NEW BOOTS AND HIGH WATER
by Mickey Minner
Donna Simpson nibbled on a French fry as she scanned the page of personal ads in the local newspaper. “It’s perfect!” she blurted out after one particular ad drew her attention.
companion for hiking, kayaking
and possibly more.
Sam Simpson looked across the table, catsup from his hamburger dripping down his chin. “What?”
Donna held out a napkin. “Wipe your chin.”
Sam accepted the napkin and followed the instructions. “Okay, so what’s perfect?”
“Never mind. Hurry up and eat. I need to make a call.”
“Something wrong with your cell?”
“No. I just don’t want to do it here.”
Sam looked around the McDonald’s. Except for a family sitting on the opposite side of the dining area, they were alone in the restaurant. “I doubt anyone will care.”
“I care,” Donna said as she carefully tore a piece of the page free and placed it into her pocket. Then she folded the rest of the newspaper and began to gather up the wrappers that had contained her meal. “Are you done?” she asked standing up.
“Then bring it with you. I need to get home.”
Sam rewrapped the uneaten portion of his hamburger and picked up the container of French fries before standing up. “Do you plan to tell me what is so important?”
Donna shook her head and frowned in disgust at the mess her brother was planning to leave on the table. “You are such a pig,” she muttered adding his discarded wrappings and napkins to her tray. “Let’s go,” she said carrying the tray to the trash receptacle.
khaki shorts, a light blue polo, and barefoot, Madison
Taylor stood at the entry to the living room looking
pleadingly at her best friend and roommate curled up at the
end of the leather couch. “Come on, it’s only four miles to
the lake. If we leave early tomorrow morning, we’ll be able
to spend most of the day there.”
“Doing what?” Kallie Underwood asked, not taking her attention off the television as she punched the buttons on the remote control in her hand. One nice thing about satellite TV was you had lots of channels to surf, she was fond of saying. She was wearing a well worn pair of gray sweats cut off just below the knees and an equally ragged red flannel shirt. On the coffee table, and within easy reach, was a plate holding a large pile of potato chips. A plastic liter bottle of orange soda sat beside it. Her cell phone, recently used to order pizza, was also on the table. It was Friday evening and she had settled in for a lazy weekend after a long week of double shifts at the hospital.
“Yuck. You want me to sweat up four miles of rocky trail to stick a hook through a worm. No thanks.”
“There’s other stuff to do.”
Madison stepped to the center of the room to stand between Kallie and the large screen television. “Climbing the boulders. There’s a nice field of them right at the lake shore.”
“Oh, right.” Kallie grunted as she was forced to scoot down the length of the couch to see around Madison. “Climbing boulders that are home to all kinds of creepy crawlies sounds like a ton of fun.”
“What about swimming? You like to do that.”
“In a nice heated indoor pool. Not in an ice cold lake full of fish the size of my arm doing who knows what in the water. Gad, it makes me shiver just to think about it. Which I don’t plan to do, thank you very much.”
Madison slumped down on the couch beside her friend. “Fine.”
“Look you know I hate all that outdoorsy stuff, Maddie. I need my comforts- indoor plumbing, food already prepared, protection from the weather. You really need to find someone who likes that kind of stuff as much as you do.”
“I’ll just go alone… again.”
“Have you tried putting an ad in the paper for a twelve year old that drives his mother nuts? I’m sure there must be at least one in this town that would like to go out and play with you.”
“I have my moments.”
“So you keep telling me.” The doorbell rang and both women looked toward the front of the house. “Your pizza’s here?”
“Money’s on the kitchen table.” Kallie pressed her bare feet against Madison’s thigh, encouraging her to move. “Would you mind?”
Madison pushed herself up off the couch. As she walked out of the room, she thought about Kallie’s suggestion. Not about the twelve year old boy but an ad wasn’t such a bad idea. She wondered what her friend’s reaction would be if she knew she had already placed one.
“And don’t tip him. They add that into the price,” Kallie called out as she squirmed back into her preferred position on the couch to wait for her dinner to be brought to her.
Donna stood beside her bedroom window, her cell phone pressed to her ear with one hand as she wrote notes on a pad of paper with the other. “Yes… Yes… That sounds fine. Benson’s Bend. No, I haven’t but I’m sure it’ll be fine. Highway 14 then right at Paradise Crossroads. Got it. I’ll see you tomorrow morning. Thank you. Goodbye.” She hung up the phone then turned to see Sam standing in the doorway to the room. “It’s not nice to eavesdrop.”
“I wasn’t eavesdropping. I just wanted to know what was so important that you couldn’t call from McDonalds.”
She crossed the room and opened her closet door. “That’s considered eavesdropping, Sam.”
“So? You gonna fill me in?”
“No,” she said as she rifled through the piles of disjointed items on the closet floor. “Damn. I need to go shopping.”
“Hiking? That’s a little out of your league, isn’t it?”
Donna tried to close the closet door but it wouldn’t cooperate. She re-opened it, kicked a few loose items back inside then shoved the door shut. “I can hike. In fact, I like to hike.”
She glared at her brother as she walked past him and back across the room to her desk where she sat and fired up her laptop. When her browser loaded, she typed her search request into Google. After scanning the list of possible sites, she clicked on one and waited for the page to load. “Let’s see,” she said to the computer screen as she read the list that had downloaded. “Don’t have that. Have that… I think. Don’t have that. Don’t have that. Don’t have that. Damn. Do you have any of this stuff?”
Sam leaned over her shoulder to read the computer screen. “Nope. Well, I do have a flashlight but I think the batteries are dead.”
Donna frowned. “Sheesh. What kind of boy are you?”
“The kind that doesn’t particularly like traipsing around in the boonies. Just what exactly do you need all this for? Seems to me you don’t like the boonies any more than I do.”
“Yes, I do. In fact, I quite enjoy outdoor activities like hiking and camping. You’ve just never seen that side of me.”
Sam smirked. “No, you’ve obviously kept it well hidden.”
Donna clicked on the print button. “Where’s the nearest sporting goods store?” she asked as the printer burst into action.
Sam laughed. “Yep, I can see how much you’re into outdoor activities.”
Donna snatched the paper off the printer day and stood up. “You coming or not?”
Madison pulled into a space near the back of the gravel parking area. Currently, bathed in bright morning sunlight, she knew the pine trees that bordered that side of the parking area would provide welcome shade from noon on. And she hated returning from a hike to a hot, stuffy vehicle. She turned off the engine and set the parking brake then pushed open the door and stepped out. Standing beside her car, she sucked in a deep lungful of cool mountain air. It was a perfect morning for hiking, a slight breeze was blowing from the east and light fluffy clouds dotted the sky. Both would provide some relief from the summer sun’s strong rays. She walked to the back of the car to retrieve her pack from the trunk.
She was bent over, checking to make sure all the zippers were properly closed on her pack when she heard another vehicle rapidly approaching, its tires loudly crunching the gravel beneath them. She straightened up wondering if this was the arrival of her hiking partner. As she watched, a bright yellow hatchback drove into the parking area and parked right next to the beginning of the trail. She watched as the driver exited the hatchback and looked around expectantly. The woman was dressed similarly to herself wearing a pair of hiking boots and a t-shirt tucked into a pair of shorts.
