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Henry,
a novella
by
Rick Scheideman

The Arrival 

The Greyhound’s brakes yelped; four wheels shuddered in response. A fine white dust swirled, obscuring the mountains from the eyes of the silent passengers. The bus stopped three-quarters of a mile beyond Marble, a village of twenty-three summer residents who relished their solitude and daily frequented the only diversion in town—a dilapidated wooden structure that purveyed soda, chips, licorice, and candy bars. It was called, simply, the Pop Stand. Now and then a local passed the time of day with a tourist nonchalantly explaining which was the only fly to catch a Rainbow at sunset. Depending on the season, the eight miles from Redstone to Marble consisted of either dust or mud with stretches of washboard chatter that made not a few stomachs nauseous.

Powder clung to the air when the door opened. The young men stretched and strolled aimlessly in mid-day heat. No one spoke. The bus raised dust a second time when it whined backward a quarter-mile to turn around at an intersecting ranch road. The boys watched then startled at the sound of laughter. Three men in shorts and navy blue T-shirts walked smartly out of the trees from an unnoticed trail. One held a clipboard.

“Alright, gentlemen, gather ‘round and listen up. I’ll call out an instructor’s name and he’ll raise his hand. After that, I’ll read a list of your names. If I call your name, go to that instructor. He’ll tell you what’s next.”

The instructors looked like gods. Sinewy muscles in their forearms glistened through tanned skin. When they moved, calves and quadriceps rippled. Their attire spoke of wilderness know-how: natty wool socks, khaki shorts, and the navy blue T-shirts with a white logo depicting a compass rose. One sported a red bandana around his neck; another slipped a rope belt through the loops of his shorts and tied it in front with a square knot. In fashion and manner, they exuded competence. Henry’s throat tightened. He felt frightened and yet attracted at the same time, like he had once when he gaped at players filing through the gate at the end of a college football game smitten and yet unable to ask for the autographs he coveted.

            Matt Griswold led his boys up the road a short way to a shelf of smooth rock. Stretching miles in both directions, the Crystal River Valley fell beneath them. A forest of pines, firs and spruce rose up the slopes; deciduous trees dotted the riverbank. Even in July, strips of snow still clung inside shadowed crevices. Though they looked, none of them enjoyed the view.

“Okay, guys, I’m Matt. You can learn a lot here by paying attention to me and trying your best. Let me be clear about something; I am not your babysitter, nurse, counselor, or your best friend. I am your patrol instructor, and I will be with you day and night for the next month. It’s my job to show you how to make your way in the mountains and to keep you safe. For me to accomplish this you must do what I tell you to do when I tell you to do it. Your safety and the safety of the rest of the guys depend on it. And I want you to have fun! Got it? All right, pick up your gear and let’s stroll up the road together. In a mile the road forks. We take the left fork. That road dead-ends at the school. Alright, saddle up!”

            Henry flung his canvas Sea Scout bag over his shoulder and crunched up the rutted jeep trail with the others. The sun was dry and leering between cloud puffs. Two boys walked in worn penny loafers; the rest sported tennis shoes, except for one. He wore polished wingtips, oxblood, with silky dark socks. In one hand, he gripped the wooden handle of a leather suitcase; in the other hand he swung a matching valise. Already, his pinstriped oxford shirt clung damply to his back and underarms. A maroon tie with an embroidered crest matched the flush of his face.

            Heat and altitude spread the boys along the incline. Two students raced for the lead, while the formally dressed boy lagged far behind.

“Alright, hold up! Everybody stop right where you are. I said that we would walk up this road together. You did not follow my instruction. Look at you, spread out all over this mountainside. Our goal is teamwork, working together. That’s how we will accomplish our tasks as a patrol. We must function as a unit. You glory-hunters out front, stay with the rest of us. And you, Mr. Brooks Brothers, keep up with the group. Now, let’s walk the road steadily and together. Got it?”

Shaking his head, Matt surveyed his new students and then resumed walking. After a few minutes, a thud and the sound of shoes scuffling broke the silence. Henry turned and saw the red-faced kid stuffing medicine bottles, handkerchiefs, underwear, and other clothes back into the spilled valise. The boy was trembling.

                        “Hold up.”

Matt sauntered down to him.

                        “What’s your name?”

                        “Martin, sir.”

                        “Let me clue you in on something, Marty. This is not a summer resort at

the lake with ice-cold mint tea and apple scones waiting for you on the veranda while the maid unpacks and hangs your summer wardrobe so that the you can change your clothes for supper. This is the Colorado Outward Bound School. Got it?”

 “Yes, sir.”

“I hope to God that you’ve packed boots in that suitcase.”

“Yes, sir, they do. I mean it does have them, sir. In there, I mean. Yes sir, I do have boots, sir.”

“Keep up.”

                        “Yes sir.”

            Henry had despised Martin from the first when; he noticed this boy decked out in a coat and tie and stumbling up the bus stairs.  His reaction was reflexive: “This cream-puff rich kid probably goes to one of them private prep school in the East. How the hell did he ever get into Outward Bound?” Henry played the man; he hefted the sea bag, hocked, spit, and looked askance at the Martin. Though he had felt frightened on the bus ride, he knew a measure of confidence now. A few of the boys looked athletic, but he reckoned himself, “better off than that fat ass.”

            Henry played football in high school, captained the swim team, and ran track. By no means a star, his success emerged slowly from a tenacity that ignored pain. He endured arduous workouts that fuelled his intermittent pride. Once, for example, as the shortest player on the junior varsity football team, he dove from his middle linebacker position through the center’s legs as the boy hiked the ball then snatched it out of the quarterback’s hands. The center fell back on Henry’s left elbow, crushing it. The pain exploded from his elbow up to his shoulder and down into his hand. But he stuffed the pain. For the first time that season, the coach had given Henry a start. Only being knocked out and carried from the field would force him from the game. After he had stolen the ball, he saw the coach smile and say something to one of the assistant coaches as he trotted toward the bench. Henry shyly beamed. Years later the orthopedic surgeon who examined the elbow determined that the injury could not be repaired without risking worse damage. The splintered bone fragments had fused into a calcified mass. The elbow never straightened. In a mirror, Henry often regarded the bent reminder with the pride of wounded veteran. Now as he trudged uphill, he tried to spit again; his mouth was too dry.

            Even though the school was only two miles away, he hike up the road took an hour.
Thin air and heat took a toll on everyone and relief accompanied rounding the last bend. They dropped their bags and lingered on a graveled flat beneath a dark-stained building. “Dinning Hall,” a rough-hewn sign reported from its balcony. Further on, a low structure with a well pump beside it wore a “Wash House” plaque. Most had to pee, but no one ventured there just yet. Some boys blanched, while others coughed and wheezed against 9,200 feet of elevation. Martin was nowhere in sight, neither was Matt Griswold. Track season had ended a month ago. Henry figured he should have run up the road. He stifled a cough.

            Bobby Lee strolled from the washhouse toward the milling group. Pulling a pouch of Red Man chewing tobacco from his back pocket, he cut a plug and smiled at Henry as he rolled it between his gum and cheek. An awestruck boy pretended not to watch. Bobby Lee spat. Henry and Bobby Lee attended the same high school; neither had much use for the other. Lincoln High School bulged with 2,200 students, six hundred in the graduating class. Suffice to say, they located in different circles; Henry fit in with the jocks, while Bobby Lee enjoyed the company boys with fast cars and ducktail haircuts. Two years ago they had words after gym class in the locker room. Bobby Lee shoved Henry against a locker and Henry glanced a blow off the top of his opponent’s head. After that, they kept a resentful distance, though this year the gap closed when they double-dated sisters for the spring Prom.

“Well, by the looks of these buildings and the tents up there, this sure as hell ain’t no country club.

A snicker approved his evaluation.                   

“Want a plug?”

Offered Ricky Lee, to the gaping boy.

“No?”

 Ricky Lee thought not. The boy hailed from Boston and favored that nickname. He became Bobby Lee’s devotee.

            They heard Martin before they saw him. He barked those deep-chested hollow coughs—annoying. Even at a distance, the boy’s skin showed pink. His shirttails flapped outside the dress slacks and clung to his chest with sweat. Obviously, the wingtips would need re-polishing. Matt walked behind Martin; his arms folded across his chest. The instructor expressed a cool, self-possessed demeanor. Henry recalled the photograph of an explorer on the cover of National Geographic, a gentleman in the wilderness, unperturbed, prepared for any exigency, simply at home. Martin barked again. Bobby Lee spat brown juice.

                        “Got yourselves a marshmallow, I see.”

Henry shook his head and looked down. Boston laughed along with Bobby Lee.

After Matt oriented them to the facilities, he led the way to large grove of aspen trees. Tents hung on wood frames, white canvas squares with peaked roofs. They rested on box platforms planked with 2 x 6’s. Inside, two steel cots with metal link springs comprised the only furnishings. Sleeping bags would replace the sheets and blankets of home. Martin sagged low on the bedsprings gulping pills from three medicine bottles when Henry threw back the flap and stepped inside—tent-mates for a month. “Ah no, not him.”

“I’m Henry. If that’s the bed you want, then I’ll take this one. Okay?”

                        “Sure.”

He wanted out of there; the tent smelled of sweat and farts. He tried not to look at Martin. “Of all the luck, I’m stuck with the marshmallow.” Martin gagged as he forced down the final pill without water. He was pathetic. Henry tried to ignore him and set about to unpack. He had asked for a goose down bag for Christmas but his Mom bought an Army surplus sleeping bag stuffed with second-grade duck feathers. Often the end of a feather pricked him through the lining. Although confining, it slept warm enough.  He unrolled the sleeping bag on the empty cot, opened his sea bag, and dumped the out the contents. Henry sorted his clothes into neat piles and placed them under the bed: T-shirts together, underwear, jeans, socks, two sweaters and a windbreaker. He put his shaving kit at the foot of the bed. “Damn,” he muttered when he felt the glass bottle sandwiched between his underwear.

He had argued with his mom about that pink bottle. She survived on Pepto-Bismol. She would laughingly inform her sister on the telephone that once again she was dancing the green-apple-two-step. It embarrassed him when she talked like that, and then mortified him that even in public she would take the odd-shaped bottle from her purse, shook it vigorously, and drank from it, even in public. Driving in traffic, she would tilt the bottle against her lips and chug two or three swallows of thick pink liquid. A medicine-mint smell filled the car. Turning away in the passenger seat, Henry tried to concentrate on storefronts or other cars to avoid the cotton candy like traces in the corners of her mouth.

She had assured him that the Pepto would settle his stomach when upset or nervous. Of course, if he shuffled the infamous green-apple-two-step from camp food, it would be a godsend. He raised his voice with a flat-out “No way!” She dropped the suggestion temporarily. When he returned from the garage with his gear, he found it necessary to say no again, louder. She relinquished but he stood warned. She must have wrapped the bottle in the underwear and slipped in his bag while he had called his Aunt Fran to say goodbye. He considered pitching it, glanced at Martin, and decided that it might come in handy after all. After placing the bottle in the bottom of his sea bag, he rolled it up and chucked it under the bed.

            Martin, never called Marty except by a bully up the block who ritualized him with, “Marty, Marty, You are fat and farty,” looked frightened. Henry stole a glance. The boy’s hair, white-walled high above the ears and parted down the middle, lay limp. It was that fine blond kind of baby hair. Sweat trickled behind his ears. His neck glistened. Even the lap of his trousers had a dark stain of sweat; Henry hoped he had not peed himself. The boy’s face was creamy and dappled vermilion at the cheeks; puffy hands heaped on an ample belly. He appeared about to cry or vomit, or both, and Henry knew the boy would not survive Outward Bound. He smiled knowingly, “He’ll quit and go home in a couple of days. I’ll have the tent to myself.”

            A siren startled them. It growled low, then, with hand-cranked speed, screeched into an air-raid warning like old movie, The Battle of Britain. Henry flung open the flap and hustled out relieved to quit a boy he had no desire to know.  Students from all the tents ran toward the sound.  As the cranking stopped, the siren returned to its low moan. In a clearing, log benches formed the outside of a large circle with a fire pit in the center. Matt laid the siren on a log. No one sat. Near the center stood a man with hands on hips. Older than the instructors, he wore climbing boots with wool socks. A blue nylon belt buckled with two brass rings surrounded the narrow waist of his wool pants. The red T-shirt displayed, in white, the Outward Bound logo circled with the motto, “To strive, to serve, and not to yield.” Henry was riveted. The man’s forearms were hairless cords of rope. The chest and neck defined years of mountains; shoulder muscles raised his shirt along the shoulders. His mustache was close-cropped and matched a sandy crew cut. Forty-two young men stared intently at this icon.

                        “Welcome, gentlemen, to the Colorado Outward Bound School. I am John Pack,

Chief Instructor. I trust that you will profit from as well as enjoy your month with us here in this beautiful and extraordinary place. We have much to do this afternoon: equipment to issue, introduction to the rope’s course, and a map orienteering session with your instructor. But first, I wanted to greet you and tell that we are glad you came to Outward Bound. Before we dismiss for lunch and the tasks at hand, please listen carefully to these words written by Henry David Thoreau over one-hundred years ago.”

John Pack took a small brown book from his front pocket. The edges, frayed from years of use, were held together by a thick rubber band. He surveyed the spellbound boys. His eyes never left them when he recited.

                        “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only

                        the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,                                                and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

As the Chief Instructor began to comment on the implications of Thoreau, Henry listened elsewhere remembering when his heart first received those words.

Two years ago, a student teacher at the high school befriended him. Richard Pulaski had studied English and Education at the University of Colorado. Though only older by five years, he spoke with winsome passion. Henry never took a class from Mr. Pulaski, but they saw each other from time to time in the hall. First they exchanged a smile. Soon after they ate their sack lunches together in Pulaski’s room. Other students joined them from time to time. They talked about important matters, those coming-of-age issues that Henry felt vividly: adventure, books, life, death, music, painting—what counted most in a person’s life. The teacher knew how to put Henry’s feelings into words. He girded the boys heart with Steinbeck, Cather, and Hemingway. Henry’s soul was tinder and with exquisite timing, the teacher struck a match.

            As John Pack’s voice broke through Henry’s reverie with a second reading of “Walden,” the boy’s eyes misted and his throat tightened.

                        “. . . and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

The Chief Instructor peered intently into each boy’s eyes. Henry dropped his when John Pack lingered. He stood of average height, full chested from years of swimming, and his arms were thin. Neither straw-colored nor white, his blond hair was cropped short. The chin and one cheek retained the memory of acne. The moment was indelible; Henry inhaled the pungent woods. Light flickered through scudding clouds, though green. He felt a loud stillness inside.

            In the evening after supper, the new students wandered in small groups of twos or threes. Some kept to themselves and acted busy in their tents or attended to personal matters in the wash house. Henry scrubbed his face with warm water and soap. The only reminder of home was the frayed white wash cloth he brought with him. He brushed his teeth and felt lonely, almost in tears. He heard Bobby Lee, and washed his face again as an entourage scuffled on the wash house floorboards and stood together at the urinal. 

“Yep, that’s what our good old instructor said. ‘Said that we’d rise and shine tomorrow morning at 5:30 with that damned siren and then, he added that we’d all take, “a bit of a jolly run down the trail in tennis shoes and swimming trunks for your first go at the Dip.”

Boston laughed at his mentor’s English accent.

                        “What the hell’s the Dip?”

“Didn’t say, but it sounds like water to me. Probably no heated pool the way I figure it. Hell, it may be the river.”

“Nah, they wouldn’t make us jump in the river. It’d be too cold in the morning.”

“Listen, bright eyes, it’d be too cold any time of day. That sucker’s fed by snow. But remember this here’s Outward Bound—make a man out of you, boy.”

“It sounds crummy.”

“Well, maybe we’ll figure out a little short-cut or something.”

“Cool.”

            Henry zipped up his shaving kit and flung the towel around his neck. He and Bobby Lee nearly collided rounding the corner between the toilets and the sinks.

                        “Hey stud, ready for a little dip in the morning?”

                        “Yeah, I reckon.”

He banged open the screen door and bounded from the porch.

 

First morning

In a sweeping arc where the Crystal River took a bend and deposited sand, a pool three feet deep had been fashioned by a work crew of instructors during the last weekend in May. The task involved shovels, buckets, and 2 x 4’s to build a silt barrier. They labored at ten- minute shifts in the frigid water, and warmed themselves with jesting in anticipation of groggy students stumbling down the path into the shock of glacier-melt. Even now in mid-summer, the creek danced from its source. Not more than half a mile above the pool, the Crystal emerged from under a snow pack that covered the river until August.

