It caught us by surprise, the way the weather changed so quickly. It shouldn’t have, we both knew better, both had a wealth of experience in the outdoors with years of backpacking, hiking, kayaking, and canoeing behind us… and besides, it was that time of year. It was late October, when the weather this far north can be unpredictable; we’d known that but we’d fucked up, and now our negligence might cost us everything.
We’d let the clear, dry, unseasonably warm and beautiful autumn lull us into a false sense of security, taking for granted that we’d have two more days of the same to complete our canoe trip out of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and now we were paying the price for our carelessness.
The rain had started innocently enough the previous afternoon, but then the mercury had plummeted and the wind had risen. The rain turned to sleet and then to graupel, those odd, soft white pellets that lie somewhere between snow and hail. Now, this morning, it was snow, huge white flakes quickly turning the forest into a beautiful yet terrifying winter wonderland. And the snow wasn’t falling; it was more like it was passing by in blinding horizontal streaks of white, sticking to the northwest-facing surface of every tree and rock, the strong and increasingly cold wind mercilessly determining the destiny of each fat, wet flake.
We finished our final portage in two trips, most of our provisions now used up so that all we had was very little food, our tent, bedding, and personal effects, and the canoe, paddles, and flotation jackets. Now, our equipment once again stowed in the canoe, we stood on the leeward shore of the huge White Iron Lake, staring out. The bay immediately in front of us didn’t look too intimidating, but only because the landmass and trees behind us were blocking the wind close-in, near the shore. Farther out, at the limits of our vision in the swirling snowstorm, the lake’s surface was a gray and choppy maelstrom, a terrifying hell of steep troughs and roiling whitecaps.
As we gazed out over the water, I heard Carly make a sound deep in her throat, almost a low moan. I realized that she was terrified, and justifiably so; her fear was palpable, a living thing that fed my apprehension and misgivings. I reached out and put my arm around her.
“You okay, babe?”
She shook her head, still staring out at the lake. “Not really. God, Justin, look at that! There’s no way we can cross that. Maybe we should stay here through tonight, find some shelter from the wind, and try it in the morning.”
Very little intimidates my wife, one of the many things I love and admire about her. She’s usually fearless, intrepid, and gutsy, and, at a very healthy twenty-seven years of age, same as me, she’s athletic enough to pull off almost anything she puts her mind to. Seeing her so obviously shaken was not a pleasant experience.
I hugged her again. “The problem is, we don’t know if this will let up by morning or just get worse, and we’re basically out of supplies. It could be a long, cold, hungry day and night, or maybe longer.”
“Not as long and cold as eternity at the bottom of this lake.” I felt her shiver before she spoke again, and I knew it was her fear and not the cold; we were both dressed warmly enough, as long as we stayed dry. “Maybe you can catch some fish or something. We could build a little windbreak, get a fire lit – or if not, there’s still fuel for the camp stove, and there’s still some rice left, and a few teabags, some sugar…”
Skeptical, I looked at her. “Maybe. Fishing hasn’t been good so far; it could end up being just rice and tea.”
She shrugged. “I’d rather go hungry than face that,” she said, nodding toward the lake.
I sighed. “I’d agree if we knew this was going to let up soon. Otherwise, we’ll start burning our bodies’ reserves pretty quickly out here, and then we’ll be screwed… and not in a good way.”
She laughed, which was music to my ears, a sign that her fear had not paralyzed her. “Is there ever a situation bad enough that you can’t joke about it?”
“Gallows humor, my love, whistling past the graveyard.” I paused for a moment, looking around. “Why don’t we try this; let’s push off, but hug the shore so that the wind is mostly blocked. With the wind out of the northwest, if we hug the north shore and head west we’ll have some angled headwinds at first, but then when the western shoreline starts to turn south, where we need to go, we can follow it down. What wind there is at that point will be from our aft starboard quarter and will help push us south. We’ll stay close in, use the hills and the trees as a wind block.”
She stared at me, trying to discern whether I was serious or not. She decided that I was. “Are you nuts?”
I nodded. “Quite possibly, yes.”
She shook her head. “It’s over ten miles to our car if we go straight down the lake. If we follow the shoreline, going in and out of every little bay and inlet, it going to be… what, maybe thirty miles? More?
“Probably more; this lake has a very irregular shoreline. It may be our only chance, though, and we can always stop and camp somewhere if necessary. At least it’s progress.”
She sighed resignedly. “I guess. We’ll have to go in and out of every contour of the shoreline, though, not try to cross the open mouth of a bay or something. Look at this one; the opening from the bay to the lake is only a hundred yards across, but if we tried to cross it we’d be blown out into the middle of the lake. We’d die out there.”
I leaned down and kissed her. “We’ll be careful, I promise. I’m not taking any chances on not getting to grow old with you.” A thought occurred to me. “Hey, you know what else? This lake is mostly outside of the wilderness area, so there are liable to be some cabins as we head south. Maybe we’ll find one that’s occupied, or even a boarded-up summer cabin we could break into.”
“Break into someone’s home?”
“Their cabin, but yeah; it’s an emergency. We’d pay for any damage of course, plus extra for saving our bacon. We’d repair it best we could before we leave.”
“I guess we could do that. Well, if we’re going to do this crazy thing, let’s get to it!”
Eyes closed, I held up my hand, shushing her. “Ssshhh, someone mentioned bacon! Give me a moment to cherish the thought.”
She laughed. “You’re an idiot. C’mon, Gilligan; you get us out of this mess and I’ll fix you all the bacon you can eat.”
