His feet were cold.
They were always cold now.
His wool socks had become threadbare from constant use. His lightweight Chinese made boots had started falling apart after the 5th day of hard travel. Not that he had gotten very far. He had a new pair of the same quality, lightly broken in so as not to cause blisters, in C1.
C1, that is cache 1, was only half a mile away, but it might as well be a thousand. They were between him and the contents that would ease his escape. He shivered in the cold dawn air, damp with the morning rain that had awaken him, his poncho blown aside in the night. He must have rolled over in his disturbed sleep, letting the wind pluck at the edges of his poncho until it triumphantly pulled it away, exposing him to the elements.
He was so tired that he had not noticed until he was awakened by the dogs barking. That meant he needed to move, undetected if he could...
So there he was, laying in the thickest part of the underbrush, listening to the sounds of the woods in winter. If only he had not put off repacking his get home bag for winter conditions. He “was” going to do it… this weekend? He had almost lost track of how many days he had been on the run.
He had repacked his bag in early summer, taking out the wool socks and replacing them with brand new cotton ones, 4 pair to be exact. Cotton briefs and tee-shirts, dyed brown to make them less noticeable, poncho and poncho blanket, replaced the wool blanket and thermal underwear he had packed last winter. He had gotten sloppy, lazy. Who would have thought that they would have moved so fast!
His shoes were falling apart, the soles tied on with 550 cord. He began to retie them every night before falling to sleep, just in case. The first time they had fallen apart he had been running across a patch of rocks, trying to get out of sight of an approaching chopper.
He had made it to the brush, barely, but his feet paid the price with lacerations and punctures from the sharp rocks. It had laid him up for acouple of days, waiting for the pain to lessen. He doctored them up with Bag balm and gauze, and then put his last clean pair of cotton socks over the gauze. He was hungry now too, most every moment that he was awake.
He had packed his bag with 14 days worth of homemade ration packs, but had been on half rations since day 7, when he realized he could not cross the half mile or so to C1. There was C2, a stealthy three day walk to the east, but he had to cross the damn road to work his way to it also, there just wasn’t enough cover down the road to chance it and now that they had dogs…
He looked around him as he lay there, learning his surroundings almost unconsciously. There ahead of him he saw hope, in the form of a dilapidated cattail flower. He crawled ahead slowly until he reached the plants, and began to dig up the roots with his hand trowel. The main equipment in his pack did not change throughout the year, just his clothing and footwear. If they had not surprised him at work, he would have had a more extensive bag of gear and food to escape with.
His get home bag was not designed as a bugout bag, just a stop gap to get him back to home base. He was armed, if you could call it that, with a .38 five shot revolver with a 3 inch barrel. No extra cartridges as he wasn’t anticipating fighting his way home. He was able to get to his hometown, 5 miles away, by following the railroad tracks just off the right-of-way, out of sight, in the woods.
But now he needed to cross the road so that he could re-supply from his carefully hidden cache. C1, one of ten strategically placed at intervals that would take no more than 1 day to reach at a cautious pace. As long as you were on the right side of the road!
He peeled the cattail roots and began to slice them up into small, chewable sized pieces. He drew his poncho about him, making a small tent-like shelter, and lit his candle stove. It used the small tea-light candles that you could get at any dollar store. The candle began to heat the tin can stove and the hot metal in turn warmed the inside of the poncho until he was quite comfortable.
The candles would burn for about an hour before going out, time enough to warm some water and make a little instant coffee. He hated instant but it was better than nothing. And with his dwindling reserves, he felt lucky to have what he did. He had only three days left at half rations, so he had to do something soon.
His best bet was to backtrack to the bridge west of town and cross the small river at that point. He could then hole up in the deeper woods and dry out his clothes before hypothermia set in. He would have to chance a fire, there was no way around it. Hopefully he could find some dry hardwood so that there would be little smoke. He would dig a Dakota fire pit and that would help keep the flames from being visible from the road. He would also build a fire bed from the coals after he dried out his clothes.
Gathering his supply of cattail roots up and putting them into a bread sack that he used for a forage bag, he moved out cautiously back the way he had so laboriously traveled a few days before. He would stop and listen every hundred feet or so, to see if he could hear any sounds of discovery or pursuit.
He traveled this way for hours, cautiously stepping to avoid making noise, but failing nonetheless. Traveling through un-cleared woods in the winter was not a very quiet undertaking. When he reached the bridge, he stopped for the night, as it was getting dark. It was only 2:30pm, but a storm was rolling in and he wanted daylight to cross the rain swollen river.
He was counting on the rain to wash away his scent so that the dogs would not detect him. In a suitable brush thicket he made camp, tying off his poncho to form a small tent under which he would spend the night. He carefully laid out his sheet of 4 mil plastic ground cloth, so as not to poke any holes in it. Around the drip edge of his poncho, he dug a small ditch to channel the rain away from where he lay. Fortunately, there were plenty of small alder branches about, buried under this seasons maple leafs and still dry as summer.
Just outside of his shelter, he dug a Dakota fire pit and built a small fire to heat some water and hopefully direct some heat into his shelter with a reflector he made from a scrap piece of plywood he found near the bridge. Now he settled in to wait, as the storm broke around him, with more wind and rain in store.
He had a pile of small branches stacked up so he was ready for the night. His water boiled and he made a dinner of cheesy mashed potatoes and raw cattail root. He cleaned up after himself and lay back, stomach full, and began to reflect on how he got here in the first place.
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