Davis L. Bigelow
Creeping soundlessly on cat’s paws, darkness finally overtook the weary hikers. Before the sun had vanished, however, Glen had the tent erected. He had put it up in the dark several times before and utilizing the waning light of day just made the task all that much easier.
With the tent up, Glen pulled out his knife and purposefully cut a slit into the floor. “Alright Big C.” he said, “You may want to grab a breath so I don’t suffocate you.” Stan obediently drew in as much breath as he could hold.
“Ok.” He squeaked, using as little air as possible.
Glen lifted the erected tent into the air and swung it over top of his big friend. Once it had settled into place, the wiry Scot scuttled to the tent door. He quickly located the big man’s bulky bump and slipped the tent floor around him. “Nice.” Stan wheezed. “That only hurt… a little.”
Glen grinned and began to quickly stuff their loose belongings inside. “Let’s just hope any rain water doesn’t run under the tent and get you from below.”
Once his mat and sleeping bag were spread, Glen hobbled around outside the tent to locate the pack’s hanging rope and a suitable rock. Then, tying the fist-sized rock to end of the rope, Glen scouted to locate a tree with a high enough branch. He located a large Fir tree nearby, and in the near darkness, began to toss the weighted end of the rope skyward. Success finally came on his sixth try.
With the rope in place, Glen returned to camp and heaved the pack the short distance to the waiting rope. Under the Fir tree, once again, Glen tied the pack to the rope and prepared to pull. With Stan‘s help, the chore wouldn’t have been too bad, but all he had was himself. “Why does everything have to be so hard?” Glen dug in his pocket and found his flashlight. Shining the beam here and there, he searched until he located a low branch on a nearby tree. The bough appeared to be strong enough, and Glen wasted no time in introducing the dangling rope to it. The day before, when he had hoisted Stan’s pack, Glen had looped the rope once around a neighbouring branch, taking advantage of the mechanics of friction to assist him. Tonight, would be no different. With his gloves on, Glen began the tug-o-war. Slowly the dangling, dead weight rose until it the pack was high enough. From the claw marks in the milky bark of the towering Larch tree in Green Canyon, Glen knew how high the pack had to be to remain out of reach of a roaming bear.
Glen shone the narrow flashlight beam onto the dangling backpack. “I think that’s high enough.” He said approvingly and began trying off the free end of the rope. A flashlight inspection revealed secure knots and Glen wasted no time in stowing the light, retrieving his crutch and making off for the tent. His inviting sleeping bag, complete with an inviting, soft sleeping mat awaited him. Mercifully, there were no rocks to lay on tonight. Glen knew that for a fact. Before he spread out the tent, he had checked!
The limping Scotsman made his way back to the tent. The handle of the hatchet, mounted on his belt, slapped at his leg as he moved. The journey was only 25 yards—not the 100-yard recommended distance to separate your backpack from your campsite. In the darkness, however, Glen no longer cared. Physically, he was spent. Mentally, he was beaten. Only one more problem remained to be solved before he could chase his dreams into blissful sleep. He was starving!
Glen scuttled to the creek and dipped several cups of cool water into the aluminum pot. His mouth watered in anticipation. “Supper’s a comin’ Big C.” He called out, shuffling past the tent door.
Glen easily assembled the stove and attached the fuel bottle. Rummaging in a tiny pocket on his fanny pack, he produced a waterproof cylinder containing matches. Five seconds later, a tiny, but hot fire blazed in the darkness. The stove fire’s blue and yellow glow danced through the open door and onto the tent walls. Their second hot meal in three days was in the making.
Shadows from the fire’s illumination flickered across Stan’s swarthy face. He was so very tired. Laying still, breathing shallow breaths, the big man stared out the tent door at Glen. After three days with nearly no food, he was finally feeling hungry. “I guess that’s what a broken femur does to a guy!” He thought wryly. As the stove’s heat seeped into the pot of cold creek water, hope began to replace the big man’s doubts. “The trail to the truck has two more river crossings.” He thought. “At least we’ll have a steady water supply.” The big man’s memories of his hike into Green Canyon were still crisp and he took a short walk down memory lane. “The pathway is mostly a gentle downhill slope. That will aid Glen in dragging me.” He recalled the crossing of Maple Creek and his mind raced to the banks of their next crossing. “Crossing Paisley Brook will be OK, but fording Skull Creek will be another matter.” When they had crossed Skull Creek, on the way to Green Canyon, the water had been a twelve-inch deep torrent, nearly forty feet wide. “Going through a foot of icy water on this travois will be tough! And then there’s the climb up the hill to the truck.”
