Chapter 30 ~ Doing It Our Way

Chapter 30 ~ Fighting for their Lives

Brad slowly and methodically tracked Matt’s trail. His progress was a series of hits and misses. It was nearly two in afternoon when he caught sight of a wall of big mountain sagebrush. Off to his right the sagebrush separated as if someone plowed through it. Brad made his way over the underbrush to the opening. He stopped. He looked just beyond the sagebrush and saw the edge of a cliff and a view of a valley stretched out more than five-hundred feet below.
Brad made his way the cliff’s edge, dropped to his knees, placed his hands, palm down on the edge of the cliff, and peered over the edge. He caught sight of a ledge. He scanned the ledge looking for a sign of life. He didn’t see any. The sound of thunder boomed in the distance and drew his attention toward the west. He saw a wall of clouds as black as the camouflage paint he wore on night operations in Afghanistan.
Brad stood up, took the backpack off his shoulder, opened it and pulled out the nylon cord he packed. He closed his backpack and slipped it back on his shoulders. He tied one end of the cord around an aspen and dropped the remainder of the cord over the edge of the cliff. He grabbed hold of the cord, turned his back to the cliff, and began his slow decent. He descended twenty feet to the ledge. He took off his backpack, set it down, and with his back to the stone wall he scanned the ledge. He noticed a shrub growing out of a small crack in the ledge several feet to his left. He slid over to it, stooped down and examined it. It had been recently damaged. Some of the shrub’s roots were exposed and the center branch was twisted.
Brad looked down beyond the shrub but only saw the tops of the trees far below. He looked to his left, the ledge continued but narrowed and disappeared. He looked to his right and saw the ledge continue and curve out of sight. A cloud to ground lightening strike followed by a roaring crash of thunder vibrating against the mountainside increased Brad’s sense of urgency. The black wall was no more two miles away. A moment later, he caught sight of a mountain bluebird flying up over the side of the cliff and into the forest above.
Brad didn’t hesitate, he began his slide along the wall. He traveled no more than ten steps when the first drops of rain hit his face. Brad continued on, a red tailed hawk sat on a nest and rose up off the nest flapping her arms. A gust of wind caught the hawk and she settled back down on the nest lowering herself on top of her chicks. The rain began to drive harder. Brad’s hair quickly became soaked and the water rolled off Brad’s cheeks as if he were taking a shower. Brad turned the corner and caught sight of Matt dangling with two hands clinging to a shrub growing out of a deep split in the stone wall.
Brad called, “Hang on Matt. One more minute. One more minute.”
“I knew you’d come. I knew it,” shouted Matt above the roar of thunder and increasing wind.
Brad deftly made his way to Matt. He stepped back, placing his heels on the edge of the ledge. He raised his two arms and placed them on Matt’s waist. He said, “You’re safe, let go, just drop don’t fight it.”
Matt closed his eyes, he took a look to the side, he said, “I’m going to let go, Brad. Hold on tight.”
“Don’t worry, Matt, you’re safe.”
Matt let go and Brad’s hands tightened around Matt’s waist as if they were the jaws of life. He gently eased Matt down to the ledge. “Don’t move until I tell you to move, Matt.”
“Yes, sir,” said Matt.
Brad stepped to the side and motioned Matt to move into the corner. “Stoop down, Matt. I want to give you quick check. We’ve got to get out of her and we don’t have much time.”
“I’m okay. I’m hungry and cold, that’s all. Maybe thirsty, too.”
Brad scanned Matt’s two arms, then he looked at his legs. “You’re pretty much bruised up. Do you have any sharp pains, anyplace?”
“No sir,” said Matt.
