by Dave Lager

Are all writers unreasonable? Probably…

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) – Reason

While the quote is not specifically about writing, as far as I’m concerned, it has everything to do with what it means to be a writer. After all, when we write a novel, aren’t we in a sense “adapting” the world to ourselves, or at least how we see it?

Sniper’s Day: Chapter 14

14

The Oligarch

Thursday, July 14, 2005, evening

There were four: one, two in quick succession, then one more. But they were not the distinctive sharp crack of an AK, or the deeper thud of a heavy sniper rifle; they sounded more like the cherry-bomb pop of the lighter, medium distance, standard issue M24 sniper rifle he’d originally been trained on back at Camp Robinson. The M24 was based on the civilian Remington 700 bolt action, a highly popular hunting rifle.

But the shots were distant, at least a couple of miles off, and there was no ping of a slug ricocheting from a nearby rock, so they didn’t seem to be shooting at him. He was tempted to draw the Barretta, but while effective at up to fifty yards, it was useless at anything much beyond. Still, he froze in place and listened…for any follow-up gunfire, for any shouts or sounds of someone nearby: Nothing. Good.

Okay, probably hunters, he reasoned, feeling a bit less threatened, but hunting what? Oh, yeah… the Siberian ibex.

While he had not seen any of the horned, mountain goat-like critters along the paths so far – not expecting to, nothing to feed on – it was reasonable they would be drawn to the plentiful forage on the slopes of the lake valley.

In Afghanistani bazaars, tourists can buy “souvenirs” of the ibex’ spectacularly ridged and curved horns, probably taken by poachers, that on average reach four feet in length. But if you were a “real” hunter, you went into the field to personally bag a trophy-size set of horns exceeding five feet. Except, while hiking, bird watching, fishing and nature photography were all encouraged in the Lake Zorkul Nature Preserve, hunting was not.

So, the irony of the fact neither he nor they were supposed to be there was not lost on him.

Meese glanced around, searching both for a place to hide if it came to it, but also for a vantage point from which to look down into the valley, assess what he was up against.

The path he’d been following gradually descended along the mountain’s shoulder; for three-fourths of a mile it passed behind a series of rock outcropping on the right. If he continued beyond the outcroppings, though, he could be easily spotted from valley below.

Now half-limping with twinges of pain from his right foot each time he took a step, he made his way to the first cluster of rocks and squeezed in among them. He found he was perched on the edge of a ridge, looking down from several hundred feet at the nearly fifteen-mile long Lake Zorkul and its wide valley, the Alichur Mountains in Tajikistan on the left, the Nicholas Range over in Afghanistan to his right.

The valley was oriented east to west, like one of those long, narrow baskets used to serve bread in restaurants; its lower half comprised of gentle, grass-covered slopes eventually giving way to the steeper, rocky flanks of the mountains. The Pamir River wandered from the base of lake through the end of the valley, disappearing to his right around the foot of the mountain.

There were no trees, just a sea of waist-high grass.

Using a high-powered monocular to survey the valley – now glad that little item had not been jettisoned a week ago – he found a small tent city alongside the Pamir River two miles from his position and another mile from the west end of the lake. There were three large tents with pipes sticking out of the tops, suggesting heaters, plus a central open-sided pavilion. Numerous boxes and crates were stacked near the tents, along with what looked like an industrial grade generator on wheels.

He could make out a half-dozen figures moving around the camp, a couple with rifles cradled in the crook of their arm, pointed at the ground like a hunter, rather than in the across-the-chest position favored by soldiers.

Parked near the tents were a pair of boxy, Russian all-terrain vehicles known as Sherps, with their incongruously over-sized wheels, while behind the tents stood a giant American Chinook transport helicopter and a Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma passenger helicopter. All the vehicles were painted a bright red and had what looked like a stylized Roman centurion’s plumed helmet in white on their sides. He recognized the logo as that of the Russian oil oligarch Roman Nikolin, as it was ubiquitous in Afghanistan – old enemies can become new friends when potential riches are involved.

Everything about the set-up told him this was anything but a quickie weekend hunting foray into the wilderness; it said they intended to stay awhile and had made sure to bring along lots of the comforts of home.

Of course, the big question for Meese was how long they would be camped out virtually on top of his extraction LZ – landing zone. While waiting and hiding in and of itself was not the problem – he was good at hiding – the crunch was his meager remaining food supply: A pair of energy bars and two ounces of peanut butter.

“Ah shit,” Irwin muttered when his sniper called-in at seven in the evening, the sun already setting behind him, to give his handler a sitrep. “They weren’t there when we did a spy bird overflight day before yesterday,” he said.

