First Tracks: The trail left by the first skier of the day.
“Come on, Kristy. You’re going to make us late!”
“Brent, don’t act like it’s my fault – you let me sleep in.”
“Well, you were in no condition to get up this early morning.”
“Ok, ok. How many times are you going to remind me? I screwed up – I know. Jeez, you’re worse than my mother.”
“That’s because your mother doesn’t know how slutty you are.”
“Bite me, Brent.”
They were running late for rescue training and you couldn’t be late for rescue training. Running late for work was a different matter. They had both worked at the lodge for so long they practically lived there, and Asher was pretty flexible with them, not that they made a habit of it. Working at the lodge – doing the office work, running and repairing the lifts, giving ski, snowboard, and climbing classes, putting up with shit from tourists, cleaning – whatever it took to make the paycheck – was a means to an end. It allowed them to ski or work outdoors most of the year and allowed them to be a part of something big, something that helped others – Search and Rescue. The part that was so rewarding they had never thought of living anywhere else. And it was an endeavor that took a good deal of their own money to accomplish what with the constant training, search and rescue certification, equipment. But it was life to them.
Kristy was embarrassed by her behavior the night before. She didn’t think she had ever been that drunk. Worse, she had completely forgotten about the mandatory re-certification class today. It was a two-hour drive to meet up with the other units. This was not a good way to start.
Brent called Asher to make sure it was okay to leave the snowmobile at her place for another day. As much as he teased her, Brent was a fiercely loyal friend. There was no mention to Asher of what had happened the night before and she and Brent didn’t need to discuss it. Without saying it, they both knew Asher wouldn’t like it. Her head was fuzzy on the details, anyway. Kristy loaded up the flatbed with equipment. Even though it was a class, they were required to bring their minimum gear with them each time the units met. Most of it was in her car at all times.
After securing the last bag into the pickup box, she climbed into the passenger seat of her Chevy Silverado work truck and Brent eased out of the driveway and into the street. The truck was now ten years old and she had it seven. A little old lady had listed it on Craig’s List – it had been her grandson’s and he was killed in action overseas. It was a sad reason to get a good deal on a truck, but she was too strapped financially at the time to forego it. She had driven it back from California after meeting up with Derrick, who checked it out for her. She forced the thought from her mind. For the next twenty minutes her eyes scanned the road and trees. A light, freezing rain began to hit the windshield and Brent slowed down a bit. They turned up the radio and sang along.
“Stop!” Kristy yelled.
The truck fishtailed as Brent, startled, skidded to a stop.
“Damnit, Kristy – what’s wrong?”
“Did you see that?” she asked.
Brent stared at her blankly.
“The guard rail – about 50 feet back. It’s damaged. Turn around.”
Kristy flipped on the scanner as Brent gingerly turned the truck around on the narrow road. If there were an accident report, they would hear of it.
Brent drove slowly back to the spot. Sure enough, part of the railing was mangled and missing.
Kristy zipped up her parka,
“Did you hear anything about a recent accident along this route? ”
They gave each other a knowing look. If a car or truck had gone off the road this close to their vicinity, Search And Rescue would have informed them. A missing guardrail without a report was serious business.
Brent put the truck into park and set the emergency brake. They jumped out of the cab and jogged across the highway. Kristy and Brent stopped just feet from the rail. Brent pointed into the slushy snow. Tire tracks led right off the road into the ravine.
“Watch, it’s sharp,” Brent said as Kristy leaned over part of the broken railing for a better look.
At first she saw nothing. The ridge dropped off sharply with a narrow plateau about 30 feet down. Then she saw it. A tire. It was just a shadow beneath a tree branch but it was definitely there.
Brent called out, “Hello!”
Nothing. Kristy tried, “Hello! Are you okay?”
Faintly, they heard something. It was a groan or a word although they couldn’t make it out.
“Hold on! We’re coming for you!” Kristy shouted.
Brent was already running back to the truck. He threw open the door and hopped in as he turned the ignition and shifted into gear. He backed the truck to the broken guardrail and dialed 911 on his phone. Kristy look around for an anchor. A large tree with a thick trunk adjacent to the rail would do for one. As she walked back along the guardrail she could hear Brent on his phone.
“-a car down a ravine at mile marker 110 on 1080.”
“We can’t get a good visual but we think at least one person.”
Kristy grabbed a bag out of the back of the truck and began to pull out her rigging. Thankfully, the icy rain had stopped. For her mainline anchor she strapped the rigging through her truck’s tire, for the belay line, to the tree. She harnessed herself to the rope as Brent rejoined her. He looked concerned.
“They said about thirty minutes. Do you want to wait?”
“No,” she said strapping on her helmet. Brent helped her with her pack. “Whoever is down there is hurt. I’m going to assess so Rescue knows what they’re dealing with.”
“Kristy, be careful.
“I will. Haul true, Brent.”
She climbed carefully over the railing and looked for the best place to start her descent. Brent double-checked her lines before Kristy began to pick her way down the steep incline. About fifteen feet down, she could make out a dark colored sedan. It had come to rest at an angle on its side and was wedged between a large boulder and the thicket of trees that ran along the rocky ledge. A few feet in either direction and the car would have dropped another 50 to 60 feet.
Cautiously she continued her descent. When she was about even with the front of the car she yelled out, “Stop!”
From above her she heard Brent’s response, “Stop!”
Pulling herself over she could just see inside the car’s windshield. The driver, female, was strapped in but not moving. She was wearing a white knit hat and her hair obscured her face. She was turned toward the back seat. That was when she saw him. It was Little Rick, strapped in his car seat, staring back at her.