The winter dawn under the heavy sky contrasted his surroundings in shades of grey; shadows and silhouettes of angry trees squirmed franticaly over the ice underfoot. Towards the west the crash of invisible waves against the rocks not thirty feet away harassed his stoic calm. He kept his footing on the frozen beach road in spite of the harsh wind in his face, buffeting his knee-length, heavy, hooded overcoat, his fingers curled into a fist inside wool gloves. He was about to step onto the narrow bridge where the hill ended. The bridge passed over the stream that meandered down the canyon, now an ominous inky presence to his left, the bay immediately to his right. Off in the distance he could just barely make out the high cliffs on the other side, a darker blackness than their surroundings.
As he entered the bowl of the canyon, the wind increased dramatically in pitch as well as speed, shrieking and howling across the canyon walls, chaotic and turbulent, assailing him from all directions. He was out in the open, the protection of the hill far behind, and he still had a long way to go to reach the safety of the cliffs.
The bridge was nothing more than a road over the stream, a sub-structure of steel without guardrails or even a rim to outline the edges. The ice was colder, harder; he could feel it through his insulated boots, numbing his feet. The bay side dropped off abruptly, the rock-strewn beach, draped with ice, not twenty feet below. Spray shot up and over the roadway like geysers, instantly turning into jagged ice as it smeared across the surface, the sound smothered by the deafening wind.
Bent over, he angled towards the side away from the bay, forcing himself into what had suddenly become gale-force winds, gusting at over 35 knots. In the gathering pale light, he fixed his eyes on the ice just in front of his feet, stepping flat-footed several inches at a time. He glanced up for an instant to get his bearings. Staring into the dense blackness of the canyon's maw, a chill ran up his spine as though he were falling into the deepest pit, an abyss. He couldn't see either edge of the bridge but knew the road was not much more than two car widths at this point. Snow mixed with ice pellets came crashing sideways into his face, he quickly lowered his head against the wind-driven onslaught.
He concluded from his brief reconnoiter that he was halfway across. Because of the angle and the curve of the canyon to his left and back, he found himself in the worst possible position. Not only was a greater volume of wind coming at him from behind, but the higher and faster currents were rebounding off the far cliffs and almost stopping him in his tracks, like a barrage of shoves one after the other. The combination stalled his forward progress momentarily. He was pinioned, frozen in place, the sound of the wind and the sea his only companions.
By an act of sheer will, he leaned forward and began to walk, taking timid steps, buoyed by an uncertain gust. Unfortunately, he was also sliding, backwards, towards the bay. Terror chilled him even further and, in an act of desperation, he dropped to the ground on his belly and attempted to grasp the steel-smooth ice with the palms of his wool gloves. Sprawled on his face, he lay still on the ice as though a predator was stalking him. At ground level, the rush of the waves crashing onto the rocks seemed much closer, and the occasional spray covered him as well. Bells went off; he had to move.
He attempted to stand, but it was hopeless; the ice was like greased ball-bearings. For a few exhausted moments, he just lay there, listening but also feeling himself getting colder. A powerful combo gust from both the canyon and the cliffs struck him as one. Struck him and amazingly, to him, pushed his passive and resistant body across the ice towards the edge where the bay worked the beach. Fear and anger filled his mind. This is a stupid way to die, he thought. Forcing himself up onto his hands and knees, staying low to the ground, he began to crawl. His mind worked the math furiously: so many feet forward followed by a slide back. Who was winning?
After what seemed an eternity, the wind began to die, gradually at first, then all of a sudden, it stopped. The sound of the bay likewise turned dim and distant. He looked up, the cliffs towered above to his left. He stood shakily, testing his balance, and looked around. Dawn was here at last, such as it was this time of year in Alaska. All appeared relatively calm and peaceful. Taking one unsure step at a time, he proceeded to walk on the crunchy ice and snow, gathering confidence with each footfall.
Jesus, he thought, sweat freezing on his body, what a guy's gotta do to get a drink?.
--- 30 ---