As the darkness engulfed her, she became overwhelmed
with the feeling of loneliness and fear of what lurked in the shadows. The
light beside her flickered weakly, a reminder of its dying battery, its low
light casting eerie shadows. Shivering in the cold, she shifted slightly,
awakening the small sleeping child in her lap. His face emerged, eyes drowsy
from his nap and cheeks rosy from the warmth of the sleeping bag. Once the sun
had set, the tempature dropped significantly to -21 F and upon feeling the
biting cold, he retreated back into the warmth of the bag. To entertain herself
she counted the minutes that they had been gone. Twenty minutes went by; too
tired to pursue her entertainment she ceased her counting. Why had they not yet
The trail was lined on either side with towering
trees, the tips of branches nearly to ground with the weight of the snow. The
bowing trees had made it difficult, preventing them from driving over a painfully
slow crawl of 10mph. The snow had
sparkled in the beaming sunlight, requiring sunglasses. The day had been so
beautiful, but little evidence of its splendor remained.
Everything had gone wrong; nothing went as planned. Unfamiliar
with the trail they could not know what lay ahead, this was the first mistake. Despite
a lack of experience on the trail, each had had agreed it would be an
adventure. This being one of the first trips of the year, the art of packing
the new sleds had yet to be conquered. The excursion had been delayed into the
afternoon; but despite the lateness of hour the machines roared to life and
headed out onto the trail pursued to the trail head; their second mistake.
Being an Alaskan winter, night approached quickly. As
darkness settled like a thick blanket over the forest floor, the head lights of
the machine began to flicker and cast shadows. The sky remained a rainbow of reds and purples
and the trees had become a dark silhouette against the gloomy purple mountains.
When they reached the bridge about midnight, it was -25 F and eight miles from
their destination. She had lingered behind the caravan, to await the signal, informing
her the bridge was stable. Suddenly, bright lights flickered around oddly, curious
she turned off her rumbling machine and stood up. Her sister, a few yards away,
frantically did the same and started running across the bridge to the other
side, slipping through the large gaps in the sides. Alarmed by her sister’s
urgency, she followed after her.
The bitterness of the chill began to seep deeper
into her already cold body, bringing her back to reality. Her body ached to
move, but in fear of letting more of the cold in and of awakening the child
again, she continued to sit as she was. She glanced down the trail, checking
for the headlights of the machine, and listened to the silence.
When she had reached the other side of the bridge, she
gazed upon what had made the others so alarmed. The lead snow machine had tumbled
down a steep embankment. Precariously
held along the mountainside by a lone tree it seemed ready at any moment to
leap into the dark abyss. Looking around franticly, she spotted the passengers,
at the bottom of what appeared to be a pit; covered by a thick blanket of snow.
Although cold and bruised, they appeared to be unharmed.
Unobtrusive sounds became deafening, the simple
machine of pulleys and cable echoing loudly in her ears. The groaning of steel,
thrashing of branches and the continual click clack of the winch rang of hope. But
it was two hours before they were able to pull the sled out of the steep gulley.
They found a small cabin about a half a mile away and
loaded up the gear. The little boy and she were left behind, as the boy was snug
and warm in his sleeping bag. He had been chilled and needed to stay warm a
little longer before venturing out once again. The last sliver of light from
the nearly extinguished lantern still reached the edge of the gulley, from
which the boy had been pulled. It had been a close call, and one that they did
not want to repeat.