            Now, on their first morning, the boys jogged half-asleep clothed in swimming trunks, tennis shoes, some in T-shirts, and all in dull dread. A narrow path meandered through the aspens and then alongside a hillside meadow where dew soaked the grass. After a mile, the trail plunged toward the stream where Matt and the other patrol instructors waited. No matter how many times the students would run and dip in the mornings to come the experience retained all its first-time shock; in fact, it grew more hateful with familiarity. If rain had fallen during the night, then the trail mired with mud. Such was the case on this first morning. Now and then, a slip would put a boy on his knees or flat on his bottom. Everyone’s legs and backside streaked brown from the mud.

            Some ran quickly, got ahead of the pack, and leaped in the water without encouragement. The rest struggled toward the inevitable in a tight knot of goose-pimpled adolescence. At poolside, they waited their turn shivering to the sound of splash and gasp as one after another located the water and his place in it.

The reluctant found a compelling external motivation. A smiling instructor standing in calf-deep water held out a welcoming hand. If the hesitant boy caught the strong hand, the instructor yanked him flailing into the pool. If not, another instructor nudged him, none to gently, from behind. Only after chest, shoulders, and head submerged underwater could the suppliant scramble out of the icy bath; no one did less, with or without instructor help. When a breathless boy shivered immobile in the water, two or three instructors would push and pull him up the slippery bank.

The return trip to the school followed a different path. Every sneaker sloshed. Those with socks vowed to run sockless the next morning.  No one cared about a muddy trail or even slipping down. Hot showers waited. If they ran fast enough, the effort warmed them; most, however, staggered with a half-walk, half-jog. Henry discovered that the run back to the school comprised the best part of his day; twenty-three hours separated him from the next dip. Morning after morning he anticipated this torture by awakening several times in the dark before the siren. Then its screech startled him out of a fitful sleep. His senses cauterized the memory so that years later the mention of the word “dip” brought prickles on his neck. Henry’s dread of the screeching siren never tempered. Years later his judgment never wavered—“that dip was by far the most damnable part of Outward Bound.”

After scalding showers and breakfast, the students gathered around Matt in a semi-circle. While he talked, he pointed into the tall aspen trees; Matt called it the ropes’ course. Forty feet above the ground, a rope bridge swayed with the morning breeze. All kinds of ropes, loges and wires dangled from the trees. A swinging log was suspended between two Ponderosas by a chain; stumps cut to various heights and placed in a serpentine fashion were used to practice balance, and a single steel cable descended from the treetops some sixty feet high. Matt called it the “zip wire.” He told them that they would clip on to the cable with a metal snap-link called a carabiner. The carabiner fastened to one end of a sling rope, the other end tied around the waist. Leather gloved hands gripped the sling and then, whoosh. The descent felt like a free-fall until the cable sagged with body weight, a sudden brake at the end, and the boy swung violently until his boots came to rest on the ground.

Bridger Patrol spent the morning on the ropes’ course. At lunch, talk was sparse. Most boys ate with heads lowered, stealing glances now and then to size up the competition. Only Martin chattered. His mouth revealed the lunch menu. He boasted about the tennis courts at the club and some obscure connection between his father’s military service and his presence at Outward Bound. Martin was ignored. In the end, he sat alone, as one by one the others took their plates and silver to be washed, but kept their glasses. The abundance of cold milk was not lost on them. More then once they refilled their glasses at the stainless steel dispenser.

If there was comfort in full bellies, sore hamstrings, calves, shoulders, and arm muscles made them grouchy. A nap would be just the thing. Matt made other plans. Now that each aspect of the rope’s course had been explained, demonstrated, and attempted, the instructor bade them to move through the entire course without pause. At this point, Matt explained that patrols would be competing against each other in many activities including the rope’s course. He insisted that they win the competition. A stopwatch encouraged speed, and a further inducement encouraged their effort through a heart-breaking penalty. When a boy stumbled off a stump, or slipped from the swinging log, or otherwise experienced a mishap, then he had to return to the start and begin again. No mercy was given. Martin never moved beyond the stumps the entire four-hour afternoon.

Late adolescent boys in 1962 grumbled internally but not aloud. What escaped from their lips consisted of, “Yes, sir” and “No, sir.” Rebellion found covert expression because the ethos of the time prized respect and submission as manly. These values would radically change in the years to come. However, at this time, private opinions kept hushed except for a targeted misfit, a weakling. Poor Martin was the butt of all his patrol mates fears and failures. His isolation concretized. Though he kept up a verbose banter, inside he knew his father had been wrong sending him here. Supposed manliness would elude him here just as it had in every gym class from elementary through high school.

Brushing his teeth a second time, Henry dreaded returning to the tent, more precisely, his tent mate. The boy was sleepy and started up the path to his tent. He hoped Martin would be asleep. He wasn’t.

“Well, that bastard Matt really put us through the paces today, didn’t he? Reminds me of old crank Fostick in sixth-grade gym. I never could climb that rope and touch the top. Fostick called it the Rafter Club. He made a list of everybody that did it and posted it on the wall. My name never got on the list. Nope. All I got for my efforts was the nickname, Fat Ass. But I had girls. In high school, I went out every Friday and Saturday night with a different chick. They loved my Corvette. It was a cherry red job with chrome spinner hubcaps and a hot radio. Bucket seats made it hard to makeout with the girls, but I managed. You know that necessity is the mother of invention. In fact, one time I took this chick named Lorna up to . . .”

Henry heard no more. Sleep grasped him until the sudden squeal of the hand-cranked siren jolted him into the pale dawn of the next morning.

 

The Rescue

The call from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office came around two o’clock in the afternoon. Earlier, a wrangler had ridden his sorrel into Aspen from the scene of an accident high up in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area. He tied his horse to a parking meter, wiped the mud off his boots on the wooden stairs, and entered the office. The dispatcher listened to the report while taking up a yellow pad and a fountain pen. The wrangler reported that a guest had fallen from his horse with an apparent heart attack. The dispatcher radioed for the Sheriff. With a cup of black coffee in hand, the wrangler leaned back in the wooden chair and filled in the details. A fishing party, comprised of a husband and wife and their daughter along with the guide, wrangler, and helper, had ridden from Lariat Dude Ranch on horseback the day before, then camped that night beside Snowmass Lake. Early this morning they had ridden over Trail Rider Pass. Coming down on the other side of the pass, the party contoured off the trail northwest across a creek toward an unnamed alpine lake for more fishing; the husband collapsed before they made the lake. The veteran guide administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and when the victim’s breathing stabilized, he was placed in one sleeping bag and wrapped with a second. His body temperature felt low to the touch; the lips faded to gray. The stricken man and the rest of the party were waiting for help at over 10,000 feet where they made camp. The guide immediately sent the wrangler for a rescue party. He rode as fast as his horse could negotiate the steep trail back up and then down the pass. The fallen man’s wife and daughter stayed behind with the guide and his young apprentice.

            John Pack had instructors in camp, their assistants, and a school of inexperienced students. Still, he assured the Sheriff, he would have a rescue team deployed within thirty minutes. He would lead. On the hour, the chief instructor would attempt radio contact with the school. There the call would be relayed via telephone to the Sheriff.

The patrols were back on the rope’s course after lunch. Strength and balance fled under the stopwatch.  Suddenly, John Pack whistled through his fingers and gathered the instructors apprising them of the situation. He told them to pick two students from their patrol and them to a meeting at the fire ring as quickly as possible. Matt and two other instructors would accompany the team. Within ten minutes, the Chief Instructor gathered with his rescue party. On one side of the fire ring, he faced the boys and their instructors.  His sunglasses reflected clouds and leaves from their mirrored surface.

“Here’s the situation men, we have a rescue. This is not a training exercise; this is real. We move out in twenty minutes. To reach the victim by tomorrow morning, we have to walk through the night. I estimate a twelve to fourteen-hour hike, depending on exactly where he’s located. This aluminum basket is called a Stokes Litter. It is a lightweight and durable means to evacuate the victim if he remains unconscious or otherwise immobile. We will carry him in the litter back to the school where a helicopter will evacuate him Denver. Fill your canteens from the pump next the washhouse. From the supply room, you will need several plastic bags. Fill them with gorp, trail biscuits, cans of tuna, chocolate bars, and fruit. Matt, when we dismiss, show the boys to the supply room and get them started.  We’ll take four pack frames to tie on food, first aid supplies, radio, climbing ropes, and extra clothing. Take a sweater, poncho and leather gloves.”

John Pack elaborated on the details

Henry listened for a while, then he drifted; he felt proud that Matt chose him, along with a quiet Chicano boy. He memorized the moment as he studied the Chief Instructor. The man’s face was lean, smooth and hard. Taught muscles worked the jaw line; each hand gripped along the waist. John Pack knew things, manly things, like a coach. Henry respected coaches. He always wanted to please them, to know their approval because their rough nurture comforted him. As he gazed, he felt warm pressure behind his gray-green eyes. He would not allow tears. Many times when he sat alone in the gathering darkness of his basement room at home, tears wet his cheeks. He would picture a coach or a favorite teacher; tears fell when a season ended or school dismissed for summer. 

“Any questions? Okay, we’ll saddle up here in twenty minutes sharp.”

Of course, there were no questions; no one knew enough, but the students felt the electricity of excitement and fear. They ran to their tents or the storeroom under the dinning hall. Canteens were filled at the well pump. Henry sat on his cot and changed from tennis shoes to climbing boots as quickly as he could. He was breathless. He stuffed stiff new leather gloves into the back pocket of his jeans. In neat strips, he folded the poncho and tied it around his waist. Reaching in the tent corner, he grabbed the aluminum pack frame, a wad of nylon parachute cord, three stuff sacks, and his wool sweater. He bounded out the tent and plowed directly into Martin.

                        “Look out!”

                        “Where are you going?”

Henry did not answer.

            For six hours, they had slogged the darkness of a trail through the woods. Then, abruptly, the rescue party left the trail and climbed almost straight up through a thick forest of Douglas Fir and Englemann Spruce. Weaving the aluminum litter through the trees consumed both time and patience. The calves ached and their hands pounded with blood so that no one noticed when they had climbed up past the tree line. Henry noticed a smudge of gray toward the east where a mountain peak emerged from its shadowy backdrop. The boy peered into the softening darkness. Patches of gnarled Bristle Cone Pines startled him with their surreal shapes.

Through the night, they had stopped hourly for John Pack’s radio attempts to the Sheriff’s Office, sometimes successfully, mostly not. In those moments, the rescue patrol stood silently clumped together, drinking from canteens, and chewing dry trail biscuits. Handfuls of gorp—a mixture of peanuts, raisins, and M and M’s—brought quick energy for the moment and later, belly cramps. In those pauses, Henry’s sweat chilled on his neck and down his back. It dried, and then prickled his skin. When he started climbing again, he heated quickly and sweated.

            Now and then, a breeze stirred across the barren slope. Sometimes Henry felt strong and he moved with confidence. At other moments, a wave of nausea swept though him and his feet had to find their own way. When his belly rumbled, he worried about diarrhea; maybe the pink liquid would have helped. He had left it under the cot. Every muscle in his legs ached, and his back strained against the pressure of the loaded pack he carried. Hot spots had formed on both heels, and blisters followed quickly. Soon they popped, and the dampness alternately oozed and crusted. His heels throbbed.

Henry kept his eyes from his mates, but carefully observed John Pack and Matt. Weary, as he was fascinated. The older man manifested leadership with an assurance that allowed kindness, an encouraging word. Henry felt timid. He never spoke to John Pack. With Matt, an ease began to grow. The boy admired his instructor’s skills and enjoyed Matt’s stories, his jokes, and his habit of touch—a squeeze on the arm or tousling Henry’s short blond hair.

            What if the man was already dead? Worry began to assault the boy. He’d only seen one corpse, his grandmother. That bark-frozen old lady lying in satin haunted him many nights afterwards. Again his belly rumbled with exertion and gorp with tepid canteen water sloshed inside; relieving the gas was impossible. Passing wind embarrassed him, yet he was fearful that if he held it too long, he would get sick. His worries recycled over and over in his mind. What if they had to carry out a dead body? Maybe he would have to touch it. Why didn’t they bring the helicopter up here? The pace quickened over the spongy tundra. “Move, boys, move slow and steady,” Mr. Pack cautioned.

Within an hour, the sun cleared the ridgeline; yellow light comforted him. In the sun, Henry considered it amazing that they had walked through the night— they were still walking. Two at a time they took turns with the litter, climbing ledge after ledge of smooth granite filled with wet tundra grass between. Henry planted his boots flat to keep them from slipping against his raw heels. Toward the top of one ledge he heard the dull scraping of horses’ hooves. Gaining the ledge, the patrol descended to a campfire. The boys hung back keeping a shy distance. A pocked-marked man with a gray handlebar mustache tended the fire with a stick. His eyes hid under a crumpled cowboy hat. He rose stiffly to clasp John Pack’s hand.

                        “Good time, Johnny.”

                        “These boys are strong. What’s the status, Vince?”

“Not rightly sure. He’s been unconscious since he fell from the saddle. Artificial respiration steadied the breathing. Heart beat’s pretty steady, but shallow. Color’s awful, but he’s still ticking.”

                        “Let’s have a look.”

Henry overheard and instantly liked Vince. He seemed like an older version of John Pack.

Vince introduced the chief instructor to the stricken man’s wife, Nora. Mr. Pack spoke gently to her. While they stuffed their bellies with trail rations, the boys glanced and tried to hear. Henry thought better of eating and walked toward a freshet below camp where the horses munched the grass. He yawned. His blisters stuck to his socks. He lacked the will to take off his boots and dreaded looking at his feet.

            John Pack and Vince knelt by the stricken man in the sleeping bag—their voices hushed and clipped. John Pack swung around and called out to Matt.

                        “Bring the litter and one of the climbing ropes.”

Three boys on either side put their hands under the wrapped weight. Henry put on his gloves; he feared touching the man. Only ashen lips were visible, maybe he was already dead. Matt and another instructor held the head and feet. They strained, but the bundle barely rose. Vince and John Pack took opposite sides alongside the boys.

                        “Okay, men, on three. One. Two. Three. Lift.”

The litter slid underneath. Vince fashioned a pillow from a wool blanket and arranged the sleeping bag that served as a blanket. Matt uncoiled the rope while John Pack’s practiced hands began to lash the man into the basket creating a rope harness at either end. Vince explained.

“Boys, this here’s Mr. Campbell. Come up from Boston. And this here’s his wife, Mrs. Campbell. They’ve vacationed with us at the Lariat for several summers along with their daughter, Clare. I believe this is their eleventh year with us. The man loves fly-fishing. Caught a twelve-pounder last year. They all ride real good. I reckon we don’t know what happened here to Mr. Campbell, but we’re mighty glad you came up here to give us a hand.”

Mrs. Campbell sat cross-legged stroking her husband’s hair. Her voice full of whispers as she peered intently at her husband.

“You’re going to be okay, Jack. The rescue party is here. They’re going to take you down now. I know your going to be just fine, darling. They’ve got you packed all comfy. You’re a going to be all right, Jack. Please hang on. We’ll get right on to Denver.”

                        “Ma’am, we’re almost ready to go."

Mrs. Campbell stood gracefully taking John Pack’s hand. She looked down at her husband. His face, more visible in the flooding sunrise, was the color of the granite ledges above him.

            Henry helped douse the campfire with water from several canteens. Matt told him to refill them for the hike out. A brook flowed out from under a shelf of snow fifty yards down-slope of the camp. He clanked toward the water with the canteens held by their chained tops in his hands. The horses stirred. With an apprentice, Vince smoothed blankets over their backs as they saddled the five horses. Henry knelt on one knee next to the water. The turf was boggy. His knee soaked through and sunk so far that he nearly fell headlong into the stream. He awkwardly plunged both hands into the frigid water. He drenched his wool sweater above both elbows. The empty canteens clanked against the rocks as he struggled to get his arms out. He quickly glanced toward the horses. Vince did not look up; he smoothed wrinkles out of a saddle blanket. His young helper shook his head and chuckled. Henry turned back to fill the canteens.

            Off to his right, something moved. He looked upstream, but saw nothing. Then he turned further and peered up a steep rise of rock. He sat back on his haunches. Silhouetted against the brightening day, Clare stood on top of the rock outcropping. She wore an oversized blue cardigan. Her arms spread wide, fingers open; she moved them in a slow arc from the ground to the sky. Andrew stared. The young woman’s hair fell full, vermilion in the brightening air. Her skin, the profile of her nose, the mouth, her arms spread wide, he absorbed every detail.

