There was one question left unspoken. It weighed heavily on the travelers, yet it had not been uttered. The time had come...
"So, are we going to climb over that pass into Power Creek, or should we try to get a ride?"
After 12 days that had been getting progressively harder, the travelers were at the brink. The proposed route would involve severe bushwhacking so the weary crew politely declined the invitation.
Hedgehog had one contact in Cordova: the brother of Sarah Supreme, the EMT. Hedgehog retrieved the CB radio from the bottom of his pack and fired it up. They had wisely saved their "phone-a-friend" for late in the game.
"Breaker, breaker, this is Junkshow, EMT you got your ears on? Over."
"This is Bar Maid, EMT is at work. You wanna leave a message? Over."
"Pository on that Bar Maid, here's what's going down on the Rude......"
Bar Maid got the low down and realized the gravity of the situation. She took it upon herself to arrange the extraction. Meet at 10 AM tomorrow morning on the North side of the delta.
The countdown had begun: 19.25 hours. In spite of the rain, the travelers were in good cheer. But as the Warlock was well aware, the balance of the journey would not be kind, not one bit. What little ice remained was rotten and river crossings became more frequent. Ski boots were soaked encasing their feed in a marinade of water and hot stink.
The rain intensified and they came to a decent campsite, but Hedgehog pushed on in a futile attempt to stay on schedule. Ox and Honey Badger were not happy. Soon after they came to a decision point: a hip deep crossing or back to the alders. They were beyond exhausted and no one had the will to continue. "Wet Camp" was made. The decision could wait until morning. Few words were spoken as dinner was hastily cooked. Their pathetic fire was insufficient to dry out anything, never mind the fully drenched boot liners. It was obvious that the 10 AM goal was unrealistic.
"Breaker, breaker, Bar Maid, you out there? This is Junkshow hollering at you from the Rude."
"Go for Bar Maid...."
With 6 PM confirmed as the new goal, the stout-hearted crew crawled into their drenched tents and damp sleeping bags. The sleep of a laboring man is sweet. The driving rain was the last and first sounds they heard. By daybreak, the wetness was omnipresent. It invaded every piece of gear, the dry bags, the food, their bodies but there were no complaints uttered.
After breakfast the bushwhack begain. The brush was thick requiring Hog, Ox, and Badger to make multiple laps to advance the gear. Hedgehog led the crew. Honey Badger used his tracking skills retrace of route back. Haul Ox lashed out at the ambivalent thicket. Alders, willows, and devils club complimented the ankle deep mud. Blood, sweat, and tears. That's tears as in ripping fabric, give them some credit.
"Look master, one of them is crying. Defeated!"
"They will never leave the God-forsaken marsh."
But they were numb to the surroundings. River crossings and face whips had no affect. A slow steady unstoppable march. One foot in front of the other. And when things looked their worst, an unlikely alliance was forged. Enemies of the Warlock were secretly helping the travelers. Ox, Hedgehog, and Honey Badger had crossed out of the Dead Marshes and into the realm of the Beaver. Entire stands of alders had been leveled and cleared by an unseen army. Dry meadows with hundreds of 6" stump with the distinctive gnaw marks of comrades. Loads still had to be shuttled and it was still raining, but this was comparatively pleasant travel. Soon the bushwhack gave way to a grassy salt marsh. They had made it to the delta.
Even in the delta, channels of the Rude needed to be crossed and the last one was going to be a bastard. That is, if it weren't for the Beaver. A dam clogged the river, forcing all of the water through a 6' channel. The Beaver recognized that the 6' gap might present a challenge for the diminished travelers. So a 4" round, 8' long log was crafted to bridge the final crossing.
"Thank you Beavers. We will never forget your kindness."
"Arrrrrgh! The Beavers!! How could I have been blind to their influence!!," roared the Warlock.
"You are a good and smart Master. You could not have known," whimpered WAC clearly distraught, but calmly waiting for the next insult that was sure to come.
"Silence, you spawn of a 3-legged donkey and a one-armed Thai transvestite prostitute!"
Hedgehog, Ox, and Honey Badger continued their clown parade to the sea where they chose a likely spot for a boat rendezvous. They rested and then the CB crackled to life.
"Junkshow, you out there? Bar Maid here with Cap'n Ernie, what's your 20?"
After only a few sentences it became brutally obvious that the trio's "likely" spot was actually decidedly "unlikely." The tide had ebbed revealing shallows. They would have to cross 2 more miles of salt marsh to get to the boat. 13 days of slogging had conditioned their low gear, but they needed to put it in 5th and that wouldn't be easy. Aches and pains were set aside as they hustled pulling sleds through the muck and tidal streams. One more corner; one more stream; one more step. Will it to happen and it will happen and it did happen.
Cap'n Ernie and Bar Maid greeted the travelers with huge smiles and bottle of whiskey. But elation was giving way to skepticism. 5 people and gear in a 15' skiff defied logic, but Cap'n Ernie offered his reassurances.
"No problem. I had 1500 pounds of sea otter in this last week."
Hedgehog and S.S. Skeptical
Honey Badger, Hedgehog, and Haul Ox drank deeply from the bottle and climbed aboard. To balance the weight, the trio sat on the bow with backs to the wind. The boat labored forward, but the weight forced the bow high into the air. Cap'n Ernie climbed onto the trio to force the angle down with some improvement but further action was necessary. Ox, Hog, and Badger got on their stomachs with their torsos (from the nipple up) hanging over the cold waters of Pacific Ocean. Satisfied Cap'n Ernie finally get her "on step." A driving rain and snow stung the travelers' faces. Dehydrated, hungry, exhausted, and now slightly hypothermic, the travelers smiled as they pointed out couloirs to each other along the shores of Nelson Bay.
Cap'n Ernie sipped. Bar Maid steered. Ox smiled. Honey Badger stared at the never-ending procession of mountains. And as Cordova Harbor came into view, Hedgehog finally let out a sigh of relief.
The Warlock was furious, shouting a litany of obscenities which were exclusively directed at WAC who, in a pointless attempt to appease his Master, was singing Bathtub Gin.