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Off The Trails
“Eric, get down here for dinner,” Mom called as she finished dressing the salad
and bringing the food to the table. “If you are not down here in the next three
minutes, I'll take your food and give it to the dog!”
My stepdad, Dave, seemed like a nice guy when we first met, but
made his way onto my short list of least favorite people.
It was hard on mom when dad died. She cried for days, and it
seemed like it would never stop. For a while the house was filled with silence, and we
were not sure how to move on. She vowed to never go in a helicopter again.
That was when she met Dave. She was taking a walk outside in November,
20 degrees outside, no jacket, no cares in the world. He brought her a jacket and
walked away. She followed him and invited him to our house for coffee and tea. He
introduced himself, and mom proceeded to do a motion, which I knew meant to give
them some space.
It has been two years since dad died, and almost six months with Dave. In
that time he has managed to lose his job, his dog and custody of his daughters (no
surprise, considering how he acts toward me). The more he has lost, the more impatient
he has gotten.
“Mom, why is Dave acting so crazy?”
“You take my money, you eat my food and you disrespect me in my house?”
“You got your money from a severance package.”
As the words regretfully came out of my mouth, I got up out of my chair
and started moving toward the door. Mom tried to control Dave, but he was up out of his
chair and heading toward me like an animal hunting its prey. With my back turned
toward the door, I felt around for the doorknob. Nothing. Sweat started crawling down
my back and I started to panic. Whoosh. I opened the door to the loud noises of the
wind, grabbed my bike and fled. It did not matter where I was going or if I would be
coming back soon, but I knew I had to get out of there. Who knows what Dave would
After about an hour and a half, I left the gas station and started to head
home, when I was caught in the headlights of a 2001 Ford Taurus. Dave honked the
horn a few times until I got in the car.
“You should feel lucky I am letting you back in the house tonight.”
“That's enough Dave!”
I could see Mom’s eyes start to water, and tears start to fall down her face.
“You two have to find a way to live together. I already lost one important
man in my life, I don't want to lose more.”
The car pulled into the driveway, and I ran up to my room. Hungry and cold, I
plopped onto my bed, my face hitting the mattress last. My mind as blank as my
stomach, I heard heavy footsteps coming up the stairs.
Thump. THUMP. THUMP. THUMP.
Mom came in behind him. Six eyes in the room, none locked with
“Hey buddy, I'm sorry.”
“For what?” I said, as a drop fell from my face to the bedsheet.
“I guess I might have come off a bit harsh earlier.”
I put my head on my pillow face-down, and muttered, “It’s all good,”
before pulling the blanket over my head and drifting off to sleep.
That night I dreamed of something strange. I was dangling off a cliff and
in the distance I could only see one person. As he got closer I started to recognize his
face. I yelled for help, but Dave did not run to me - a brisk walk at most. When he finally
got to me his right arm tried to pull me up, but his left was trying to push me down. I was
numb. My life was in Dave’s hands. In the sky a giant hawk lurked, awaiting my fate. I
saw the right side of Dave’s face change. His right eyebrow, which was raised, went
back to normal. His right arm went numb and I plunged down.
I woke up with a startle, sweat rolling down my back and my heart
beating as fast as a jet. I sat up and picked up my water bottle. My left arm still
trembling, I thought about what had transpired in the last 24 hours. It feels like we will
never get along. My alarm clock rang. How long have I been awake? I went downstairs
to eat breakfast and saw Mom sitting at the table drinking coffee.
“I had the craziest dream last night.”
Mom stopped drinking her coffee and stared right at me.
“What was it about?”
I told her everything I remembered.
“I think that represents how you feel about Dave. You want to trust him,
but he keeps giving you reasons not to.”
“Can you talk to him?”
“You need more than that. I'll let you know if I have any ideas when you get home
Just then Dave entered the room.
Mom looked up, smiled at Dave, and looked back at her coffee.
“Hey buddy,” he said, turning to me.
I faked a smile, nodded, and got up from the table, acting like I needed
something from my room.