            She lowered her arms and slowly turned her eyes toward him. He swallowed. She raised her head and walked back to the camp. A packhorse grew restless, snorting and pawing the tundra. Henry startled. Quickly he knelt re-wetting his knees, and buried the burbling opening of each canteen in the rush of numbing water.

            On either side of the litter, three students gripped the aluminum rim. Each of them had tied a sling rope around his shoulder in a large loop and then fashioned a small loop where he clipped a carabiner to the rim. In this way, they could alternate between carrying the weight with a hand or a shoulder, or both. In addition, the arrangement insured that wherever the litter went, they went. Matt clipped in at the foot, and another instructor carried the front. The third instructor would spell the others on a regular rotation, as would John Pack who followed with Mrs. Campbell and Clare. Vince and the apprentice packed the horses with camp gear and rode in the opposite direction back to the Lariat Ranch. Henry looked back for Clare.

            They had hiked fourteen hours through the night to reach the man. Within a half-hour they now headed back to the school. Instead of a light aluminum basket to manage they had to deal with weight of a corpulent man.  When they started, they staggered. The carrying process took practice. Each step was unpredictable. Henry shivered.

            After an hour, Henry glimpsed the trail meandering far below at tree line. At present, however, the smooth slabs of rock that held their boots on the way up felt ready to vault them into space under the awkward weight of their burden. Then too, the grass sandwiched between the slabs had grown slick from a light rain that began to fall. John Pack stopped.

“Hold up. We need to rig a belay for the basket. We’ll move over there to the left and lower him down the cliff.”

Two climbing ropes were uncoiled. John Pack took four steel pitons from his rucksack and with a small squat hammer nailed them into four separate cracks in the granite behind him. With each blow, the ringing pitch of the steel rose. Carabiners were clipped in the eyeholes of the pitons and the ropes ran through them. Campbell had not stirred. The litter was lowered down the cliff where it would be free from banging against the rocks of the sloping ledge. It was safer than negotiating the weight and awkward bulk of the basket down the tilted slabs. Matt guided the basket as he rappelled alongside. A frightening moment came when the frame caught a projecting rock.  The basket tipped vertically, Matt swung to the side, tied off, and balanced the litter while slack was taken up. Henry watched in amazement as Matt deftly handled the awkward load. He felt proud of his instructor’s skill. And he wondered how Matt, Mr. Campbell, and the Stokes Litter held in mid-air with only ropes fastened to thin rock cracks by tiny shafts of steel. With head and foot matched, the belay played out until, finally, Campbell rested near the trail eighty feet below where he began the descent.

When the rescue party began hiking down the trail, Henry took the position at the head of the litter. He clipped in the carabiner, and adjusted the length of the sling rope to press a slight tug on his shoulder. Throughout the rest of the rescue he never again unclipped, never relinquished his place at the head.

            As the sun rose higher, a high-altitude dryness filled the air—no wind, only heat and the smell of desiccated pine. Henry walked, and his thoughts drifted, dissolved, and reformed like clouds. Now and then he caught his breath from the pain in his shoulder where the sling dug deeply when he tired from holding the weight with his arm. New blisters replaced the old dried ones. He tried not to feel and was mostly successful.

            He recalled August’s heat, the torture of two-a-day football practices. His coach purchased new cleats for the team, low-cuts for the running backs like Henry. The unyielding leather rubbed against cotton socks against his flesh. Then, as now, his heels raised searing blisters. Those blisters infected. Tears slid down his eyes when he carried a two hundred and sixty-pound tackle thirty yards in a torture called wind sprints. He loathed Coach Kline’s shrill whistle that commanded another thirty yards and another. Yet the practices brought about home-cooked lunch and dinner at their conclusion. At night, he slept as though drugged and without dreams. In the morning, a damp circle on the pillow near his mouth marked exhaustion. Henry complained and moaned like all his teammates. But he loved it too. The boy consistently went to practice a half-hour early to spray his injured heels with adhesive and apply moleskin patches with a holes cut out of the middle to protect over the blisters. Gingerly he pulled on his cleats, hopeful, but pain returned immediately. Worse was peeling the stuck moleskin from the blisters after practice.

Now he was tied to a heavy Stokes Litter, hiking a narrow trail. Pain was center, unrelenting;

                        “Crap. Dang. Puke.”

Under his breath, the litany of oaths made no difference, so he stopped swearing and became a robot. He fell into a trance to separate from his pain. Close to noon, one of the students fled his part of the load, groped at a tree trunk, and threw-up. But Henry was a machine. “Okay,” he snapped back each time that Matt asked him how he was doing. He held on to the front of the basket, alternating hands with his shoulder, unrelenting. His hand touched the stricken man’s face several times; if he was dead, Henry no longer cared. The gloves on both hands wore through at each of the fingers. He didn’t care about that either.

            From time to time, Henry’s mind screamed at him to quit. Repeatedly, his thoughts commanded a halt. The boy had heard that voice before, and he had obeyed its command. But now, in the midst of more suffering than he had ever known, he would not quit. The sinews of pride—the desire to prove himself—overcame the voice that beckoned him. Hatefully, he embraced the opportunity. He strode like an automaton; he would do so until he fell over and died. He failed to notice when the boy on his right unclipped and sat down whimpering.

            Like most seventeen-year olds, Henry successfully avoided most discomfort. Apart from the glory of athletics, he took his ease. He hated summer yard work, or shoveling snow, or cleaning up the garage, or any of the menial tasks around the house. His Dad would scowl, in that particularly constipated face, and bark before Henry would disgustedly get up from listening to a record album to clean the prolific dog messes in the yard and then crank the lawn mower. He ate voraciously, slept past noon on weekends, and drove downtown with his buddies. He existed in adolescent limbo, no longer a boy and not yet a man. His estimation of himself faltered with his moods. Although temporarily buoyed by the frenetic pace of student council, senior electives, editor of the school newspaper, sports—the detritus of high school—he felt cavernous about his worth, a cold draft up his backside. Vicariously, the boy warmed with the adulation that others heaped on his heroes. And he longed for his own applause, in response to an extraordinary feat and astonishing skill.

Down through the forest Henry trudged in pain and in a self-made glory, a member of a life-saving rescue at Outward Bound. He had long since passed the anxiety over pain or illness. Here and now, Henry could be a hero—whatever it cost him. Henry imagined carrying Mr. Campbell by himself—flung over his shoulder for hours until he walked into the school where cheers would resonate in his ears. His burden would be lifted. Mr. Campbell, alive and talking, would thank him effusively and offer a money reward that Henry would refuse. John Pack would proudly shake his hand. Clare would be smiling. So he continued; he never sat down at the rest stops and drank water sparingly if at all. He stayed clipped to the litter. Henry never gave up his place.

            In the gloaming, the rescue party entered the school thirty hours after they had embarked on the rescue. They carried Mr. Campbell to a graveled parking area below the dining hall. The helicopter engine sputtered and then caught after fresh hands lifted the litter aboard. John Pack leaned in and spoke to the lashed bundle, then turned his ear to listen. Henry watched, but could only hear the flap and whistle of the blades. Heavily he sat down on a log pitched along the edge of the parking lot to keep vehicles from rolling down the hillside. The boy thought he might be out of his head. The engine revved and the helicopter lifted and vanished down the valley. Henry stared vacantly at the gravel.

            Most of the boys from the rescue limped to the washhouse for showers and needed gastrointestinal relief. Henry didn’t stir. His body ached and a silence loomed inside him. His earlier heroic musings vanished. What did he want, a medal? He glanced up at the sound of Mrs. Campbell’s voice. She sat on the passenger side of a Land Rover with the door open talking with Mr. Pack and the school’s Director. No Clare. Henry focused on the mud caked in the lugs of his left boot. He picked at it with his thumb.

            He saw narrow legs in blue jeans. The legs ended with white tennis shoes. The boy gazed at the hair framing both sides of her face; his gaze her luminous eyes. Clare knelt on both knees. Her hands reached out and took his ragged gloved hands in hers. She pressed.

                        “Thank you.”

                        “Okay.”

Henry stumbled his way to his tent and bed. But each time he closed his eyes they swam rocks and dirt and trees. At first he chilled, then, sweated. His skin felt clammy against the mummy bag as it wrapped around his body. Henry could not relax; he knew an enormous thirst. He peeled out of the bag and lay in the cool air and began to shiver.

                        “Are you alright?”

                        “Go to sleep, Martin.”

Henry drew the sleeping bag around like a blanket. He stared up at the red dots swimming in the dark pool above him. He did not want to shut his eyes because again and again he saw the tips of his boots, and rocks, and rocks, and more rocks. Over and over his mind played the rescue like a film loop: the heft of the litter, the bundled lump, his aching heels, the rumble in his gut, and thirst. He drank two pitchers of milk at dinner and filled his canteen with water before bed. The canteen emptied quickly and the dryness in his throat returned. He rolled on his side toward the canvas wall of the tent; his palm moved up and down the fabric. The canvass felt cool and it eased him. No sound from his tent mate. Martin shared the silence.

                        “It must have been really hard, Henry?”

                        “Go to sleep.”

                        “I’m sorry to bug you.”

                        “You are bugging me.”

                        “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. I’m just really wasted. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.”

“’Night, Henry.”

They lay quietly.

                        “Do you have to run the dip tomorrow?”

                        “Yep. Matt said he’d see me there in the morning.”

                        “They never give up, do they?”

                        “No, I guess not.”

Martin rolled over on his stomach. In a while, Henry heard his tent mate's breath grow wheezy and slow.

            He fought with himself, “What a pain to get up and go to the wash house for a drink, but I have to. I’m thirsty.” Peeing outside off the tent platform took little effort, but he needed water and that meant hobbling down to the washhouse on his damaged feet.

            He threw off the sleeping bag and searched for his tennis shoes. Bandages covered both heels. Matt’s doing. Before he had showered that afternoon, he sat on the wood bench across from the sinks and stared at his heels. His socks had to come off and he feared the sight as much as the pain. The outer wool socks showed round rust spots the size of a nickel on each heel. Henry removed them carefully. The inner socks were blood-soaked and congealed. He pulled one of the socks down close to the heel; yellow fluid oozed. His head spun. Slowly, he tried to move it across the stuck place but it stayed stuck. As a kid, his Mom would jerk a Band-Aid across a healed cut. So, he jerked the sock. It stayed stuck. He swooned against the wood wall. He felt sick.

When he opened his eyes Matt stood in front of him with a white metal case under his arm. He knelt down on one knee.

“Those look pretty bad.”

“They’re okay.”

“Let me have a look.”

The instructor carefully moved the sock toward the blister. Henry winced.

“Sorry. I know they’re really sore. I got an idea.”

Matt picked up a dry wash cloth from the bench and put it in the sink. He let the water run to steaming, then rung it out. Gently, he pressed it against Henry’s heel for several minutes and repeated the process twice more.  The hot dampness softened the mess so that the sock peeled off without much grief. Henry kept his eyes closed. When he showered, the water trickled down his legs and stung the open wounds. 

            Matt waited for Henry to finish. Then, he opened the first-aid kit and dressed the blisters with iodine. For the second time that night, Henry thought he would faint. Matt cut blister-sized holes in several layers of gauze pads and taped them to each heel.

                        “There you go.”

                        “Thanks, Matt.”

                        “Your welcome. Get some sleep. Aspirin might help.

                        “Okay.”

                        “See you at the dip in the morning.”

                        “The dip?”

                        “Yeah, if you can.”

                        “Sure.”

In the moonless night he hobbled back to his tent. He carried two full canteens, his own and one he took from Martin. Just his toes were in the tennis shoes. The heels were on the outside squashing down on the back of the shoes.

 

Initiative Tests

Three days later, the students gathered at the fire ring. John Pack explained the initiative tests. Teamwork skills would be developed along with ingenuity and problem solving. He explained to them that each test involved a physical dilemma. He sent them off to various locations around the area where their instructors would explain more fully. Bridger Patrol, with Henry as their newly elected patrol leader found Matt by an electric fence. Of course, there was no fence, electric or otherwise. What they saw in that open space was a rope tied between two trees seven feet apart and about eight feet high. On the ground was a log, a foot in diameter and ten feet long. Matt explained the scenario.

“Here’s how it works, guys. You’re inside a prison camp, a brutal prison camp. You have to escape or you will be killed. You have to do it now. Concrete walls, tall and smooth stand on three sides of this area. The only possible escape is over this fence represented by the rope tied between those two trees. The problem is that the fence is electrified with a deadly voltage and it is raining. Whoever touches the fence is wasted immediately. The only tool you have is this log and, in fact, it is a metal beam. So, if it touches the fence, whoever is touching it is zapped. You’ve got to get all your men over the fence without electrocuting them. Figure out a plan and make it work. Got it?”

No, they did not get it, and they asked several questions. With exasperation, Matt summarily repeated the scenario, turned his back, and walked a ways away.

“Alright, no more questions? Good. When you are ready to put a plan into action, I’ll time you for the patrol competition. Now, get to work.”

            Henry felt pressure to lead, but he was clueless about where to start on this problem. For a few minutes, several boys made suggestions while the others rudely dismissed them. Henry stole a glance at Matt. The instructor was strolling, whistling, with his back to the patrol. Henry looked back at the ten boys and remembered something called brainstorming. Last year, his psychology teacher taught a senior seminar focusing on group dynamics, including decision-making techniques. One was called brainstorming. For a week, they broke into small groups and practiced the technique on several problems. He considered that it might work in this situation; besides he could not think of anything else to do.

                        “Okay, now, we’re not getting anywhere like this so let’s try brainstorming.”

He began to explain the process. Their response did not encourage him—much grousing.

“Cool it, guys, nothing else is working, so just hold on a second and let me tell you how it works.”

As he talked, one boy said something to another and they both laughed. Henry stopped mid-sentence and scowled at them until they feared what might happen. He set the ground rules. Several boys offered ideas and eventually a plan emerged. They practiced the plan away from the electric fence; they modified it when two kids fell off into what would have been sudden death. They tried again. Finally, when the plan seemed to work, Henry asked Matt to time them.

            The three tallest boys picked up one end of the log. The other end remained on the ground. Carefully, they scooted the high end over the fence. The shortest of the three put the log on his shoulder; the next braced it with his hands over his head, and the tallest boy held the log above his head with stretched out arms. One by one, a boy would scoot along the log on all fours until he had cleared the fence and then jumped to the ground. After several successes, Henry replaced the tallest student because that boy needed to get over to the other side and hold the high end of the log from there. As Henry, who was a good six inches shorter maneuvered into position, the log nearly brushed the top of the fence. The boys on the other side yelled so that he stood on his tiptoes and moved his hands down the log for a better angle. Now they were set. Three students held the log on the inside and one held it on the outside. Henry considered the situation breathing hard through his mouth.

“Two more over. After that I’ll go over and help hold on the other side.
Then Martin goes over.”

He would be the lever hefting a boy over two hundred awkward pounds. Henry climbed and slipped near the top and leapt safely to the ground clear of the fence.

                        “Okay, Martin, your turn.”

                        “I can’t do it.”

                        “You’ll be fine. Just move easy and you’ll make it.”

                        “No, it won’t work.”

                        “Give it a go. We can’t hold this stinking log forever.”

                        “I can’t do it.”

                        “Get your fat ass over, now!”

                        “I can’t”

                        “You will.”

The team grew restless. One boy called Martin a fag. Another threw a rock that ricocheted off a tree. Martin started. As he moved up, his weight pushed the log closer to the rope. The four boys strained to hold him. He barely inched along. Henry was weakening.

                        “Move it!”

Martin’s left foot slipped. As tried to regain his footing and looked like a dog scratching his belly with a rapid hind leg. Suddenly, Martin let go, slammed into the electric fence, and made a thud on the ground. The log recoiled off the rope and then fell a second time on the fence. Five boys were electrocuted in the process and two remained in prison. Matt clicked the stopwatch and wrote on the paper held by a clipboard.

                        “Alright, Bridger Patrol, come with me. We’ll try the wall next.”

            Matt walked away with most of the patrol in tow. Martin rolled over on his back; both arms covered his face. His hair was tousled with leaves and pine needles and sniffled through his nose. Henry walked over to him and squatted down on his haunches.

                        “At least you tried.”

Martin barked his annoying chest cough.

                        “Come on, let’s go. I’ll help you up.”