We pushed off carefully and with considerable trepidation, but sticking close to shore seemed to work reasonably well, at least as far as avoiding the worst of the storm. It was slow-going as far as progress, however, and an intensely strenuous and grueling battle into the wind when we were exposed to it. It was also cold and wet, a bad combination, and I knew that Carly, in the front of the canoe, was taking the worst of it. She was a few feet in front of me so her body occasionally blocked me from the brunt of the storm; she enjoyed no such reprieve, but with me being larger, heavier, and the stronger paddler it was the best arrangement.
We carefully made our way in and out of each bay and inlet, and by noon we’d made it to where the shoreline began to turn southward to follow the western shoreline of the lake. Not a lot of progress as the crow flies, but a long way on our weaving and intricate path.
We put ashore to grab a bite to eat and answer nature’s call. Settling for a bit of trail mix with nuts, raisins, and M&M’s, we took the time to fire up the small stove and make ourselves some very hot – and very sweet – tea. Carly was quiet, and I could see that she was extremely worried and nearing exhaustion. Her odd demeanor was a little unnerving, and I couldn’t seem to draw a smile to her beautiful, but now haggard, face.
“Are you okay, babe?”
She shook her head. “Not really. I’m whipped… and scared. Why don’t we camp here and see what it’s like in the morning?”
I considered that. “We could do that, I guess, but we’re just getting to the southward turn, where the wind will be mostly behind us instead of in our face. What if it shifts before morning?”
Reluctantly, she said, “I guess that makes sense. How much longer?”
It was readily apparent that we would not make the whole trip in one day, not this way, but neither of us had voiced that yet. Now I did.
“Well, we’re going to be out at least one more night no matter what, so how about this: Let’s go for three more hours and see if we can find a home or cabin, and if not we’ll stop and make camp while we still have plenty of daylight.” The light was dim, gray and murky, filled with swirling snow; daylight was a relative term.
Carly agreed, and we packed up our lunch gear and pushed off once again. The going was easier, the angled wind from the right rear aiding our forward progress, though we couldn’t take a break from paddling to enjoy it. If we stopped paddling for more than a few seconds, the wind, which we’d begun to think of as a living thing and our nemesis, pushed us away from shore, out toward the maelstrom of the lake.
In addition, the blowing snow was sticking to the exposed flesh of our necks and hair and then melting, the moisture trickling down inside of our clothes. Between that, the sweat of our exertion, and spray the wind kicked off the lake, we were getting wet, which meant we were getting cold; coupled with our exhaustion it was a deadly combination, and we both knew it.
We turned into the next bay, a mid-sized expanse of calmer water. As we’d done all day we peered through the swirling snow, hugging the shore, hoping for a glimpse of some shape that was out of place in nature – a peaked roofline, a ninety-degree corner of a deck or a building, the outline of a door or window, possibly a light, or a dock at the shore, anything man-made. Again, though, we were disappointed; nothing but trees and rocks, water and snow. Always snow.
As we completed the circuit of the bay, I could see Carly visibly slump in defeat. Shouting to be heard over the wind, I yelled, “Hang in there, babe! We’ll try one more and if we still don’t see any sign of civilization we’ll stop and make camp.”
I knew that our sleeping bags were in waterproof duffels and that we’d be able to find or make some sort of windbreak and get our tent set up. I wasn’t looking forward to a cold, hungry night in the wilderness, but if we could get dry and warm, we’d still be okay. She turned and gave me a wan smile, glad to have a goal at last, and trusting my judgment. It turned out that her faith was seriously misplaced.
We made our way down the shore, which ran straight and unbroken for a longer distance than we’d encountered thus far. We made good time that way, but we also got careless, settling into the routine of paddling, exhausted, our heads down, shoulders and backs working, using the feel and sound of the wind and an occasional glance to reassure ourselves that we were positioned safely enough near shore. When we eventually crossed the opening of the next inlet, we missed it.
Not by much – we were only perhaps twenty feet or so past the turn-in when we realized our mistake – but the wind saw it a moment before we did and came shrieking out of the broad bay like a fiend, malevolent and vicious, hammering us with a blow that took our breath and driving us out, away from the shore, toward the roiling hell of the huge lake. It was as if the storm had been holding back, waiting for us to make a single error; now we had, and the wind screamed in triumph.
We fought it with everything we had, both of us buoyed by a sudden surge of adrenalin as the peril of our situation hit home immediately. Terrified, we dug our paddles deep, trying to pull for shore. It was to no avail, however, as the long slab side of the canoe and our bodies, even bent low as we were, simply caught too much wind, acting as sails and pushing us inexorably outward, southeast, into the open lake.
We turned the bow directly into the wind, but in moments we lost sight of the shore in the swirling snow, the dark shapes of trees fading to vague shadows and then nothing. We knew approximately where the shore - and safety – was, because of the wind direction, but we couldn’t seem to get there. To turn crossways at all to the waves would swamp the canoe. We had only two choices; we could go straight into the gale and hope to hit the shore or turn tail to it and let it push us out, across the open lake, an impossible journey in this weather.
There was no possibility of consulting our GPS, no way to stop paddling long enough to check it. All we could do was dig with all we had left. It was a losing proposition, but the only option. It was horrible, it was terrifying, and it was brutally hard… and worst of all, we had no way to measure our progress, no way to tell if we were moving forward, backward, or standing still, no matter how hard we paddled.
The water moved in every direction, splashing over the bow and soaking Carly, slowly growing deeper in the bottom of the boat; the snow swirled, the wind howled, and the disorientation was complete. With no landmarks, visibility of a few feet, and everything in motion around us we were trapped in a swirling, gray, vertiginous hell. It sapped our strength and endurance, confused our eyes and our minds, and, most of all, it shattered our will.
I don’t know how long we fought it. It may have been fifteen minutes or thirty. It probably was not an hour, but it may have been close. It doesn’t matter; it was too long and utterly futile, and I could feel myself weakening, fading, and see that Carly was failing too, her paddle strokes becoming weak and ineffective.