“Okay, Matt, stand up. Place your back to the wall. We’re going back along the wall. We’ll have to be careful. I’m going to hold on to your left arm. The ledge will be slippery because it’s raining. Glide to your left when I tell you to. Do not move without me telling you to move. Understand?”
“Yes, sir.”
Brad led Matt along the ledge. They passed the red tail hawk who glared down at them. Soon they were and to where Brad left his backpack. He picked up the backpack, and placed it on Matt’s shoulders. He said, “I’m going to turn sideways and stoop, place your arms around my neck and legs around my waist. I’m going to climb up this wall and you’re my passenger.”
“Yes, sir,” said Matt. He watched Brad stoop down. He placed his arms around Brad’s neck and put his legs around Brad’s waist.
When Brad was sure that Matt was holding on tight, he slowly raised himself up. He grasped hold of the nylon cord with his right hand. He used his left hand to wipe the rain away from his eyes. It did no good. The rain was driving sideways. Brad reached up with his left arm and his left hand grasped the cord and he pulled. His legs lifted off the ledge. He paused. His mind returned Afghanistan. A wounded buddy and he were trapped on the side a cliff. He signaled for help. He saw himself looking up the edge of a cliff. The Taliban were two hundred yards behind them. He had no choice but to scale the wall. He threw a grappling hook over the top of the cliff and pulled hard on the rope to make sure it was secure. His wounded buddy clung to him and he began the climb up the edge of the cliff, his buddy’s arms around his neck and legs hooked over his hips. Enemy fire ricocheted around them. Brad shook his head forcing the thoughts out of his mind. Hand over hand he grasped the nylon cord making sure he had a sure grip and he pulled lifting he and his cargo slowly up the canyon wall. His ascent was slow. The wind blew Brad and Matt from side to side almost as if they were on a wild ride at an amusement park. Brad’s muscles strained, his feet slipping agains the wet canyon wall. He kept climbing. When he made it to the top, he hoisted himself up and told Matt to drop to the ground once they were safely away from the edge. Matt dropped to the ground off of Brad. Brad turned around and Matt threw his arms around him and buried his head into Brad’s chest.
“It’s okay. You’re safe. We’ve got to get out of here. Before we go, I want you to eat a protein bar and drink some water. You’ll need all the energy you can get.”
Brad reached into the backpack, there was one protein bar remaining and one bottle of water. He gave both to Matt. He pulled out his PLB and turned it on sending out a distress signal. He place the PLB back in the backpack and pulled out the small first aid kit. He opened it and pick out an antiseptic wipe. He opened opened the packet and wiped Matt’s scrapped knees. He placed the packet back in the first aid kit and took out the antibacterial ointment and rubbed it on the broken skin on Matt’s knees.
Matt looked up at Brad, made an involuntary shiver and said, “Are you going to eat?”
Brad said, “I’m not hungry. I have a water proof space blanket in here. I want you wrap yourself in it when you finish your bar and drink, then climb on my back, we’re going to get out of here before the sun sets.”
Matt nodded and eagerly consumed the bar. He drank the water and placed the wrapper and bottle in the backpack. Brad handed him the space blanket. Matt draped the space blanket over his shoulders and pulled it tight around his neck. Brad stooped down, Matt climbed aboard. Brad got his bearings and began jogging back toward camp. It was nearly five o’clock. The storm raged around them. Lightening crack and thunder roared almost at the same time. Each time a bolt of lightening struck close by, Matt gripped Brad’s neck a little tighter.
Matt said in Brad’s ear, “Will we make it before it gets dark?”
All Brad said was, “We’ll make it. Hang on.”