Martin inhaled as he leaned to one side and sat up. His body trembled. Henry stood and reached out his hand. The help took considerable effort, and they both laughed a little. Side by side, the tent mates sauntered. He still did not like Martin but he felt something new—at least the cream puff had tried.

The wall consisted simply of a vertical platform of wood twelve feet high and eight feet wide. It was solid and smooth, not a hand or foothold anywhere. Matt explained the problem.

“Get everyone over as quickly as possible. You have three tries. The best time counts in the patrol competition.”

            On the first attempt, they placed a strong boy with his back against the wall, knees flexed, and making a step with his hands interlaced in front of him. The student going up the wall would step into the hands, then up on to the shoulder with a boost from the holder. The last step consisted of a quick push off the boy's shoulder and a simultaneous lunge with both hands for the top edge of the wall. Garcy, the wiry Mexican-American from Corpus Christi, made the top of the wall with seeming ease. The next boy needed a stabilizing hand on the back of the legs. The first five made it, if slowly. The tempo increased when Henry and Garcy stood on the two-by-four back bracing and leaned over the front of the wall grabbing a handful of shirt or belt and hauled up the climber. When it came time for the heavier boys, the difficulty increased. And they had not worked out how to get the holder over.

            The last three students, including Martin, struggled mightily. They could not keep their balance on the holder’s shoulder, even with help from behind. Each time they fell backwards. Clearly, a new approach was needed. The student providing the footholds sighed in relief. It hurt enough to have the heavier ones on his shoulder; what would it be like if they tried to stand on his head?

            Martin, who had just fallen flat on his back for the fourth time, sat up as though mesmerized by the wall. Then he spoke with deliberation.

“Four things. The first kid up will be Henry. He flies up the hand-step and lunges for the top edge. We know that works. Then six guys make a step platform for me; two guys get down on all fours, two crouch with hands on their knees, and two stand, but a couple of feet out from the wall and braced by some other guys on the side. I’ll walk up the human staircase where Henry can give me a hand from the top. Third, when I get to the top, I’ll hang by my armpits and dangle my legs over the wall. The rest of you can get a foot boost, like before, then grab on to my legs and use them like handholds, and then reach up for guys leaning over the top on either side of me for help. The last one up will have to be quick and strong. That’ll be Garcy, because he will have to boost the holder up to my legs. Then he’ll run at the wall, get a foot on it, and lunge for me.”

It was a brilliant plan. They practiced it twice. Then they did it for time, faster than any patrol that summer.

            In the showers before supper, Martin complained to no one in particular. His back ached; he was quite sure his left knee was dislocated. Certainly, there might be cartilage damage that would need surgery. One of the boys rolled a towel and snapped at his backside. A second swat got him good, and he yelped rubbing the red spot on his alabaster legs. Everyone laughed and a door opened for Martin, a crack toward acceptance.

            Around the supper table, Matt described tomorrow task, the patrol’s first long hike, a shakedown exercise. The itinerary included the hated morning dip, breakfast, and then an all day traverse of Arkansas Mountain. A traverse, he explained, involved climbing a mountain by one route and descending a different way. It gave a mountaineer a broad perspective of a mountain and a provided a sense of completeness. Henry worried what damage the boots would do to his heels; he had been in tennis shoes since the rescue. Martin yawned. Someone slugged him on the arm and everyone laughed. Matt continued.

“I want you to carry your pack frames tied with stuff. Put in underwear, socks, and sweaters, fill up the bags. You’re not going to need any of it, but we’re going to load up to get the feel for the bigger climbs later on in the month. Tie on your sleeping bag, ice ax, and extra clothing in a stuff sack. We’ll take three climbing ropes and alternate carrying them. You’ll need food for lunch plus a snack. Go easy on the candy, though. It gives you quick energy, but it doesn’t last. I want your packs to weigh twenty-five to thirty pounds. If you want to check, there’s a hanging scale next to the storeroom. It’s important now to get in shape. The weight on your backs will help. Soon enough we’ll be doing expeditions of several days with lots of miles and altitude. Believe me, you’ll want to be ready for that.”

He cautioned about blisters, how to prevent them, and what to do at the first sign of a hot spot. Henry flushed, but Matt did not make an object lesson of him.  It was just a day-hike, Matt concluded, but they needed to learn about pace, rhythm, and moving as a team.

Despite Matt’s caution, most boys made their way straight for the store under the dining hall for candy, chips, licorice—whatever might fortify them or at least make them feel good. A few wandered to their tents and the job of packing. Henry fetched his boots and carried them to the washhouse. They felt stiff from newness even after the miles put on by the rescue; he shivered at the sight of them. Then he ran hot water in the sink. When it steamed, he pulled back the tongue and cleared the laces. He ran two inches of scalding water in each boot. Outside, he set them on the wood deck and ambled his way to the store. A treat for the top, he thought. Martin swaggered out from the goody store. His pockets bulged. When he tried attempted to greet Henry, flecks of white sprayed from a Bit ‘O Honey.

                        “You better slow down on the candy, Tiger. You’ll get sick tomorrow.”

Martin swallowed, hacked, swallowed again, and cleared his throat.                 

“Right, Mr. Patrol Leader. Just tonight. A little treat. See you later.”

            Henry preferred donuts or fruit-filled danish, but soft dark chocolate sounded good to him. He bought a couple Three Musketeers; he would keep one for tomorrow. By the time he returned to his soaking boots he had unwrapped the treat. He sat on the deck savoring the taste and then emptied the water out of the boots. From the back pocket of his jeans he pulled out a new pair wool socks; he liked their oily feel, lanolin from the sheep. He buried his nose in them, a fresh smell. Rag socks, Matt called them. He took off his tennis shoes and light socks, patted down the curled ends of tape that held the gauze to his heel, and put on the wool socks. When the boots rubbed his heels he winced, more a memory than actual pain. They itched more than hurt. Matt told him the healing would make them tougher and he demonstrated how to fashion that protective bandage made of moleskin. Henry laced the boots tight and took a hesitant step—not bad. The boots felt warm and much softer. 




A Shakedown Stroll

            After breakfast everyone bustled about. First thing, Martin hurried to re-supply his dwindling cache of goodies. Henry took care with blister fixings. At 9:30 they set off. Matt changed leaders every half-hour and took up the rear of the column.

            The climb involved a nine-mile round trip with an elevation gain of three thousand feet; the seasoned instructor knew most would find it difficult. The Lost Creek Trail crossed a meadow and then sharpened steeply after a mile from the school. From a distance, Arkansas Mountain appeared like a loaf of bread. The trail approached its western end and then meandered along its south side where the mountain’s rounded flanks fell into a forest of spruce and fir. As the patrol marched the trail, they could see above them a growing number of cliffs with steep gullies cut between them filled with rocks

            Garcy was the first leader; he set a rapid pace. Matt said nothing. The patrol began to spread out.  Several boys stopped with increasing frequency and puffed in the altitude. Up front, a competitor started racing with the leader, Jim Colbert a stylish boy from the suburbs; soon the trio vanished far ahead as they rounded a bend in the trail. The boys in the middle could not see those in front or behind them. Matt caught up with the middle group and ordered.

“Alright, hold up, guys. Take a blow. Wait for Marty and the others to catch up. I’ll come back here with the superstars out front. Don’t leave this spot. Got it?”

Matt laid his pack upright against a small spruce tree and jogged up the trail; the already weary young men were amazed. Twenty minutes later the head and the tail of the patrol met in the middle. Matt was perturbed.

“ I told you guys how we were to hike today—as a patrol, not as a bunch of prima donnas way out front or lagging in the back. You guys aren’t getting it. Remember that first day walking up from the bus? Well, guess what, you will get it or we’ll be out here all day and all night until you do get it.”

Matt took a deep breath. Only the buzz of bees among the wildflowers interrupted the silence.

“There are many reasons to stay together. The most important is safety. It may seem just like a stroll in the park for some of you, but a turned ankle or a concussion from slipping down one of these scree gullies could be down right dangerous. No one would know what happened to you because the patrol was spread out all over this mountainside. If you think what I am saying is horseshit, then I’ll give you a better reason. Stay together because I’m telling you to stay together. In other words, I can make your life very miserable up here if you don’t follow what I say. Okay? Okay. Now, scree is a mass of small stones filling a gully. Later on, I’ll teach you how to ski on top of the scree. It’s a good technique to learn because it can get you down quickly and safely and, besides, it’s fun. Talus is similar to scree, only it’s made up of large rocks and boulders. Obviously, no skiing on talus.  All right, let’s saddle up and give it a go lads. Remember, stay together. Marty, you take the lead. Take it slow and steady.”

            That announcement produced a chorus of groans and muttering. When he had rejoined the patrol, Martin collapsed on the trail without taking off his pack. In one hand, he held his canteen, in the other, a candy bar; he alternated between the two. When Matt picked him to lead, he had just finished a second Snicker’s bar. He tried unsuccessfully to stand up against the weight of the pack pulling him backwards. Chocolate smudges smeared the corners of his mouth; the boy sweat profusely.

                        “Let’s do it, Martin.”

Henry looked away while reaching out a hand. Martin put the remaining chocolate in his mouth and grabbed. For his effort, Henry got chocolate goo on his hands.

                        “Crap.”

                        “Sorry, Henry.”

            Martin obeyed the first half of his instructor’s directive perfectly. The pace, if it could be called a pace, was more of a shuffle. However, he could not manage to follow the second part. Erratic would be a kind way to describe the new leader’s rhythm. He might stop after five minutes, or ten steps, or thirty seconds. At first, those hikers close behind him would bump into each other when Martin unpredictably stopped. They learned soon enough and adjusted their spacing, but still the stops grew tedious. Matt let this process go for fifteen minutes without comment. Finally, Martin pitched himself on the ground wheezing like a veteran smoker with emphysema. Matt called from the back.

“Okay, this is as good a place as any. Take a five-minute blow. Henry, you’re in the lead next.

Whatever points Martin earned from his successful strategy at the wall yesterday, fell to zero today. Henry agreed; he was disgusted.

The patrol leader’s pace held steady and moderate for all but the most exhausted. When he looked back and noticed those at the end falling further behind, he slowed until they closed the gap. A rhythm grew inside him as he connected it to a song he sang over and over. When he inhaled, he sang one phrase. When he exhaled, he sang the next, barely a whisper out of his mouth. His boots beat the time. On the stereo at home, he had listened to the “Bay of Mexico” many times. Strangely this whaling song from the Kingston Trio fit his pace.

            “Why those young gals love me so,

            Weigh up, Susanna,

            ‘Cause I don’t tell everything that I know, well,

            ‘Round the Bay of Mexico.

            When I was a young man and in my prime,

            “Weigh up, Susanna,

            Caught those young girls ten at a time, boy,

            ‘Round the Bay of Mexico,

            ‘Round the Bay of Mexico.”

The patrol did not stop for forty-five minutes.

            When Matt finally called a halt, the boys spread out along a lush grassy slope flooded with more wildflowers. Gentians and tall chimney flowers provided a blue backdrop for dabs of color: pink from wild roses, twinflowers, and shooting stars; red from king’s crown, tiny elephants’ head, and Indian paintbrush with their bright red-orange spears; yellow monkey flowers provided a contrast, along with the white of marsh marigolds and globeflowers. All the hues harmonized effortlessly against the various greens of the grasses. On an artist’s palette, the intensity and variety of colors would conflict, but here the canvass was stunning and tranquil.

 Only Matt noticed.

It was growing hot. The aluminum canteens warmed the water tepid. Most had drained theirs at once. This would provide Matt with another lesson that he would deliver later when the dry afternoon had lengthened. Everyone ate hungrily and then grew sleepy; most closed their eyes and dozed. Henry felt a longing anticipation for the summit of Arkansas. 

            After a half-an-hour, hamstrings and calves stiffened. The dull ache of muscles unused to weight invaded the shoulders. Sweat dried; laziness congealed their will.

                        “Saddle up, men.”

Matt’s tenor voice irritated their lethargy not unlike the siren that summoned them from sleep each morning. Boots scraped, pack frames rasped against rock, and boys grunted against their loads.

“We leave the trail here. The top is above us and to the right—about eight hundred feet above us. It’s a flat football field-sized meadow with a mound of rock. Look where I’m pointing. You can see how this grassy slope rises into that stand Douglas firs. The top is on beyond the trees, forty-five minutes distant. Listen up, now. If you try to walk straight up this slope, you’ll tire quickly and use up the energy you’ll need to descend the backside down to the North Fork Trail and back to the school. Take it slow. The steeper it gets the slower you should go, but don’t stop, just slow and keep moving, zigzagging up the slope like a car going up switchbacks on a mountain pass. Find your own rhythm. We won’t go in single file, but I want you stay in sight of each other. Remember to keep an easy, doable pace without stops. You should make more switchbacks the steeper it gets.

Within ten minutes the patrol was spread all over the slope.  They all made switchbacks. However, some zagged more than they zigged and found themselves far to one side of the slope or the other. A few did not do enough zigzagging in their attempt to shortcut and to go straight up the mountainside. Soon, they plopped down exhausted so that only the tops of their heads bobbed above the tall grass.

            Henry sang a new tune, a ballad and with it he steadily pulled ahead of all but Jim Colbert, who preferred the nickname J.C., and Garcy. Each secretly glanced at the other and attempted to gauge the other’s strength and stamina. When they entered the stand trees, they felt quite alone. Dispensing with any switchbacking, Henry climbed straight up, fast, and with no pauses. His chest burned. Both calves protested against the steep, unyielding angle. Warm spots began at his heels, so he tried, as best he could, to place his boots in flat, stair-step places on the rocks.

            As the trees grew closer, the light dimmed; the boy hoped he still headed in the right direction, but the top must be up. Matt had ordered the patrol to keep in sight of each other. Henry had been alone for ten minutes. He felt guilty and cursed himself for taking off on his own. Perhaps, he considered, he should turn around. Losing altitude would mean regaining it again; his heels hurt and a large weariness began to gnaw at him. Besides, he was winning. He kept at it. In ten minutes, the forest opened abruptly into a glade, level, and larger than a football field. Maybe he missed the top. At the far end, he noticed a hillock that rose toward the far end with a pile of rocks. He stopped and looked around. There was nothing higher—this must be the top.

            He started to jog toward the mound of rocks, then broke into a sprint across this meadow of knee high grass. The stalks brushed lightly against his legs; they opened in front of him like a school of fish. Suddenly, he was airborne, whirling head over heels.  His boot had struck a half-buried boulder. He lay dazed. The sides of his head pounded in rhythm with his chest. When his breath eased, Henry laughed and gazed through the lazy grass at the sky. The blue so deep it looked black. Suddenly, he felt someone near him and sat up. No one. He looked about. Nothing. When he stood and walked about he was wobbly and he was alone. Still, he felt the unmistakable sensation of someone’s presence.              

“Hey! Hello? Guys? Is anyone there?

            Not a ripple of breeze, but his skin raised goose bumps on the neck and down his arms. He felt someone, or something. The feeling frightened and excited him too. Henry lumbered toward the hillock. Sunlight gilded the summit firs.

 

The Solo 

After breakfast the next morning at the school, Matt gathered his patrol and explained the Solo. It marked a contrast from everything else in the Outward Bound curriculum—at least on the surface. When the students first heard rumors about the solo, they longed for those three days and three nights, a rest. No forced marches. No aching muscles from the ropes course or the stress from competing with other patrols in the various initiative tests. No sweaty fears on that rock face that loomed over Lizard Lake where they climbed and rappelled. Sleep, assumed Henry. Three days and three nights alone, away from everyone: none of Martin’s complaints, no morning dip.” He needed a respite. They all did. A longing for home, sleeping in on weekend mornings, naps after practice.

            Everyone stuffed himself or herself at breakfast. They knew that the trade for rest would be a lean menu. Matt gathered the patrol beneath the dining hall.

“After I finish telling you about the solo, go to your tents and pack your sleeping bag, poncho, extra clothes, flashlight, parachute cord, first aid kit, toiletries. Now listen carefully: don’t bring pencil and paper or anything to read. Got it. And no sneaking food and no candy.”

Then he demonstrated the use of a snare wire to catch supper, and how to prepare and cook whatever they might catch. Edible plants make a passable tea; salad makings were abundant for the picking. Matt passed around green samples.

 In the bed of rust-coated pick-up truck, Bridger Patrol sulked in the chalky dust and roar of a non-existent muffler. Still, it was a reprieve from hiking day-in and day-out. At the Lily Lake turnoff, the dirt road turned to pavement a mile from the summer village of Redstone. The truck slid to at the trailhead. Matt led his patrol three miles into the forest. Then, every half-mile or he picked one of the students and walked with him several hundred yards away from the trail. This spot comprised the campsite for the solo. Matt’s instructions were succinct and strong: stay put, absolutely no wandering. He would be back for them in three days. Henry hoped Matt would remember the exact spot. So many boys.

