“Hey, Eddie, everything ok?” asked his partner, Dusty.
“I don’t know…” said Eddie. “I guess maybe I am just a little off kilter this morning. How about another cup of coffee before we break camp?” It was time to move up river, as they didn’t like to stay in one camp more than a few days at a time during the winter months.
“Right-o” said Dusty. He then set about making another small pot of java for the two of them. Eddie proceeded to gather up his gear and stow it while Dusty tended to the fire and the coffee pot. They finished their coffee in silence. Eddie still felt that something was wrong, out of place in the environment in which he lived, like a soldier marching out of step with his platoon.
“Something’s going down Dusty, but I am not sure what it is.” said Eddie. Dusty glanced at his friend and saw the look of concern on his face. He felt a jolt of alarm at this new revelation. Eddie was not one to spook easily, he was normally a rock steady guy. He had a way though, of sniffing out ambushes and things that appeared out of place.
‘I’m heading out. Meet me on the other side of the trestle” said Eddie.
“Ok, don’t be in such a hurry.” said Dusty, a little concerned about his friends unease.
“Not in a hurry…”said Eddie, “I’m on point!” He grinned back at his friend, slung his pack over his shoulders and disappeared through the underbrush. “Dusty grunted and finished his cup of coffee. Not wanting to waste any, he poured the remaining in a small thermos and then stowed the rest of his gear. He then shouldered his pack and started off after his friend.
As Eddie moved down the trail towards the railroad tracks he began to move slower, silent as a bird of prey, and just as deadly, a shadow only on the earth. In the distance he could hear the drumming of rotors as they thrashed the air. “A chopper, heading west towards us, 150 knots…” thought Eddie. A moment later the bird streaked down the tracks at about 50 meters altitude.
“Damn!” thought Eddie. “That was close, nap–o-d-erth! Just what the hell is going down?” He looked to his rear, but there was no sign of Dusty yet. Moving out slowly, he broke cover and moved up onto the tracks. About 30 meters ahead was the trestle. He hated crossing the trestle during the day, but there was no way around it unless they took the raft, and there was no cover for hiding the raft on the other side. So, it was the trestle.
He moved out up the tracks and stopped in the brush a mere 10 feet from the trestle. Squatting in the brush he scanned the hillside opposite the trestle. The sniper hidden there was obscured by a dead maple leaf hanging in the brush off to his left. He sat there for a minute, listening and smelling the lazy breeze from the east. Not finding anything amiss, hesitantly, Eddie crept out onto the trestle, out to meet his ending. His last thought as he reached mid-trestle was “Something is very wrong here…” A heartbeat later, he was hanging by his foot as his lifeblood flowed from him.
He hefted the finished spear in one hand, trying to find its balance point. Once he found it, he marked the area covered by his hand, and shaved it down with his knife until it was about an 1/8” smaller in diameter than the rest of the shaft. He then drilled a hole in the shaft with a red hot nail, large enough to thread a length of 550 cord through. After doing that, he wrapped the reduced area with rabbit skin, fur side out. He then finished up by wrapping the paracord around the fur and making a wrist lanyard where he tied it off.
He had shaved the wooden shaft down to about 2” in diameter for the full length, minus about 16” from the thickest end. Here he cut into the shaft with his saw, making cuts about 1” deep for the whole 16”. He turned the spear over and made duplicate cuts on the opposite side of the blade. He then split out these cuts and shaved it down until the blade portion was about ¾” thick. Then he beveled the edges until they were almost knife-edge sharp. Once he had the proportions of the blade completed to his liking, he hardened the blade by holding it above the coals of his campfire.
He felt better now that the spear was complete; not quite so vulnerable and more capable in case of an attack by wildlife. He then lay down and drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
While he slept, snow clouds began to build up, and before dawn they once again started to drop their load of fluffy white water, so cold and clingy, hanging from every bush and branch. By the time he awoke, 4 more inches had fallen and there was no end of it in sight. He lay there, slowly awakening to the sound of snow sliding off his poncho and dropping from overloaded branches.
After about twenty minutes of this, he sat up and hit his head on the weighted down poncho, drooping heavily in the center. He pushed out on it and dislodged the built up snow. Looking around him, he thought to himself that it was time to move on. He needed to cross the swamp soon before he was completely out of food and before it snowed much more.
So he stirred up the nearly dead coals, adding some tinder from his sleeping pad, and soon had a blaze going in the pit. He scooped up a Heineken pot of fresh snow, packing it into the pot tightly. He then placed it into the recess he had carved into the side of the fire pit to hold and heat the contents of his pot, thus not having to place it directly in the coals.
The snow melted and the water heated quickly this way, and soon he had a hot cup of coffee and a granola bar for breakfast. His rations had dwindled each day and now he was down to mostly hot drinks and a few snack items. Getting food was a must, and crossing the swamp was imperative to finding food. He decided to break camp and check his snares while gathering preps for crossing the swamp. He reluctantly filled in his fire pit and grabbing his spear, he headed off to the first of his three remaining snares.
The first one he arrived at was still empty, so he dismantled it and stowed it in his pack. Picking up his spear he trudged off to the next one. It too was empty and he stowed it away with the first. This snare was set up near a second growth fir tree that had come down in a wind storm. From it he cut 4 chunks of bark, nearly an 1-1/2” thick, 12” wide and 16” long.
He bound them up in a bundle which he tied with a length of paracord and strapped to his pack, and then proceeded to the last snare, which was nearest to the swamp. Eureka! He had snared a large rabbit which he proceeded to gut out, choosing to skin it later. After completing this chore, he felt quite pleased with himself, having secured food for the next 24 hours.