I screamed at her, to be heard over the storm, “Babe, we need to turn around!”
She glanced over her shoulder at me, her eyes dull and lifeless as exhaustion and terror wore her down. It was maybe the worst thing I’d ever seen, and I hated myself for putting her in this situation. She spoke, and although I couldn’t hear her I knew she’d asked me what I said, no doubt certain that I’d lost my sanity.
I yelled again, “We need to turn around, our backs to the wind! We’re not getting anywhere and we’re done, we can’t paddle like this anymore!”
Her already pale face went a shade more white. “But… but the lake…”
“I know! I know, but we have no choice. On my signal, to our left. We need to do it fast, we can’t stay broadside to the wind for more than a second or two.”
I understood her terror. We had both looked at enough maps to know that to allow the wind to push us southeast, assuming we could even turn about successfully, meant a long, impossible journey across the open lake, no shoreline in that direction for close to thirty-five miles. Even then, in the one-in-a-million chance that we made the crossing, there was nothing in that quadrant of the shoreline. It wasn’t, in fact, even a shoreline; it was marshes and impenetrable bogs for several more miles, desolate and hopeless. But our only chance.
As we screamed back and forth to be understood, agreeing to make the turn to port as quickly as possible and thus ship the least possible amount of water in the process, it was obvious that neither of us wanted to do it. It was a desperation move, the last chance, and we were loath to give up hope and try it. Finally, as the wind battered us, we caved.
I was about to yell ‘Go!’ and try to spin about when Carly screamed, “Wait! I hear something.”
“It’s the wind, the fucking wind!”
“No, it was something else. A noise, a clang, like metal on metal; listen!”
I listened but didn’t hear anything. “I don’t hear anything. We can’t hold this position much longer, hon’. We need to go.”
She nodded, resigned, and we again braced for the turn. This time it was me that heard something. “Wait! What is that? A motor?”
“Oh, god,” she practically sobbed, then screamed, “oh my god, help! Help!”
We were both screaming for help, sure we’d heard something, but I knew it could just be a figment of our imagination, the wind playing tricks, an aural mirage. Then we both heard a deep voice yell back, and it gave us the energy to dig our paddles in again, to drive into the wind for a moment longer. Suddenly there was a boat looming out of the blinding whiteness, the point of the bow coming right at us. It turned at the last second, bumping up alongside us, the tall gunwales of the motorboat looming above the low hull of our canoe as we paired up facing opposite directions, the stern of this new boat into the wind.
It wasn’t big, just a sturdy aluminum fishing boat capable of seating perhaps three to five comfortably, but it was a godsend. Then too, I may have judged the boat to be smaller than it was due to the enormous size of the man at the rear, manning the tiller. He was huge, with a full, bushy mountain-man beard and mustache, and was dressed in a dark anorak with the hood up over a red stocking cap, with more bushy, dark-brown hair bristling from beneath the cap.
Cutting the motor back enough to hold himself alongside us, he seized the gunwale of our canoe near the bow in one huge hand as he screamed, “Toss me your mooring line and then climb in! We need to get the hell out of here.”
I held onto the edge of his boat as well, anchoring us together at a second point, as Carly dug listlessly for the rope, her movements slow and awkward. She succeeded in handing him our bow line, which he quickly tied off to the stern of his boat.
He again yelled for us to climb into his boat, but Carly had shut down. Now, finally, when the moment of rescue was at hand, she’d hit the wall, the last of her reserves utterly spent. I wanted her to go first, knowing that I needed to help hold the boats together if there was to be any chance she could cross to his without falling into the lake, but she was finished. Hypothermia, terror, and sheer exhaustion had left her thoroughly empty and dazed.
Our would-be rescuer swore, seeing the problem, then quickly looped a cord around the tiller handle of the small motor to hold it steady for a few seconds. He then stood, bent over, and seized her by her jacket – a quality, sturdy Columbia coat, thankfully – and hoisted her bodily into his boat as if she weighed no more than a small child. She’s not heavy, by any means, but at an athletic five-foot-eight and 120 pounds, plus all the wet clothing, his easy deadlift from one wildly bobbing boat to the other was an impressive feat.
He pushed her down into the belly of his boat, telling her to stay low, then yelled at me to cross over. I was stiff, cold, and exhausted, but somehow managed to hold the two boats together as I clumsily crossed to his. The immediate feeling of safety, even though we were still anything but safe, was almost overwhelming.
He yelled at me to not release the canoe until he’d begun his 180-degree turn into the wind, then yelled again when he wanted me to let it go, and it drifted back to the end of the rope and followed us into the wind, riding high in the water now that our weight had been removed.
Yelling to be heard, I tried to thank him for saving us, but he had other priorities.
“Never mind, there’s time for that later! I need you both to stay low. We’ve gotta go straight into the teeth of this bastard; this is only a twenty-five horse motor, the biggest they allow on this lake; if you’re sticking up catching the wind it may not be enough.”
I got low, down into the hull of the boat with Carly, and pulled her to me. She was shaking violently, her body wracked with shivering and her teeth chattering, her lips blue.
The giant shouted, “Grab that tarp at the front and pull it over you, it will keep the wind and spray off. I’ll hook the loose end down back here.”
As I did that he told me that there were some blankets in a red bag, and a Thermos of coffee somewhere if I could find it. We got the tarp stretched tautly and he bungee-corded it down at the rear as he steered. I found the blankets in the red dry-bag and pulled one around us, but Carly’s shivering seemed to be getting worse; exhaustion and exposure had taken their toll, and our cold, wet clothing was rapidly stealing what little body heat we had left.
I could no longer see the man-mountain who had rescued us, but I could hear him. He asked a logical, but embarrassing, question. “What in the name of Christ were you doing out there?”
