The starter engaged and the truck’s engine came back to life. A third blow pulsed through the truck’s metal skin, this time sliding the rear tires sideways. Stan heard Glen grind a gear into place. The engine roared. Springing over the rocks and grass, the faithful pickup truck regained its footing. Dirt and rocks and shredded grass spun from the wheels, scattering wildly into the air behind them. The grizzly bellowed one final time. The pickup fishtailed forward, gaining momentum.
A minute later, the dusty black truck was bumping and lurching down the narrow excuse for a road, dodging trees and rubbing against encroaching bushes. Yarbo Road was merciless! With each passing second, its ruts, bumps and potholes produced pain for Stan Calderbank. The big man’s face was a moving mask of wrinkles and grimaces.
“How you doing Big C?” A familiar voice rose above the sounds of the chugging engine, squeaking suspension and pulsating tires. Glen had opened the sliding rear window in the cab so he could be heard.
“It’s too… bumpy!” The big man hissed through clenched teeth.
“Sorry. I’ll go slower.” For the past several minutes, the small bruised and bloodied hiker had stared into the rear view mirror, watching with relief as the furious grizzly grew further and further away. Now the silver-tipped terror was gone from sight. “We’re lucky that bear didn’t give chase!”
Stan heard the words, but made no reply. Silently he prayed, “Dear Heavenly Father, thank thee for sparing our lives once more.”
Glen sat in relative comfort, cradling the steering wheel in one hand and the front travois support crutch in the other. Activating the clutch with his left foot was impossible, but on his retreat into the cab, he had brought the discarded chunk of wood. He glanced down at the crutch. “I’m sure glad you came along for the ride.” He said, patting the scuffed bark and smiling a little. “Of course, idling along in first gear doesn’t require your services at the moment.”
Glen considered a moment before replying. He didn’t have much to offer his friend. “Ok.” He said, “I’ll stop and cover you with the emergency blankets.”
The barely moving truck came to a halt and Glen set the hand brake. Warily, he opened the door and stared long and hard down the rutted track. Only the tips of the tallest trees showed movement. Glen drew in a deep breath. His heart was still racing as his good foot touched the earthy surface of the rutted road. In seconds, the wiry Scotsman was in the bed of the pickup. Spreading the twin Mylar sheets sideways over the big man, Glen tucked in the edges and offered some commentary. “Considering how fast we are going, these probably won’t blow off you anyway, but better safe than sorry.”
Stan grunted his agreement.
When Glen was done tucking him in, the big man resembled a giant, plump caterpillar cocooned by a shiny chrysalis. “Snug as a bug in a rug.” Glen observed. In spite of the gravity of the situation, the battered Scotsman grinned. His cocooned friend might easily have been a special effect in a cheap sci-fi movie from the 1970’s! Glen’s grin then melted. The determined man glanced warily about. Satisfied, he clamoured from the bed of the pickup and hopped for the truck’s open door.
The day waned as the truck crawled slowly onward. Glen McPherson manned the helm. Stan Calderbank was his silent, silver-robed cargo. At just five miles per hour, and sometimes even less, Yarbo Road lasted forever! Inch by inch, however, the black truck lurched its way along.
“There it is!” Glen shouted, jubilation spicing his voice. “Fairlight Road!”
Stan lay motionless, unless you counted the perpetual jostling of the ride, his eyes closed, his breathing shallow and measured. At the sound of Glen’s voice, he looked around. Trees towered above him, reaching towards a leaden sky. The summer air was cool. “What time… is it?” He wheezed.
Glen glanced at the battered face of wristwatch. “It’s 4:00pm.”
“Me too big guy, but we’ll be there soon.” Glen turned the wheel and four dusty tires bit into Fairlight Road.
The next twenty miles went by a little faster, but still required nearly three hours of additional torture for Big C. As his faithful truck bumped and bounced over crushed gravel, protruding boulders, gyrating washboards, the occasional rut and several gnarly wooden bridges Stan kept his silent mantra going. “You’re almost there! You’re almost there!” The words echoed down the corridors of his focused mind, seeming to bolster the big man’s will to endure. Somewhere in the middle of the trip, Glen had made a bathroom stop, but their quest had quickly resumed. The monotonous rumble of the rough road under inflated rubber seemed a near permanent event.
“Stan?” For being nearly killed twice that day, Glen sounded unusually positive. In fact he might have just won the lottery.
The big man pried open his tired eyes and stifled a cough. He was in pain, but the Mylar blankets enrobed his broken body in radiant heat, helping to ease some of his extreme discomfort. After the hypothermia, it was good to feel warm again. “What?” Came his weak reply.
“I see the sign to Midnight Lake!”
Stan Calderbank smiled and sighed. He was too spent to speak.
“Ten more minutes and we’ll be there!” Glen chortled. “Mercifully, you haven’t been rained on yet! It could be worse!”
A tear of gratitude slipped from the corner of Stan’s eye. His emotions had been systematically stifled and callously crushed by unrelenting agony for an endless blur of time. Except for the several sweet seconds when Glen had stopped the truck along Fairlight Road, the big man’s body had been in constant motion for hours.
“You’re almost there! You’re almost there!” Stan’s mantra continued to echo down the corridors of his failing mind. The sturdy brick wall, protecting Stan’s concentrated-enduring from pain-induced insanity, was now a translucent membrane, weaker and more fragile than a dragonfly’s wing. “You’re almost there!” The big man desperately clung to sanity, but an impending breach felt imminent! “You’re almost there!”
Twin, unrelenting beasts of prey, thirst and hunger, gnawed at the ragged hikers. Fairlight Road was behind them and Midnight Lake was drawing near. Glen McPherson rubbed at the back of his neck, trying to relieve the knots. He reached for a switch and turned it on. Lights flared onto the road ahead, illuminating the darkening access to the campsite. He moved his hand upward to massage his temples. Lack of water had produced an unwelcome headache. “We’ll be there soon.” He breathed aloud. His empty stomach rumbled. Glen scowled. He hadn’t eaten for hours. “That awful bear will no doubt be chewing on my food by now!” Then, suddenly, his thoughts were interrupted by a glimmer of light.