I went through my day and tried not to think about Dave. I daydreamed through
most of my classes. I thought of calling mom and telling her I didn't feel well, but then
she sent me a text. “I think I found something, will tell you about it when I pick you
up!” I had one class left, and I couldn't wait to hear her solution. Maybe we're going on
a vacation and won't be with Dave for a few days, maybe something happened to Dave,
maybe she left Dave and he’s moving out. I got through last period and ran to the car.
“I have found a place called Yukon...”
“Thank you Mom, I definitely need some time away from Dave!”
“I want you and Dave to go there and bond. It has the coldest recorded
temperature in Canadian history -- at minus 81 degrees. I want you two to be put into a
situation where you need each other to overcome a challenge. Plus, it will be fun.”
“Mom this is a terrible idea, Dave is going to kill me.”
“I already ran the idea by him and he likes it. He
wants to get along with you, because you're family to him now.”
“Doesn't seem like it.”
“Start packing, you're leaving tomorrow morning.”
I woke up the next morning, without my alarm or Mom. I went
downstairs trying not to smile. I heard footsteps from the stairs. I whispered in Mom’s
ear, “This is the first time I've ever seen him smile.” She smirked at me and continued to
eat with a smile on her face.
“Are you ready?”
“I guess so,” I said, turning my head so dave couldn’t see my face.
“Let’s get going, our flight leaves in a little more than an hour.”
Mom drove us to the airport. When we arrived she got out of the car, put her
hands on my shoulder and looked me in my eyes. She hugged me whispered
“Everything will be alright” and drove off.
“Did your mother tell you about this place we're going to?”
“All she said was that it is really cold.”
“We have a few things planned out and we will see if there's anything
else we want to do when we get there.”
“What are we going to do there?”
“We're going to take a walk along the Yukon River, take a helicopter tour
of one of the national parks, go dogsledding, watch the northern lights, and more.”
I could not help but smile after I heard that. I had to admit it sounded
like a lot of fun.
We were about to board the plane when I realized I forgot my lucky necklace at
home. Dave had already boarded and I was separated from the pack. Dad gave me that
necklace for my tenth birthday and said his dad had given it to him. I stood there
stunned for what felt like a million years. The lady checking us onto the plane asked if
everything was alright and said they needed to close the doors. I looked out the window
at the sky, whispered “sorry Dad,” and got on the plane.
“Where were you?”
“It’s nothing don't worry about it.”
“Do you know how mad at me your mother would get if something happened to
I didn't respond, I turned the other away and put on my headphones. It felt like
we were flying forever. He tried talking to me, but I kept my eyes closed and pretended
to be asleep. I ended up falling asleep and dreamt about my real dad.
When I woke up I thought about the last time I threw a football with him in our
backyard. Even though I couldn't throw the ball very hard or very far it is one of my
The pilot came on the PA and announced that we would be landing soon and
to fasten our seatbelts. When we landed Dave told me not to get off the plane without
putting on another jacket. The cold hit me like an ocean wave on a breezy day. We got
out of the airport and into a rental car. We went to drop off our luggage at the cabin.
Dave said he planned to go dogsledding but we could skip it if I was too tired.
“Are you crazy?! That sounds awesome!”
“Let’s grab a few more jackets.”
I was reading the pamphlet Dave had gotten at the airport and noticed that I
wasn’t old enough to operate my own sled.
“I think we have a problem.”
“What is it?”
“I'm not old enough to operate one of the sleds.”
“I know that, we have one big sled for the both of us. I will control it, you just sit
back, relax and enjoy the ride.”
I was kind of looking forward to controlling my own sled, but this sounded fun, too.
When we got to the dogsled shed, I thought to myself, These dogs are a lot scarier
looking than I thought they'd be, and Dave made the sleds sounds bigger than they
Dave noticed my face expression and told me to cheer up and that everything will
be alright. They gave each of us another coat with a fur hood and a giant pair of snow
goggles, which they said were necessary. We got on the sled and started going pretty
They were right, the goggles were necessary. It was exhilarating. With the wind
blowing against us, I felt like I was on a magic carpet. It was so much fun, I forgot
completely about all my problems. When we got back, Dave and I made eye contact for
a second, but lost it right away. I think I saw him smile.