            That afternoon, Henry felt confident. He worked deliberately like a man comfortable outdoors; a man accustomed to making his own way. With a bayonet knife, he trimmed the limbs from several small trees and fashioned poles for his shelter. Sweat glistened through his short blond hair and stung his eyes. He tied a red bandana around his forehead borrowing confidence from similarly swathed instructors. Using a pounding rock, he drove two poles into the ground. They stood, as near as he figured, six feet apart. Then he lashed each end of a new pole to the top of the vertical poles with parachute cord. This ridgepole felt sturdy, and Henry smiled to himself. Next he lashed two sets of two new branches together at a forty-five degree angle and fit them to the top of the ridgepole, spread them apart and drove them in the ground. The frame looked like a pup tent.

Scouting the area, he found young trees with boughs good for thick layers to cover the sides. He lopped them off and tied them together. If skillfully done, Matt told them that evergreen boughs would keep out the rain. Henry gathered softer boughs from for his bed. When he had raised a thick palate, he covered it with his poncho and unrolled the sleeping bag on top. He crawled in headfirst. When he attempted to turn around, his feet and head simultaneously bumped against the sides of the shelter knocking off a few boughs. Too narrow. He carefully backed out, turned around, and tried scooting in feet first, but found it too short as well. As the sun began sliding toward evening, his home underwent a major remodel. When Henry was satisfied, he scootched in again and lay on his back. Long enough, although still snug on the sides, the boy smiled. He felt pricks from a few branches in the bough bed. He considered that it would help to cut off more of the ends of the boughs. He yawned. In a little while he would do just that. This solo business was a cinch; he felt his body relax.

            Evening’s soft light prickled through the green walls of his new home like stars. He wondered about rain. Would it come through these tiny dots? He gazed at the sun-stars, felt their warmth on his face, and a slim hunger stirred inside him. He had made his own shelter and the work satisfied him. Henry inhaled the smell of pine and sun. Maybe he wouldn’t eat tonight; he wasn’t all that hungry.

He had been dreaming about the naps he took between summer football practices when he awakened in a sweat. His hand built tent felt close; he needed air. Maybe, he considered, sleep out under the stars tonight. He walked about the campsite kicking rocks here and there while the hunger grew. His laziness was larger. When darkness rapidly settled over the woods like a sleeping bag, he thought better of a night outside and snuggled into the shelter.

His sleep was fitful and interrupted by noises in the woods. Henry roused himself in the pale dawn, started a fire, and laid out all the supplies from his pack. Students on solo carried a minimum of provisions. Though not, per se, intended as a survival experience, the solo aimed at Thoreau’s maxim, “to front only the essential facts of life.” These facts included: plastic baggies containing salt, sugar, and flour, a mess kit, ten matches, and a pocket knife—Henry secreted his Army surplus machete—sleeping bag, poncho, sweater, extra underwear and socks. Also, the coil of snare wire. Henry’s recalled the demonstration: make a loop with slipknot in the wire, rig it on a game trail, and wait. Matt’s instruction ended with vivid details about gutting and skinning whatever rodent they might capture. Finally, the carcass must be rammed with a green stick for roasting over a fire. No one blinked an eye. Henry had not listened carefully.

            By noon and with a roaring hunger, the boy situated himself beside a faint trail that skirted one side of his campsite before it plunged through the trees and out of sight. Carefully, he placed the snare loop in the fork of a twig that he had pushed into soft turf alongside the trail. Over the branch of a ponderosa, Henry strung the long end of the wire. He sat hidden behind the tree waiting and holding the wire. Almost immediately, a striped chipmunk flitted down the trail and snared itself. Henry held the line while it cavorted like a crazed Chihuahua on a leash. At first, the screeching antics were funny. But soon he considered, “What if this crazy thing turns on me? It is a rodent. Don’t they have sharp teeth? And rabies?” Before he left home, his Mom had read to him an article that revealed that forest animal carry rabies, even the plague. 

            He needed to do something. More precisely, he needed to kill the chipmunk? But how do you kill a chipmunk? Henry couldn’t remember what Matt said about that part. Maybe you hit it over the head with a rock. What if it moves too fast? He watched as the chipmunk continued to run and jump against its wire leash. Henry concluded that he must wield a stick and beat it to death. Sweat trickled down his side. Chipmunk jaws must be powerful to break open nuts. Teeth like razors. He felt afraid and a light-headed from not eating.

            In the end, he decided to hang the chipmunk. That way he would avoid both a potential mess and the rodent’s counter attack. Slowly, he pulled the slack out of the wire until he brought the rodent directly underneath the tree where the wire ran up over the branch.

                        “Sayonara.”

The chipmunk raised a huge fuss with its screeches. It dug its claws in the dirt. Despite the bandana, Henry’s eyes blurred and stung with sweat. With a surge of adrenaline, he yanked the wire. The rodent soared up through the tree like a stone shot from a slingshot. Momentarily, Henry lost sight of the flying creature then saw it falling down through the branches on the opposite side of the tree. On the ground again, the chipmunk panted. Killing something that does not want to die proved difficult. Perhaps, he needed a different approach to this hanging—something slower.

A foot off the ground, the chipmunk twirled on its noose. Chattering commenced as Henry waited. The wire in his hands jerked like a fishing line with a trout wriggling on the other end. How long would this take? He knew nothing about hanging. Like a macabre toy, the tiny body wound one way on the wire and then twirled back the other way. He might have to bash it with a stick after all. How would that work with it hanging and twirling, like a piñata? Would the guts fly out? That image worried him. Maybe he should just tie off his end and let the damn thing die in its own time. Henry pictured the step-by-step process of gutting, skinning, and roasting the rodent on a stick.

            The chipmunk trailed the long line of snare wire behind him as it darted down the hillside. Henry concluded for the second time on solo that he was not all that hungry. But by late, his hunger grew intense. He must eat something.

No matter how deftly he attempted to turn it over the fire, the sticky goo of flour, salt, and water, either blackened to charcoal or remained a raw blob on the end of a smoking willow branch. When Matt had talked about the process it sounded like Better Crocker biscuits. Henry nibbled at the lightly browned spot on the surface between the black and the raw places. He burned his lips.

“Ouch!”

The hungry boy pondered his breakfast the morning before he left on solo. The plate towered with pancakes, bacon, and Log Cabin syrup. He drank four glasses of milk that expanded the pancakes to discomfort inside him. Now, afternoon shadows lengthened and Henry overcame his hesitation. He dumped the remaining flour and salt to the sticky glump at the bottom of the mess kit and mixed in water. No cooking. Several hard swallows got it down. Several more swallows kept it down.

            Tea concocted from grasses, wildflowers, and even certain tree bark provides sustenance. Earlier that week Matt had shown them how to make a brew, but Henry cared nothing for tea and let his mind wonder during the lesson. Now he thought, “How hard can it be?” He boiled water the remaining embers. The outside of the pot blackened immediately and he dreaded the cleanup. Sparks from the settling pot crackled and spat delivering an addition of muck that floated on the water. He ladled out several pieces and put on the lid. After foraging for grass and plants—completely ignorant of what was edible and what was not—the water had boiled out of the pot, scorching the inside. He started the process all over, this time in the dark with only glowing embers. The tea tasted like scorched flour. A day-and-a-half without food, he surmised he would survive. Fasting, he had read in Personal Hygiene class, made you healthy. Still, Henry grew more and more preoccupied with longing for food. Suddenly, it occurred to him that he hadn’t heard a voice for a day-and-a- half; he hadn’t spoken. Poking a stick in the dying embers, he talked out loud.

            “Hi, there, my name is Henry. Nice day, huh?

            “Yep, pretty nice day. May rain tonight though.

            “Oh, you think so?”

            “Well, I haven’t heard a forecast but it rains a lot up here in the mountains.”

            “Hope it doesn’t. I got to sleep out here another night.”

The conversation, like the coals, died out for lack of interest.

Henry fell asleep early. The fear of being alone, the failed meal, and the entire the chipmunk affair, had exhausted him. His sleep was deep; he did not move. Sometime in the heart of the night Henry screamed out and bolted upright. He screamed again with a surge of adrenaline; the reflex of fight or flight pounded in his ears. Then the thing pounced on his feet a third time. This time he yelled more than screamed and threw the bayonet toward the foot of the sleeping bag. He missed his feet but hit something; a solid sound of a thud and a scrambling across pine needles. His mind exploded.

                        “Run! Run! Run! Run! Run!”

Over and over his fear echoed like the ringing inside an infected ear—Run! He did not run. Instead, he stared at the dark, hearing his heartbeat and imagining himself running barefoot through the trees, to the main trail, then the dirt road, and the safety of—who knows. Matt’s face—he felt certain that he could not run to his instructor like that, like a baby. He just couldn’t, or could he?

            Fear erupted again and again the pulse beat against his eardrum. Trapped, worse than a nightmare because whatever leapt on his feet was real. Quickly, he reached down and grabbed the large knife lying next to his feet. The heft of the bayonet felt solid in his hand. Slowly his breath settled and Henry stopped imagining a panicked sprint through the nighttime woods. The he remembered Matt’s warning that a she-bear had been spotted a few days ago at the lake with two cubs. “Don’t mess with them in any way, shape, or form,” he had commanded. Henry breath knew it was a bear cub that jumped on his feet. Panic began to tingle along his spine and flush through his face. Maybe he hurt the cub and the furious mother might be headed his way right now to defend her offspring. Fear erupted again into a fury to run

                        “Don’t run!”

            He calmed down when he finally reasoned that he would likely kill himself running through the dark—slamming into a tree or leaping off a cliff. Henry again sat in a stupor until the arm and shoulder he leaned on went from pins and needles to numb. He shifted his weight and the shoulder awakened with fire-like pain. He figured he could nap tomorrow in the daylight; tonight there would be no more sleep.

Indeed, after sunrise, Henry slept hard. When he awoke he drank an entire canteen of water. Never in his seventeen-years had he missed a meal. Now he’d missed several. His head ached. His belly rumbled. In his weariness, Henry dragged the sleeping bag out into the sun and slept again until it grew too hot to sleep. Diversion—something to take his mind away.

            No paper and pencil, nothing to read—confront the essentials of life, he had heard the warning, but Henry had disobeyed and brought along Hemingway, “The Old Man and the Sea.” During the first two days of the solo he had read half of it. Now he needed escape and Santiago enchanted the boy with skill and toughness tempered with love for the boy. The old man, who had known success, was now a failure—eighty-four days without a fish. Henry leaned against a fallen log and read and soon his eyed blurred with tears.

            “Why am I crying?

As he read, the voices of the boy and the old man grew inside him. His body relaxed and he allowed tears to streak his cheeks and his nose dripped. Henry embraced the thin paperback book to his chest and read the passage a third time, this time aloud.

                        “’How old was I when you first took me in a boat?’

                        ‘Five and you nearly were killed when I brought the fish in too green and

                        he nearly tore the boat to pieces. Can you remember?’

 

‘I can remember the tail slapping and banging and the thwart breaking and the noise of the clubbing. I can remember you throwing me into the bow where the wet coiled lines were and feeling the whole boat shiver and the noise of you clubbing him like chopping a tree down and the sweet blood smell all over me.’

 

‘Can you really remember that or did I just tell it to you?

 

‘I remember everything from when we first went together.’

The old man looked at him with his sun-burned confident loving eyes.”

 

Henry laid the book on his chest. The fingers of each hand dug into the dirt. “Loving eyes,” he repeated. His chest heaved without shame.



 A Day-Off

The siren wailed at 5:30 exactly as it had for each of the previous thirteen mornings.  Henry had learned to sleep in swimming trunks in anticipation of the dip; no fumbling with undressing and slipping on the trucks. At the siren’s sound he slipped on his tennis shoes and run shirtless to the trail and the water that never warmed.

After lunch, the boys experienced their first respite from the unrelenting crush of Outward Bound. They could do nap, write letters, read, write letters home and sleep again; even the supper of vegetable soup and bread could be missed. At lunch, Matt invited any takers who wished to join him for rock climbing on the granite slabs across the valley. No takers. Most boys feel deeply asleep after talking together in small groups or writing a pained letter to a girl friend.  By midday, a hush captured all the usually noisy places: the washhouse, the campfire ring, even the tent area.

The need for distance from each other was palpable in contrast to the noisy conversations last night in the dinning hall when these shower-scrubbed young men wolfed their dinner while one boy after another told the story of his solo. The appetite for conversation had grown as strong as their desire for food, both met satisfaction around the table. Henry felt embarrassed about his solo: his panic in the night, the death defying chipmunk, his cooking debacle that forced a fast, and, certainly, his tears after reading Hemingway. He listened to the others and sat quietly. On the other hand, Martin captured the patrol’s attention with one anecdote after another. In one instance, he related chasing several rabbits with a barrage of rocks, none of which, he added thankfully, found their intended target. But one of the missiles found him when it ricocheted off a ponderosa striking him on the side of the head and knocking him silly for a moment. Then he grew dramatic when he tried and tried to build a shelter and gave up. When darkness invaded his space, he simply wrapped the poncho around the sleeping bag, slid inside, and slept like a baby all through the night. The problem, of course, came in the morning when the condensation of moisture trapped between the bag and the plastic poncho soaked him. Everyone laughed.

If Martin was physically inept, his culinary resourcefulness during the solo grew legendary. He had baked biscuits in a structure made of flat rocks shaped into a Dutch oven and with food filched from the storeroom: packets of yeast, extra flour, brown sugar, two cans of tuna fish, and a jar of blackberry jam. He feasted. His cache included ample supply of candy that had purchased over the past week in anticipation of the solo. Impressively, he ate often and with some variety. Martin lavished in the attention his stories stimulated, but when he basked too long in the spotlight the boys grew restless.

Henry felt pressured in his silence. Finally, after everyone had spoken, he told about his foul tasting tea, and then embellished the cub-attacking-his-feet event with a blend of humor and panache. Still, he felt embarrassed and weary. After dinner, he and Bobby Lee made plans for the next afternoon; he wasn’t sure why.

            Directly after lunch on Sunday, Henry sneaked out of the school with Bobby Lee and Boston. He supposed the reason: get way from Bridger Patrol, Martin, Matt, everyone. Bobby Lee was available. The threesome strolled passed the dinning hall and the parking lot, and then ran own the jeep road until they knew no one could see or hear them. Laughing and half-walking, half-jogging, they made Marble in forty-five minutes. On the second try, they hitched a ride to Redstone sitting on hay bales in back of a ranch hand’s pickup. They had escaped from prison and felt giddy.

 

Beside the village of Redstone, the Crystal River flowed at strength. Huge chunks of marble littered the banks. The various sized blocks had been cut and hauled from either the Yule-Colorado or the Strauss quarries south the stone’s namesake village of Marble. Trains carried the marble down the Crystal Valley to Glenwood Springs where it connected to the mainline east or west. This marble proved an excellent quality. Both the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were raised from these blocks. Other prominent buildings in New York and San Francisco also found their origin in here.

When a train skipped the track, a load marble dumped into the river and along its banks. Most of the chunks that littered the banks, though, came from lower grade scrap marble that found usefulness in keeping the river from eroding the railroad bed. The blocks showed grooves along their sides where the chunks were wrested from the quarry by drilling parallel holes in the marble two or three inches a part with steam or air driven drills. Steel wedges called pins and feathers were forced in the holes to split the marble into manageable blocks. Sometimes the blocks were split with wet oak rods or even with water poured in the grooves that expanded as it froze in winter.

Aside from a fancy Bavarian-style lodge, Redstone was a plain hamlet. Few year-round residents coped with the winter snows. Most of the dwellings consisted of log shanties devoid of both insulation and running water. Wood stoves took off the morning chill and the predictable cold front that settled in for a week or two in July and dumped rain. A couple of dozen cabins hid in the cottonwoods or nestled along the river. Families crammed fishing gear, hiking boots, and food supplies for a week’s vacation in those spare cabins. Breakfast aromas would fill the morning air: bacon jumped about in a cast iron skillet; followed by eggs, and then batches of buttermilk pancakes. Coffee permeated all the other odors. With luck, freshly caught rainbow trout, cleaned and breaded, sizzled on the same veteran fry pan at supper. Appetites swelled at high elevation and sleep came early; most cabins darkened by nine.