I shouted back, “We didn’t mean to be out there! We were hugging the shore, but the wind grabbed us.”
“Huh! Damn straight it would. Never mind, you can tell me later. Just stay low, this is going to take a while.”
I found the Thermos and tried to get Carly to drink some of the coffee. It isn’t her favorite drink, but it was hot; I figured that the liquid and whatever warmth it might provide had to be of some benefit. She was not cooperative, however, and between the bouncing of the boat and her shivering, I think most of it went down her chin, making her wetter still.
I felt safer, very relieved huddled in the bottom of the boat, my exhausted body screaming in relief, but was extremely worried about my wife. She desperately needed to be dry and warm, and soon; hypothermia is not to be taken lightly. We rode the waves, riding up and over each swell, the sturdy boat pounding through the rough lake. The ride to wherever we were going seemed to take forever, although he told us later that it was only about twenty minutes or so.
I think it seemed so much longer because of my fears for Carly, who was still shivering uncontrollably and was becoming unresponsive. I held her tight, pulled against my body with the blankets around us, trying desperately to will whatever warmth I had left in me into her instead, and I talked to her. Not anything profound; I told her that I loved her, and to hold on and that things would be better soon… and that I was so sorry for getting us into this mess.
Huddled beneath the tarp, when we bumped the dock it startled me, a moment of panic thinking maybe we’d hit a rock and holed the hull, but he shouted that we’d made it. After that, things started happening quickly.
Our rescuer threw back the tarp and leaped to the dock with a degree of nimbleness that belied his size, quickly tying off both his boat and our canoe, making sure the wind couldn’t steal them. He then yelled that we should leave our gear, leave everything, the top priority was to get inside and get out of our wet clothes, to get dry, and, hopefully, warm.
Carly was almost dead weight by now, uncooperative and unresponsive, and, terrifyingly, her shivering had stopped. Even in my confused condition, I knew what that meant. I was struggling desperately to get both her and my own weakened and uncooperative body onto the dock. Seeing my struggles he stepped one foot into the boat and scooped her up in his arms, crossways, again as if she weighed no more than a loaf of bread, and then retreated to the dock once more.
He then looked at me, brilliant blue eyes glinting through the dark forest of an extraordinarily hairy face. “Fuck! When did the shivering stop?”
“A few minutes ago.”
“Not good. Can you walk?”
“Me? Yeah, I’m good.” I wasn’t good, of course; I was weak and exhausted and frozen stiff. I couldn’t feel my fingers at all, and my shivering was almost as bad as Carly’s had been. Still, he had one burden, the important one; I refused to be another.
“Good. Follow me, we need to get you two out of these wet clothes and start warming you up.”
I followed him. I could see that his dock was ‘L’ shaped, one part jutting out into the lake and the other part running parallel to the base of a rock cliff that loomed above. It seemed an inhospitable place for a boat dock, much less a home, but I could see the steep, snow-covered stairs that switchbacked up the cliff face at the far end of the dock.
I assumed that’s where he was headed, to those stairs, but instead he walked straight to the base of the thirty-foot cliff and shouldered open a door in the rock that I hadn’t seen, then went through it sideways to avoid banging Carly into the doorframe. I followed him through the door, which closed behind me, and into a small chamber carved into the rock. It was not particularly warm in the rock-walled room, but for the first time in two days, we were truly out of the wind, not a whisper of it here. My body sagged in relief.
I looked around the small room, which had cedar doors along one wall, shelves for storage, and another door, propped open, which led to a steep stairway carved into a tunnel through the rock. The stairs led upward into a carefully hewn rock shaft lit by a string of bare bulbs along the ceiling, and that’s where we went, the big man crab-walking up the stairs to fit both himself and my wife through without scraping the sides. It was an impressive feat, again showing a degree of agility unusual in a man his size.
The steps were uneven in both tread and riser, but it was obvious that he knew them well as he went up quickly and without a misstep, Carly in his arms. At the top, he shouldered open another thick wooden door and we stepped into the spacious kitchen of a warm, beautiful log home, kerosene lamps giving it a golden glow; a small fire crackled merrily in the large stone hearth at the far end of the adjoining great room.
Without a word he crossed straight to the fire and lowered her to her feet directly in front of it. She wavered, barely conscious, but somehow managed to remain standing. Once he was sure she wasn’t going to fall he turned and threw a few more chunks of firewood onto the small fire. That task accomplished, he turned to me.
“There. That will catch and start throwing out some more heat in a couple of minutes. While I go get some towels and blankets, you get your friend out of his wet clothes and then you strip too. He’s badly hypothermic, and you’re not far behind.”
My mind running a bit slowly, exhaustion as much as hypothermia, I looked at him for a moment before replying, “My wife.”
He looked puzzled for a moment by my cryptic response, but I saw comprehension dawn as he spun back to Carly. “Your wife?” He quickly stripped back her tight hood and pulled her soaked stocking cap off, and her wet, raven tresses tumbled free. He stared into her beautiful but very pale face for a moment, her deep brown eyes vague and unfocused and her full lips blue with cold. “Jesus! It is a woman! I had no idea… But no matter, get her stripped; we need to get her dry and start warming her up. She’s pretty far gone, and this is nothing to fuck with.”
I nodded as I stripped off my own wet cap and hood, then stepped forward to hold Carly so that he could go chase down towels. I started trying to take her wet jacket off, but between ice on the zipper and my clumsy, frozen fingers, it was slow going. I was supporting her, holding her upright even as I tried to undress her, and things conspired to hinder my progress. I had barely gotten her jacket and shoes off by the time he returned.
Seeing and understanding the reason for my struggles, he quickly stepped in. “Here, let me; you try to get your clothes off. Quickly now, you’re losing body heat every second you stay in those wet things.”