“Madison?” Donna called out nervously to the only other person at the trailhead. “Oh, good,” she said when Madison nodded and smiled before pulling her pack free of the trunk and swinging it onto her back. She let the weight settle before shutting the trunk. “I just realized I never asked what you looked like. It’s so nice to meet you, Madison.” She held out her hand when Madison walked up to her. “I’m Donna.”
“Nice to meet you, too,” Madison said as she grasped the offered hand. “Friends call me Maddie.”
“Let me just get my pack out of the back. Then we can be off.” Donna scurried to the back of her car and unlocked the hatchback then pulled the lid upward. When attempting to lift the heavy pack one-handed resulted in the release of an awkward grunt, she grabbed the pack with both hands and hefted it free. She set it down precariously on the bumper before slammed the hatchback shut.
“Need any help?” Madison asked as Donna struggled to get the pack on her back.
“No, I’m good.”
Madison stepped forward when it became obvious Donna would never manage on her own. She lifted the pack off the bumper and held it out. It wasn’t difficult to note Donna’s bulging pack outweighed her own by several pounds. “You like to go prepared, I see,” she said as Donna slipped her arms through the straps.
“You can never be too prepared, I like to say.”
“Nice pack. Looks new.”
Uh, oh, Donna thought. I told her I did this all the time. But if my pack is new, she’s got to be wondering if I lied. Think. Tell her something. “Oh, yes, it is. Most of my gear was lost when I moved here. I had to buy all new.”
Donna turned around to face Madison. “The moving van was in an accident. It caught on fire and… well… ya know, everything burned with it.”
“Yeah. I could have done without it. Especially what it cost to replace everything.”
“Good thing, the company paid for that.”
“There must have been some sort of insurance settlement. Right?”
Idiot. Of course, there had to have been an insurance settlement. “Oh, yeah. It helped. Shall we?” Donna tilted her head in the direction of the trail.
Madison nodded. “So, how long have you been here?” she asked as they walked past the information side at the start of the trail.
“You said you moved here. How long ago?”
Sheesh, will you keep focused. “Oh, about six months ago.”
“I take it you haven’t had much chance to get out on the trails before now.”
“No, not really. But I’m really looking forward to doing that. I used to do a lot of hiking back home.”
“Where was that?”
“Nice. I’ve read about the trails in the Cascades. I hope to get out there sometime to check them out.”
“Oh, yes. They are nice.”
“Do you have any favorites?”
Oh, great. I don’t even know what the Cascades are. “Um, no, not really. So, tell me about this trail.”
“It’s not too difficult. Only four miles to Goose Lake with an elevation gain of less than two thousand feet. Lots of nice scenery along the way but the best part about it is the gorge after we cross the bridge. And from there, we follow the creek all the way to the lake.”
“Great. Let’s get going then,” Donna said quickening her steps. She slipped past Madison. She can’t ask me any questions if I stay in front of her, she thought as she charged up the trail.
The trail left the parking area and immediately entered the forest. The first section was mildly sloped and covered in pine needles with few rocks or tree roots to slow down their progress. Comfortable she could maintain Donna’s determined pace, Madison was content to follow without comment.
Donna followed the well defined trail, her steps slowing as the grade increased and the ground became rockier. They had walked less than a mile and her thighs were already burning from the unusual exertion. Thinking she had over-estimated her ability to hike the entire distance to the lake and back, she was thankful when the trail left the forest and flattened putting less of a strain on her tired muscles. Her steps momentarily quickened before coming to an abrupt stop when the ground suddenly ended at the edge of a deep chasm.
“Problem?” Madison asked walking up behind Donna.
“Um, that bridge…” Donna starred at the rope and wood structure spanning the gully. “There are no supports.”
“That’s cuz it’s a swinging bridge.” Madison studied her hesitate companion. “Haven’t you ever seen one before?”
“Sure, in pictures.”
Madison stepped past Donna. “Now you can experience one first hand. It’s the only way to cross gorge.” She placed her hands on the rope handrails and stepped out onto the wood plank walking surface.
Donna nervously watched the bridge sway as Madison made her way across. She also noted that the mist rising from the rushing water several feet below the bridge dampened the wood surfaces. “Is it safe?”
“Sure. Just keep your knees flexed and move with it.” Reaching the opposite side of the chasm, Madison hopped off the bridge and turned around expecting Donna to already be making her way across. “What’s wrong?” she asked when she saw Donna, rooted in place, looking apprehensively at the bridge.
“I’m… I’ve never…”
“Just take it one step at a time. Hold onto the ropes and don’t look down. You’ll be fine.”
Can’t turn around now, I’d look like a fool. Donna stepped up to the end of the bridge and wrapped her hands tightly around the ropes. Then she gingerly placed a booted food on the first plank and slowly shifted her weight over that leg before lifting her other leg to move it forward and place it on the second plank. She eased her way across the bridge, stopping frequently to tighten her grip on the ropes. When she finally reached the end, she found Madison watching her curiously. “Made it,” she said, relieved to have her boots back on solid ground.
“Are you sure you’re up to this?” Madison asked as Donna pulled her water bottle free and took a long swallow.
“Oh, yes. I’m fine, just a little out of practice.” Okay, a lot out of practice. Fact is, I’ve never done this before but I’m not telling you that. Donna took another swallow of water, hoping Madison didn’t notice the slight shaking of her hand. Crossing the bridge had been more than scary and she refused to acknowledge she would have to do it again when they returned from the lake. “I’m good to go.”
“All right. But the trail is a lot narrower and uneven from here on. And we’ll have the gorge next to us for the next couple of miles. So maybe we should slow the pace a bit.”
“How about you lead and I’ll follow?” Donna offered, glad she wouldn’t have to keep pushing herself at the fast pace she had initially set. Her legs were already tired and her back was protesting the weight of her pack. But she wasn’t about to admit either.
“Good idea. Ready?”
Donna returned her water bottle to the side pocket of her pack before answering. “Ready,” she said smiling. “It’s really pretty here, isn’t it?” She was looked down into the gorge where the water tumbled over several short drop-offs.
“Yes. It’s one of my favorite hikes,” Madison said as she turned to follow the trail around a massive granite boulder that had tumbled down the ravine’s slope many eons before. Although, its sides stood out starkly against the green of the slope, the top of the boulder was covered in a thick layer of rich soil that supported a variety of plant life.
For the next two miles, the trail paralleled the path of Goose Creek, reversing the route the water took to the valley below. As they walked, the distance from the left of the trail to where the ground dropped off sharply into the gorge varied from mere inches to several feet. While to their right, the ground sloped up to the top of a pine and larch covered ridge with the incline of the grass covered slope much less severe. The trail would occasionally widen allowing the women to walk together.
“I’ve worked for the same accounting firm for almost ten years now,” Madison said in answer to a question Donna had posed. “It’s okay but I wouldn’t say no if someone offered me something more interesting.”
“Really? I would think accounting would be… I don’t know… exciting?”
Madison laughed. “If you think looking at numbers all day is exciting, I’ll trade you. What do you do?”
