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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

“Let’s see where we’re at,” said MK, pulling out his iPhone.

“The hell!” said MK. “We’re going in the wrong direction.” Half accusatory. The iPhone showed a bounce northwest, then a long plunge south. Derek thought for a moment. Of course. The tidal current. How stupid. The moon was draining the ocean through the Strait, sucking them south at three knots.

“It’s not our heading,” Derek said. “It’s—”

From the west, a gust. An unexpected push.

Derek caught himself with his paddle. MK didn’t. He splashed into three o’clock. Head and body submerged. He used both hands to yank his spray skirt, escaping the death trap but flooding the cockpit.
Derek grabbed hold of the keel and righted MK’s craft. Easier than he expected. A rush of relief. Derek helped MK climb back on.

MK gasped. He held his fingers as if trying to warm them by a fire.

“Your hands,” said Derek, pulling alongside. “Here.” MK’s palms to Derek’s belly, ice to skin. In MK’s eyes, fear and contempt. The fright of losing control. Disdain for Derek. That the well-hedged investment of MK’s life should depend on this bearded underling, this mediocre annual review. MK changed worlds. Derek changed tax depreciation estimates.

MK jerked his hands back. Finding his paddle, he dug into the water. And got nowhere. The kayak’s buoyancy bags and flooded cockpit, having battled to a draw, left the craft deckline-low.

“We’ll have to angle the current back to shore,” Derek said. “First let’s get that water out. Here’s the bilge pump.”

Ten minutes pumping. MK’s boat still rode too low to paddle. The wind picked up. A shiver started at MK’s limbs and made its way to his core. The pump slipped from his hand and floated away.

Derek rafted the kayaks. He reached over and peeled off MK’s shirt. Working quickly, he stripped his own jacket and shirt and dressed the boss. Derek tied MK’s bow to his own stern and paddled bare skinned through the storm. We’ll be all right, he told himself.

But the current was winning the battle. The barge behind him turned sluggish. Derek looked back. Wind-driven water slopped over MK’s cockpit rim. An anchor.

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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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