I can’t really say how I survived. I can only assume there was someone watching over me. It was two days before Christmas Eve, 1983. What was supposed to be a short cut on a quick hike into town turned into five days lost in the Ozark Mountains. Will can be a powerful thing when desperation kicks in.
Snow covered the ground two feet high. Snow drifts as high as ten. The storm had passed and left the mountains blanketed in fresh powder. The sun was shinning and the sky was clear. I thought I would have no problem finding my way to the main road into town. But as I walked the wind started to kick up. Becoming increasingly stronger. Visibility was limited to the foot steps in front of me. I could no longer make out the path to the road. I must have come along a water way down the side of enclave and followed it thinking it was the trail.
Hours passed and soon the darkness came. I had a backpack slung over my shoulder which I was intending to use for supplies once I arrived into town. I had on thermals, jeans, combat boots, an Army jacket and leather gloves. The wind sprayed snow through the air and my face grew red and burnt from the frost. I was lost, and the sun was almost down. I knew I would have to somehow wait out the night.
I was very cold, and afraid of frostbite. I gathered up some pine needles and bark and used pages from my travel bible to start a fire. That bible saved my life, without its dry paper I could have never sparked a flame. I kept my feet near the heat of the fire and covered my head inside my pack. Hours went by and I could not stop shivering.
I knew I had to keep moving or I would freeze to death. So I use the location of the moon and the stars to find my direction. And I started heading North. As the sun came up over the mountain peaks, I could see around me again. There was nothing. Trees, snow, miles of disparity. I used a stick and the shadows to again find North, and kept walking.
I grew very hungry. I ate whatever I could find in my pack. Chap-stick, toothpaste, and snow. I chewed on pine sap and fiddle heads. I knew if I kept moving, and kept North, something would have to emerge. A road, a path, a town, my eventual demise. The snow reached my knees in most places, my waste in some. My legs grew tired, my feet were numb, and I was hungry. The sun during the day would cause me to sweat so when the night came my clothes would freeze to my skin.
The cold weighed me down like bricks. I had no idea if I was going in the right direction or not. But it was too late to change, I had to commit to the line of travel. I would rest when I could, but was so afraid to fall asleep that I just kept going.
Three days, four days…five. I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas day out in that snow. I prayed for the first time since my childhood. I thanked God for the bible that kept me warm. I thanked him for the toothpaste and the lip balm. Mostly I just prayed to survive.
Then I came to something new. A lake. It was frozen over and barely visible. I did not realize I was walking on it until I was half way across it. On the other side I could see what looked like an opening. A road perhaps. I moved faster. One more night in that wilderness and I was sure it would be my last. As I made my way across the icy water, the floor below me started to crack. My boots began to fill with water, but turning back was not an option. I had to make it across.
I could feel the lake coming apart with every step, but I made it with a leap and a lot of faith. I reached the other side and onto what looked like a logging trail. Not knowing which way to go, the clouds filled the sky preparing for another storm. I could not find a shadow on the stick. I did not know where North was. One way was the way out, the other would bring me deeper into the woods. So I just walked. Salvation or the end.
Two hours, three went by. My boots were fused to my skin. Then I hear something. A motor. The first noise I had heard in days other than the sound of my feet in the snow or the growling of my stomach. An old Ford pick up truck pulled up beside me. An old man in a long gray beard behind the wheel. There was no rain deer, but by God he was baring gifts of four wheels and a heated cab.
He drove me to a post stop where truckers and loggers would eat and sleep. I was never more grateful for a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee. I would never go anywhere again without a compass, a protein bar, or a bible again.