As I stepped back and fumbled with my snaps and zippers, I watched him quickly and efficiently strip Carly down to sports bra and panties, and then those too joined the heap of sodden clothes on the floor. She stood naked, in all her pale, goosebumped glory, her pink nipples on her full breasts erect with the cold and her lean, beautiful body slumped in exhaustion, her skin almost translucent-white with the effects of her body pulling her blood inward, attempting to protect core organs from the cold.
He scooped up one of the big towels and began to gently dry her, holding her against his body to keep her upright. He’d shed his anorak and rain hat, as well as the coat he’d worn beneath the anorak, and was now in a cream, orange, and blue plaid flannel shirt and mustard-brown Carhartt canvas pants, his dark, bushy beard down to mid-chest. His broad, powerful body, easily six or seven inches taller than my six-foot-one height and much larger in all dimensions than my wife’s svelte five-foot-eight, simply dwarfed her.
He seemed to have no problem holding her in place as he toweled her thick hair dry and then dropped that towel, grabbing a fresh one for her body. He proceeded to dry her thoroughly, from fingertips to toes, leaving no part of her untouched. I’m not sure if my mind was so detached because of my own incipient hypothermia, or if it was just the clinical, businesslike manner in which he did it, but I didn’t sense anything even vaguely salacious or sexual about it.
I know he was aware of her body, and of how flawlessly toned and beautiful it is – any man would be – but he made no mention and seemed unmoved by it. Accordingly, I could take no offense where obviously none was intended. He had saved our lives, and his attention seemed to be on making sure that his efforts thus far would not go to waste. It was not a time for false modesty.
Once he had her dried off, he put the back of his thick fingers against the base of her neck. “She’s cold to the touch and her pulse is weak.” Even as he spoke he was wrapping a blanket around her nude form. He used his thigh and knee to slide a big, lodge-style chair as close to the fire as he dared and lowered her into it before turning to me. I was making slow progress on getting my wet clothing off, but not enough to satisfy him. He pushed my hands aside and took over.
“Here, I’ve got you.” He finished pulling my wet fleece jacket over my head and went to work unbuttoning my shirt. When I tried to object, he shushed me. “Relax! You’re not as far gone as your wife, but you’re in worse shape than you think you are. That’s part of it, impaired judgment and disorientation. Hypothermia is a bitch, I had to go through it in my BUDS training.”
He continued to talk as he undressed me. Only bits and pieces were sinking in, but I somehow realized that he was talking to keep me from feeling self-conscious about the fact that he was treating me like a helpless child… which, in some ways, I was. I did register that his name was Mitch, and I vaguely remember telling him that mine was Justin and that my wife was Carly.
Once he had me stripped he gave me the same vigorous but impersonal treatment, drying me from head to toe as I wavered on my feet, overwhelming exhaustion gripping me. As with Carly, he made no comment as he dried me, but somehow, even at the precipice of survival and in a hypothermic daze, I was aware of and embarrassed about the fact that my genitalia was shrunken tiny from the cold, my penis and scrotum shriveled and drawn up tightly to my body. It should have been the very least of my concerns, but there was somehow something emasculating about it even then, in such dire straits. Ridiculous, but pride goeth before the fall.
Once dry, he wrapped a blanket around me and led me to the same oversized chair in which he’d placed my wife; at least he didn’t pick me up and carry me, although later I realized that he easily could have. He got us settled into the chair together, Carly partly on my lap where I could wrap my arms around her. Although I was cold clear through, I could still feel that her flesh was colder than my own, and her utter stillness, when she should have been shivering, was unnerving.
He looked down at us for a moment. “That fire is starting to put out some heat. Soak it up, and gently massage your wife’s arms and legs, try to get the blood flowing. I’ll be back in a couple minutes.”
I did as instructed, noting that Carly seemed to have checked out, her eyes closed. Her skin was so pale that there were large, dark circles under her eyes, and her long lashes stood out starkly against her ashen cheeks. She was still stunningly beautiful, but in a waxen, almost death-mask sort of way that I found deeply disturbing.
Although I was beginning to feel the warmth of the fire on my skin, prickling my face and my bare arms, it didn’t seem to penetrate any deeper, and I felt like I had ice in my veins and ice crystals slowing my mind; I knew that for Carly it was worse still, and I was very afraid for her.
When Mitch returned he was carrying two steaming mugs and a thermometer, which whined when he clicked it on. He’d shed his flannel shirt as the place warmed up and was now in stocking feet, the Carhartt gold pants, and a red, waffle-weave long johns shirt. “I need to get a temperature on your wife, see what we’re dealing with.” He tilted her chin up and slid the thermometer gently into her mouth and beneath her tongue, carefully cradling her head as he waited for it to beep with a reading. “I should be doing this rectally for more accuracy, but this will work. Fuck, she’s cold.”
I nodded mutely. When the thermometer beeped a moment later he withdrew it, looked at it, and promptly swore. “Motherfucker! Eighty-eight-point-two degrees… that’s bad, Justin. I wish I had an electric blanket, but I don’t. Here, let’s see if we can get some of this hot chocolate into her – you drink some too.”
He handed me a steaming mug and I gratefully sipped at the near-scalding liquid, enjoying the burn of it clear down to my frozen middle. It was rich and dark and sweet, also a good thing as our bodies needed the jolt of energy, fuel for our internal furnaces.
As he held her head and brought the other mug to her lips, he watched me. “Good, drink as much of it as you can.” As he spoke he was slowly tipping the mug against Carly’s blue lips, letting a tiny bit trickle into her mouth. I saw her throat working as she swallowed, and was intensely grateful for his gentleness and concern for her. He had willingly taken charge, and he seemed to know exactly what he was doing.