Securing the rabbit to one of his packs D-rings took only a moment and then he was off again, heading down the path he had followed the previous day following the edge of the swamp. The snow was getting deeper as the day wore on, being nearly halfway to his knees and making for slow going. Travel would be much faster if he were in amongst the trees, but there was no way to cross the swamp there, so he kept to his path.
He was nearly to the place where he had turned around the previous day when a soft sound behind him made him turn his head to look for the source. A chill ran up his spine and the hair stood up on the back of his neck!
There, not 10 feet away was the cougar, getting ready to pounce! As he spun around and dropped his spear to the ready position the cat leaped at him, but somehow twisted in the air and missed the poised spear, instead landing to his side. The cat screamed at him, shooting fear through him as he tried to turn and face it in the deepening snow! The cat leaped once more, and being unable to get the spear point in position, he swung the shaft like a bat, with all his might, hitting the cougar between its head and shoulder. The impact vibrated the spear so intensely, he thought that it might break.
He succeeded in knocking the cat about 6 feet away, where it cringed, stunned and confused by the blow. Snarling mightily, it retreated several feet, and then bound off back up the trail he had just come down. Shaking with relief, and full of adrenalin, he bent over and rested his hands on his knees and took a few deep breaths to calm himself. After composing himself for several minutes, he resumed his journey down the path, turning to look behind him every few minutes in case the cougar decided to return.
He soon reached an area in which he could see the other side of the swamp, where the trees came down to meet it. Testing the ground in front of him, he determined the safe edge of the swamp and set his pack down there. He untied the bundle of bark and looking at the rabbit, he was suddenly struck with the realization that the cougar had probably smelled the blood and that was why it had attacked. He shook his head and turned back to the task at hand, taking two of the chunks of bark and setting them end to end. He retied the two extra pieces and attached them back to their D-ring.
Taking two twenty foot sections of 550 cord, he bound the two pieces of bark to each of his feet, creating a makeshift pair of “swampshoes”. Donning his pack once more, he stepped out into the swamp with one foot, testing to see if it would support his weight. It did, so he swung the other foot out and tested it. It also supported his weight and so he began the slow process of crossing the swamp, one footstep at a time.
He was nearly three quarters of the way across when the bark on the left foot began breaking up. A few steps later and he had to stop. He balanced on one foot and untied the bundle of bark again. He dropped the bark flat onto the swampy surface and stepped on it for support. He then untied the broken mass and placed the other piece of bark over the loose cords before stepping onto it and binding as he had the first time. He retrieved the other piece of bark and carried it in his free hand as he proceeded to cross the remainder of the swamp.
He sighed with relief as he reached solid ground and removed the makeshift swampshoes. He felt somewhat weak with hunger from all the effort, so he dug out the remaining ration pack to pick something from it to give him some quick energy and hold him over until he made camp for the night. He ate the remaining package of raisins, the last of the smoked almonds and a Jolly Rancher hard candy. Not much to go on, but it helped. At next camp, he would cut up the rabbit and make a stew with a bullion cube and maybe some cattail roots.
Before leaving the edge of the swamp, he dug another bunch of cattail roots, perhaps 3 lbs, and then headed off to find a new camp. As he was walking, he heard a train not too far off, revealing that he was close to the river and the highway also, as the tracks paralleled the road. He continued heading eastward, now following the river as it flowed hurriedly towards the main tributary that meandered through the greater valley in which he lived.
As he expected, the snow was only half as deep under the trees, making travel much easier. He made much better time and soon found himself following the river as it narrowed and turned north. He followed it until he came to a bluff over which the river formed a waterfall. Here he decided to make camp for the night. There were still 3 hours to go until nightfall, giving him time to select a new camp by the root ball of a fallen cottonwood tree. Gathering some flat granite rocks from near the bluff, he built a fire pit that resembled a fireplace.
He located some small dead hemlock trees and harvested them for firewood, gathering a 2 day supply, just in case. After setting up the poncho and gathering fir and spruce boughs for his bed, he started the fire and began skinning the rabbit, which had frozen during his trek. He slowly warmed it by the fire and soon was able to complete the task of butchering it. Cleaning and slicing a handful of the roots he had gathered, he added them to the pot. He took the rabbit and quartered it, placing 3 of the quarters in plastic bread sack/foraging bag for safekeeping.
He then deboned the rest, cut it into chunks and carefully placed them into the now boiling pot with the roots. Finally, he took one of his last 3 bullion cubes and added it to the stew. While waiting for it to finish simmering, he sawed up the wood he had brought to his camp. Now he was ready for the night. He untied his boots and slipped them off his cold feet. Even though the ziplock bags were keeping his feet dry, they didn’t help with the cold. He removed the bags and put his feet on the rocks forming the base of his makeshift fireplace.
The rocks were not hot, but they were comfortably warm and so his feet began to heat up. He examined the boots, poor things that they were. They would not last much longer, as the tops had completely separated from the bottoms. Only the 550 paracord held them together anymore. The cord that bound them was getting badly worn, and would need to be replaced before he set out again. Once his feet had thoroughly warmed up, he put on a fresh pair of socks, slipped the plastic bags back over his feet, and began the laborious task of binding the soles back to the uppers.
He finished his task as the daylight faded into the night, and he then addressed the needs of his stomach as the smell of the simmering rabbit was making it growl with hunger. After he had finished eating the rabbit, he made himself a cup of tea and sat sipping it, lost in thought as he stared at the flames of the fire. It had stopped snowing and looking up at the night sky, he could see that it was starting to clear off. "Great!" he thought. "It’s gonna get cold tonight!" And with that thought, he banked the fire, rolled up in his bedroll, and prepared for a night of sub-freezing weather.