A Cold and Stormy Night… Lost in a Snow Storm: Part I

Having friends for a long time means having lots of stories about each other. Getting together means reliving the best ones.

Some stories fit the R category “If you don’t tell that one about me I won’t tell about the time you…” Black mail is an effective ploy. I’ve used it frequently with my friends Tom Lovering and Ken Lake.

Bob Bray, my friend for over 60 years, is different. Most of our tales are G, PG and PG 13 rated.

I’ve been posting stories over the past three weeks in honor of our 50th Reunion for the 1961 Class of El Dorado Union High School in Placerville, California. I started with a story of Bob and I shooting out the window of an ‘abandoned’ bum shack with our Wham-o slingshots. It reconfirmed his mother’s belief that I was not a child her son should be around.

It’s only appropriate that I finish off this series with another story about Bob. This one was 20 years later and had more serious consequences.

When I returned to Sacramento after my stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa and as a PC Recruiter in the South, I reconnected with Bob and other friends from Placerville. One thing we enjoyed doing together was hunting and fishing. Our usual companions included Hunt Warner and Chuck Lewis although putting a rifle in Chuck’s hands was scary.

While I wasn’t particularly good at shooting things either, I was great at wandering in the woods. Hunting was yet another excuse. And, I must add, I enjoyed hanging out with the guys. Lots of male bonding took place.

In this story, Phil Dunlop replaced Chuck as our fourth companion.

We were hunting north of Highway 50 in El Dorado National Forest one Saturday afternoon in late October when snow flakes started drifting lazily out of the sky. It wasn’t much to worry about; we zipped up our coats and went about our business. If anything, the gently falling snow was quite beautiful.

But it kept snowing and the flakes became more serious. After a couple of hours, there were six inches of the white stuff on the ground and my tracks began to disappear. I decided it was time to forget the macho requirements of being male and make a judicious retreat to the T-bone steaks waiting for us back at Hunt’s jeep. I soon ran into Hunt who was walking with Phil.

“Have you seen Bob?” I asked. He and I had parted a half hour earlier at the edge of a large thicket of brush where Bob had been convinced he would jump an evasive buck.

“I haven’t seen him for an hour,” was Hunt’s reply. Phil hadn’t seen him since the snowstorm had started. Normally we wouldn’t have been concerned; Bob’s very competent in the woods. But evening was coming, the temperature dropping, and the snow accumulating.

“Maybe Bob has more sense than we do and has already returned to the jeep,” Phil suggested. That seemed logical so we made the short 15-minute trek back to the jeep. No Bob.

“This is getting worrisome guys,” I said in a definitely worried tone. It wasn’t like Bob to take undo risks. “Let’s go back to where I saw him last and see if we can’t hunt up his tracks.”

The advantage of snow was that it left a trail even a city slicker could follow, assuming that it hadn’t already covered the tracks. Even then there were usually obvious dimples in the snow.

Unfortunately, no tracks were to be found and not even our overly active imaginations could turn the various dimples into a trail. I did spot the tracks of a very large deer, but they disappeared at the edge of the thicket.

“It looks like the buck stops here,” I said to Phil and elicited a weak groan. I suggested we split up and look around.

“We need to meet back here in 30 minutes,” I urged. “Don’t go far and pay attention to where you are going. It is getting close to dark and the last thing we need is a second person missing. If you come across Bob’s tracks, fire your rifle and we will join you.”

My degree of concern was reflected in my bossiness. Normally we were a very democratic, almost anarchic group.

Twenty minutes later I had made my way to the other side of the thicket and found nothing. Neither had I heard any rifle shots announcing either Hunt or Phil had success. Somewhat discouraged, I turned around to rejoin my fellow searchers. It was then I spotted tracks leading out of the thicket. I pointed my Winchester toward the sky and fired off a shot.

“Bang!” the sound of another rifle being fired resounded from the direction Bob’s track had headed. I quickly levered in another bullet and fired again. There was no response. I did hear Phil and Hunt making their way through the brush toward me, though. They sounded like a pair of large bears. We held another council. Once again, we decided to split up.

Phil would return to the road where the jeep was parked and flag down a car. His job was to get a message through to the El Dorado Sheriff’s Department that Bob was missing. Hunt would cut back through the thicket and wait on the jeep trail where the thicket began in case Bob made his way back there. He’d fire his rifle if Bob appeared.

I was going to follow Bob’s tracks until dark to see if I couldn’t catch him. There were only about 30 minutes of daylight left so the odds were slim. My concern was that Bob had broken a bone and was stranded.

Next Blog: Still no Bob but the night is so cold the doors on the jeep freeze solidly shut.

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