Mitch remained kneeling alongside our chair for the longest time, slowly getting Carly to swallow more and more of the rich chocolate heat. I took the opportunity to study his face, the fog in my mind slowly lifting as I began to warm up. His thick beard and mustache obscured most of it, and his long, dense, curly hair fell over his ears, but he had full lips, very white teeth, and a strong, straight nose. His most striking feature, however, was his brilliantly ice-blue eyes, which shifted at that moment from my wife’s face to my own.
“You starting to feel better?”
I nodded. “A little, yeah. Fuck, I’ve never been that cold.”
He smiled. “I hope you never are again. How long were you out in that mess today?”
“I don’t know. What time did you find us?”
He frowned. “Hmm. About three-thirty, I guess. Give or take.”
“Around eight hours, then. A little over, but we stopped for lunch.”
“Jesus. No wonder you’re frozen.”
“You saved our lives.”
He waved it off. “I just did what anyone would have done. It was sheer luck that I was out on my dock and saw you, and even more that I found you. This finger of land my cabin is on juts well out into the lake, almost a quarter mile, so it was your last chance; the snow cleared for just a second or two and I saw you out there, maybe seventy yards away. I thought my eyes were playing tricks because nobody would be on the lake in this mess, but her red jacket was pretty convincing.”
I couldn’t believe that he’d sighted us in that storm; visibility had been nil, and I’d never had the sense, once we’d been blown away from shore, that we were anywhere near land. I was even more impressed that he’d launched his boat and come and found us. When I started to ask him about it, he put me off.
“Let’s wait until your wife is awake and we can go over the whole story together. She’s our priority right now.” He turned and set the half-empty mug on the floor alongside the chair, then put the back of his fingers against the side of Carly’s neck. Not liking what he felt there, he pulled her blanket away, exposing her breasts and stomach, and lay the back of his huge hand against her lower belly, just above her smooth pubic mound.
He shook his head. “She’s still too cold. We gotta get her core temp up… desperate times, desperate measures.” He stood and began to unbuckle his pants, which he dropped to the floor and kicked away. That left him in his red long johns, which turned out to be a union suit, drop-seat and all. As he began to unbutton the front, he said, “Body heat, skin-to-skin. You’re starting to warm up, so you and I are going to sandwich her between us. Without an electric blanket, we’re the next best thing.”
The top of his underwear half-unbuttoned, exposing his broad, hairy chest, he paused to throw a big quilt, doubled-over, onto the floor in front of the fireplace, and to toss a couple more logs on the blaze. Those chores accomplished he completed unbuttoning his long johns and tugged them off, standing naked between us and the fire.
I was somewhat taken aback, though I understood his plan. As he bent to scoop Carly out of my arms I couldn’t help but notice that he was not as hairy as I had assumed, given the thick beard and unkempt mop of thick hair on his head. His body was just average-male hairy, across his broad chest and stomach and a narrow trail leading to a well-manscaped bit of pubic shrubbery. He was every bit as thick and massive naked as he appeared fully dressed, but his physique was not of the carefully-sculpted gym rat variety.
Rather, his was real-world muscle, thick slabs of hard-earned beef and sinew built on hard work, heavy chores, and a very active, extreme lifestyle. It explained why he could so easily scoop up my wife without so much as a grunt and carry her effortlessly, as he was doing now. Cradling her crossways in his arms, as he had when he’d carried her in, he stepped over to the quilt he’d spread on the floor. I noted the contrast in their nude bodies, his huge and hairy, his somewhat dark, swarthy complexion versus her smooth, lean, feline form in all of its porcelain, frozen China-doll paleness.
Of course – and I hate to admit it - I also noticed and registered that he was quite well-endowed. Not freakish or anything; he wouldn’t be mistaken for a farm animal or even a well-hung porn star, but his junk was definitely in proportion to his overall large size. He had a long, thick, uncut cock and a substantial set of balls, a package proportioned for a big, thick and substantial man.
His heavy cock hung long and flaccid between his powerful thighs as he stood on the quilt, and swung forward as he dropped to his knees to lay Carly gently on the thick padding between him and the fire. He looked over at me.
“Come on, get over here. Bring the blankets with you.” He was carefully arranging Carly’s limbs so that she lay on her side, facing the fire. She was pliable and compliant, her body limp as a dishrag. I didn’t know whether she was unconscious or simply deeply asleep, but she was clearly not with us.
As I followed orders, rising and crossing to them with one of the blankets in my hands and the other wrapped around me, Mitch stretched out on his side behind my seemingly comatose wife and pulled her into the S-curve of his big body, her back against his chest and her tight little tush nestled into his groin. It was an entirely personal and intimate position, their bodies spooned together like lovers. I couldn’t help but think about his big cock pressed tightly to her perfect ass, but he’d done nothing inappropriate thus far, his entire focus on helping us. To accuse him of anything untoward at this point would have demonstrated breathtaking ingratitude and rudeness, and I couldn’t bring myself to do so.
He looked up at me. “Spread those blankets over us then curl up in front of her. She’s the meat in the sandwich, and we’re the bread that’s going to get her toasty.”
I groaned at the bad pun but again followed orders. He seemed to know what he was doing, and it was for Carly’s benefit; I would have done anything he asked of me. As I wriggled back in against them, my back to my wife’s chest and my ass pressed into the curve of her tummy and groin, I could feel that her body was considerably cooler than my own and knew my body heat would be enough, by now, to be of some help.
When he got the blankets arranged to his satisfaction he draped a big arm across us, spreading his huge hand across my chest as he pulled the three of us together as tightly as possible, sealing Carly’s cold body between us, skin-to-skin from shoulder to ankles. He left his hand on me, essentially holding us all together in a very intimate, naked group hug.
