John had always loved the smell of the ocean. Weather it be the salty tang of open water far from shore or the musky smell of seaweed, fish, and spray closer to land. He stood, facing the wind, taking in the day. The water was the muddy green it always too close to shore. The sun was blazing and very nearly straight overhead. It was glinting off of the polished chrome and glass of dozens of pleasure boats tied up in the small marina. A flicker of a frown crosses his features as he wonders why it feels cold, but passes as a much older man walks up and greets him.
They were a study in opposites as they stood together. Where John was short, slender, and deeply tanned the older man was anything but. The store Big and Tall might have been invented with him in mind. He towered nearly a foot over Johns diminutive 5′ 6″ and likely doubled him in weight as well. The sun felt warm again as he stood on the dock with a much older man. The fresh breeze coming off the water carried not only the salty tang of the ocean, but carried their words away as well.
Together they make their way from the shoreline down the dock. John glanced side to side and as they walked and talked pointing out one thing after another on the boats they were passing. As they reach the end of the dock they come across a small boat covered by a sun faded canvas tarp. The excitement was clear in John’s bright blue eyes as the older man starts to pull away the cover. He looks on apologetically as the weather-beaten tarp falls into tattered pieces, revealing the sorry state of the boat beneath.
The boat sat perhaps twenty five feet long and about eight feet wide across at the widest point. Her mast was laying across the deck and cabin supported by a pair of deflated old bumpers. Frayed ropes crisscrossed her decks going from one corroded fitting to another lashing down the mast, what looked like a miniature windmill, and a few other odds and ends. The paint and varnish appeared to be having a contest as to which could be more faded and worn. It took some effort to look past the stains and barnacles to read the name of the vessel, she was called “Odyssey”.
John ran a hand through his sandy hair and stood a moment, taking it all in. Knowing full well that getting her back in sailing shape would live up to her name he pulled out his checkbook. A few signatures, a shaking of hands, and a trading of keys later and she was his. The old man smiled as he departed, leaving John aboard his new home.
John shivered again as he pulled out a notebook and started walking the decks, writing furiously. Pausing in the inventory he looks around, a puzzled look on his face. Cold, why is it so cold here? It’s a Florida, it does not get cold here. Everything begins to fade away.
The bright summer sun is replaced by the dull grey of early morning. The warmth of the sun is replaced by the cold of the northern Wisconsin winter. As he slowly drifts back from his restless sleep memories of the day before come flooding back. A panicked look slowly creeps into his features as he remembers.
Was it really only yesterday that I thought it would be a good idea to go fishing? The little stream was not far from the camp, perhaps a half mile or so. I saw it a few days ago while I was out hiking and thought it looked promising. A clear fast moving ribbon of water cutting through the crunchy cold of the sleeping forest.
Finding it again had not been hard, and I was right. The fishing was pretty good. A wonderful way to cap off the two week long trip I gave myself for my thirtieth birthday. The fishing if anything was too good. So good in fact that I never saw the clouds start to roll in.
You would think my time years ago on the Odyssey would have taught me to pay attention to the weather. Even when the first flurries started it would have been fine, but no. I just had to stay for a little while longer. Honestly, I don’t think it was just the fresh snow that did it. The wind was blowing pretty steady, slowly filling in my tracks. The tracks that I had relied on to lead back home.
Cursing myself as a fool I remember the panic setting in as it slowly dawned on my that camp really was not over the next hill. I can picture myself pushing blindly through the near whiteout thinking that if I can just go a little further I can make it back to the tent.
I pushed a lot further than I should have. Then finally, exhausted, slowed down and started thinking. As daylight started to fade I knew I had to get out of the weather or I would not see another sunrise. Without knowing why I picked it I found what looked like a twenty-five foot Christmas tree.
The tree sat on the downwind side of a small hill. Its branches were so laden with snow that the lower ones drooped all the way to the ground. The only thing I was thinking of at the time was finding a place that the biting wind would stop. I crawled under the tree, wrapped myself as best I could in my heavy winter coat, and leaned my back to the trunk of the tree.
Crawling out from under the tree that had saved my life I took a look around. It is a crisp clear morning. The sky is a cloudy overcast grey, which is normal for this time of year. A fresh blanket of new snow covers the landscape, rounding off the sharp edges. It looks so peaceful and serene for a moment I almost forget where I am. Actually I can’t forget where I am, because I have no idea. Where I am is lost.
It seemed like such a great idea when I was planning the trip. Just me, alone, getting some downtime away from the rest of the world. I should have listened to the nagging Boy Scout of my youth telling me I was being a dumbass. I knew better than to go alone. I knew better than to leave my cellphone in the car, I don’t care if it needed charging. Listening to that voice from my past now seemed like a good idea.
Closing my eyes I can almost read the dog-eared old scout handbook. The first rule if you become lost… stay where you are so people can come find you. Wow, I guess I kinda blew that one yesterday. Then again it will be over a week before my vacation is up and I fail to return to work. Even then all I did was tell them I was going camping “up north”. I suppose that narrows it down a little bit, but not nearly enough.
Well, if I am going to stay put here and wait for help I should do what I can to make things better. Fire would be a good start. Fishing through my the little tackle pouch for the lighter I keep in there I find it. Miracle of miracles it still works. Tucking my new most prized possession into an inside jacket pocket I start looking through what I have. Looking at old things in a new light.
Besides the lighter the little pouch holds a few odds and ends for fishing. A tin of hooks, a bag of small lead weights, a few old battered bobbers, and a pair of pliers. The stringer is gone along with the fish that were on it, somewhere along the trail I followed to get here.
My fishing pole is a sorry sight being snapped off about a foot above the reel. I vaguely remember using it like a machete to hack my way through brush during yesterdays panicked attempt to find my way out. At least the reel still has some line on it.
Reaching back under the tree I pull out the fanny pack I had with me the day before. My knife is still in there, along with the little store bought first aid kit. A granola bar, a sandwich bag (complete with breadcrumbs), and a mostly eaten bag of trail mix (all that remains are some peanuts and the dried pineapple chunks) is my food supply.
Rounding out my supplies are two empty soda bottles. Apparently carrying my trash out with me had been a good idea after all. I gather my things and head out, thinking today will be a better day.
First things first. I am off to gather wood for a fire, I’m tired of being cold.