Chapter 26 ~ Doing It Our Way

Chapter 26 ~ Friends Count When The Going Is Tough

After Brad disappeared into the forest, Grace began knocking on cabin doors. She counted forty-seven cabins. She and Brad already spoke to Jane about Matt, and if she discounted her cabin and Brad’s cabin that left forty-four cabins. After having no answer to first five cabins, she decided to go back to the Ranger station and find out which cabins had occupants.
Grace jogged over to the Ranger station. Ranger Stone was at the counter, he looked up at Grace, and said, “Any word? Where’s your friend?”
Grace shook her head, “Brad went into the forest to search for Matt. I wanted to know …”
Before Grace could finish, the ranger interrupted Grace, “Your friend Brad has made the problem worse. If your son is missing, we’ll have two people wandering around in a national forest where nature doesn’t take prisoners. One mistake and it is often the final mistake. It takes lots of training to survive in this country. Everybody thinks they can watch a reality show and survive under the conditions you find out here, most of them don’t. That’s the sad part. Do you have any way of contacting him before it’s too late?”
Grace fixed a glare on the ranger, “Brad can take care of himself, he was with the 82nd Airborne.”
“Ma’am. That may be the case and he may have survival skills. Was he aware of the cold front coming in here tomorrow bringing torrential rain, potentially large hail, and significant lightening? That’s frightful for even the most experienced woodsman. He may be a former 82nd Airborne soldier, but unless he is prepared for this kind of weather, he’ll have a tough time of it if he doesn’t return. Please try to contact him and have him return. I promise you, I will be in this office at dawn and if Matt has not returned, I will put everything in motion to start the search ASAP. I’ve already alerted all the key people to be ready to go at dawn if they get they call.”
Grace was taken aback. She thought the ranger was an obstructionist, and now knew he was on her side and was doing everything within his power to help. She said, “Thank you, Ranger Stone. I really appreciate your help.”
Grace lifted her cell phone, she checked her text messages. There was none from Brad. He forgot to text her his extension service cell phone number. She looked up at the Ranger, “Brad works for the extension service. He was going to use their cell because it has better service. He forgot to text me the number. I don’t know how to get in touch with him. He’ll be okay. I know he will.”
The ranger took a deep breath, he waited a moment, “Is there anything else I can do for you ma’am?”
“Yes, can you tell me which cabins are occupied? I want to ask them if they saw Matt after we left.”
There are only three cabins occupied this weekend, ma’am because of the trails being closed due to the mountain lion and black bear scare. We posted it on our website. That’s where all the reservations are made.”
Grace felt a panic attack coming on, she remembered Brad’s advice to her to focus on what she can do not on what ifs. She looked at the ranger, “What can I do to help?”
“Whatever you do, don’t go looking for either of them. Stay with your friends. You need support. I promised you I will be here at dawn. Stay inside a cabin tonight, it’s quite common to have wildlife come into the campground at night scavenging for food.”
Grace nodded, she knew the ranger was right. At the moment, she couldn’t stand the sight of Jane. She didn’t want anything to do with her. All Jane thought about was Jane, a voice in Grace’s head said.
Grace looked at the ranger said, “Thank you, Ranger Stone.” She turned and walked out of the ranger station.
Grace walked slowly back toward her cabin. She passed Jane and Larry’s cabin. The door was closed. She smelled wood from the burning fireplace behind their cabin. She heard no sounds. She assumed they ate and were sitting in the cabin relaxing. Grace reached her cabin, walked up the few steps to the small porch, and placed a hand on the door nob. She took a long look to where Brad entered the forest, said a silent memorized prayer twisted the door nob pulled the door open. She stopped when she heard …
“Grace? Grace? Wait a minute, please?”
She turned and saw Jane running toward her. Jane was wearing jeans and Texas Women’s University sweatshirt. Jane stopped at the foot of the stairs. She looked up at Grace, “Grace, I’m sorry. I was a jerk. I made a fool of myself. I hurt the best friend I had in the world. Please forgive me. And, have you heard anything about Matt? I want to help. I really do.”
Grace paused for a moment, let go of the door nob, and hurried down the steps. Jane and she embraced. The stayed that way for minutes.
When they broke the embrace, Jane wiped tears from her cheeks, and said, “Look at us? No, don’t look at us. We’re a sight. Do you forgive me, Grace?”
“There’s nothing to forgive, Jane. It’s already forgotten. The ranger told me he’ll organize a search at dawn. You can bet I’ll be in his face at the first peak of sun. Brad went after Matt. The ranger said Brad’s in severe danger because a big cold front with torrential rains, hail and dangerous lightening is coming in tomorrow afternoon. I’m scared for Matt and Brad, Jane.”
Jane squeezed Grace’s hand, “Stay with Larry and me. We’ll all go to ranger station at dawn.”
“I’d like that, Jane,” said Grace.