It was unusual, but it made sense; it was the best we could do for her, the best way to rapidly warm her, the fire and my slowly warming body in front of her, his massive furnace of a body at her back, and blankets and his big arm over us. Snuggling nude with my wife and a giant, hairy stranger was surreal, but I’d have done anything to help Carly.
We lay there quietly for a while, the only sounds the crackling fire and the wind howling around the cabin, but eventually, he broke the silence. In his deep voice, keeping it low, he said, “She’s going to be okay, Justin.”
“I need her to be.” My voice broke with emotion, but I didn’t care.
“She will. As she warms up she’ll probably start shivering again, but that’s pretty normal. You got her here in time.”
“I didn’t get her here, you did. You saved our lives.”
“Nah, that was just luck. I only brought you the last half mile; you two did the rest. Crazy, being out on the lake in a storm like this, but you made it.”
I sighed, frustrated by his refusal to accept my gratitude, which was beyond words. “In hindsight, we probably should have just stayed on the north shore and waited out the storm.”
He grunted. “Hmmph… maybe, maybe not. This storm is supposed to go on for three or four more days; were you provisioned for that?”
I’d been unaware of that, of the expected duration of the storm. “No, we weren’t. We were headed back to our car, our last day of a two-week trip.”
“You might have survived it, but it wouldn’t have been much fun.”
“Not as much fun as dying in the middle of a cold, gray lake, you mean?”
He laughed. “Ah, but you didn’t. Try to get some rest, okay?”
I felt him move his hand from my chest, sliding it instead between my back and Carly’s chest and pressing the heel of his hand against her sternum, his fingers forming around the lower curve of her left breast. He must have felt my body tense up and sensed my apprehension, because he said, “Don’t worry, I’m not feeling her up. I’m keeping track of her heartbeat, making sure she doesn’t suffer any arrhythmia or anything. It’s a major cause of death with hypothermia, but I don’t think she got cold enough for it to be a major worry, not for someone in such good shape. A couple more degrees, though…”
I shuddered at the thought. “Fuck, we’d have never made it across that lake.”
He agreed. “No, probably not. Fortunately, you’ll never have to find out. Go ahead and get some rest, I’ve got her. I’ll wake you if she comes to.”
I lay there silently for a long time, watching the dancing flames gradually burn lower and feeling every shudder when Carly once again began to shiver. It didn’t last long, her body rapidly warming between us, and before too long the shivering and chattering teeth relented and her breathing became deep and even as I felt her body relax. I was exhausted as well, the terror of the lake, the certainty that we were about to die, and then the unexpected relief of warmth and safety leaving me drained.
Irresistible drowsiness stole over me and my eyelids became too heavy to hold up, and I drifted away. I think Mitch must have fallen asleep shortly after I did. In any event, when I woke up some time later the fire had burned down to a low flicker and I could hear his breathing, deep and even, just short of snoring.
What had woken me, I think, was him moving his hand between Carly and me. Now I felt him spread his hand across her tummy and pull her more tightly to him, into the curve of his big body, and she moaned softly as she nestled back into him in her sleep. Her body situated to his satisfaction, his hand slid up to cup her breast, closing over it this time and squeezing gently.
I suppose I should have felt a pang of jealousy, or at least concern, but they were both sound asleep so their actions seemed more habit or instinct than anything resembling conscious behavior. My main worry was her well-being and whether or not she’d recovered successfully from her exposure and hypothermia.
Wanting to feel her body to see if there was any remaining chill, I slid my hand from my thigh back to hers; her leg felt appropriately warm, which was excellent, so I slid my hand farther up to check her abdomen.
As I moved up her smooth leg, just before I got to the juncture of those long, sleek thighs, my hand encountered an unexpected obstacle. Puzzled for a moment, I felt it, exploring the unknown item with my fingers and trying to figure out what my wife had on her leg. Slowly it dawned on me that what I was feeling was the very large, warm, slightly damp head of a very large, erect cock. I snatched my hand away quickly, mortified, and heard Mitch’s low chuckle.
“Don’t worry, it doesn’t bite.”
“Sorry. I didn’t realize…”
He laughed again. “Don’t worry about it. It was starting to feel pretty good.”
“Yeah, well… I didn’t know what the fuck that was.” I was very embarrassed, but there was another issue in play here. “Uh, why is your cock between my wife’s legs?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” I noticed that he wasn’t making any effort to remove it.
“No; I woke up to you fondling me and that’s where it was. I got hard in my sleep as we all do, and that’s where it ended up.”
“I wasn’t fondling you!”
“Like I said, don’t worry about it; you’ll find I’m pretty open-minded about these things. Just so you know, I wasn’t trying anything with your wife. I was sound asleep, and I wasn’t aware of it until you woke me.”
“I was.” Carly’s voice!
He laughed softly. “Hey, Sleeping Beauty! You’re finally awake.”
I rolled over quickly to face her, thrilled to see the reflection of the flickering fire in her warm brown eyes. “Hi, sweetheart; are you okay?”
She rewarded me with a quick smile. “I think so, yes. I’m warm, safe, and on dry land, so yeah, huge improvement.” She looked over her shoulder at Mitch. “I assume you’re the guy in the boat?”
“Yup, I’m Mitch, and Justin told me your name is Carly. Nice to meet you, Carly.”
“You too - and I suppose if we’re going to cuddle naked and you’re going to have my boob in your hand and your hard cock between my legs, it’s nice that we’ve been formally introduced.”
He laughed as he rolled away from her and rose to his feet. “I think I’m going to like you! And sorry about the wayward dick; sometimes it has a mind of its own.” He stood over us, his erection rampant, thick and huge and standing tall and proud in front of him, heavy balls hanging low beneath. He seemed completely unconcerned about his nudity, and his obvious arousal. “I’ll throw some wood on the fire, and then I could use a drink. Anyone else?”
