Chapter 25 ~ Brad Races Against Time to Find Matt
Five minutes later, Brad came out of his cabin, he wore a gray zipper hoodie, lightweight waterproof hiking shoes and dark lightweight stretch pants with zippers at the knees to convert the pants to shorts. He carried a backpack in his right hand. He stopped by his pickup truck, opened the tailgate, and climbed in the truck bed. He slid a key into a lock on a large metal chest that was fixed against the cab. He took the lock off the hinge and opened the metal chest. Brad followed a simple principle he learned from a friend in 82nd Airborne. His friend called it the survival triangle. He knew if the weather turned bad, you could die in three hours, you could survive three days without water, and if you were lucky enough to have good weather and water you could survive three weeks without food.
He set his backpack down and picked his extension service cell phone out of the chest. He turned it on and checked the weather forecast for Big Elk State Park with the U.S. Government Weather Service. The first thing he saw was a red alert highlighted on the website. A cold front was pushing down from the northwest and was expected to hit Big Elk around five the next afternoon. The temperature was going to drop from 70 degrees F to 53 degrees F. The temperature drop didn’t bother Brad as much as the forecast for violent thunder storms and torrential rains causing flash flooding in mountain areas.
Brad moved a few items around in the chest and took a personal locator beacon known as a PLB. When activated, the PLB could signal a satellite even if there was no cell phone service. Brad picked out a space blanket, a first aid kit, a large, machete-like knife he strapped to his belt, water proof matches, a signal mirror, nylon braided line, high protein energy bars, and three liter water bottles.
Brad strapped the backpack shut and slung it over his shoulders. He closed the metal chest and placed the lock back on it. He jumped down from the rear of the cab and lifted tail gate back into place. He turned toward Grace’s cabin, and waved. He started jogging west around the lake following the path where earlier he and Matt ran.
Grace was standing in the doorway, she returned Brad’s wave. She didn’t say anything. She watched Brad jog until he slowed to a walk when he reached the edge of the lake and the forest. He stopped and faced the lake. He closed his eyes and quieted his mind shutting out all sounds. Grace wanted to scream at Brad to do something. She forced herself to push her anxiety away. She watched and waited.
What seemed an eternity to Grace was no more than two minutes. Brad opened his eyes and ran parallel to the lake until he reached the trailhead a hundred and fifty yards ahead. When Brad reached the trailhead, he noticed the sign warning of mountain lions and black bears. He looked at the ground for some sign Matt had come this way. There were several footprints in the ground. He didn’t pay any attention to Matt’s running shoes and the prints they’d leave. The footprints were not help. He ducked under the metal pole and turned back toward the cabin where Grace still stood, arms folded across her chest watching.
Brad stepped back three paces and looked toward the cabin. Again, he closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them. He walked to the metal pole guarding the trail, bent over and saw a tiny piece of cloth, from a white t-shirt clinging to a metal barb on the pole. The same color t-shirt Matt was wearing when Grace and he left for the coffee shop. He pulled the small piece of cloth off the barb and tucked it in his pocket. He glanced at the sign again, Indian Trail. He turned and headed up the trail.
Brad kept a steady jogging pace. His eyes constantly searching for more evidence of Matt. The trail continued to wind and climb until Brad came to a fork in the path and a sign pointing one way to Strong Summit and the other to the continuation of Indian trail. He walked a dozen feet toward Strong Summit, turned around and returned to the sign. He walked further up Indian Trail. Ten feet up the trail, he stopped and picked up a small branch, it was snapped in two holding together by the strands of its bark. He held the small branch in his hands and stared up Indian Trail. He dropped the branch and began to jog up the trail.
Brad scrambled up a rocky slope looking more like an orangutan than a human. When he got to the top of the slope, he again broke into a jog. He stopped suddenly when he saw a deer carcass off to his right. Most of the deer was consumed. He knew it was a relatively fresh kill otherwise smaller animals would have cleaned the carcass and left only the bones. He stopped and studied the ground. He found the path the mountain lion dragged the deer across the trail. Brad thought it was unusual for the mountain lion to drop his prey where he found it instead of taking it to his lair. He wondered if the mountain lion’s attention was drawn elsewhere.