“Nothing as interesting as accounting. I work nights at the downtown Safeway stocking shelves. It’s sucky work but it leaves my days free and it’s pays decent.”
“I’d love to have my days free. I’d much rather hike during the week when the trails aren’t as busy as the weekends.”
“It doesn’t seem too busy today,” Donna said. They had seen less than a dozen other hikers since leaving the trailhead.
“That’s because we got an early start. Wait until we get up to the lake. As the day goes on, more people will arrive until it’s hard to find a spot to yourself. That’s when I decide to leave.”
“You like to be alone?”
“I like to enjoy the quiet. I don’t hike into the wilderness to listen to dogs barking, kids screaming or boom boxes blasting. I can do that at home.”
“Good point. Is that another creek?” Donna asked looking ahead to where water appeared to be flowing across the trail.
“No, that’s still Goose Creek. We’ll have to cross it.”
“Not another swinging bridge, I hope.” Donna asked with her fingers crossed.
“No. There’s a series of rocks we’ll use to hop across it.”
“Really? What about the gorge?”
“We’re beyond it.”
Donna looked to her left where, sure enough, the chasm between the far side of the creek and the near side didn’t look quite as deep. Or threatening. “Where’d it go?”
“I’ll show you.” Madison stepped off the trail and walked several feet away before stopping. “Come over here.” When Donna joined her, she pointed up the canyon in the direction they were going. “See up there, where the ridge abruptly ends at that steep cliff? And that gap between them?” She waited for Donna to nod. “The main branch of the Goose Creek flows from higher up the mountains to the west then around the other side of that cliff and through the gap. It has more room to spread out up there so the channel isn’t very deep. Unless it’s during spring run off, then you’d never get across it.”
“Why the difference when it gets here?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe the ground is softer in this ravine or maybe the gorge was already here. But when the water gets on this side it falls into the gorge and drops below the trail. See?” Madison pointed down the way they had come where they could see the creek disappear over a ledge.
“You said main branch?”
“Another creek, much smaller, flows out of Goose Lake. They’re called Goose Creek Primary and Goose Creek Secondary. Stupid names, I know,” Madison added when Donna looked at her unbelievingly. “Secondary merges into Primary just on the other side of the gap. The trail has to weave around the end of the ridge and along the cliff face to go through the gap. So we’ll cross Primary then we’ll have to re-cross it again about a hundred feet further on when it swings around the far side of the cliff. Then we’ll back track some and have to cross Secondary. Last time I was up here, there was a log across Secondary that you could walk on. After we get past there, we don’t have to worry about getting our feet wet again until we come back from the lake. Hate to have to do that to your new boots. Hope they’re waterproof.”
Me too. Sheesh, I never even thought to ask about that. Donna hoped the water was low enough and the rocks high enough that she wouldn’t have to find out about her boots the hard way. “Are there goose at the lake?”
Madison laughed. “I’ve seen a few fly over but almost never on the lake itself.”
“Why is it called Goose Lake?”
“Back in the eighteen hundreds, a trapper worked the lakes and creeks around here. He lived in a cabin near the lake. Supposedly, he had a rather long neck so folks called him Goose.”
Donna giggled. “You’re making that up.”
“Nope. There isn’t much of it left but the cabin is still there. I can show it to you if you want.”
“Yes. I want.”
Madison smiled. “Then we better get moving,” she said before walking back onto the trail to continue their hike. Donna followed, laughing at the image of a long-necked trapper that had appeared in her mind’s eye.
As they approached the first ford across Goose Creek Primary, Donna was glad to see the water was less than a foot deep as it spread out over the twenty foot span of its gravel streambed. She followed Madison’s lead, hopping from one stepping stone-size rock to another to cross without getting their boots wet. The trail then parted from the ridge to skirt along the base of the steep cliff through the gap to where the two branches of Goose Creek merged. After continuing around the end of the cliff face, they found the second ford to be similar to the first and again crossed the creek without any trouble. The trail then reversed directions and took them back toward the ridge for a short distance before turning northward.
“There’s the log,” Madison said as they walked up to the bank of the smaller creek branch. “Although, it’s really not that far across,” she said gauging the distance to the other side of the creek. “We can probably just jump it.”
Donna watched Madison easily leap across the creek. She looked at the log then back at the creek. Then back at the log.
“Problem?” Madison asked.
What should I say? I’m not sure I can make the jump? Sure, it’s not very far but my legs are tired and I’m not used to doing this sort of thing. And I’ll probably end up on my butt in the middle of this creek. Then again the log doesn’t look much better for avoiding that. I wonder how cold that water is?
Oh, hell. Donna backed up a couple of steps, took a deep breath and started running. Planting her left foot at the edge of the water, she stretched her right leg out as far as she could and said a silent prayer it would be enough. Just when she thought her right foot would plop down in the creek, she felt a hand wrap around her wrist and she was pulled onto the opposite bank and into Madison’s arms. “Um… thanks,” she said as she looked first at the woman holding her then back over her shoulder at the creek. She turned back to face Madison. “I, ah… I’m not sure I could have made it on my own.”
Madison smiled. “You, um… You probably would have but I didn’t want those new boots to get wet. Boots are hard enough to break in without trying to do it with them wet.”
Donna bit her lower lip nervously. “Uh, yeah. My, um… new boots. So, how far to the lake?” she asked as the arms holding her relaxed and she took an awkward step backward.
“It’s about half a mile but the last bit is a steep climb. So don’t be afraid to say you need to rest.”
“Didn’t say you weren’t,” Madison responded, wondering why the suggestion seemed to have upset Donna. After all, she had noticed the slight limp Donna had developed during the past hour. “Just said, if you need a break, speak up.”
“Gotcha,” Donna said then abruptly spun away from Madison and started marching up the trail. Her steps soon slowed as she looked around at the change in scenery. Unlike the narrow gorge they had traversed on the other side of the forested ridge, they were about to cross a large mountain meadow covered with a sea of wildflowers. “Wow,” she exclaimed, her anger at Madison already forgotten. “Would you look at that!”
“Pretty, isn’t it?”
“Hey, Donna,” Madison said hesitantly. “I didn’t mean anything by saying not to be afraid to say you needed to rest.”
Donna sighed. “Forget it. I… um… I know you didn’t. It’s just…” Madison looked at her expectantly, waiting for her to complete her thought. “Look, let’s just forget about it. Okay? I’d much rather talk about how beautiful it is here. I mean walking along the gorge was something but this…” Donna spread her arms wide as if to embrace the scenery. “This is really something. Absolutely gorgeous!”
Madison smiled, more than willing to let Donna’s sudden mood change be forgotten. “Glad you like it.”
“Oh, I do. Is it like this all the way to the lake?”
“Unfortunately, no.” Madison pointed across the meadow to another forested slope. “We go into those trees and that’s where we’ll start climbing. Right up to the top of that ridge. Goose Lake is just on the other side of the crest.”
“Speaking of the lake,” Donna said as she resumed walking. “What exactly are we planning to do there? Besides the obvious, that is?”
“The obvious?” Madison asked, falling into step beside Donna.