Chapter 23 ~ Doing It Our Way

Chapter 23 ~ Matt Confronts His Fears

Matt sat on the narrow ledge, his back pressed tight against a smooth rock wall with the colors of a beautiful sunset, red, purple, pink, and yellow etched over millions of years into its hardened surface. He was facing west and watched the sun slowly dip closer and closer to the horizon. A lone red tail hawk soared high above in the distance searching for a rabbit, squirrel, or gopher who dared venture out while there was still daylight.
Matt scooted closer to the edge. He placed his right palm flat on the ledge surface close to edge and braced himself. He leaned over far enough to peer over the edge and involuntarily shivered when he saw how close he came to falling to his death. Only a single brush growing impossibly out of a small crack in the side of a stoney edifice was all that had kept him from a fall to a sure death over five hundred feet below. He didn’t even know how he grabbed hold of the brush as he tumbled down. He turned and looked up toward where he had seen the mountain lion staring twenty feet above him. The mountain lion was gone. Matt wondered if the mountain lion was lying quietly waiting for him to fall asleep. His eyes searched for a way to climb out, but he could not see any. He looked to his right and saw the ledge narrow and gradually disappear. He looked to his left and saw the ledge continue and curve around a corner.
Panic shot through Matt’s body. He felt tears starting to form in his eyes. He fought them. He said, “Dad would tell me to be strong. Dad would tell me not to quit. Dad would tell me to use my brain, God gave it to me for a reason. He repeated these words over and over and fell into a deep sleep. It was well after midnight when Matt awoke. He was shivering. He sat up and pulled his knees close to his chest. He couldn’t stop his teeth from chattering. He thought of his mother and he thought of Brad. He wondered what they were doing. He didn’t think they were sleeping. He knew his mom wouldn’t sleep. And, Brad, he was in the 82nd airborne like his dad, he wouldn’t quit looking for him until he found him. Brad was just like his dad, you could count on him.
Matt looked up into the clear mountain sky. He spotted the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, and Hercules. His dad taught him how to pick these constellations out of the summer night sky. Seeing the constellations gave Matt a boost of courage. Somehow, he knew he’d survive. He knew it deep down someplace where his dad told him courage lives in all people.
Matt closed his eyes and he soon drifted off into a deep sleep. The sound of a helicopter roused Matt from sleep. He rubbed his eyes and saw it circling off to the southwest. He stood up and began to frantically wave his arms. Matt kept waving his arms at the circling helicopter. As he did, the helicopter kept circling moving slightly further to the west away from him until it flew away.
Matt felt thirsty. He looked in his backpack and searched for the second bottle of water. It wasn’t there, he must have lost it on his fall. He knew he couldn’t stay here. If he did it was sure death. He carefully stood up. He splayed his arms out against the side of the mountain wall. The ledge was no more than three feet wide. He forced himself not to look down. He braced his back against the wall and began to slowly slide his foot to the left. He first moved his left leg, then his right leg. His steps were slow and sure. Matt knew one mistake might be his last.
Matt moved slowly along the ledge. He froze when a red tailed hawk landed ten feet away. It spread out its wings puffed its feathers and shrieked at Matt. Matt edged backwards. The hawk began to weave back and forth and hissed as it came toward Matt. Matt wanted to press himself into the stone wall and disappear. Instead, he stood as still as he could, shut his eyes, and began to count slowly. When he reached fifty, he opened his eyes. The red tailed hawk was no longer on the ledge. He scanned the sky with his eyes and way off he caught the sight of a hawk circling high above a grassy meadow. Suddenly, the hawk plunged toward the earth in rapid descent. Matt used the opportunity to edge his way back toward the place where he saw the hawk.
When Matt was at the place where the hawk landed, he heard the screeching of baby chicks. He lifted his head and scanned the side of the wall and saw ten feet above him a nest and the heads of three baby chicks peeping out. Now he knew why the hawk was so aggressive. He turned his attention back back to the ledge and continued to work his way along the stone wall. The side of the wall gradually turned and he could no longer see where he had spent the night. Matt moved along the wall for another twenty yards until the ledge seemed to disappear into the mountain forming a nearly perpendicular angle it.
Matt’s mouth dropped open. He dared look down and here the drop was as far, but rocks jutted out along the side of the mountain and Matt wondered if it were possible to climb down. He sat down on the ledge to rest and think.