“Lets go back to the room now, and tonight we will watch the northern lights.”
“You just wait and see. It is going to be one of the coolest things you will ever
We drove back to the cabin and changed. I took a nap while Dave prepared
dinner. He woke me up an hour later and said “dinner is ready. Come outside we'll eat
and watch the northern lights.”
It really was magnificent. I felt like I was dreaming. I felt like anything is possible,
even a healthy relationship between Dave and me. We went back inside, Dave called
Mom to tell her about our day, and I passed out on the couch.
We woke up early the next morning because the helicopter was leaving
early. My legs were bouncing up and down, it was my first time in a helicopter.
We got a little higher than I thought we would and I was a little nervous, but I
know it's safe. Dave was pointing out different things to look at. A little while later,
it started to get shaky, but we had seatbelts. The turbulence did not stop.
Eventually the captain came on the PA and said to brace for impact. I looked at
Dave and he was looking at the ground. We got closer and closer and
Closer. Dave unbuckled my seatbelt grabbed me and jumped right before
the helicopter hit the ground. It was on its side, and Dave told me to stay put
while he checked on the others who stayed in the helicopter. He jumped in and
disappeared for a few minutes, before he came out again. He put his hands on
his forehead and ran his fingers through his hair and left them behind his neck,
putting his head down. I was not sure how to react. When he came over to me, I
didn't say anything.
“They're all dead.”
“Why didn't you tell them to do the same thing? They were innocent people and
now they're dead, and we’re lost.”
“This is not a good time to freak out. Let's calm down and think about what we
I turned so I could see every direction. I started pointing to different mountains
and hills. “We flew over that, around that, over that.”
Dave had a pen and started writing things down on one of the travel pamphlets
he picked up at the airport that he left in his backpack. We made many weird turns and
spins so we had to think hard for the directions back. We had flown nonstop for over an
hour, and Dave said it would take us over a day to get back. I started to cry, and Dave
came over to me. “I know this seems like it's going to be difficult, but I'm here to do this
with you, we're going to get through this together. Also, if you cry the tears might freeze
on your face.”
That made me feel better and laugh. We didn't have a lot of food so Dave
rationed it into small amounts we could have every two hours. The day was long and
night was even colder. Dave gave me one of his jackets as a blanket, and made me a
snow pillow. I went to sleep and hoped that everything would be better tomorrow.
When I woke up, Dave was sitting next to me, savoring a small banana.
“Are you ready to continue?”
We continued to walk until I felt like I couldn't walk anymore.
“If you strap the backpack to your back, I'll carry you.”
I got on Dave’s back and he went on. We kept going like that for about two hours,
and then he collapsed onto his knees, so I jumped off him. We lay on our backs in the
snow. I heard him mutter something to himself.
“What did you say?”
“If we don't make it,” he said, pausing and coughing, “I'm sorry if you ever felt like
I didn't have patience with you, or cared about you, or yelled at you, or anything
“Dave stop, we're going to be okay.”
I saw him reach into the pocket in his inner-most coat.
“I saw you left this on the counter before you left. I was going to get a Yukon pin
on it and surprise you at home.”
“I can't believe you had my chain the whole time. Thank you for bringing it.”
I hugged him and said “I love you,” and for the first time I really meant it.
I heard WHOP WHOP WHOP WHOP WHOP WHOP WHOP.
One of the search helicopters had found us.
The helicopter started to fly us to the nearest hospital, while a few medics treated
Dave. One came over and took my blood pressure, but all I could think about was Dave.
We got dropped off at the hospital and rushed Dave into the ER. I had to wait outside. A
few hours later Mom ran in. I gave her the biggest hug. She went to go check on Dave
and I just waited. Mom came out of the room about an hour and a half later and said
Dave would have to spend the night, but we can go stay at the cabin.
The next morning, Dave got released and we got on the first plane back home. I
started spending less time in my room and started having fun with Dave, like playing
catch in the backyard with the football. Mom said she'd never seen me so happy.