“Swimming. Lounging about on the beach. That sort of thing.”
“Sorry, I’m not much for lounging.” Unless, of course, I have someone worth lounging about with. “I usually do some fishing. Or climb up on some of the higher boulders to enjoy the view of the mountains. You can see them much better at the lake than down here surrounded by all these trees and ridges. Some people come up for a few days and camp. And some keep going past Goose Lake, taking the trail to the string of lakes further up. So, there’s a lot to do.”
“Fishing?” Donna asked as she looked over at Madison’s pack. “Did you bring a pole or do you use a stick with string wrapped around it?”
Madison laughed. “I’ve never actually tried that. I’ve got an ice fishing rod I use but I didn’t bring it today. I wasn’t sure what you’d be interesting in doing.”
“Why an ice fishing rod?”
“They’re a lot smaller and easier to pack than a normal rod.”
“Oh.” Okay, if you say so. But the only thing I know about ice fishing is it looks damn cold.
“So? Do you fish?”
“You say that as if you were expecting another answer.”
“I was. I’m a little surprised you haven’t fished before.”
“I just thought you would have done a lot of fishing over on the Sound.”
Oh, sh… I forgot I told her I was from Seattle. Now what do I say? “I don’t like boats much. I get seasick.”
“What about piers?”
“What about them?”
“You can fish off of them, you know.”
Dang it. I knew that. Why did I start this stupid game anyway? I should have just told her truth from the beginning. “Hey, does it really matter why I never fished before.”
“I would like to learn how.”
“That’s different. Most women I know would rather go to the shopping mall then spend the day fishing.”
Donna grinned. “Well, I doubt I’m like most women you know.”
So it seems, Madison thought.
The climb to the top of the ridge was a grueling five hundred feet of uneven, rocky, switchback trail. And much to her annoyance, Donna had had to stop multiple times to rest. Madison had been good natured about the numerous stops and, although, she had always insisted she could also use a breather, Donna was pretty sure the woman would have made the climb non stop had she been alone.
“Boy, am I glad that’s all downhill on the way back,” Donna said as the trail leveled out at the crest. “Where’s the lake?” she asked as the well-defined trail they had followed from the trailhead disappeared and several less distinct paths led off in different directions.
“Right over here.” Madison led Donna through the trees. After a dozen steps, they walked out of the forest onto a sandy beach approximately fifteen feet wide and twice as long.
“Nice, isn’t it?”
“What would you like to do first? Check out the trapper’s cabin or the boulder field or—”
“Eat. I’m starved.”
Madison laughed. “Okay. That sounds good too. There’s a nice little beach not too far that way,” she said as she pointed along the lakeshore to the left. Or, we can go that way,” she pointed off along the right shoreline, “and find a boulder to sit on and enjoy the view.”
“What’s wrong with this beach?”
“It’s pretty popular with the people who don’t want to go much farther once they get here.”
“I don’t blame them,” Donna said. My feet hurt and my legs feel like warm Jell-O after that climb. All I really want to do is take my boots off and soak in that lake for a few hours. “Where’s the cabin?”
“Pretty close to that other beach.”
“Then we go there.”
“Mind explaining your decision?” Madison asked, grinning.
Donna smirked. “Yes.” Why don’t you just admit she about killed you on this hike and she’ll be lucky if she doesn’t have to carry you back to the trailhead?
Madison laughed as she nudged Donna into motion. “Come on, jelly legs.”
“How’d you guess?”
You mean, beside the fact that you barely made it this far? “First time I came up here, I just wanted to take my boots off and soak in the lake for the rest of the day.”
“Yeah. Getting back to the trailhead was the hardest hike I’ve ever made. Now, I know better. Before I set off on a new trail, I check with people who have hiked it so I know what to expect. I wouldn’t consider bringing a newbie up this trail. That’s why I asked if you had experience.”
“Watch your step here,” Madison warned, oblivious to Donna’s distress over her comments. They had reached the spot where water seeped out the end of the lake. Not much more than an inch deep as it spread out over several feet before finding its way into a shallow channel to begin its long journey down to the gorge as Goose Creek Secondary. “The ground is slick and your boots might slip.”
Donna followed Madison, being extra careful when placing her feet as she moved across the muddy area. Once they had crossed, she continued to silently trail behind Madison as she thought about the predicament she had created for herself.
It wasn’t much further to the beach and Madison walked down to the water’s edge before shrugging off her pack and setting it down in the dry sand. “This is a good spot,” she said to Donna walking behind her. When Donna made no effort to stop and join her but instead seemed to be intending to continue walking right past her, Madison reached out and grabbed her arm. “Earth to Donna.”
“Are you okay? You seem to be a million miles away.”
Donna gave her head a quick shake, hoping to rid her mind of the unwanted thoughts. “I’m fine.”
“Then how about taking off your pack and joining me for lunch?”
Donna smiled shyly. “Okay.” She shrugged off her pack, biting back a groan when her shoulders protested the movement. “I hope you don’t mind but I brought enough for two. I thought it was the least I could do.”
“I don’t mind. But I did bring my own.”
“That’s okay. You won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t want to share.”
“Well, let’s see what you have. It might be better than my standard PBJ,” she said unzipping a compartment on the side of her pack.
“Peanut butter and jelly.”
“Oh.” Donna removed a beach towel from her pack and spread it on the sand between them. “Let’s see.” She pulled three foil wrapped packages from her pack. “I’ve got tuna fish sandwiches,” she said, opening the foil. “Ham and cheese. And roast beef. I wasn’t sure what you might like.” Then she returned to her pack and pulled out a large plastic container. “Watermelon and cantaloupe chunks. And grapes,” she said placing the fruit on the towel and popping off the lid. Another plastic container appeared along with two quart-sized baggies. “Baby carrots and celery,” she popped the lid to reveal the contents of the second container. “Trail mix and energy bars,” she pointed at each. “And Oreos,” a third baggie was pulled from her pack. “And, for washing it all down, fruit punch. I’ve also got cups and plates and silverware,” she said as she removed those items and added them to the others. Then she looked up anxiously at Madison.
Amazed by the amount of food, Madison couldn’t help but blurt out, “No wonder you were dragging your ass up here. That bottle of punch, alone, must wear a couple of pounds.”
“Is that good or bad?”
Madison grinned. “Heck, you hauled it up here so…” She reached for a sandwich. “Let’s eat.”
“That was great,” Madison said as she lay back on the warm sand, clasping her hands behind her head. “Good thing we have four miles to walk back to the cars. I’m going to need all of it to wear off all that food.”
Donna grinned as she collected the remains of their lunch and neatly returned the containers and leftovers back into her pack. “I’m glad you enjoyed it,” she said.
Madison reached over and snatched the bag of Oreos out of Donna’s hand. “Oh, no you don’t. I’m not done with those.”
“Thought you said you couldn’t stuff another bite inside of you?
“I’ll have room for these as soon as everything settles. Besides, I might get hungry before we get to the cabin.”
“How far is it?”
Madison leaned her head back. “See that pine tree with the split trunk?”
“Just behind it.”
Donna laughed. “Madison, that can’t be more than fifty feet away.”
