Escape from the South Fork and Other Stories

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You May Also Like. East Hampton. Hamptons Add Your Comment Cancel reply. Want More Heading Out? From their expressions, I expected the hounds of hell to appear only a step or two behind. Between speeding trucks, I asked the grizzled old man what he intended to do.

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He thought for a moment, then said he was heading out. We should too, he said. I asked him where he was going. I made a multi-point turn on the narrow road and followed the dust of the Forest Service trucks. Jeff was now approaching total insanity from frustration. He wanted me to turn around and drive farther north, toward the fire.

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Now that the guard was gone he saw an open road to his photographic immortality. Not me. I figured if the hardened firefighters and grizzled old timers were running for their lives, it might be a good time to follow them. I calmed Jeff down by lying to him. I told him we were going to find a high spot up on a ridge where we could watch the fire and get some night shots.

A convenient lie when told that would prove to be true. Hearing my plan, Jeff calmed down, temporarily. As we drove past Polebridge Mercantile we saw people giving over to their herd instincts and stampeding away from the threat of the flames. We followed the stampede a mile or so down the road where a second Forest Service truck was parked in a semi-serious roadblock position.

Another grizzled old-timer stopped us. The Forest Service seems to have a large supply of grizzled old-timers. I pulled up next to him and leaned out the window. I knew that already. I told him about our news mission. I told him about the crazed photographer in the passenger seat. I showed him our press passes. He gave me the grizzled old-timer sneer. As quick as you can. Only Forest Service personnel are allowed to stay in the area. I shrugged and then put the truck into gear and drove down the dusty road. Jeff picked this moment to come unhinged. He began ranting about the pictures he needed to stay and take. Then he began raving about the loss of his career and the student loans I was keeping him from paying off, the fame I was denying him.

I slammed on the brakes just in time to keep him from jumping out the door he had already forced open. I started driving slowly again as I held onto his collar to keep him in the truck. We needed a road to take us up high and away from the path of the fire. I spotted a likely looking road a mile or so along. I pulled on the road then stopped and grabbed the map. I found the road on the map and it appeared to go west and up a steep ridge, stopping at timberline. As we drove up the road, it became a barely discernable double-track trail through the woods.

The flaws in my plan became clear. If my idea did not work, or if the wind changed and if the fire came this way, we could never retreat back down to the main road. We would be cut off from any escape. As I drove to what might be my doom, I formed a kind of idiotic, desperate plan to work the truck over the top of the ridge and down the other side and bushwhack the truck over the rocks. I knew it was a stupid idea born of a terrible mixture of fatigue, fear and adrenalin. But it was the only plan I could muster on short notice.

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Instead of turning around as any sane man would have done, I kept driving up the deadly road with the lunatic photographer ranting at my side. He was getting more excited by the minute. I thought I would have to grab him by the neck and shake him again but when we broke out of the trees at the top of a high ridge, the view of the fire to the north and the huge mountains of Glacier Park across the river in the dusk was breathtaking.

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  5. The sunset was turning turn blood red and the snow on the mountaintops and everything else for miles around was crimson. I began to believe my idiotic plan might work. I got out and found a rock with a view while Jeff ran around from spot to spot talking to himself, laughing, looking for the perfect angle for his pictures of the fire. He said he was thinking about climbing farther up the ridge to an outcrop a couple of hundred feet above us, farther to the west. I told him if the fire turned and I had to make a run for it, I would leave him to barbecue in the flames. Finally, when he began to settle down, he asked how long we were going to stay.

    I told him we were probably stranded until morning, if we lived through the night. I ate some of the food we had gotten at the Merc and then settled down to wait. Sometime after midnight Jeff woke me up by jumping into the bed of the pickup. It took me a few moments to figure out what I was seeing. Like a sun, a column of fire lit the entire valley and the mountain ranges.