Wednesday, May 21, 2014

End of the Trail (and tale)

B.B., Knucks and I had a notion...

This post completes the story of the great mining disaster of 1997. If you’re late to the party, here is  part one, and here is part two.

After Knucks slipped on the icy trail and injured his ankle, our mining party split up. B.B. and I headed out to stake the claim while Knucks and his son, Timmy, headed back to the truck. Knucks assured us his ankle was only sprained, and if anything went awry, he would call us on the cell phone. 

The farther we traveled up the trail, the less of a trail it became. Progress was slow, as we frequently stopped to compare the terrain to the map. Finally, the canyon narrowed visibly.

“We ought to be there by the look of things,” B.B. said. “Time for the GPS. I figured out the coordinates for the northeast stake. We’ll use the GPS to find the exact spot, and set the post.” 

“You know how to work that thing?”

“Nope, but Micah said to just turn it on, and let it tell us the coordinates. Couldn’t be simpler.” B.B. pulled out the GPS and turned it on. “See? It’s looking for satellites.”

Ten minutes later, the GPS was still looking for satellites. “Micah said sometimes you have to let it sit for awhile. Let’s set it down and take a look up the trail.” 

We left the GPS to find its satellites and walked up the trail. Comparing the map to the terrain, it appeared we were right where we wanted to set the post, but decided to confirm things with the GPS. As we walked back to our gear, B.B.’s cell phone rang. It was Knucks. B.B. talked to him briefly and closed up his phone.

“He just wanted to know if we’d staked the claim yet. Says he’s fine; got a fire going, and is resting.” 

The GPS had given up looking for satellites. In place of the “SEARCHING FOR SATELLITES” message, it was confidently displaying the coordinates a full two degrees off our position - most likely Micah’s trailer.

“Wait a minute. You know about compasses, don’t you?” B.B. asked as he rummaged through his pack. 

“Yeah, from land navigation in the Army.“

“Well, here you go. You oughta be able to shoot some sorta line with that.” 

I looked at the compass. It was of a quality that would normally be found only in the bottom of a Cracker Jacks box. My list of its shortcomings was interrupted when B.B.’s cell phone rang again. 

This time it was Knucks’ wife, Stacie. She had just spoken to Knucks. Apparently, he was much more forthright with his wife than his mining partners. His ankle was broken, he could feel bone grinding and was in excruciating pain. Stacie wanted to call an ambulance. B.B. told her we could be back to the truck in about an hour, and would take Knucks straight to the hospital. She agreed to our plan. 

With our new priority, we quickly set the claim marker, marked the map, and headed down the trail. At the spot where Knucks fell, we could smell smoke. Less than one hundred yards farther down the trail, sat Knucks and Timmy, by a warming fire.

Knucks waved. “Hi guys. Get it staked?” 

B.B. and I stood in stunned silence. The silence was abruptly broken with a string of colorful phrases, most of which were metaphorical in nature and made in reference to the injured party. Our exclamations would have continued, had Knucks not nodded toward Timmy.

“Oh... sorry.” 

“No problem,” Timmy assured us, “you oughta hear the sixth graders at school. I guess lots of kids have dads with gold claims.”

When pressed for an explanation as to why he hadn’t told us how bad off he was, Knucks excused his omission by stating he was not going to be the one to keep us from staking the claim. 

“Tried to make it back to the truck,” he explained, “but Timmy isn’t big enough to take my full weight, and I can’t stand on my left leg at all.”

Knucks was slightly better off than this.

We discussed options. Building a travois, or skid, seemed to be the best idea, but none of us had been smart enough to bring along a saw. The game plan became a simple one of B.B. and I carrying Knucks while Timmy shuttled the packs.

Knucks is not a small man, standing a head taller than both B.B. and me. To our credit, we only actually dropped him once. The biggest problem was his dangling bad leg. 

“POYNOR! You kick that leg one more time, and I’m gonna bite a hunk out of your ear!”

“B.B., you take this side for awhile.” 

“Nuh-uh, this is my strong side.”

During one of our frequent rests, it was decided the trail was icy and slick enough to drag Knucks. We stabilized his ankle, lashed him to his pack, wrapped him in a poncho, tied on some rope, and mushed away. Progress was swift with both of us dragging him. We found that even the dips on the trail were easy, if we built up a little steam. 

“Wait a minute!” Knucks screamed from behind as we picked up speed on a downward slope.

“No way, Knucks, we’re on a roll!” 

Our progress jerked to a halt, and Knucks let out a roar of pain. We turned to find him off the side of the trail, hanging like a giant pickle off the steep bank leading to the creek.

It was, indeed, fortunate that Knucks was wrapped tightly in the poncho. Had his arms been free, someone might have been hurt as we dragged him back onto the trail. 

Once back on the trail, Knucks spoke to us in a soft, even voice. “Unwrap me. I’ll crawl.”

There was a moment’s hesitation. “Whatcha think, B.B.?” 

“I dunno... Could be a trick, but I think we can outrun him.”

“Really,” Knucks pleaded desperately, “I don’t want you to save me anymore. It would hurt less to crawl.” 

Three hours later, after crawling the last half mile of the trail, Knucks was in the care of the emergency room staff. B.B. and I hung around to hear the diagnosis.

Stacie, who had been waiting at the hospital for over two hours before our arrival, came out to give us a report. Knucks hadn’t told her where he was when they had talked on the cell phone. 

 “What took so long?” Stacie demanded.

We shrugged. “You know how proud Knucks is... insisted on crawling. Is it broken?” 

“In a number of places. They’re going to pin the break. He’s sedated, so he’s not making a lot of sense, but said to say thanks, and that he only hoped he could repay you guys in kind some day.”

That Knucks... always thinking of his buddies. 

Today, Knucks is as good as new.

Author’s note: Yes, Knucks truly did crawl the last half mile back to the truck. The problem with the GPS was that the canyon was so steep the satellite signals were blocked. The GPS reverted to its last recorded position. B.B. did have a rinky-tink compass, but truth be told, I had a quality compass and could triangulate our position based on readily identifiable landmarks. We actually marked two claims, one for Knucks and one for B.B. and myself. How the cell phones worked is beyond me, but they did. I suspect a tower is located on top of one of the nearby peaks. When Stacie called she was livid that we would desert her injured husband just to stake a "stupid" gold claim. I don’t think she was ever convinced it was Knucks’ idea. As far as Knucks goes, he underwent five hours of surgery to pin everything back together, and was laid up the entire winter. His limp has finally gone away. And yes, Knucks’ claim was named “Broken Foot.” B.B. and I named ours “Dave and Al’s Big Adventure." Both claims have since been abandoned.

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