Secret Challenge

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Dan and Skylar's appearance on the reality Secret Challenge was supposed to be a carefree adventure. And that is how it started, but things changed and now finishing in time would be a task requiring every bit of their courage and training,

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Day 1 08:00

“Damn it’s hot!” Skylar pulled his Tilley hat off and looked around the square. He wished he could get rid of the glasses recording everything he was seeing, but the prize was worth it. Looking over at Dan, he hoped his friend was equal to the challenge.

“It’s going to get worse, at least we’ll be going up the middle of the country. It’s drier than the coast. How the hell are we going to get all the way north with no money?” Dan went over to the water fountain in the middle of the park they were standing in.

“Don’t drink the water,” Skylar warned him.

“Not looking to drink,” Dan took his hat off and put it under the clear arc of liquid, soaking it thoroughly.

“Good idea,” he took his own hat off and proceeded to do the same. “We need to keep our water bottles for ourselves. I wonder if we can barter the whiskey for a ride?”

“I’m thinking of hopping the freight trains. I did some research last night after you started snoring.”

“Brilliant, but how do we make sure we get the right one?”

“Not sure, but any train is going to go north first, this place isn’t very far from the border.”

“We need to find a map,” Skylar stated.

“Where, we haven’t got money to get one.”

“There’s got be a tourist information center somewhere in this city.”

“I wish we hadn’t checked out quite this early. Wasn’t thinking at all.”

“I’ve got my key in my pocket. Let’s go in and see if we can locate the rail yard.”

“We shouldn’t be in there anymore,” Dan looked nervous as they walked back into the cool air conditioned lobby.

“We left half an hour ago, I doubt housekeeping is even started yet. I’ll bet there’s a map in the information folder in the room.” Skylar hit the button for the elevator.

“There’s more water in the little fridge too.”

“Can’t take it, rules remember?”

Skylar let them into their room, and Dan made a bee line for the little desk with the telephone on it. There was a folder there with all sorts of brochures, and he started flipping through it, looking for a map.

Skylar took his glasses off. He needed to use the bathroom and there was no way he was letting the world see him taking a piss. When he came out, he opened his backpack, and found ample room for more stuff.

With Dan turned away from him, he cleaned out the little fridge, taking all the cans of soda and water as well as a couple dozen snacks. The show was paying for their hotel, they’d never know whether they used the stuff or took it with them. He munched on salted nuts as he piled the extra supplies into his pack. At least the equipment they had was decent. A bed roll for each of them and he had a tiny camp stove/heater along with a tent.

Dan had the nested pots and dishes and a big tarp. It was enough to keep them safe if they had to camp out in the middle of nowhere.

“Found a map, and I made a call while you were in the can,” Dan said. “The desk has more maps, like roads and railway and places to see if we’re going to be traveling through the country.”

“I’ll give them my key this time.” Skylar slipped his glasses back on and settled his damp hat back on his head.

“Let’s go,” Dan sounded a lot more confident about their chances now.

After apologizing to the clerk at the registration desk Skylar handed his key card to them. The lady handed him a handful of brochures, and a thick folded map. Her rapid Spanish had him cocking his head, hoping he’d understood her correctly. He wished he’d paid more attention to language classes in school. He grabbed the thick packet of paperwork and hefted his pack back onto his shoulders. Time to get moving.

“Look, there’s a couple of bikes. Do you want to snag them?” Skylar wasn’t about bending a few rules to get them where they were going.

“No, we’ll walk. I don’t want to end up in jail down here. Getting help isn’t easy if both of us are locked up.”

Skylar sat down on a bench under a swaying palm tree. Unfolding the city map, he traced their route with his index finger.

“It’s not that far. We’re close to the port and the rail yard is only a couple of miles that way,” he pointed across the square.

“It’s about two miles from what the map says,” Dan said as he folded the map up.

“Grab your pack, it’s only going to get hotter and I want to be on a train before midday.”

“How hard is it going to be get on it?”

“I figure you’re going to be glad we’ve been doing all that upper body work in the gym. I hope you can run with that much weight.”

“We’re special ops. Might be retired, but hey, you never lose it.”

Skylar high fived his buddy. They’d been a through a lot over the missions they’d done together. This was just another problem to solve.

He noted the buildings, and the change from spiffy tourist hotels to grungier warehouses and delivery trucks trundling by them as they backed into loading docks to pick up their loads. Every time he scanned the horizon, the feather fronds of palm trees swayed in the wind but provided next to no relief from the glaring white ball of the sun. He was glad they were both brown from long hours on the beach training back in LA.

Less than a week to go, and they’d be back. He didn’t even mind the pack slapping against his ass, but he pulled the hip band tight to stop the irritating shift of his load. Precautions. No point in injuring his back.

They walked in comfortable silence and turned the corner into a narrow sliver of shade beside one of the warehouses.

Dan yanked his hat off and swiped his arm across his forehead before putting it back on.

“Look if we get up on that berm into the brush, we can walk along the fencing. I’ll bet it doesn’t go much further and we can hide until we can figure out which train is going to move first.” Dan suggested as he pointed.

“Lead on, that works for me,” Skylar gave him a push to get the battle toughened marine moving again. He wondered if he’d need to use the gun he’d stowed in the bottom of Dan’s pack. What the producers didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them but might save their lives. The collapsible AR15 was insurance.

Dan had been his spotter, and the terrain and weather in the middle of the Iraqi desert was much different from the arid mountainous central corridor of Mexico.

He nudged into Dan’s back as he stopped searching for a way through the thick thicket of brambles in front of them. The fence might have dwindled into nothing, but the natural ground cover was an equally good deterrent.

“Here, get down on your knees we’re going to have to push the gear ahead of us.” Dan swung his burden to the ground and shoved it forward onto a well worn game path.

“I wonder what made this,” Skylar grunted.

“Don’t care, it’s getting us under cover, and I think it will take us well into the railyard. Did you bring the emergency radio?”

“Yep, and it’s even approved by the contest director. He agreed a radio might be better than a couple of cell phones where there’s next to no cell service.”

The bramble branches tore at his clothing, snagging him and making progress difficult. Ahead of him Dan’s muttered curses were inventive as always and he grinned. The louder his buddy swore, the more determined he’d get.

His thighs were beginning to cramp when he planted his nose in Dan’s butt cheeks.

“Shit, you could’ve warned me you were going to stop!”

“Shut up and get up here.”

The bushes had parted so he crawled up beside him. At the bottom of the hill about twenty feet below them, a long freight train sat fully assembled and he sized up the rail cars. He knew they wanted a grain car, or a coal hauler. They had areas under them where a hobo could hide out of sight. Not even the watchmen were able to see a stowaway if they stayed quiet.

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