen finally offered, not really convinced himself, but looking for a second opinion. It was true that Glen would have more endurance if he had additional water, but the enormous amount of time it would take to fetch more was unacceptable to him. They had to get to medical help while he still had the ability to get them there!
Finally, Stan spoke again, “You might… be able to make it… without water… but it’s risky.” Stan shifted his broken body, groaning from the effort. Once he was settled again, he continued, “If you get… too dehydrated… we could both die. You shouldn’t… chance it.”
A long minute of silence passed before Glen replied. He really didn’t want to waste the time it would take to get more water, but what if Stan was right? If he did get too dehydrated while pulling Stan out, he might not be able to make it back to the creek. The frustrating fact of the matter was that Glen was already feeling dehydrated! “Ok.” He reluctantly muttered. “I guess it’s better to be slower and safer than faster and dead!”
“Sorry.” Stan said. “I wish… things were better.”
“Goodnight Glen… And thank you… for coming back… for me.”
The small man swallowed hard. “It’s ok.” He managed. “You would have done the same for me.”
A moment of silence passed before Glen spoke again. “Do you wan to join me in prayer before we go to sleep?”
Except for the gentle rustle of the Mylar blankets in the alpine breeze, their campsite fell silent around them. With the heartfelt prayer concluded, Glen pulled the flap of his sleeping bag over his face and drew in a long slow breath and willed his body to relax. He was so tired and still so far from civilization. “At least I’m warm!” He thought, trying to keep himself positive about something. His friend seemed to be trying hard to keep up his sense of humour. The least he could do was to follow Stan’s lead. Glen silently scolded himself, but as he closed his eyes, one thought hung on to the last fading bit of his consciousness. “I hope a bear doesn’t bother us tonight.”