As Stan’s thoughts swirled, Glen prepared the freeze-dried suppers. When Glen poured the boiling water inside the two Mylar pouches, steam violently erupted into the cool air. With the pouches resting carefully on the ground, the weary Scotsman lit the candle lantern and extinguished the stove. The candle’s warm, yellow glow flickered in the darkness, dancing on the tent wall and nearby foliage.
Glen moved into the tent and fastened the lantern to a short string hanging from a small loop sewn into the ceiling. He pause a moment and remembered installing the string three years before, on the tent’s very first adventure. “Those were better days.” He said softly. Suddenly the small man frowned. As the light illuminated the tent’s ceiling, Glen saw something he didn’t like. Numerous holes! All the dragging over the boulders had damaged the fabric. Most of the holes were tiny, but if it rained, they’d have a problem. The frustrated Scotsman let out a weary sigh. “When this is all over, I’ll be needing a new tent!” Shaking his head, Glen crawled back to attend the food.
Following five minutes of rehydration, the food was ready. Under the flickering flame, Glen carefully fed his prone friend. Stan chewed methodically. It seemed like the man was learning how to eat for the first time.
“I need… some more… Tylenol.” Stan muttered between bites.
Glen produced the nearly empty bottle from his fanny pack and shone the flashlight beam inside. He counted the tablets. Glen shook two pills into his hand and held them up to Stan’s lips. “Here.” He said. “There are only eight left after these.”
“Ugh!” Stan grunted, letting the tablets drop in and then swallowing. “I hope… I make it.”
Stan finished eating, and Glen chowed down on his own supper. It was already getting cold. “The night’s upon us and it looks like it’ll be a cool one.” The small man said, speaking through a mouthful of cheese laden macaroni.
In the candle light, Stan nodded his silent agreement.
Glen gulped the last bite and licked his spoon several times to get it clean. “Well that was a much needed meal.” He stated. Glen held his spoon up in the light to inspect it. Satisfied, he stashed the utensil in his fanny pack. The weary Scotsman gathered up the two empty Mylar food pouches, grabbed his crutch and rose. It would be a serious mistake to leave such tantalizing smells anywhere close to their campsite. “I’ll be right back.” He said.
Following his flashlight beam, Glen made his way downstream, keeping close to the edge of Maple Creek. After a hundred feet, he paused to crush the Mylar packages in his hand. He had been taught to pack out any garbage he brought, but he was about to make an exception. He was not about to lower the packs just to put their trash out of reach of a hungry bear. Tonight, staying alive took precedence. Glen frowned as he tossed the two balls of plastic into the current. He watched as the discarded garbage drifted out of sight, miniscule bits of twilight dancing off the wrinkled silver. Then, the darkness swallowed them up.
The tired Scotsman turned and headed for the tent. The muscles in his face were slack. His eyelids were heavy. In a minute or so he was there, removing his boots and then the tensor wrap that cradled his swollen ankle. “My ankle’s beginning to look a bit less black and blue.” He observed aloud. “But it still can’t bear any weight.” Glen gently massaged the bruised flesh for a moment and then re-wrapped it. Stan said nothing.
The tent zipper hummed, sealing in the two men. Stan was settled and all that remained was for Glen to turn in. “Goodnight Stan.” The weary man whispered. “I hope you sleep well.”
Glen peeled off his pants and removed the pepper spray and hatchet from his belt. “Here.” He said, raising the bottle into the candle light for Stan to see and then setting it down. “The bear spray is right here between us.” Glen set the pressurized bottle against the edge of Stan’s hand so he could feel its location.
“Ok.” Stan replied. “I hope we… don’t need it.”
“Me too, but better safe than sorry.” Glen trailed off. “The flashlight and hatchet are here too.” He added, setting the items alongside the bottle of pepper spray. “You wanna have prayer with me before we go to sleep?”
When Glen had finished praying, he blew out the lantern’s flame. The weary man then nestled into the cocoon of his sleeping bag and exhaled a long warm breath. Before the humid heat penetrated his sore and exhausted frame, and extinguished his consciousness with some much-needed sleep, he spoke, “Goodnight Big C.”