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Backpacker Magazine – October 2012

Worst Nightmare: Cold

A hair-raising tale of wilderness terror that will haunt your backcountry dreams

by: Bruce Barcott

Kayak Paddle
Kayak Paddle

Derek eased his legs into the cockpit until his soles felt the firmness of the kayak’s foot braces. Somewhere out there, five miles across the Strait, was Blakely Island.

“Who do you know on Blakely?” he asked.

“Gordon Manicker,” said MK. “Starbucks CFO.” Unserved by ferries, Blakely was an isolated island of compounds. “Said we were welcome to go hiking. Stop for coffee. Gord’s got his own Clover press.” 

Derek checked the map. “Northwest heading should get us there,” he said, pointing into the curtain of drizzle. MK stroked past him.

A week ago when MK suggested a New Year’s trip, half the SONEN staff signed up. A winter paddle-and-hike in the San Juans with the boss and his new boat. Bracing! Fun! Kind of not optional! So Derek borrowed his neighbor’s kayak. And then it rained. Which it did every day in winter. But apparently the drops turned his co-workers to jelly. In the end it was just Derek and the man.

He doubted MK even knew his name. The way he used phrases that elided the proper noun. Everybody knew MK’s name, of course. Michael Kee, director of the SONEN Biomedical Institute, formerly of Goldman Sachs. The Vanity Fair piece hinted at some dark incident behind the pretentious initialism, but Derek just assumed the guy didn’t like the Life cereal sound of “Mike Kee.”

MK broke the ice. “So you keep our checkbook balanced, eh?”

“Yeah.” Pause. “Derek.” Nip the bud.

“Of course,” said MK. Smiled. “So how we doing, Derek?”

“Good,” he said. “A stray thread here and there. Probably nothing. An errant zero. Happens all the time.” 

MK let it drop. He wasn’t a numbers guy. He was big picture, famously so.

They paddled on. Drizzle turned to hard rain. As they moved into the Strait, Derek sensed a change in the water. It grew thick and pushy. Half an hour in, all sign of land disappeared. They had kayaked into a ground cloud.

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Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star Star Star
Dec 10, 2012

I wish it had said somewhere that this was a piece of fiction when I read it in the magazine. What the heck.

Nov 18, 2012

what a short dumb@ss ending

Nov 18, 2012

what a short dumb@ss ending

Puget Sound
Oct 29, 2012

Wait! Was there a happy ending?

Oct 27, 2012

he said hard shaft on soft flesh, lol.

Kay Kay Kayak
Oct 27, 2012

Just came in from kayaking , cool here in Wisconsin today. Makes me more aware of what can happen in the cold water. Always have a plan and a wet bag with dry wool ware, I use boiled wool mittens when paddling in cold water.

Oct 26, 2012

Agree written poorly. Jumps around from scene to scene too much. Confusing.

Oct 26, 2012

My guess would be only Mk returned from that trip

Oct 26, 2012

Seems to me the writer got interested in a different project and left the ending in a hurry.

Yeah, he killed his boss? The boss killed the employee? - is that a tricky ending? Nope, just confusing...

Oct 26, 2012

MK killed Derek to save his own skin. When I first read this story, I was taken back. I thought this was the survival issue and not the murdered at sea issue. To bad Backpacker didn't include a tip on how to survive your psycho boss at sea.

Oct 26, 2012

MK killed Derek to save his own skin. When I first read this story, I was taken back. I thought this was the survival issue and not the murdered at sea issue. To bad Backpacker didn't include a tip on how to survive your psycho boss at sea.

Jerry G
Oct 26, 2012

Site broken. no link to page 3

Oct 26, 2012

You're not alone, Jacquie...I don't get it either...why was this story so short? it was very interesting...then stopped...I've the same question...what happened...

Oct 26, 2012

Uh, what! Strange article, even stranger when it went porn at the end. I don't get it.

Oct 26, 2012


MK hit Derek with the paddle and left him to drown.

Oct 26, 2012

same here...kinda dum ending

Oct 26, 2012

MK put Derek in the water. The end.

Oct 26, 2012

MK hit Derek with the paddle, knocked him into the water and paddled to shore alone.

Oct 26, 2012

For real that ending makes no sense

Oct 26, 2012

I think MK beat the narrator with the paddle and he fell into the water and drowned.

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