“You’re going to get hungry between here and there?”
“Stranger things have happened.”
Donna laughed harder as she pulled up the beach towel and shook it free of sand before tucking it into her pack. Both women looked suddenly skyward when a deep rumbling was heard in the distance. “That sounded like thunder but…” Donna swiveled her head around looking for the source of the sound. “I don’t see anything that looks like it could have caused it.”
“Probably further south.”
“Should we be worried?”
Madison was about to express an opinion to the negative when a gust of wind blew through the nearby pine trees ruffling their branches. When the wind reached the women, it felt cold on their skin. “If there is a storm building, it’s probably too far away to be of much concern to us. But since we only planned a day hike, I’d suggest we start down just in case. That is, if you’re ready.”
A second, stronger gust of wind blew out of the trees causing ripples to form on the lake’s surface. Donna pushed up onto her knees then stood, her legs screaming in pain. “If you say we should leave, I’m ready.” I just hope my legs are. She turned to the sound of voices to discover a man and a woman working their way across the lake’s outlet.
Madison quickly stood having also noticed the newcomers. “Afternoon,” she said when the pair of hikers reached the beach.
“See, Todd, I told you there was somebody already here.”
“Okay, you were right. Again! Sorry to bother you folks. We’ll just look for another spot. Come on, Ann. There’s another beach not too far.”
“But I like this one, Todd.”
“We’re getting ready to head down,” Madison told the couple. “You’re welcome to claim this beach for your own. Looks like you’re planning to spend a few days,” she added, noting the sleeping rolls strapped to the top of their packs.
“We are. You just up for the day?”
“You must be fast walkers if you came up here and plan to get back before the storm hits,” Todd said.
Donna looked back up at the sky.
“Storm? I check the weather this morning, there was no mention of any storm.”
“Seems it surprised a lot of people- weather forecasters included. It started building on the west side of the crest late last night. They expected it to blow itself out before it came over the top. But you know how unpredictable the weather can be in these mountains.” Madison nodded. “Guess it rained most of the night on the west side and just when they thought it was finished, it picked up some steam and came barreling over the top.”
“Damn,” Madison muttered. “Do you know what it’s supposed to do?” she asked as another gust of cold wind buffeted them.
“They were saying it would probably move south. But that wind says otherwise.”
“Are you sure you want to stay here tonight?” Donna asked, surprised the couple would be willing to risk being caught in the storm.
“Todd shrugged. “The forecast was for it to move through quickly, drop a lot of rain and be gone in a few hours. The way the wind is starting to gust, I’m guessing they’re probably right about it being fast moving.”
“Well, I’m not willing to chance them being right or wrong,” Madison said as she bent over to retrieve her pack from the sand. She swung it up onto her back and let it settle in place before tightening the straps. “Thanks for the info. The beach is all yours.”
“Thanks,” Todd said, shrugging off his pack. “Good luck.”
Madison picked up Donna’s pack and held it for her to slip her arms through the straps. “You, too. Hope you don’t get too much wind and rain tonight. Ready?” she asked Donna, who nodded. Both women turned in unison and headed across the beach.
“Aren’t you going to tell them about the creek?” Ann asked Todd.
“Hey,” Todd called out. “Do you know the trail over the ridge?”
Donna stopped to wait when Madison turned around to answer. “Yes. Why?”
“Primary was already starting to rise when we came up. You might want to bypass it on the way down.”
“Thanks,” Madison said before turning back to Donna. “Damn,” she muttered as they started walking again.
“I hope not.”
Dang, you’d think going downhill would be easier than going up, Donna thought, distressed to have discovered the opposite to be true. The steep, rocky trail made it difficult to move as quickly as the pace Madison was setting. I could ask her to slow down. No. If I did that she’d probably just take off and leave me here. Not that I’d blame her any.
Madison glanced back over her shoulder and found Donna lost in thought. The wind gusts had melted into a steady force of cold air blasting through the trees and she was glad for the protection they provided against it, even if it meant dodging a falling limb or two. They had finally reached the last of the switchbacks and she was relieved to have that part of their trip behind them. The trail slope was much gentler now as it led out of the forest to the meadow. If she had been alone, Madison would have already broken into a trot. She took another look at Donna. Her limp was much more noticeable and although she was determinedly placing one foot in front of the other, it was obvious that each step was causing her some pain. Madison stopped just before the meadow was reached and removed off her pack.
“What’s wrong?” Donna asked. She was breathing heavily and wasn’t even trying to hide it.
“We need to put on whatever warm clothes we have. Once we leave the protection of the trees, that wind is really going to make things miserable. Might as well get out your rain gear, too.” Madison dug out a sweatshirt. “Well?” she asked when Donna remained standing, her pack still on her pack.
“Don’t you have any?”
“Well, I did. I mean, I do. But the lunch took up more room than I thought and—”
“That’s all you have in your pack? Is lunch? No one in their right mind hikes into the mountains without being ready for situations like this.” She had inserted an arm into the sleeve of the sweatshirt, but instead of putting it on she pulled it off and handed it to Donna. “Put this on.”
“I’ll be okay. I’m used to—”
“Let’s cut the crap,” Madison’s voice rose with anger. “You’ve never hiked before, have you? You went out after calling me yesterday and bought the boots and pack. I had it figured out when you couldn’t lift the damn thing out of your car and I should have just told you to turn around right then. Why I didn’t, who knows? I figured you were a newbie but I sure as hell never figured you’d come up here completely unprepared.”
“I was prepared. I had extra clothes and other stuff in case of emergencies. I just couldn’t fit it in and the lunch.”
“What would you rather have now?”
Bonehead. Bonehead. Bonehead!!
“Put the shirt on.”
“What will you…?” She cut her question short when she saw the look on Madison’s face. She placed the sweatshirt between her knees then loosened the straps to her pack and let it slide down her back. While she put on the sweatshirt, Madison pulled a pair of what looked to be the bottom half of pant legs out of her pack. She stepped into one and pulled it up her leg then zipped it back into place turning her shorts back into full length pants. “Wow. Those are neat,” Donna said without thinking.
Madison ignored her and reattached the other pant leg. Then she reached back into her pack and pulled out a rain poncho and a wind breaker. “Put this on too,” she said tossing the jacket to Donna. Then she stood and pulled the poncho over her head. It’s wasn’t a full poncho as it was only meant to be used for light rain showers. The hem barely covered her thighs and the sleeves stopped just below her elbows. But it was lined and it had a hood so it would provide her some protection as the temperatures cooled with the approaching storm. She bent over and pulled the zippers on her pack closed then lifted it up. She was surprised to find Donna with the jacket on and her pack already in place. “Let’s go,” she said before turning and walking out from the protection of the trees.
Donna looked up at the angry dark clouds being blown across what just hours before had been a deep blue expanse. She instinctively reached down and zipped up her borrowed jacket. The distance between her and Madison was beginning to lengthen and she forced her legs to move faster.
Madison saw the first rain drop hit the trail in front of her and the small explosion of dust that resulted. Then another drop fell. And another. She felt one strike her arm and was dismayed to note that it was not only big but cold. By the time a second drop connected with her bare skin, her arm was already covered in goose-bumps. Both women jumped when a loud clap of thunder exploded directly overhead. And seconds later the rain was falling in wind swept sheets.
