Best Animal Instinct

After the runner fell in the wilderness, it was up to Taz to keep her alive.

from Reader's Digest Magazine | May 2007

Dead Weight

Stunned, she felt her legs, afraid she might be paralyzed. She could wiggle her toes, but when she tried to stand, pain shot through her. She heard her own screams echoing off the canyon walls. Her pelvis and several vertebrae were shattered. The lower half of her body was useless, dead weight.

Danelle looked at her watch. It was noon. She estimated she was six miles from her truck and trapped high on a hidden desert ledge in winter. Alone. And no one knew where she was. Then she heard Taz.

He ran down from the summit to where she lay, and huddled over her. Danelle stroked his thick coat. If she remained still, the pain subsided and she could try to think her way out of this trap. She’d follow Taz down the path to the canyon floor. Once there, she’d crawl to the truck.

She rolled onto her stomach and screamed so loudly Taz jumped. She caught her breath. The canyon floor was hundreds of feet below, down a rocky path some two city blocks long. “Go, Taz.” He went ahead of Danelle, who began clawing forward over rocks and patches of snow. Taz trotted down the trail, then back, wondering why Danelle wasn’t running along beside him. Willing herself through the pain, she concentrated on her task.

Five hours later, Danelle reached the canyon bottom, scraped and bruised, the fabric of her running outfit torn. She was 700 feet closer to her goal; the truck was still six miles away.

Danelle checked her watch — 5 p.m. Crawling in the dark could be dangerous. She flopped onto her back, exhausted. Then she noticed an ice-covered hole the size of a pillow. She punched through the ice, pulled herself backward, leaned into the hole and drank deeply.

She’d need water if she was going to crawl out tomorrow. Danelle dipped her empty water bottle into the pool, but it came out full of silt, so she used the lid to slowly scoop water from the surface. It took over 50 scoops to get enough. She finally stopped because spills were freezing her fingers. The temperature had plunged into the 20s.

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