A rough-hewn general store made of logs supplied the community. From mid-May through deer hunting season in the fall, the store catered to fishermen, hunters, backpackers, sightseers, and guests booked in at the lodge. In winter, the owner boarded up the place against the snow and worked as a ski-instructor in Aspen.

Stuffed pine shelves sagged with lures, hooks, spinners, salmon eggs, mosquito repellant, fishing poles, nets, 30.06 bullets, shotgun shells, sunglasses, and Chap Stick. A pile of groceries kept the cabins from hunger: hamburger, hot dogs, buns, bread, eggs, bacon, pork and beans, chips, cookies, soda pop and on and on. The store sold cigars, cigarettes, wine, spirits, and 3.2 beer—a reduced alcohol beverage that could be sold on Sundays and legal for eighteen-year olds. The three students from Outward Bound lied about their age and each bought a six-pack; the cans featured a sepia photograph of a mountain stream. They loaded up on chips and candy. Henry bought a pack of Camels.            

            A couple of hundred yards up the river from the general store, a stand of willows crowded the banks. In this hideaway, the boys found a spot where sand and gravel formed a spit dividing the stream in two. Shallow water burbled on the both sides; several marble chunks made for a table and makeshift chairs. After sinking five beers in a slow swirling eddy, Henry sat against a cool white slab and drank half a Coors on the first draw.

            The sun leaned west. Above, clouds swished like mares’ tales against the blue—no ominous thunderclouds this afternoon. The banks flushed green with grass and willows and scrub. Kinnikinnick spread like a Christmas tree mantel in one place, emerald with an accent of red berries. Henry began to relax. The noisy water modulated the boys’ voices to shouting.

“I hate this damned Outward Bound place. I hate it. I hate it. And I hate these puking mountains and this icy cold water. And I hate those wise ass, hair-shirted instructors. I hate all of it.”

Boston summarized. Bobby Lee agreed.

                        “No lie, Buckwheat.”

Boston drained his first can and flung it up the riverbank. Matt’s admonition to, "Pack out what you take in” went unheeded. Henry considered that he would collect all the beer cans on the way out. The river ran busy. Quiet inside, Henry waited on the alcohol to minister to his sore muscles and maybe numb his anxiety grown from the pressures of Outward Bound.

            Midway into the second beer he felt a buzz. The boy seldom drank. Beer tasted sour and whatever felt good at first felt worse later. Still, he figured, he needed something. Henry set the can down on a small triangle of marble and lit a Camel then offered smokes to his companions. The cigarette choked him and he coughed and spit, and drew again. Henry felt a lucid calm. He forgot his fears—the pressure to be the best, the shadow of failure. The ash from the cigarette glowed and then fell away with the breeze as he inhaled. Henry rested full of stillness; with the Coors he drank in the river; he drank in the smell of green things growing; he drank the sky. All that was, was this moment.

            Suddenly, a scraping sound, the noise of boots against rocks and water splashing. All at once, the air was pierced by the practiced oaths from Boston’s extraordinary repertoire. Peeing into the river seemed like a novel idea to him—all that talk of wilderness conservation, baloney. However, alcohol and altitude stumbled him backward into a bitter bath. He sat thrashing his legs in the icy water confused and angry. Bobby Lee belched and laughed. He stood and reached a hand toward his floundering disciple. After three tries, Boston connected and nearly pulled Bobby Lee on top of him. Bobby Lee let go and walked a few yards down stream bending over to retrieve another beer.

“Get out of the water, you idiot. Take of your jeans. You’re going to have to get them jeans dry because nobody’s going to give you a ride if you’re all wet. They’ll think you peed your pants.”

Through unabated swearing, Boston took his mentor’s advice. After considerable effort, he stood, managed to peel off his sopping jeans and fling them on the marble, and stood in his underwear drinking beer from a can in his right hand.

            After this tirade, Henry tried to find his way back to peace. But he continued to drink, his initial clarity grew muddy. He guzzled another beer. And he noticed that his vision blurred and his lips felt numb. The more he tried to focus his thoughts the more they scattered. Curiously, he remembered signing the pledge.

*               *               *

After lunch on the first day at the school, Bridger had lined up outside the door to the Director’s office inside a knotty pine building that included the instructor’s lounge, a radio/map room, and at the far end, a door opening into Mr. Bristol’s office. The boys shuffled in at their turn. The room smelled of varnish. None of them found an easy way to stand. The Director sat behind an oak desk, a large man both tall and wide. He was John Pack’s opposite in appearance; his skin was pasty but for bright red circles at the apple of his cheeks, the lips were full, his hair was blond, wavy, and short-cropped. Bristol’s eyes were pale and watered so that now and then he wiped them with his handkerchief.

“Gentlemen, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the Colorado Outward Bound School. As you are well aware, this is the first summer of operation for Outward Bound in the United States. I am confident that as you dedicate yourselves to these twenty-six days so that your experience here will be one of the most memorable your life. I know that you won’t disappoint me. Now, before you are dismissed, there is one item of business we want to take care of. This document is called the pledge. Of significantly more value than all the mountaineering skills you will learn here is the development of your character, particularly, your honor, the honor of a gentleman who keeps his promise. For it is character that makes a man. At the top of the pledge you will read a promise that states that while you are a student at Outward Bound you will refrain from smoking tobacco or drinking alcoholic beverages. Please form up here by the side of my desk and sign your name to affirm your promise to keep the pledge. And, again, my best wishes to each one of you here at the Colorado Outward Bound School.”

The air felt close and dry. “No big deal,” Henry thought as boots scuffed along the floorboards. He’d only tried smoking a couple of times and didn’t like it. Beer didn’t interest him much either. One by one the boys bent over the desk. Mr. Bristol smelled of Old Spice. Henry pretended to read the writing at the top of the page, an imitated behavior he had learned from his Dad, then he took the pen and signed with a flourish. Henry averted the Director’s eyes when the large man vigorously shook his hand.

*            *           *

Henry thought he should be worried about the pledge, but he felt only sick. After taking another tentative sip, Henry put a finger his nose—numb. He tried to focus on the top of the trees where they opened to the sky. But nothing kept still; his vision swam like the river beside him. He decided to stand and got to his hands and knees. There he found it convenient to throw-up. Then he crawled forward, lay on his side, and his sight faded.

            The afternoon had fallen to the gloaming when Henry shivered awake. Along the river, a breeze had stiffened. The boy rolled on to his back and kept his eyes shut. They ached. Swallowing felt like a rock stuck in his throat. He noticed that his upper lip stuck to his teeth. When he sat up. Henry was surprised that it was nearly dark. His right arm ached from pillowing his head. Suddenly, he lurched on to his side with dry heaves. Then crawled to the water and drank so fast his temples throbbed. From his knees, he looked around at the litter of empty beer cans and the absence of Boston and Bobby Lee.

With effort, he managed his way to the highway. After several failures, the boy hitched a ride from one of the night watchman that worked at the Yule Quarry. The slog up from Marble to the school grew agonizing. In the washhouse, Henry drenched in a hot shower. When the boy quietly lifted the tent flap, he was relieved to see Martin on his side facing the tent wall and breathing deeply.

 



 
The Run

On Monday morning, the patrol packed up and left the school for a three-day expedition that would involve rock climbing, summating a fourteen thousand-foot peak, and on the way down, an activity called glissading. When they began, Henry felt ill from the night before. Matt asked him to lead and Martin rejoiced at the labored pace. For the first hour, Henry was certain he would vomit at any moment without cease, but he did not; his sweat cleared his mind and brought healing to his body.

 Matt pushed his brood on Tuesday with the peak climb and then several hours on a glacier to learn snow work—the self-arrest and the glissade. The glissading technique allowed a climber to descend steep snow slopes either standing or sitting.  Such controlled sliding was exhilarating. Climbing a mountain would take hours and yet the descent, if the snow was right, could take only minutes by glissading.  Crucial to the technique was the self-arrest maneuver that utilized an ice axe—a combination pickaxe, hatchet, and wooden shaft.  A steel point capped one end of the shaft. On the other end was an arched steel band fashioned into an adze blade on one end and a pick on the opposite end. A boy bounded down the snow, leaped to his seat, and quickly slid down a slope with the ice-axe shaft across his chest. On command he rolled on to his belly, dug in his boot tips, and buried the pick of the axe into the snow. Normally, the hurtling body stopped within a short distance. For safety, Matt tied a rope around the waist of each of the boys on the first few tries. He held the other end anchored to his own ice axe plunged deeply into the snow with the rope around its shaft.

            The four patrols rendezvoused Wednesday evening at Crystal. This village hugged a stream and lay on a stretch of open land between the ragged cliffs of Sheep Mountain on the north and the slopes of Bear Mountain to the south. A jeep road followed a tortured descent the six miles down to Marble. Crystal was a scattering of fifteen or twenty cabins among silvered derelicts—miner’s shanties, equipment sheds, and crumbling shaft entrances. The boys made camp near the water as it nudged among firs and pines.

            Though not a literal marathon of twenty-six miles and three hundred and eighty-five feet, the race to be held the following morning would be, nonetheless, arduous at nine thousand feet. Everyone dreaded the run; it was all they talked about. Crammed at the bottom of their packs for tomorrow’s race were tennis shoes, socks, a T-shirt, and shorts.

            Around the evening cook-fire opposite opinions expressed the wisdom of overeating or under-eating for tomorrow. Some favored the energy and perhaps the comfort of big meal; others feared a sick belly halfway through the race. In the end, even those espousing restraint ate their fill of canned meat and freeze-dried vegetable stew cooked in number ten tin cans—billycans—and munched on candy bars as night shrouded their bodies apart from the flicker of firelight on their faces. A fine mist fell as Henry washed his mess kit with sand along the creek bed. He felt nervous again; his belly rumbled with perpetual indigestion.

                        “Hey, sergeant-major!”

The whisper startled him. Bobby Lee stepped out of the bosky darkness.

                        “Want a smoke?”

“Are you crazy? Matt’s just down there passed the river bend gabbing with your instructor.”

“My gung-ho slave driver? Who cares? I got a half-a-pack of Camels. Let’s go back in the trees and light up.”

Henry had spread his kit upside down on the rocks and now he took the ripped T-shirt hanging from his back pocket and dried an aluminum cup.

                        “Nah. I’m going to turn in pretty soon.”

“You gonna strut your stuff tomorrow and show us all up? You gonna win it, big shot?

“Bug off, man, I’m not in the mood.”

Even though he looked away, he saw the flare from the match. He turned back toward Bobby Lee and half-yelled.

                        “What are you doing, man? You’ll get us both busted.”

                        “Take it easy, straight-arrow, no one can see.

He crouched down on his haunches and inhaled deeply.  Henry would not have minded a cigarette.

“Yep, I got your number; I bet you’re gonna try to win tomorrow, ain’t you, hero- man?”

Henry gazed silently at the black swirling water.

“The way I figure it, old Henry’s gonna win the big race so he can brown nose Matt and the great John Pack.”

                        “Put a lid on it.”

                        “Why don’t you make me.”

Henry lunged at Bobby Lee with his right hand open and caught him on the throat. The startled boy fell back on his rear end and quickly scuffled to his feet.

                        “Is that you up there, Henry?”

Matt’s voice was near as he walked toward the two boys. Bobby Lee picked up the cigarette that had fallen to the ground and disappeared into the trees.

                        “Pansy ass!”

            Most of the students slept under the starlight that night; the mist cleared into a bone-clenching chill. Not many slept.  On a level place among tall grasses, Henry spread out his poncho and put the sleeping bag on top. He rolled his jeans into a pillow with his wool socks in the middle. So that he wouldn’t have to dress in the morning chill, he slipped on his shorts, white socks, and replaced his sweatshirt with a gray T-shirt stenciled with, “Property: Lincoln High Athletics.”  He slipped the makeshift pillow into the sweatshirt. Goose bumps prickled his skin. In the bag, he shivered for a time and then grew pleasantly warm. In fact, his face glowed painfully from the three days of sun and wind. With his hands under his head, Henry gazed at the night sky. The Milky Way streaked luminous, glimmering like a cloud. Dazzled, his eyes closed and then opened again and again to remember the wonder.

            When he awoke on his belly and figured he had not slept at all, but then he remembered the stars and knew he had slept deeply. He rolled on his back. The morning sky was a thin blue; the sun shown on the tops of the slopes opposite him. Heavy dew penetrated the cloth of the sleeping bag. Then Henry remembered the race.

            Breakfast consisted of oatmeal, hot cocoa, and apples. Some boys stuffed handfuls of gorp in their mouths, anxious about mid-race energy. Henry’s stomach could not bear the thought, let alone the reality. He drank deeply from his cup at the stream.

Shivering in their skimpy running gear, the students piled their packs, boots, and climbing paraphernalia into the back of a Jeep with a small trailer. John Pack hailed them with a loud whistle through his teeth and they gathered around him.   

“Men. A solid sky above us. A beautiful day for a saunter down to Marble, you agree? You’ll warm as you go. We’ll get started in just a moment. It’s a little over six miles from here to Marble. Your gear will be hauled up to the school, but we’ll all walk up there from Marble after the run. This is not a race for individual glory, but to earn points for the patrol competition. So it’s important that each member of your patrol do the best he can. The staff is going to run with you—except Cooky—he’ll drive the Jeep.”

A pistol appeared from behind the chief instructor’s back, he held it up and fired a live round to start the contest. The blast echoed against the cliffs. Dozens of young men and their instructors began to jog through Crystal. With several families vacationing in the town, they received applause and a few cheers. A pack of children ran alongside the racers until the road plunged downhill. A sharp call from a father returned the reluctant children. It was nine-thirty, warm and clear.

            Henry ran easily. The downward grade felt good; oddly, he enjoyed being at the back of the pack. A breeze played with his hair. When the road straightened and rose slightly, he saw three or four boys challenging for the lead. Not far behind them, John Pack loped with effortless strides; his calves rippled. Henry considered that if he continued to feel strong, he might strengthen his pace—the competition erased his earlier fears and he forgot about his belly. As the road grew steeper, he began to pass slower boys. Passing on a hill was good strategy, easier than passing downhill when most runners felt stronger. A hill offered resistance, a practical discouragement to those being passed. As each incline peaked, the next stretch down afforded the opportunity for coasting—race on the uphill, coast on the downhill.

Dead ahead— Henry saw the broad butt of Martin. His tent mate’s prep-school gym shorts bounced and flopped. A shrunken yellow T-shirt revealed a rubber-tire surrounding the boy’s middle. Andrew decided to sprint passed him as Martin breathlessly shouted.

                        “Hey, Henry, way to go.”

Martin sprinted a few steps.

                        “Wait up!”

Henry looked over his shoulder.

                        “Hi, Martin.”

                        “Wait up. ‘Want to ask you something.”

Henry debated, shook his head and turned around.

                        “Just for a second, Martin.”

“It must feel good to run fast, huh?”

                        “What do you mean?”

The heavy boy slammed his toes into a rock and hopped along on one foot. Henry thought it opportune to take off, but Martin kept talking.

“Dang, that hurt. Ah, I mean, it just must feel good to run, to run like the wind. Does it?”

                        “I guess so.”

“See, I was always a slow kid. I never could run very far either. I’m almost out of gas now.”

                        “We just started.”

                        “I know.”

Henry heard a wheezing in Martin’s breath.

                        “You okay?”

                        “I just need a breather. Go on ahead.”

Henry took off with long strides. He glanced back at Martin. With both hands against a tree, the boy was bent over heaving. “Eats too much crap,” he concluded. Henry ran back where Martin stood.

                        “You okay?”

Martin wiped his mouth with the front of his shirt and then blew his nose in it. Henry looked away.

                        “ Martin.”

                        “Sorry. I’ll throw it away.”

            The Jeep whined against its gears and lurched into view. Martin drank from a canteen Cooky handed him and wobbled on his way. Henry surmised the boy would wind up in the Jeep.

                        “I’m gonna take off.”

Martin laughed.

                         “See you in Marble, Champ.”

Henry knew he would not catch the leaders now. Would even catch up to the tail end? Henry realized with a shock, that deep inside he had wanted to win. In an adrenaline-induced anger, he ran hard. His lungs burned. And he enjoyed the anger in his exertion. He caught the last group of students in about five minutes as they walked up the grade that led to Lizard Lake. Around the lake, one after another, he passed several boys.

            The steepest incline on the road to Marble, which was mostly down hill, occurred right after the lake in a series of four switchbacks. Henry drove himself up through the first two. Sweat stung his eye and he wiped them with the back of his hand. Through his sweating vision, he caught sight of John Pack above him running down toward him. In a moment they met.