The track through the meadow quickly changed from dust-bowl dry to muddy goo as the rain continued to fall and Madison was forced to leave the trail and walk on the meadow’s fragile grasses to keep her footing. She glanced behind to see Donna doing the same. At least she’s not the whiny type, she thought as she watched Donna, her limp much more prominent, force one foot in front of the other. She stopped and waited for Donna to catch up.
“I’m okay,” Donna said as soon as she came even with Madison, who ignored her declaration.
“Look, I’m going to run ahead and check out the fords. Wait for me at the log.”
“We don’t have time to discuss this. And I’m not blind. I can see that it’s taking everything you have just to walk. So, just do what I say and save us any more problems.” Donna simply nodded although Madison could tell by her clinched jaw muscles that she wasn’t happy to be hearing it. “Wait for me at the log. Don’t try to cross it.”
“It would save time—”
“No. If we can’t ford Primary then you’d just have to turn around and re-cross Secondary. There’s no sense to waste what energy you have. Just wait for me. Okay?”
Donna nodded. Then she forced her legs into motion as Madison trotted away from her. You can do this, she told herself as she forced the pain out of her mind and concentrated on making it across the meadow as quickly as possible. I don’t want to get to that damn log and find her waiting for me. So, move your damn ass.
Madison didn’t hesitate when she reached Secondary, leaping over the creek without breaking stride. But she was forced to stop when she reached the banks of Goose Creek Primary. Churning water filled the streambed from one bank to the other as it rushed toward the gorge. The stepping stones they had used that morning to cross were no longer visible and she was sure that, when the water eventually receded, many would have been swept downstream. “Damn,” she muttered, turning around to retrace her steps back to Donna.
Donna was nervously pacing along the bank of Goose Creek Secondary when Madison finally came into view. She sighed. Thank goodness. “Well?” she called out. Madison shook her head. “I don’t understand,” Donna continue after Madison jumped across the creek to stand beside her. “This creek hasn’t risen at all.”
“It comes out of the lake. It wasn’t raining up there. Primary is fed from the mountains nearing the crest. And by the amount of water coming down, it must have been raining most of the day up there. I don’t know how I missed that.”
“You said you checked the weather this morning. How would you have known anything different?”
“I should have been paying better attention to the clouds. Storms can build really fast up along the crest.”
Donna looked west where she knew the spine of the mountain range was. But from where they stood, the crest was hidden behind multiple ridges of rock and trees. “If you could see them,” she said. “So, what’s the plan?”
Madison rubbed her arms trying to return some warmth to them. She hadn’t noticed how chilled her skin had become when she was running but now, standing still, she had begun to feel it. “We take the ridge trail. It bypasses the fords.”
“Why didn’t we use it this morning then?”
“It’s a bit steep in places.” Madison smiled in spite of their situation. “And because it bypasses the fords. Let’s get moving. Standing in this rain is not doing us any good.”
“Let me get my pack off first. It looks like you could use this jacket more than me right now.”
“No. Keep it. I’m already drenched so it won’t do me much good. And there’s no sense to both of us being cold. Let’s just get back to the trailhead and the cars.”
“Okay. You lead.”
“How are your legs?”
“You lead. I’ll be right behind you.”
Madison thought for a moment then nodded. She made it this far. Might as well give her the benefit of the doubt. After all, I really didn’t expect to find her here when I got back. “This way,” she said as she walked away from the creek.
The new direction took them along the base of the ridge for about one hundred feet before it started up at an angle across the slope. The ground was as drenched as they were but there were more trees to protect them from the rain and wind.
Her legs hurt, she was cold and her saturated clothes clung uncomfortably to her chilled skin but Donna’s main concern was for Madison. It was obvious the poncho was not doing much to protect her from the rain and she could see that Madison continued to rub her arms even as she struggled to maintain her footing on the slick ground.
The section of trail they were climbing stopped then reversed direction as it continued upward. Donna was glad to see the slope seemed to be less extreme on the higher section and she hoped that meant they were nearing the top. She was still working her way up the lower section when Madison made the turn and started up the higher one. Donna was shocked to see Madison lose her footing and tumble to the ground. Forgetting her own painful legs, she rushed up to the switchback.
Madison was struggling to stand but she was so cold that she couldn’t stop shaking long enough to get her legs underneath her. Donna knelt down in the mud next to her. “Help me up,” she said through chattering teeth.
Looping her arms underneath Madison’s, Donna tugged her upright. “This is stupid,” she said. “We need to find someplace to wait out this storm.”
“No,” Madison stuttered through chattering teeth. “W-we n-n-need to g-g-get t-t-to the c-ca-cars. Let’s g-g-go.”
Donna grabbed Madison’s shoulders and spun her around. “We need to find shelter and figure out a way to get you warm. I may be new at this but even I can tell you’re freezing.”
“Y-y-you d-d-don’t k-kn-know wh-what y-y-you’re ta-ta-talking a-b-b-bout,” Madison muttered. “Y-y-you’re n-n-not a h-h-hi-ker.”
“Look, I may not know what you know. And I may have done something really stupid like emptying my pack of essentials so I could put all that food into it. But I’m not an idiot. And I can follow instructions. Tell me what needs to be done and I’ll do it.” Donna looked into Madison’s eyes. “Please, Maddie. Tell me what to do to help you.”
She’s right, you’re freezing. And so is she. Madison looked around. “O-o-ov-over t-t-there.”
Donna looked in the direction Madison had indicated. A cluster of pine trees stood with their lower branches interlaced into a protective umbrella over a patch of almost level and, remarkably, dry ground. Their thick upper branches provided an effective barrier to the rain, catching the large drops and directing them away from the center of the trees to run in little rivulets off their tips. She wrapped an arm around Madison’s waist and helped her to the natural shelter. They had to bend over to pass under the ends of the rain heavy branches but once they were underneath they could almost stand upright. Donna helped Madison get her pack off then helped her sit before removing her own pack. “Okay, now what?” she asked. Madison reached for her pack. “Just tell me. You’re shaking too hard to do anything right now,” she said as she sat cross-legged on the ground and pulled Madison’s pack into her lap.
“Bl-bl-bl-blan-kets,” Madison managed to get out.
“You have blankets in here?” Donna asked as she unzipped the main compartment and started rooting around inside. “I don’t see any.”
“These?” Donna pulled out two packages approximately three by five inches in size. Madison nodded. “Mylar… insulated… reflects body heat… developed by NASA,” Donna read the label on one of the packages. “Great!” She ripped open the cellophane wrapping and pulled out the piece of silver material which seemed too thin to do what the label promised. But she spread it out to its full four by seven foot size and started to wrap it around Madison. “Wait,” she said as she let the blanket fall to the ground. “Let’s get this poncho off you first.” She lifted the yellow plastic off Madison and tossed it aside. “That shirt too.”
