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 returned?
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 sisters 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.
By Jennifer Baker