                        “No, keep on running, Henry, I’ll join you.”

Henry was speechless.

“When I got to Marble I looked for you. I thought you’d be in that first group of guys, but you weren’t. So, I decided to meander back this way to check on a few of the others and to see what happened you.”

“I’m doing okay. Just taking my time.”

“Well, I don’t know about that. I watched you from the top of the road. You smoked up from the lake.”

Silently, the two ran side by side for a few minutes. Henry tried to control the heaving in his lungs. His calves ached. He wondered if he should give up and walk when John Pack exhaled loudly.

“Man, this hill’s a load, I’ll tell you what. I’m going to turn around and walk back toward the lake to make sure everybody’s doing all right. I’ll see you later.”

With that, he turned. Henry was breathless.

 


The Final 

                        Henry rolled his sleeping bag as tight as he could and then unrolled it for the third time. The duck feathers kept bunching up lumpy, too bulky to fit inside the stuff sack. Opposite, Martin sat on his bunk dividing a large plastic bag of gorp into several smaller bags; twisty ties sealed them at the top.

                        “Jeez, Henry, I wish I was going with you today. I’m getting scared.”
                        “You’ll do okay, just remember to take it slow and steady. Get into a

rhythm as you walk. Sometimes I sing a tune in my head and walk to that. I heard that routes are based on the level of guys in the group. I bet your route will probably be just right for you. They won’t leave you behind.”

“I just hate this. I can’t keep up and everyone makes fun of me. I was starting to feel a little better, like on the solo; now I wish I’d never come here.”

On the fourth try, the top of the bag finally squeezed into the nylon sack. Henry settled on his bed, diagonal to his tent mate. He began dividing his bulk food into meal groups and putting them in smaller bags.

                        “Why did you come?”

                        “My old man.”

                        “How so?”

“I wanted a new car, a really cool yellow mustang convertible. It had a stereo radio. He told me he would buy it for me if I’d get off my butt and come out here to Colorado. I never heard of Outward Bound, but a buddy of his had a kid that went to one in England. My dad told me over and over that it made a man out of that kid. My old man was a Marine officer in the South Pacific. I don’t think he did any fighting. He ran a supply depot, but, to hear him tell it, he was right up there with the guys raising the flag on Iwo Jima. And now this damned final expedition. I’ll probably get lost or pass out or something dumb.”

Both boys perspired inside the airless tent.

            Outside punched the nervous voices from other tents, the clanking of aluminum canteens, mess kits, and boys packing stuff sacks. Martin’s hands busied themselves, though not with packing. The skin next to his gnawed fingernails showed red. The boy stopped and looked down. One tear hit the planked floor and his shoulders heaved. Henry turned and looked out the tent flap.

                        “I’m scared too, Martin.”

Readied packs leaned against white barked aspens next to the tents. Light flickered on them through shimmering leaves.

“We better go. I’ll help you roll your sleeping bag. We can walk together to meet the other guys at the jumping off place.”

Martin did not stir. For a moment, Henry considered the fine child-like hair that had begun to curl in the back of his tent mates neck, a month untrimmed. At school, Martin and Henry would never talk to one another. Certainly, friendship would be out of the question. They inhabited different worlds. Without thought, Henry gently put his hand the other boy’s head, and tousled his hair. Martin looked away and reached for his pack.

            Three-quarters of a mile from the school, three separate trails began their way into the wilderness. It was a broad meadow adorned with flowers and leafy ferns. At the moment, the boys had no taste for beauty. Their emotions agonized with anticipation and the desire to get this last obstacle to their homecoming over and done with. Though well before noon, the sky had darkened in the west, the wind ran hard, and they heard rumbling echoing down from the high peaks.

“Rain before we ever start. My bag will get soaked. I’ll never get it dry and there goes any sleep.”

“You’ll be okay, Martin. While your group is getting ready to take-off, cover your sleeping bag with your poncho. Remember to dig a trench around where you set up camp and then run it down hill to drain off the rain water.”

Henry felt discouraged too.

                        “Your guys are over there, see you in three days.”

                        “See you, Henry.”

                        “In three days.”

Martin’s lips curved a slight smile. They walked away from each other without a second glance.

            Rain gear came out quickly when the storm broke. In the din, the students were assigned to expedition groups of four and handed typed sheets of paper listing waypoints for their routes, plus a topographical map in plastic. Henry was grouped with the two best students in his patrol. Theirs was the only group of three; their challenge was daunting. Protecting the route paper from the rain, the three boys huddled under a blue spruce, keeping their backs to the wind. Within minutes the shower let up as quickly as it had begun. Henry turned and looked for Martin. He did not find him. He turned back to face Jim Colbert and Rene Garcia. J.C. chewed a wad of Double Bubble. His Stetson was wide brimmed, though his face was deeply tanned.

                        “You’re the rabbit, Bubba.”

Henry looked at himself in Colbert’s always-worn mirrored sunglasses.

“We’ll work together, okay, J.C? Let’s get this thing over with as soon as we can.”

 “Yesiree, we got a lot of humping to do, but we can do it, and do it strong and quick.”

Garcy wore camouflage fatigue pants with outside pockets; his black military boots laced tight. The wool pullover sweater matched his navy blue watch cap that no one had seen off his head, even in sleep. He seemed not to mind the rain and he never looked at the map.

                        “Where to, man?”

J.C. hocked and spit and Garcy turned and scowled at him.

            Between Garcy and J.C. a fierce competition had grown ugly. A smoldering hatred had replaced their fear of each other. During a workout on the rope’s course, J.C. taunted Garcy when the latter hesitantly crossed the balance-log. Garcy jumped off both fists swinging. Matt stepped between them with a stern warning. Who might win such a fight was uncertain, both had strength and pluck. Garcy stood short, but lithe, sinewy, and strong-willed. He was a Mexican-American from Houston. His strength and tenacity were unquestioned during the last twenty-two days.

J.C. played on a semi-professional golf tour last summer. During the year he intermittently attended prep school because, though had enough credits to graduate, but chose not to because he enjoyed “the scene.” The school was all male and all white. Dismissively, J. C. concluded that minorities could tend his Mother’s flowerbeds or wash dishes at the Club, but clearly lacked the wherewithal for college success and the six figured income he expected. The boy lifted weights with passion and ran cross-country, winning the state championship his senior year. Both of these boys excelled at everything Outward Bound had thrown their way.  Henry read the route aloud.

                        “Thirty-one miles, with two peaks and three passes, all that in three days.”

                        “No way.”

 A tree blew fat drops on them.

                        “Let’s do it.”

            Henry slung the 45-pound pack on his back, tightened the shoulder straps, and hefted the weight upward to cinch the waist-belt. J.C. and Garcy had already started walking up the trail. A gash in the middle of the path ran with rainwater. Garcy plunged ahead to take the lead; Henry jogged to catch up. Nearly slipping at one point when he turned and tried to catch a glimpse of Martin. And there was Martin’s hand raised above his head, clenched in a fist as he walked at the back of his group heading off on trail that descended. Henry waved back smiling and then ran once again to catch his comrades. The sun burned through the wisps of rain clouds; the air felt muggy.

            The trail, bordered by grass, ferns, and occasional clumps of mushrooms, appeared like a jungle, steamy from the rejuvenated heat. In that moment, they could have been trekking the Amazon. Henry had such thoughts. Then his attention seized upon the ache in his right calf muscle. “I hate Outward Bound,” he murmured inside, “these forced marches, these god-awful mountains. And I hate being cold and eating disgusting food and the dip every single stinking morning. Now I have to run and catch up with these two gung-ho morons. They’ll race each other all day long.” And he knew he would have to compete with them. When he caught up with them his chest flamed.

                        Through the day, the three young men rarely slowed let alone stopped for a rest. They drank tepid water from their canteens as they hiked, not bothering to fill them with the ice-cold water in one small stream or other that often accompanied them alongside the path. When they finally ate, late in the afternoon, they each opened a can of tuna and stood scooping the oily fish with their fingers and forcing down chunks of dried-out trail biscuits. And always they munched on the ubiquitous gorp gulped down with water. Henry knew he’d regret it, but he needed the cheap energy. In a few minutes, off they would charge. At dusk, no one raised the question about a campsite. Even in the dark the pace never abated. They rarely spoke to each other except for orienting the map and deciding directions.

Finally, long into the night, they camped high at tree line without a fire. Attempting to mix a packet of hot chocolate with cold water turned into undrinkable blob and Garcy flung the mess into the bushes. Then with ingenuity, he worked out a solution. By emptying a portion of the chocolate powder in his mouth and taking a sip of water, he mixed them internally to a degree of satisfaction. The other two seized on the process because sugar and chocolate treat overcame their every-meal of tuna, trail biscuits, and gorp.

            Before sleep overwhelmed them, the three boys leaned against their packs and spoke of real food. One after the other they described a fantasy meal. Garcy initiated while he cleaned his fingernails with the sharp point of a switchblade.

“For me, man, the first thing I eat when I get home will be a humungous hamburger—two hamburger patties in a toasted bun with a thick slice of onion, and a thick slice of yellow cheese, and a tomato, and jalapenos, and green Chile sauce. Oh, sweet mother, I want that taste of mustard and peppers on a greasy burger.

J.C. looked away giggling something that included the term spic. In his reverie, Garcy continued without noticing.

“And, mamacita, for desert? Coconut cream pie and a half-a-gallon of milk. No lie, I will eat a whole coconut cream pie by myself, and then chug the milk. Yeah man, I will, all of it.”

 In stark starlight, Henry looked toward J.C.

“I want pancakes, a stack of buttermilk pancakes, maybe ten or a dozen, slathered with gobs of melted butter oozing down the sides and a bottle of dark Karo syrup, hot and thick Karo syrup smothering them. None of that Log Cabin crap. Just give me dark Karo every time. And hot coffee with heaping tablespoons of sugar and a chunk of Meadow Gold ice cream in it. I’ll tell you what, that’s the best meal there is. That’s exactly what I’ll eat when I get home—that’s a promise.”

Henry described his dream dinner of chicken rolled in eggs and flour and deep-fried, a mashed potatoes with thick white gravy, a mound of peas, and flaky rolls, hot with butter and strawberry preserves. His desert was an ample slice of his Mom’s apple pie with the criss-cross crust sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar; the apple juice bubbling out on to the glass pan, burning black and tart. Like the others, Henry would drink milk until he burst.

No one remembered falling asleep. Garcy woke when the sky did, rousing the others by noisily packing up in the pale light. A frost had set in so that their cold-stiffened boots felt like bricks forced on to their aching feet. Ice laced the water on the tops of their canteens. Red-rimmed eyes treared. They coaxed their youthful resiliency, but their actions were those of old men, cranky and brittle. Each found a rock crevice and drank deeply from the moss-lined creek near the camp. Then they set off. The morning sky was solid. Today’s effort would be monumental.

They slogged with stiff muscles and without words. Their thoughts were vague. Though hardened by a month of relentless effort, the first effort always hurt. Henry’s shoulder complained of yesterday’s load. As he warmed to the walk, the pain dissipated without notice and his thoughts wandered—attaching to heroes. Those men who knew pain and knew courage too. He felt his need.

Heroes attracted in various guises: one sailed the Pacific on a raft called Kon Tiki; two others climbed the summit of Mount Everest, a lanky New Zealand beekeeper and his diminutive Nepalese partner; others ran in the Olympics or a gridiron. Heroes created wonder inside of Henry and fired his hopes. With the wonder came the desire to possess their magic. He wanted the same competence, the applause, and what he perceived as the ceaseless adoration that filled their lives.

One dusky Sunday afternoon, the television images mesmerized him; he held his breath as Johnny Unitas dropped back to pass on his thin dancing ankles, then hurled the ball toward an empty corner of the end zone— a timing pattern. Looking over his right shoulder, then suddenly slanting left, the soft hands of Raymond Barry gathered in a touchdown pass. Remarkably, later that same year in March, Henry waited for an elevator in the lobby of the Brown Palace Hotel. The door slid open and out stepped its only passenger, Johnny Unitas. Henry gasped. The quarterback squeezed the boy’s arm and smiled.

                        “Hi, son.”

As crew-cut athlete strode down the hall, Henry felt so full he thought he would cry.

            Henry had fallen behind J.C. and Garcy and they waited for him ahead where the trail divided; they needed to check the map. He hustled to catch up.

From the front pocket of his blue jeans, Henry pulled out the map. He handed it to Garcy, then turned away looking through a gap in evergreens to a sunlit slope. Arguing about which fork of the trail to take, Henry turned back and faced them.

“What’s up?”

“Poncho Villa, here, thinks we go left, I say we go right.”

Garcy’s body tensed.

“Cool it on the smart ass remarks, J.C. Let me see the map.”

Henry laid his compass alongside the edge of the chart and oriented it until the compass arrow pointed north.

“Yeah. See, we take the left fork. We want to keep to the east so we can join the trail that goes up over Buckskin Pass.”

J. C. took the lead.

“Olay!”

Kicking a rock with his boot, Garcy swore in Spanish. From his front pocket, the boy pulled out an almost empty bag of gorp, tilted the remains over his mouth and poured.

            They had climbed treeless Trail Rider Pass descended into the forest on the other side and skirted Crater and Maroon Lakes. Now, climbing out of the trees again, they crested Buckskin Pass before noon. On the down side, they spread apart and jogged the trail into Schoefield Park. None of them registered the riot of wildflowers in the broad meadow the trail divided. Nor did they did attend to the daunting red spires on backside of South Maroon Peak to the north. Not even a quarter-mile carpet of blue columbines lining the trail distracted them. When they reached valley floor, the trio collapsed on large slabs of flat rock. They must rest; the pace had been relentless. J.C. fell asleep immediately. Henry’s belly rumbled; he forced a trail biscuit down his throat and nearly vomited. The summit of nearby Treasury Mountain held Garcy’s gaze as he sat and guzzled from his canteen. That peak was their final waypoint before heading down to the jeep road and the walk back to the school. 

They faced a difficult decision. The goal, indeed, was up there, climbing the ridge before them and then on up to the summit. This was only their third day out. Matt had designed this route to stretch them to the limit for three full days. Completing it in two-and-a-half days would be excellent; good to get it over with and good for their pride. Henry traced his finger along the map.

“If we gain the ridge through that gully there, then climb the ridgeline up to the summit of Treasury before dark, we could pick our way down to the saddle on the other side and camp in those the trees in Bear Basin. In the morning, it’d be an hour at most in to Crystal. Then we take it easy on the road to back to the school from Crystal, the same road as the marathon. We’d save some time if we shortcut to the school at Lizard Lake.”

With shut lids behind his sunglasses, J.C. sucked on a chocolate bar.

“ I don’t know, Henry, my man, I’m getting kinda fagged out. We can’t see above that ridge to the summit from here. If we get hung up there, we’d have a hell of a time. We’d have to spend the night exposed. No party-time up there, boy. I seen the map. Those contours on the way up to Treasury look pretty close together to me, man, as in cliff face.”

The warm breeze and their weariness made a campsite here-and-now strongly desirable.

“And what’s on the other side of Treasury? I’ve never been there. You’ve never been there. It sure as heck could be more cliffs or run-out ledges. Ever climbed down a face in the dark, suckers? Sure, tomorrow will be a long day, but we can get a good night’s sleep and be rested for the final push. What do you say?

Garcy spit looking straight ahead.

                        “Wimp.”

                        “Spic.”

Garcy swing his right fist as he lunged at J.C. The blow glanced off the side of J.C.’s face and clipped the ear. J.C. ducked behind Garcy and with both arms locked him in a bear hug and slammed him on his back in the dirt. Henry jumped up and stuck his boot between them. He pushed J.C. on the chest as hard as he could.

                        “Cool it!”

J.C. finally let go and Garcy scrambled to his feet glaring back at him.

“I said, cool it, Garc! We ain’t got no time for this.”

J.C. smirked. Garcy walked down to a small stream. His breath pumped as though he had sprinted a mile.

            Shadows lengthened on the ridge, smoking with a blue haze. As their emotions settled, the decision returned. Before them loomed a fourteen thousand foot peak, an unknown landscape, darkness, and, maybe rest. Henry decided.

                        “Let’s do it.”