“Yes. It’s drenched and I doubt this blanket can dry it out and warm you up too. Take it off.” Madison shook her head. “Okay, I will.” She had little trouble removing the shirt from the protesting woman who was shivering too hard to put up much of a fight. “I’ll be nice and let you keep the bra.” Don’t be nice. Don’t be nice. Ignoring the voice in her head, Donna wrapped the blanket tightly around Madison. Then she opened the second package and wrapped that blanket around her also. She set aside Madison’s pack and replaced it with her own. Rooting around inside, she found the baggie of energy bars and pulled it out. She removed one bar and ripped the wrapper open then held it for Madison to take a bite. “I thought it might be good for us eat.”
Madison shivered and shook her head.
Donna bit off a large bite of the bar. “Okay, probably need to warm up first.” She put aside her pack and removed the jacket. Although the outer layer was pretty wet, the inner lining was still mostly dry. As was the sweatshirt she wore. She peeled the blankets off Madison. “Change of plans. The bra is coming off.” Without waiting for Madison’s response, she unhooked the wet bra and removed it. Then she took off her shirt and slipped it over Madison’s head.
“Good. Now let’s get these blankets back around you.” Donna worked quickly so Madison would not be exposed to the cold air any longer than necessary. Then she put the jacket back on and scooted in behind the shivering woman wrapping her body around her. After a moment, she felt Madison relax against her.
“Doesn’t look like the rain is letting up,” Donna said as she peered out under the branches. They had been sitting under the protection of the trees for almost half an hour. “Are you feeling any warmer?”
Madison nodded. “Y-y-yes.”
“Still a ways to go, huh?”
Madison nodded. She was grateful for the warmth of the blankets. “B-b-but I’m n-ot s-sh-ak-ing as m-m-uch.”
“I’ve noticed.” Donna was still snuggled around Madison. “Hungry yet?”
Donna reached for her pack and pulled it close. “We’ve got some sandwiches left.” Madison shook her head. “Oreos?” Madison’s head bobbed up and down. “Ah, a girl after my own heart,” she teased as she reached under the blankets and placed a couple of the cookies in Madison’s waiting hand. She pulled her water bottle free and slipped it under the blanket. “You probably should drink as much as you can.”
“Are y-you re-really fr-from Se-a-tle?”
“No. I’ve lived here all my life,” Donna answered as she un-wrapped a sandwich.
“Wh-why t-t-the lie?”
Why did I make up that story? she asked herself taking a bite. “I guess I thought if you knew I was a newbie, you never would have agreed to let me go hiking with you.”
“I wo-wo-would have. J-ju-st n-n-ot t-t-this t-t-trail to st-start w-w-with.”
“Now you tell me. More Oreos?” When Madison nodded, Donna lifted the edge of the blankets and pushed the baggie of cookies underneath. “Sure you wouldn’t rather have a sandwich?”
“I l-l-like ju-junk f-f-food wh-when I’m fe-fe-feeling s-s-sick.”
Donna reached around and felt Madison’s forehead. “Damn, why didn’t you tell me you were getting sick?”
“I was a li-li-little b-b-busy sh-shi-ver-ing.”
“This is all my fault. If I had just told you the truth from the start we wouldn’t be here now.”
“T-too late t-to wo-worry a-b-b-bout th-that now.”
“You hate me, don’t you?”
“Yes, you do. You hate me and you’ll never talk to me again. Let alone go hiking with me.”
“I d-d-don’t ha-hate you.”
“Then we can do this again? Well, I don’t mean this as in getting stuck in a storm. But I mean this as in going on a nice short hike closer to town. With no swinging bridges and no steep hills to climb.”
“Le-let’s g-g-et th-thro-through t-t-this one fi-fir-st b-be-before we wo-worry a-b-bout d-do-ing it ag-gain.”
“Okay.” Donna smiled to herself. Well, at least, she didn’t say no.
Donna leaned over to look out. “Yes, but it doesn’t seem as hard as before. And the wind has quieted down.”
“St-storm m-must be pa-passing. We sh-should try to g-g-get to the tra-trailhead.”
“Are you sure? Maybe we should wait a while longer. At least until it stops raining completely.”
“No. W-we need to get b-ba-back to the c-cars be-be-fore dark.”
“Oh, I forgot about that. Okay, you stay there while I get everything ready.” Donna scooted back away from Madison intending to stand up. But when she tried, her strained leg muscles and sore feet protested. She rolled over onto her knees. Then, using the tree trunk for support, forced her body off the ground.
“You okay?” Madison asked when she heard Donna painful groans.
“Yes. I’m just paying for my stupidity.” Once she was upright, Donna took a few moments to rub her thigh muscles, hoping it would help relieve some of their cramping. It didn’t. She gathered up their belongings, putting them back into the packs and zipping them tight. Then she helped Madison to her feet. “You look a little shaky,” she said when she had to hold her steady. “You sure about this?” Madison nodded. “Okay, but this time you wear the jacket. I won’t take no for an answer,” she said, cutting off any protests. “Hold on to something while I fix these blankets so you can keep them on.”
Madison took hold of a branch while Donna fussed with the blankets. Finally satisfied, she wrapped one of the blankets around the sweatshirt Madison now wore and tucked the excess into her pants. Then she took off the jacket and helped Madison into it, zipping it up tight. “That should keep you warm… I hope.” She wrapped the second blanket around her own torso then draped the rain poncho over it. With that done, she picked up her pack and swung it onto her back then tightened the straps. Then she stood looking at the second pack.
“It’s okay,” Madison said, as if she had read Donna’s thoughts. “Help get it on me.”
“I’ll just carry—”
“No. You ca-can’t carry bo-both. And I wo-won’t t-t-take no for an answer.”
Donna grinned at hearing her own words thrown back at her. She lifted Madison’s pack and held it while she slipped her arms through the straps.
“B-besides, it’ll help k-keep the rain off my b-back. Shall we?” Madison asked when Donna finished pulling the straps tight.
“We shall.” Donna walked to the edge of their sanctuary and lifted the branches as high as she could so Madison could pass underneath them without having to bend over.
Once they were out from under the protective branches, the rain was free again to attack them. But now the drops were much smaller and fell with less frequency.
Madison stepped back onto the trail and on shaky legs led the way to the top of the ridge.
There was no time for the women to rest when they reached the top of the ridge. The trail immediately dropped off the other side, angling its way down to the main trail some distance below. Donna took the lead, insisting that Madison hold onto her shoulders as they descended. They suffered a few slips but no serious falls on the slick ground. Both were happy when the rain stopped falling and the wind died away.
“I don’t remember the creek making so much noise before,” Donna commented when they left the ridge trail and returned to the main trail along the side of the gorge.
“More water running t-t-through it.”
Donna grinned. “You’re not chattering as much. How do you feel?”
“C-c-cold. But not as c-c-cold.”
“Well, at least, it’s an improvement.”
“How a-b-b-bout you?”
“I don’t think I’ll be able to walk for a month after this. But…” She paused to consider how exactly she did feel. “To be honest, other than my legs and feet, I feel pretty good.”
Madison smiled. “Hiking s-s-suits you.”
“So it seems. Come on, let’s get going.” Donna slipped an arm around Madison’s waist. She was concerned that, even though her teeth had stopped chattering, she was still shivering. We can’t get back to the trailhead fast enough for you. I sure hope the heater in your car works better than mine.
