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Worst Nightmare: Cold

A hair-raising tale of wilderness terror that will haunt your backcountry dreams
Oct12_KayakPaddle_445x260Kayak 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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