He crossed to the fire and bent to retrieve the logs. I had rolled onto my back and was sidelong to him, but Carly was still on her side, facing the fire, her arm across my chest as she watched him, taking in the sight of his big balls dangling heavily between his legs as he squatted in front of the fire. I pulled her against me as he stoked the fire with fresh fuel and stirred the hot coals with the fireplace poker.
Satisfied with the result, he stood and stretched as the flames licked up over the new wood. In profile to us, we saw only the black silhouette of his body against the bright flames behind him. He looked huge in that dim light, tall, his powerful arms stretched out, his torso thick and solid and tapering in from muscular shoulders and a deep chest to a narrower stomach and waist. His ass was also muscular, blocky and square, and his thighs were like tree trunks, thick and sturdy.
In front of it all, like a powerful, curved rhino horn, his cock jutted out, rigidly erect still, thick at the base and tapering slightly along its upward-curved length to a bulbous, fleshy helmet, now fully exposed, his foreskin retracted, unable to encase his erect size. I understood at once why the feel of him in my fingers had been so puzzling; even had I been expecting to feel a cock - which I hadn’t - I would not have been expecting it to have a head damn near as big as a tennis ball! Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but that’s how it looked silhouetted in the firelight. Nonetheless, his glans was easily as big as a racquetball and had felt shockingly large and firm in my hand.
Carly was staring, absorbing every detail of that image, and I couldn’t help but wonder what she was thinking. His stretch complete, he turned toward us. He looked at Carly and frowned. “You, gorgeous, should probably have something hot and sweet, maybe get a few more calories in you, but no alcohol, not just yet. I have hot cocoa, tea, I can make a pot of coffee, soup…”
“Cocoa is fine, thanks.”
I nodded. “Same for me; I’ve suddenly become a huge fan.”
He laughed. “Not surprising, considering. Me too, but I’m gonna throw a little peppermint Schnapps in mine – sound good?”
“Absolutely!” I couldn’t get over his complete ease with his nudity and his obvious arousal, which showed no sign of diminishing. It seemed modesty was an afterthought, something that just didn’t matter… which, I suppose, given that it was his home and we were the beneficiaries of his courage and generosity, it didn’t.
“We’ll spike the next one for you, young lady.”
She smiled up at him. “Thanks, but I don’t care for Schnapps. I will take a brandy at some point, though, if you have any.”
He laughed as he walked to the kitchen. “If I have any! Crazy talk; clearly, you’re new around here.”
As he disappeared into the kitchen, Carly giggled. “Wow! He’s kind of… larger than life, isn’t he?”
I was gratified to hear her laugh, something I’d been very afraid I might never get to hear again. I smiled. “Yeah, he is, on many levels. Apparently, he was – or is - a Navy SEAL too; he said something about BUDS training, although we haven’t gotten into it any deeper.”
She looked at me from the corner of her eye, and I saw a playful glint. “He doesn’t seem too concerned about walking around with that enormous cock standing straight up! Is he some kind of satyr or something too?”
“Ah, you noticed that, then. I was wondering if you had.”
She giggled again. “Yeah, I noticed… and wow, if I may say so!”
“Yeah, I know. Down, girl! You know what though? He’s been nothing but respectful and caring this whole time. He’s the one that stripped you and dried you, my hands were too frozen, and then he did the same for me. Never a hint of anything but concern and compassion, no ogling, nothing. I guess once your butt warmed up and you were wiggling it into his groin you finally broke his resolve, hence the hardon.”
“I have that power.”
I laughed. “You do indeed.”
“What are we going to do if he decides he wants sex? We are sort of trapped.”
She didn’t sound like she found the prospect unappealing. “I don’t know, but it sounds like we’ll be here for at least a few days. The storm is supposed to last a while, according to Mitch.”
“You know, we’ve talked before about experimenting with a threesome, how it might be fun.”
“Well, you’re feeling better!” I stared at her. “Are you serious? Here? Now?” I shook my head and went on, “And anyway, I always assumed we were talking about you, me, and another woman.”
She laughed and snaked her hand down to give my cock, which was now quite hard, another squeeze. “I always assumed we were talking about you, me, and another man. I guess we should communicate better.”
“I guess. Would you seriously be interested in doing that?” I had to admit that the idea was pretty arousing; maybe part of it was that it would be such an affirmation of the joy and freedom of life after coming so close to death, but for some reason, it appealed quite powerfully.
Carly shrugged. “Well, he’s obviously horny. I suppose I could offer to give him a blowjob or something.”
I think my jaw dropped, and I know I gave her a surprised, nervous laugh as I shook my head. “Unbelievable!”
She giggled. “Well, he did save our lives, after all; it seems like the least I could do!”
I snorted. “Huh! No, the least you could do would be to say thanks, maybe hug him, or… or bake a pan of brownies or cookies or something. There are a whole lot of leasts that are more least than a blowjob!”
She laughed again. “Those just don’t seem adequate, somehow – and what if he doesn’t like brownies?”
“Who doesn’t like brownies?”
“You know, some people. All guys like blowjobs though.”
I couldn’t argue with that; plus, my wife gives incredible head and loves doing it. By now I had my hand on her breast, and her nipple had grown very hard. I knew she was becoming aroused by her own words, and she moaned softly when I gently tweaked her rigid, pink nub. “You just want to get that big cock in your mouth!”
She squeezed my now-rigid and throbbing cock again and wiggled her eyebrows at me. “Yes, for starters; after that, who knows what might… Ssshhh, he’s coming back!”
He walked into the room balancing three steaming mugs, still naked, his cock still enormously erect. It was apparent that his arousal had triggered the natural and appropriate response in my wife, and she licked her lips as she looked him over.
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