Donna walked at a pace as fast as she thought Madison could maintain. But they were forced to slow to almost a crawl whenever the trail narrowed and the edge of the chasm inched close.
“We’re almost there,” Donna told Madison when she spotted the large boulder just before the bridge. She didn’t hear any response but she wasn’t really expecting one. It was taking all of the sick woman’s energy just to stay upright. As the trail widened around the boulder, Donna slipped her arm around Madison’s waist. “Getting across the bridge is going to be tricky. Any suggestions?”
Madison stopped walking several feet before the bridge. She needed to see just what the conditions were. And she needed the rest.
“Want to sit down?” Donna asked.
“Yes. B-b-but if I do, I may n-n-ot be able to get up.”
“I hear you. Are you going to be able to make it across on your own?”
“Okay. What do I do?”
“You go first and hang onto t-t-the ropes. I’ll hang onto you.”
“Donna, go slow. And no m-m-matter what happens, don’t let g-g-go of the ropes. If we fall…” She didn’t have to finish her thought. Both women knew the bridge had no sides. If something happened, there was nothing but plank surface of the bridge between them and the swollen creek below.
“Don’t worry, I won’t let go. You just make sure you don’t let go of me.”
“Okay,” Donna said as she turned, presenting her back to Madison. “Grab on.”
It seemed like an eternity but they finally inched their way across the bridge and left the creek behind.
“I am not going to stand here and argue with you,” Donna told Madison as she tried to open the driver’s door to her car. “You cannot drive. You can barely stand up.” Once they had returned to the trailhead, Madison had insisted they part company and return back to town in their own vehicles. “Get in the passenger seat. I’ll drive you home.”
“What about your car?”
“I’ll give my brother a call. He can get a friend and come after it,” Donna said as she nudged Madison around the back of her car.
Madison grabbed onto the open trunk. “No.”
“Damn it, woman. You either get into the passenger seat and let me drive you home or I’ll call for an ambulance and have you carted off to the hospital. You’re white as a sheet; you’re running a fever; and you’re starting to cough so hard, I think you may hack up a lung.” Donna planted her feet, refusing to let Madison pass as she tried to return to the driver side of the car. “You’re choice. Pick one.”
Madison grabbed hold of Donna as another coughing attack started. If she hadn’t, she was sure she would have fallen to the ground. Damn it. “You win.”
“Car keys,” Donna said holding out her hand. Madison placed the keys in her palm then let Donna assist her around the car and into the passenger seat.
Donna leaned over her to buckle her seat belt. “Comfy?” She grinned when Madison glared at her. Straightening up, she shut the door then walked to the back of the car and shut the trunk. She took a look across the parking area to her car. Try to stay out of trouble, she told the hatchback. I’ll give Sam a call as soon as I can. Then she said a silent prayer that no harm would come to her car and hurried around to the driver door. Before doing anything else, she started the engine and turned the heater up to its highest setting. Then she pull the door closed and buckled her seat belt. “Address?”
Madison provided the information then leaned back against the seat and closed her eyes. She was sound asleep before Donna had backed out of the parking spot.
Madison’s eyes fluttered open. It took her several minutes to discern that she was in her own bed and curled up under her extremely warm comforter. It was dark in her bedroom and she guessed she must have slept long into the night. But a quick look at the window found the slivers of bright sunlight sneaking around the edges of the drawn shades. She rolled over onto her back, groaning with the effort.
“Are you awake?” Kallie whispered. She had just peeked into the room to check on her roommate and best friend. Seeing Madison moving about in the bed, she padded into the room and sat on the edge of the mattress.
“I think so. What time is it?”
“I slept all night?”
“All night. All day. And all night again,” Kallie told her as she placed a hand on her forehead. “I was beginning to think I made a mistake agreeing not to take you to the hospital.”
“I hate hospitals.”
“So you’ve told me.”
“That’s why I have a RN for a best friend.”
“You’ve told me that too.”
“How did I get here?”
“You don’t remember?”
Madison shook her head. “I don’t remember much after we got over the bridge. Remind me never to do that again after a rainstorm.”
“Will do,” Kallie said, tucking the comforter back around Madison’s body where she had dislodged it.
“I don’t think I would have made it without Donna.”
“Funny. She said the same thing about you.”
Madison grinned. “She did?”
Kallie nodded. “She also said you wouldn’t have been there if it hadn’t been for her.”
“She did okay.”
“She shouldn’t have been up there with you, Maddie. She said so herself. Who puts an ad in the paper for a hiking buddy?”
Madison looked at Kallie. “How do you know about that?”
“Donna told me all about it. How she answered your ad. How she made a mess of things by lying to you. And then being completely unprepared when the storm hit. How you gave her all your warm clothes then almost froze to death because of it.”
“I didn’t almost freeze to death.”
“Your skin was blue when she dragged you up to the front door. I wanted to take you to the hospital but you insisted you would be okay after a hot shower and some sleep.”
“Stop fussing over me,” Madison grumbled when Kallie continued to tuck the comforter around her.
“You are such a jerk sometimes. I could just slap you.”
“Is that why we’ve been best friends since second grade?”
“You really had me worried this time,” Kallie said softly.
Madison reached for Kallie’s hand and squeezed it lovingly. “I’m sorry. But I’m okay.”
“You will be at after a few more days rest. I already call your office and told them not to expect you back until next week.”
“Bet they loved that.”
“Screw ‘em. You’re too important to me to let you out of that bed before then.”
“Speaking of work, shouldn’t you be at the hospital?”
“I took the week off too.”
“Why? I can look after myself.”
“Yeah? You sure proved that, didn’t you?” She grinned when Madison growled at her. “Besides, you’re not my only patient.”
Madison sat up, throwing the comforter aside. “Donna? Is she okay?”
Kallie pushed Madison back onto the bed and placed the comforter over her. “She’s fine. Well, she won’t be doing any more hiking for a while but she’s fine. She’s been sleeping on the living room couch.”
“For Two days?”
“I offered to take her home but she refused to leave.”
“I couldn’t leave until I got an answer.”
Madison and Kallie looked around at the sound of Donna’s voice. She was standing in the doorway to the bedroom..
“What question?” Madison asked.
“If you would ever take me hiking again?” Donna asked shyly.
Kallie turned back around to see Madison’s reaction. “Damn, girl, she went through all that and still wants to see you again.” She leaned over to whisper in Madison’s ear. “She’s a keeper.”
Kallie stood and walked to where Donna nervously waited. Taking a gentle hold on her arm, she tugged Donna over to the bed and pushed her down to sit next to Madison.
“Where are you going?” Madison asked when Kallie turned to walk out of the room.
“To make you both some hot soup,” Kallie called back as she disappeared into the kitchen. “Maybe now she’ll eat something.”
“You haven’t been eating?” Madison asked.
“I was too worried about you. How are you?”
“Sore. How about you?”
“Sore. And tired. And Kallie said I probably won’t be able to wear shoes for a couple of days.”
“Blisters?” Donna nodded. “She’s usually right about that sort of thing.”
“You still haven’t answered my question.”