Common Ground

It was a beautiful brisk fall morning when we left town for the field. The sunny day turned shirtsleeve warm toward afternoon.

We were 32 miles from a paved highway when the Suburban’s engine quit. It was 6 or 6:30 before we discovered the alternator had gone out.

The usual safety procedures had been followed by posting where we were going on the sign-out board at the office. But with a dead battery we could not use the radio to call in for help.

Darkness was fast approaching and the night would grow cold before anyone would realize we were stranded. Hours could pass before a search party might find us.

The threat of cold weather or snow had been too far from our thoughts to pack the usual winter survival bag. All we had was limited gear and the remains of lunch in our day packs.

It was decided that I would go for help by hiking across the black basalt mesa country to the north. The main highway was only eight or nine miles away as a crow flies. I knew the country well. It would take three to four hours walking fast.

The map showed I would come out within less than a mile from the last sign of civilization before the New Mexico border . a gas station with a pay phone.

Lady Luck had provided the good fortune of a moon that was full enough to light my way and keep me from stumbling over the rocks. The North Star guided me. It would have been fun except for thoughts of concern for the two co-workers left behind.

I made it to the pay phone before the search began.

That was over 20 years ago, but the memory is as vivid as the events of yesterday. The lesson learned back then caused me to throw a survival-gear bag into the car when I left town a few days ago.

I’ll share what’s in that bag to help be prepared when you head out of town, as the weather turns colder.

This time of year the snow shovel like the ice scraper stays in the car until late spring.

The gear includes a sleeping bag, felt-lined winter boots, a pair of wool socks, a winter coat, wool mittens, Gortexr rain gear, a headlamp with extra batteries, three emergency road flares, a first aid kit and a food bag.

The food bag has two large water bottles and enough stuff for two people to last two days. That way the food bag can be pulled at the end of the trip so the contents won’t freeze.

Use your own imagination for what to put in the food bag. My preference is tuna or similar canned meat, crackers, cheese, cookies, fruit cocktail, power bars, nuts or trail-mix and a large plastic bottle of V8 juice.

Think you won’t need such overkill going to Denver on the interstate? When I return home ask me about being caught between avalanches across I-70 a few years ago.

Writing from 25 years of experience in federal land management agencies, Bill Kight of Glenwood Springs shares his stories with readers every other Sunday.

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