May 23rd 2013
Monday, July 31st, 2006
White water surged and foamed around Chey’s face. She could barely keep her mouth above the freezing torrent. Her hands reached around behind her, desperately trying to find what was holding her down, even as the water rose and she heard bubbles popping in her ears. Her skin burned with the cold and she knew she would be dead in seconds, that she had failed.
She had not been prepared for the freshet. She thought flash floods were something that happened in the desert, not in the arctic. Summer had come to the north, however, and with the strengthening sun trillions of tons of snow had begun to melt. All that runoff had to go somewhere. Chey had been hiking up a narrow defile, trying to get up to a ridge so she could see where she was. The ground had been hard and dry–she had climbed down into the narrow canyon to get away from a knife-sharp wind. It was rough going, climbing as much with her hands as her feet, but she’d been making good progress. Then she paused because she’d thought she’d heard something. It was a low whirring sound like a herd of caribou galloping through the trees. She had thought maybe it was an earthquake.
The frigid water had come blasting around a curve in the terrain and smashed into her body, the cold of it slicing through her, the force of it pummeling her until she thought she would be torn to pieces. The current dragged her backwards across ground she’d just covered, pulling her over sharp rocks that tore her parka, filling her mouth with grit and pebbles. She could see nothing but silver, silver bubbles, the silver surface of the water above her. Somehow she had fought her way upward, clawing at the yielding water until her mouth was up in the air again. Then she had stopped with an abrupt jolt. Something had grabbed her and was holding her down beneath the surge.
Her hands were numb and her fingers kept curling up from the cold as she searched behind herself. Chey begged and pleaded with them to work, to move again. She felt nylon, felt a nylon strap—there—her pack was snagged on jagged spar of rock. Fumbling, cursing herself, she slipped the nylon strap free. Instantly the freshet grabbed her again, pulling her again downward, down into the defile. She grabbed at the first shadow she could find, which turned out to be a willow shrub. Hugging it tight to herself she coughed and sputtered and physically pulled air back into her lungs.
Eventually she had enough strength to pull herself upward, out of the water. It ran waist deep but she could slog through it. After the first explosive rush much of its force had been spent and she forded the brand new stream easily. On the far bank she dragged herself up onto cold mud and exposed tree roots and lay there shivering for a long time. She had to get dry, she knew. She had to warm herself up. She had fresh clothes and a lighter in her pack. Tinder and firewood would be easy enough to come by.
Slowly, painfully, she rolled over. She was still soaking wet and freezing. Her skin felt like clammy rubber. Once she warmed up she knew she would be in pain. She would have countless bruises to contend with and maybe even broken bones. It would be better than freezing to death, however. She pulled off her pack and reached for its flap. Unfamiliar scraps of fabric met her fingers.
The flap was torn in half. The pack itself was little more than a pile of rags. In the stream, when she’d been dragged by the current, it must have been torn apart by the rocks. It had protected her back from the same fate but in the process it had come open and all of her supplies had come out. She shot her head around to look at the stream. Her gear, her dry clothes, her flashlight—her food—must be spread out over half the Territory, carried hither and yon by the water.
With shaking fingers she dug through the remains of the pack. There had to be something, the heavier objects maybe had stayed put. She did find a couple of things. The base of her Coleman stove had been too heavy to wash away, though the fuel and the pots were lost, making it useless. Her cell phone was still sealed in its own compartment. It dribbled water as she held it up but it still chirped happily when she clicked it on. The map she’d been given by the helicopter pilot was still there though the water had made the ink run and she could barely read it. The rest of her stuff was gone. Her tent was lost. Her dry clothes were lost. Her weapon was nowhere to be found.
She spent the last of the daylight searching up and down the steep bank of the new stream. Maybe, just maybe something had washed up on the shore. Just as the moon came up she spied a glint of silver bobbing against a half-submerged log and jumped back into the water to get it. Praying that it was what she thought it was she grabbed it up with both hands and brought it up to her face. It was the foil pack full of energy bars. Trail food. She started to cry but she was so hungry she tore one open and ate it instead.
That night she buried herself under a heap of pine needles and old decaying leaves. In the morning she was still damp and every muscle in her body was stiff and unresponsive. But she was still alive.