The morning was still and clear. Bill lifted off and turned his ski-equipped, single engine Gullwing Stinson toward Teller, where he was to drop off a small load of freight. We landed some distance from the mercantile store, and I helped unload and carry assorted boxes and packages from the plane to the pickup waiting for us. The snow’s frozen crust barely supported my weight. At about every fourth or fifth step, I broke through, jarring my whole body, as I suddenly dropped 12 inches to the ground. The fun part was stepping gingerly back up onto the crust, not knowing when another collapse was coming. Hard work. I was sweating at minus 20 degrees.
Another takeoff and Gold Run, nestled in a small valley beside its frozen creek, soon appeared beneath us. Bill landed, taxied to the top of a small overlook, and shut down. We climbed out into the sunlit silence and looked down at the small collection of buildings.
We made our way down the hill, alternately walking on top of the crust and floundering through the soft snow beneath, blowing clouds of vapor into the still air. I began wondering what the old man would look like.
Bill stopped in front of a tilted shack and knocked on the door, then shrugged his shoulders in annoyance. “Think he heard us?” he asked, looking at me and smiling. He pushed the door open and vanished inside. I followed, and we found the old man, eyes closed, stubble-bearded face serene, shoeless but dressed in overalls and a shirt, lying partially on his back across an old Army cot frame. His arms and legs were akimbo, frozen in the position of a skydiver stabilized face-down in the air before the parachute opens.
“Okay, let’s get him out. You take one arm.”
He didn’t weigh a hundred pounds, and he was as stiff as the proverbial board. We carried him out the door, leaned him upright against the side of the shack, and gazed thoughtfully up the hill. The airplane was about 100 yards distant, and I thought about the crusted snow. Bill must have had the same thought.
“Let’s see if we can find something to slide him on.” And we did – an old wooden sled with a piece of rope. We put the old man face down on the sled. Bill grabbed the rope, I got behind, and we took off up the hill, Bill pulling and me steering the sled with the old man’s bare feet.
The climb seemed to take forever, and I found out something about Bill’s – and my – physical condition. He ran the whole way, not stopping once. I barely kept up, not daring to stop, floundering through the sharp crust and soft snow churned up by Bill. My breath whistled in and out of my burning lungs.
Bill laughed and kept on running.