Second Chances.

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Summary

After helping a woman close to his own age; encountering her in distress in the worst kind of weather in the mountains, David's life, changes again. She is a challenge that he'd never thought to encounter except in his wildest dreams, with not an ounce of shyness to her. When he explains some of his reasons for going to Colfax, she takes control. He will live with her. He has no difficulty accepting that. The challenges thrown in their path are never enough to change their feelings for each other, despite a scheming daughter, determined to see this man gone from her mother's life. There are even bigger challenges to face. He is an unknown quantity only to the daughter, who eventually learns just how wrong she could be.

Genre:
Romance / Adventure
Author:
johnksutherland
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
44
Rating:
4.8 14 reviews
Age Rating:
18+

A new beginning.

After coming down as a persistent and moderately heavy downpour for the last three hours, the rain now started to come down in a manner resembling that of a tropical rain storm, and the wind picked up.

There were curtains of rain, steadily drifting down the heavily-treed valley beside the lone man, laboriously climbing the steep rocky trail. The branches were whipped harder by the wind, adding even greater urgency for him to make camp and to shelter.

Anything beyond two hundred feet was obscured by the steady rain. The track he was walking in might well have been a stream bed, with the amount of water flowing down it, and washing soil down and off to the side, to cascade down to the unseen river bed, some 500 feet below.

The drab grayness enveloped everything; muting even the various shades of green that one might distinguish in bright sunshine. No birds were to be heard, normally filling the forest with their song, nor insects; they were hiding from the suddenly bad situation. Even the few flowers had closed up and retreated from the cold, watery onslaught.

The far hillside began to fade from his view, as visibility steadily decreased, and as the heavier rain moved down to envelop him.

He was dressed for cold and awkward weather; even for wet, but not for this kind of prolonged, and never-ending drenching. His coat turned away most of the rain, but it dribbled off his hat, and seeped in around his neck to join the perspiration that contributed to the all-pervasive dampness within his clothing.

His pack was heavy, and as he could not easily get rid of his body heat with all the clothing that he wore, he had to stop for a few moments to catch his breath, as he needed to do fairly often on the steeper climbs, and wipe the rainwater from his face with his hands; breathing heavily.

As he stood, leaning forward on his staff, there were wraiths of vapor rising from his clothing to be borne off by the increasing wind. It was getting stronger as he neared the top, and at that altitude, still no more than three thousand feet above sea level, the air had cooled noticeably.

Unfortunately, he was also wet from the waist down, where the rain had run off his coat and had driven against the front of his legs to be soaked up by his jeans. He would need to keep moving, to dry out and keep his muscles functioning, but he knew that eventually he might need to stop and dry out much better, or risk getting too cold. However, there was no point in stopping, with the rain coming down as it was.

He watched the weather closely. The clouds were a mere few hundred feet higher and would complete the illusion of walking through an underwater forest if they descended any lower. He had no intention of leaving the trail and risking injury. He knew where it led, and knew, fairly-well, exactly where he was. He had no choice but to slog on.

There were patches of partial shelter deep among the old-growth redwoods and cedars along the winding trail, which he noticed, now ran with a lessening stream of water as he neared the crest. But it was all relative. There were few sheltered refuges that he might consider stopping in for any length of time.

Where the overhead branches directed the falling water to the edges, the downpour was merely emphasized the more, in those small gaps. As if that were not bad enough, the wind was becoming steadily stronger; picking up and swirling even greater torrential downpours from the branches, as it gusted suddenly, like a giant hand riffling through the tree tops, and beat water off them too. There was no easy or dry refuge, short of a cave, but it was too early to stop for the day, and there were no caves that he could recall.

Once over the next crest, almost the last one, he would reconsider. The rain might lessen, as might the wind, once he started his descent into the next valley.

The weather was driven off the Pacific. Where it met the mountains the moisture laden clouds were pushed up against the mountain barrier to be cooled down with increasing altitude and began to drop their moisture. Fortunately, it was falling almost entirely as rain, though with warning of an occasional flurry of big flakes of wet snow, suggesting that it might get even worse.

If it came down as snow, before he crested the last ridge, he might have to stop and take shelter, and set up an early camp anyway. It could be a wet, and miserable night.

David shrugged his shoulders deeper into the straps of his rucksack and resignedly accepted the situation, as the rain ran off his face, and he forced himself on. He licked at it as it ran down his upper lip.

Had he known it would be this bad, he would not have set out so readily from his last camp, except that 'others' had decided to set up camp nearby, and he did not seek human company, or the seemingly inevitable human interactions. One of the four women in the group of five had tried to engage him in conversation; attracted to him.

He had expressed disappointment that he would not be remaining there, despite her obvious interest, but had mentioned urgency in making for his next stage some ten miles further along. He began to wish he'd stayed.

Even now, he was a good six hours from his previous camp, and still not half way to where he would like to be by nightfall. He should have stayed, though realized he was not yet ready for human company or possible intimacy (openly offered; he'd seen it in her eyes), and had not wanted to hurt her feelings.