The beleaguered young men gathered their gear and hiked around the lake to the spot where the gully opened to the slopes above Galena Lake. The ascent of that gully expended great effort. Henry’s temples pounded with each step. It was filled with a mass of loose rock, causing increased effort when they slipped; sweat dripped. When they finally climbed out of the gully on to the ridge, a buffeting west wind blew into their faces. Henry had grown stronger as he climbed and he pulled ahead of the others by two hundred yards. Without pause, he hiked quickly along the ridge and faint break in the boulders that he hoped would lead to the top. Each time he paused to look up, the route seemed doable. He gulped deep breaths. He looked up again and detected a dark shadow of rock near the top. “That could be could be a chimney. I can’t tell,” he whispered to himself. He could not fathom climbing a chimney this tired and in failing light.

            Unexpectedly, he swooned and dropped a hand on the ground to steady himself—he watched the starry dots in his eyes slowly diminish.  His head cleared and he took several steps to reach a large boulder for support. Looking back toward the others, he saw them sitting at the point where they had climbed up on to the ridge from the gully. That concerned him. Henry straightened, looked back up at the peak and considered how to avoid that dark place. A route around to the left looked liked it might work. It appeared to be a section of broken rock. If so, they could scramble on it all the way to the top, that is, if what he saw was the top and not a false summit. He would take his chances; they were committed. He worried about that the other two were still not moving up to meet him. He turned back.

“Hey. Hey.”

Henry’s voice clogged, nothing more than a croak. He cleared his throat and spit.

                        “Garcy. J.C!”

He yelled in short bursts over the wind. J.C. sat up.

                        “What?”

                        “Possible route.”

                        “What?”

                        “Possible route. Okay?”

                        “Okay.”

Henry motioned with his arm.

                        “Come here. Wait.”

                        “What?”

                        “Come here. Wait here. Wait for my signal. Okay?”

                        “Okay.”

            The yelling made him dizzy. He lowered his head. Even in his wooziness, Henry felt hopeful. “Bag this peak and get down into those trees on the other side. Cook some oatmeal tonight. Do it. Walk out tomorrow. Two days and home. Good food. Bed.” He began again. The climbing now involved hand-over-hand moves and then loose scrambling on rotten rock. An orange and yellow hue warmed from the rocks in the alpine-glow. Each time he paused for breath he felt dizzy and nauseated. If he climbed too quickly, he was breathless. So, he moved as slow as possible without stopping. Steady and very slow. No song came to his mind to help. His body was a senseless machine.

To his right, an escarpment fell to a treeless basin fifteen hundred feet below. On his left, the view dropped into the dim of the gathering dark. He checked on the others. They were on the move, finally.

Now, only the highest point on the surrounding peaks kept the day; the blustery wind lost heart in the sunset. Henry drifted. Grape-nuts—a bowl full of Grape-nuts with brown sugar packed around the top and drenched in milk, no, half-and-half. Not soggy, just enough to make it wet but still crunchy. And new-picked strawberries packed around the base of Mt. Grape-Nuts.

                        “I love you Grape-nuts,

                        Oh yes, I do.

                        I love you Grape-nuts,

                        And I want you.”

He heard the sound of aluminum, a tinny screech—his pack frame against rock. Suddenly, he was pushed into air. Henry was falling. During his silly song about Grape-Nuts, Henry had instinctively turned his body out to step around a bulging section of rock that blocked the line he was following. Halfway through that maneuver, he heard the eerie scrapping of his pack. A bulging place in the rock pushed him out and then airborne, feet first. His mind slowed. He calmly thought, “I’m going to die.”

A tongue of snow filled a ledge forty-five feet below him. Henry fell straight into it. He entered the snow like a parachute jumper and sunk to his waist. No feeling.

            Garcy and J.C. had stopped for breath. Looking up toward Henry, Garcy saw Henry fall. At first, it seemed like a purposeful a jump full of poise and calm, but he knew instinctively—too far for a jump and he did not see the landing.

                        “He fell.”

Garcy ran. J.C. followed yelling.

                        “Henry!”

They screamed his name over and over. No response. Only the sound of their own pained breath. When the climbing grew difficult, they moved to the left and worked up around to the backside of the summit opposite the direction of the fall. On top, J.C. bent over and coughed up blood. On his hands and knees, Garcy edged out over the summit into darkness.

            The first sensation Henry felt was cold, delicious chunks of cold along his belly where his shirt had jerked up. Cold felt calm. Then breath, the air sucked deliciously through his open mouth. Henry smelled pungent lichen and noticed a patchwork of colors smiling from nearby rocks.  Crystals glimmered in the granite. He felt wet, his body heat melting the snow. He wanted to stay forever. Then it occurred to him that he should move. “I might get cold here.” He rested his head back on the snow and closed his eyes. He shivered. Was it the snow or something else, a familiar feeling. Not alone. 

He tried to push himself out of the snow but it gave way to his attempt. He was stuck. He laughed. Leaning one direction and then leaning back the other direction, like an old wooden post, he wriggled out.

            The tongue of snow seemed to hang in the sky, so airy. He had no fear, only a settled peace. As he kicked his heels in the snow, he moved his body backward in a crab walk. The boy scooted to the place where the snow ended and the rock began. Henry paused. The fall happened without warning—he was on the mountain; he was off the mountain. Just like that. He fell without thought or choice. In that instant he knew he would die, now he was alive. Henry smiled.

            He stood and felt stiffness in his lower back and down the left hamstring. He flexed.  He turned and struggled up the rocks circling to his right under the summit slowly rising as he went. Then he was on top.

His two companions sat silently in the dark. Tears streamed down J.C.’s face. His thoughts echoed with unbelief. “This couldn’t happen” But the pain made it real. Garcy held on to his knees and rocked; his tough-guy exterior needed comforting, a touch of Mama.

            Henry called to them. The three young men held each other in a circle on top of the world. Their eyes were wet and shut tight.

 


The Award’s Banquet
 

            High-pitched talk punctuated with concussions of laughter bounced off the log walls of the dining hall. Tanned young men, now at their ease and full of swagger, filled the room with stories—course completed.

The instructors donned their mountain finery, some in wool knickers and others in khaki shorts; whether knickers or shorts, they sported knee socks of red, green, navy blue, or argyle. Some wore Irish knit sweaters or colorful braid-trimmed sweaters from Scandinavia or plaid wool shirts. Some outfits were accented with bandanas folded thin and tied around the neck. Matt removed his blue beret at the door and John Pack sported an Aussie hat fastened up on one side.

            While the boys lacked their mentors’ wardrobes, they more than made up for it in the wash house. They had vigorously scrubbed and buffed with the result that their faces glowed, their teeth shown, and the air competed with various after-shaves. Many students proudly displayed a sling rope doubled through the belt loops of their Levi’s, tied with a square knot, and finished with two half hitches. Untrimmed hair hung scruffy and, for many, sun-bleached. Most were clean-shaven because the admonition about shaving—“civilization is the practice of a civilized man wherever he is”—continued through this last gathering. However, a chin here and there revealed opposite future plans.

            Tomorrow morning they would walk down the dusty road to Marble and meet the bus bound for Glenwood Springs and home. But for now, the boys embellished their tales from the final expedition and enjoyed all the mishaps. Martin boasted that he had not taken a single hay fever pill, aspirin, or even a dose of Maalox the entire three days of the final. Not only that, he kept up with his group and never complained. One of his expedition mates thumped him his arm correcting the “never complained” but agreed that Martin’s complaints had lessened. Henry smiled. Almost lean in the face, Martin had shed pounds; his hair was becomingly unkempt. Neither Garcy nor J.C. mentioned their companion’s near disaster on Treasury Mountain. But everyone in the patrol admired the remarkable two-and-a-half day trek the threesome had accomplished. The atmosphere in the dining hall was warm and fine.

            When the steaming plates came out from the kitchen, they could hardly contain the magnificent T-bone steaks that hung over their edges. There were bowls of hot mashed potatoes, brown gravy, a platter of corn-on-the-cob, and two baskets laden with thick slices of freshly baked bread. Glass after glass of cold foaming milk was poured from constantly refilled pitchers. For dessert, two cherry pies warmed each table. Giant dollops of vanilla ice cream smothered each pie wedge as it was cut and served. The feast caused Garcy to forget all about mustard and peppers; J.C. knew pancakes would not compare. Matt could not discern what tasted better to his boys the food or the pride of accomplishment in their glistening eyes.

With no small difficulty, John Pack quieted the tumult and began a series of  “thanks and congratulations.” At one point, he experienced competition from the suppressed giggles at the finale of a whispered story at one table and then an out-and-out gush of laughter from another.  He didn’t mind a bit of it. With a pause he waited for a measure of quiet.

Henry remembered the first day walking up the road, the meeting with Matt, and John Pack’s welcome around the campfire ring. All his hatred toward Outward Bound evaporated. He felt proud and nostalgic at the same time—charged emotions. He would miss John Pack and Matt, J.C., and Garcy; he would even miss Martin. In the surprise of his emotions, he felt a little awkward, but gained his balance when he recalled the morning dip—no sorrow there, only great relief. By the time the Chief Instructor turned the proceedings over to Mr. Bristol, Henry felt good..

The hall settled into a restless anticipation.

“Gentlemen, Mr. Pack, your patrol instructors, and I congratulate each one of you for successfully completing the Colorado Outward Bound Course. Well done, lads.”

No one, not even Bristol himself heard the last three words. By that time, the room had erupted into whoops, cries, clapping, and whistles. A few instructors smiled; some sipped hot tea with nonchalance. With a settled pride, they considered that their young men were leaner than a month ago and most had acquired new skills and confidence. The cheering lasted several minutes. When Bristol began again, he thanked each instructor, assistant instructor, office staff, and the cooks. More cheers. He announced that Bridger was the winner of the patrol competition; Martin whistled through his teeth while the others clapped and yelled their acceptance. Then the Director cleared his throat.

“Among the Outward Bound schools worldwide, a special tradition developed a number of years ago in England. That tradition is the presentation of what is called the Honor’s Award. The award recognizes the outstanding physical performance, mental toughness, leadership, and honor of a selected student. The award is rarely given, except upon recognition of extraordinary merit by an extraordinary student. Tonight marks the first time that the Honor’s Award will be presented in United States. We have unanimously chosen to present the Honor’s Award to Mr. Henry Tomkins.”

Henry perceived the few next moments in slow motion akin to his fall off of Treasury Mountain. He was overwhelmed amidst the clapping and cheering. Matt stood, and then everyone jumped to his feet. Boys roared their approval and the dining hall resounded with thunder for him, for Henry.

            He tried to hold the tears and failed. His lower lip trembled; water dampened his cheeks. He stood too—bedlam. Through bleary eyes, he caught sight of Mr. Bristol beckoning him forward. He froze until Martin gave him a shove. After miles of hiking, he doubted he could make this journey. He staggered forward in a fog. Hands reached out for him or swatted him on the backside. Matt put an arm around him and squeezed hard. More than once someone tousled his hair. A familiar lean arm reached for his hand and he looked up into John Pack’s eyes.

                        “I’m proud of you.”

            When he walked back and sat down with his patrol, Mr. Bristol intoned information regarding equipment check-in, final tent inspections, and other matters related to their departure in the morning. Henry heard nothing. His thoughts were, simply, joy. His body poured sweat in the flush of excitement. The room steamed and everyone wanted to move outside into the cool of the gathering evening. Over and over again, Henry turned the small round pin Mr. Bristol and had placed in his hand. He had not looked at it. It would embarrass him if someone caught him gazing, so he so he rolled it in his fingers.

            Suddenly, his dream evaporated. Pledge. He heard Mr. Bristol say something about the pledge. He gripped the pin.

“. . . now then, regarding the matter of the pledge. You remember that you signed that document on the first day of this course. One final duty regarding the pledge remains. The pledge is to be resigned. After this meeting, I will receive each patrol in my office. There each of you will receive your certificates and, at that time, I ask that you re-sign your name to the pledge next to your original signature to indicate that you kept your promise to neither smoke nor drink while . . .”

Henry fell, plummeted into a chasm.

            Outside the evening breeze smelled sweet. Gold light filtered through the aspens as day and night began to mix. Boots trod down the wooden stairs from the dining hall. Boys milled about waiting their turn in Bristol’s office. Some walked lazily toward the washhouse. Bridger patrol was scheduled last. Quickly, Henry walked that way, head down, avoiding everyone. Near the campfire ring, a familiar voice.

                        “No sweat, honor-boy.”

Bobby Lee leaned against a tree.                      

“What do you mean?”

                        “We stick together, right.”

                        “Yeah, sure.”

“Look, big-shot, just sign the paper and let’s get out of here.”

“I guess so.”

“You guess so? Come on, man, it’s no big deal. We worked our butts off here.

We needed a break. Boston ain’t saying nothing. I ain’t saying nothing. Nobody knows nothing about it. Nobody cares, except that fat ass Bristol. Take your Honor’s Award and let’s get out of here.”

Henry walked away.

                        His boots scuffed the dirt; an exposed root stumbled him and he nearly fell. His right hand caught him and his legs scrambled to stay up. Up into the trees he walked.

                        “Henry?”

He startled. He did not want to talk to Martin and so he ran straight uphill into a weave of undergrowth and fallen trees. The voice called.

                        “What’s wrong?”

             On the Director’s desk lay the twelve remaining certificates and next to it, the pledge.

“Well done Bridger. Good show, lads, at winning the patrol competition.”

The boys took turns. The Director handed them the nib pen. Each dipped the gold tip in a bottle of blue ink. The second signature went alongside the first one inscribed a month ago. Then, the beaming Director shook a hand with a, “Good show” or, “Well done, lad”. Matt smiled, grasped a hand, and gave the proud boy a certificate. The certificate impressed the eye, crème-colored with the student’s name printed in black letters. Two official looking signatures were scrawled on the bottom and, most impressive, a small magenta Outward Bound seal was raised in the right corner.

            Each student gloried in the moment and left the building beaming. Outside some scoffed or crudely joked about Bristol. Others, shy with pride, closely inspected the document pressed between their fingers. Henry was last; his heart, lead. The desk clock ticked loudly. His eyes fixed on the pine floorboards.

“Henry, you have accomplished an outstanding achievement. My warmest congratulations to you, my boy!”

The director extended his hand. Matt smiled. No air. Henry lifted his head and his eyes met the Director’s.

                        “Mr. Bristol, I can’t sign the pledge.”

The boy heard crickets through the open window. Dust motes flitted in the remnant light.

                        “Why is that, Henry? I don’t understand.”

He refocused on Bristol’s watery eyes.

“I broke it. I broke that pledge. On that Sunday afternoon when we had time off, I hitched a ride down to Redstone by myself. I bought stuff at the little store, and smoked and drank beer by the river.”

Sweat trickled from the armpit and down his left side. Outside, voices shouted and laughed. Mr. Bristol looked at Matt and Matt shook his head. The light faded and they stood in twilight. Henry lay the pin on the desk. The Director picked it up and put it on top of the last certificate.

“I am deeply sorry, Henry. You worked very hard and you did do so very well. It saddens me that you did not keep your promise. But it is a measure of your character to admit to your failure. For that, I am proud of you. Of course, the Honor’s Award cannot be yours. Nor can you receive the Certificate of Completion. The pledge is vital as a measure of honor. When you broke your promise you violated your honor.”

“Yes sir.”

Henry peered out the high square of a window. A cluster of leaves fluttered. He felt relief.

“However, I do have a proposition for you, son. If you will keep the pledge over the next thirty days and come back here at the end of the summer and report that fact to me, you can sign the pledge at that time. Then I will be pleased to give you your certificate and the Honor’s Award.”

Tears were becoming familiar.

                        “Yes sir, I’ll do it. I’ll keep the Pledge and come back and tell you.”

 Mr. Bristol shook Henry’s hand for the second time that evening. Matt wrapped both arms around the boy and hugged him.

            In the shadows, Martin sat on their tent platform and watched his tentmate approaching. There was ease in Henry.

                        “I broke the pledge.”

                        “I heard you come in the tent that night. Smelled you too.”

                        “I thought you were asleep.”

                        “I faked.”

Laughter peeled from the campfire where most of the boys continued their celebration.

                        “Did Mr. Bristol take back the award?”

                        “Yeah and the certificate.”

                        “They didn’t give you the certificate?”

                        “No.”

            Henry sat down next to Martin. He reached for a stick. There was no mud, but he scraped around the welt of his boot anyway. Then he drew in the dirt. A half-moon rose.

“What helped me most to stick it out here was when I finally figured out how hard it was for you. I realized you hated it just as much as I did. I heard you awake before the dip. I could tell that you got really scared on the solo. Sometimes I thought I saw tears in your eyes—stuff like that. Tonight you won that big award and everybody stood up and cheered and then you lost it all. And now you told me.”

Henry stopped doodling.

 

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