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

Quiet as a Tomb

Her baggy black running pants, a blend of fleece and synthetic polypro, a couple of thin layers and a fleece top offered little protection. She reached out to Taz, and he curled into a ball next to her. Danelle put her arms around him, feeling his warmth, and held on.

As the hours wore on, she tried to distract herself from the pain and cold. Danelle stared into the clear night sky, talked to Taz and counted shooting stars with him.

It hurt incredibly to move, but if she didn’t, her core temperature would drop and she’d die of hypothermia. So she flexed her muscles, tapped her feet and lifted her head a few inches off the rock in a small sit-up. When she raced, pain was a constant companion. A good athlete kept moving despite it.

She continued her series of crunches, counting to distract herself. At 1,000, her abdomen ached. She touched her belly — it was swollen with blood from internal injuries. She paced herself: one crunch, rest five seconds, repeat. Throughout the night, she took sips of water, realizing that if she drank too much, she’d urinate and the liquid would freeze on her legs.

At Thursday’s first light, Danelle examined her surroundings. Narrow red rock walls and silence. Not a living thing in sight. In the distance, a small juniper tree, but otherwise only rock and canyon walls. This was terrain where few people ventured, even in summer. At this time of year, it was as quiet as a tomb.

In her pocket she discovered an energy gel in a plastic packet she used on endurance runs. She drank the syrup, rested and waited for the sun to warm her body. She tried to sit up, but her bones ground one against the other and she collapsed from the pain.

Someone in town, she hoped, would realize she was gone. Surely her next-door neighbor would notice her house lights had been left on all night. Even so, no one knew where she’d gone.

Danelle had a six-mile trek ahead of her still.

She turned over and dragged herself forward. She was barely moving now, less than an inch at a time. She pulled hard, scraping her fingers, knuckles and knees until they bled. She crawled from first light to 4 p.m. but became dehydrated and had to return to the water hole. The day had been wasted.

As darkness and the temperature fell, pain and hunger started to take their toll. Danelle had delusions that a blanket had fallen off her and kept searching for it. She was afraid of predators and called to Taz to stay close. When she heard his collar clink, she’d say, “Good dog.”

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