He walked on, over the almost knife-sharp edge that separated the two valleys; both of which had long ago been carved out by glaciers. At least he would now begin to descend steadily into the next valley.

The last ridge after that, was only two miles ahead and was lower than the one he'd just walked over. Another hour or so, and he would start a steady descent out of this mess.

He was lucky that it was not coming down as snow. It was undoubtedly snowing, a thousand, or two thousand feet higher, both to right and left. The temperature was none too pleasant where he was, and it was only his steady movement that kept him warm. It was also impossible to see the far side of the valley to his right, as new sheets of water drifted slowly down as the clouds came streaming at him through the almost tree-less pass far ahead of him that connected him with his descent to the lower land. Down there, were farms, houses, shelter, and his destination; the small town of Colfax, though still some hours away.

The trail he was on, led to where a slab of natural stone, spanned the gorge at its narrowest point, high above the rushing water. At this time of year there should have been little water flowing in it. The snowpack of the previous winter was mostly gone now, but the weather had started to cool, presaging an imminent, and too-early return to winter. In the mountains, anything was possible; as too many unwise and poorly equipped hikers and backpackers found out for themselves. Some, terminally.

This downpour had come at him suddenly, as they did in the mountains, and with little warning other than loss of sunshine, and then a gradually increasing overcast. It had been a bright sunny morning, and he had set out with a singing heart and feeling the strength in his legs from the last two weeks of steady walking and climbing. But this downpour changed all of that and settled a more somber mood over the landscape and on him too.

He could hear the torrent carving out its rocky bed below him and rolling heavy boulders along its bed, with a noise like that of a game of giant ninepins in some far-off alley. The story of Rip Van Winkle came to mind for a brief moment. He would need to stay vigilant for mud and rock slides where the valley walls became steeper, before he finally was through.

Had he known that it would be this difficult, he would have driven to Colfax, instead of sending his baggage ahead to await him, deciding to take a relaxing physical break from the rat-race, by walking for a few days.

Some relaxing break, this had turned out to be! He rested on his staff and took a breather for a few moments before he set out again. The last few days had been encouraging. His muscles, stressed, during the first few days of his walking and climbing up mountain trails, had now become used to the demands he placed upon them. His pack seemed to weigh almost as much as he did to his muscles, unused to such demands, but he'd soon got used to it as he toughened up.

He felt fitter than he had for a long time and actually found that he did not mind this new wrinkle that nature had thrown in his way. Initially, he had been lucky to have covered even ten miles in the mountains. In the last few days it had been closer to fifteen and on a good day might be as high as twenty on a good trail, and walking from sun-up to sun-down. Today he might be lucky to get ten, or twelve.

After he crossed the gorge, with its thunderous roar, and billowing white-foaming anger, a hundred feet below the narrow slab of rock crossing the chasm, barely six feet across at its bridging point, and a further hour of steady climbing out of the partially sheltered valley, he crested the last major divide between him and his destination. From here forward, there were just a series of decreasing-elevation ridges that the poorly defined path skirted around or over.

Nothing major, had changed since he had last been on this path some years earlier. He had not expected otherwise. It was timeless in the breadth of a human lifespan, barely able to register change in even a thousand years except by wind, avalanche, fire or rock fall. On a timescale of tens of thousands of years, change might be more obvious. It was certainly not obvious now.

Beyond the clouds, which closed everything down to just a few hundred feet, at times, there was nothing to see. He looked out over the vast grey expanse of cloud and streaks of rain that were his confining horizon. From this look-out, he should have been able to see the Pacific Ocean some thirty miles away through the trees, and treed-ridge, after treed-ridge, giving way with distance, to less distinct purple-ridge, upon purple-ridge running off to the North and South.

Colfax was somewhere in one of those wider, river-hewn valleys between the ridges, and not that far away had he been a crow. He’d know it when he blundered onto the road linking Colfax with all points north and south, but that was still some hours away. Fortunately, he had restocked with cans of food; bacon, and bread at his last stop – he found that as his condition improved, he could comfortably manage a few more pounds, and the benefits were worth it, so it would not matter if he decided to camp earlier, but he would need a better camp site than any he had seen in the last few hours.

He resolved that, now that he was on the down-slope, and his pace had picked up, he would find a suitable spot and camp early if the weather did not soon let up. It was difficult enough in good weather, but in this, there was little pleasure in it, and he was getting wet. There were enough larger fallen trees from the old growth that had blown down all of those years ago, that he would be able to ferret out some drier wood from some of the jaggedly-fractured standing skeletons for a fire. There would be no risk of forest fire in this weather.

He continued walking for about an hour, and then around a turn in the trail, he hesitated for a moment, and brushed the rain from his brow and eyes. Immediately in the trail ahead of him there was a fresh paw print in the mud, dropped from the roots of an overturned tree, lying to the side.

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