Meese described the camp below – strings of lights around the camp were now on, giving it an almost festive look – and updated Irwin on his short supplies, but didn’t mention any possible complications from the frostbite, hoping against hope there wouldn’t be any.

They both knew the original ex-fil plan was now scrubbed; no one had to say it.

Irwin’s instructions were an echo of eight days ago: Meese should hunker down and stay out of sight while they figured out what to do next.

Meese understood it would be well into tomorrow before they could even put together a plan, and at least another twenty-four to forty-eight hours to get it all set up, let alone how many more days he might have to wait for the hunting party to clear out so they could actually execute it.

He leaned back against the rocks, thinking, Okay, in the meantime, what do I do? Eat something – the number one priority, as his head was light from only having had two ounces of peanut butter so far today – then shelter.

Reasoning he needed its extra nutrition for the night, he ate half of one of the energy bars, figuring to ration half an energy bar each over the next three days, saving the few ounces of peanut butter for later.

By the time he’d finished his “meal,” he’d purposefully taken his time with it, there was only the barest hint of twilight in the west; darkness was coming on quickly. Which is why he decided to wait until morning to address two tasks, first, see if there was any better place to hide – he doubted it because it was important to regularly monitor the activity down in the valley below without having to move around too much – and then to check his feet.

Next: Wade Meese was now a semi-cripple, barely able to hobble a few steps

© 2019 Dave Lager

Poet/physician

“I think all writing is a disease. You can’t stop it.”

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) – American poet

Huh? Disease? Why not a cooling summer rain, or bright sunrise, or refreshing spring zephyr? Something with not so dark a connotation… But then, maybe it is an apt analogy coming from someone who was also a physician.

Sniper’s Day: Chapter 13

13

“Nearly Froze My Balls Off”

Wednesday, July 13, and Thursday, July 14, 2005

Every instinct screamed to clamber to the other side as quickly as possible, to escape the burning pain assaulting his feet and lower legs. But like on the rocky shore, he had to be careful of the footing, tumbling over out here not only risked injury, but meant clothing and equipment would get soaked; then he might as well put a nine-millimeter in his brain and be done with it.

There were indeed several knee-deep spots, which brought him a bit of grim levity. As he crossed one, the ice-cold water splashed up onto his genitals.

“I guess when I tell ‘em back at Bagram I nearly froze my balls off, I won’t be speaking metaphorically this time,” he muttered to nobody but himself.

Halfway across the series of rivulets the pain in his feet left him, in fact, they were beginning to feel warm, which was both good and bad. Good because he could take a step and it wasn’t agony, bad because it meant frostbite had begun and he needed to cross, fast, before it became any worse.

If this was the first sign of severe frostbite, then hypothermia might not be far behind. The mountaineer fighting training had harped on the symptoms and dangers of both. He needed to rewarm his feet as soon as possible. Even then, some stinging and swelling could be expected, along with blisters, which could turn the last few miles into torture. Without the possibility of a warming fire, hypothermia – intense shivering, drowsiness and loss of coordination – was a death sentence.

He had to wade through two more rivulets before reaching the other side of the lake’s outflow, but then there was another mile-plus of rock-littered shore to negotiate just to reach the continuation of the original path: out of the question. Instead he hobbled straight across the lake’s fringe to the base of the mountainside, another forty yards.

Flopping down on a flat spot, he used the dry socks to vigorously rub his feet and ankles to get some circulation back. After pulling on his pants and socks, he then wrapped his lower half in the sleeping bag, except it was too little, too late. The shivering came on anyway, rushing up from his core, irresistible, uncontrollable. He pulled the sleeping bag up over his neck and curled up into a ball inside, partly to conserve warmth, but also because for the first time feeling truly frightened. Facing other snipers, Gatling guns and rockets didn’t scare him; this did. He wasn’t in control; his body was betraying him.

Somewhere along the way he either passed out or fell asleep. When he opened his eyes, it was dark; he didn’t bother to look at his watch, not wanting to move from the curled-up position. The shivering had stopped, a good sign. But in the darkness and loneliness it was impossible to fend off the dread at what he might find when he eventually inspected his feet – blotches of mottled dead skin that would painfully slough off, the beginnings of puss-filled blisters that could become infected and turn into gangrene.

Despondence circled his psyche, like vultures smelling death. He closed his eyes again with the thought that his seventh day – except was it already his eighth day, he wasn’t exactly sure – might be his last.

***

Why do I feel so good? It’s so pleasant. Ah…I must be slipping into the soothing death sleep of freezing.

He laid there for many minutes, waiting for the final comforting drowsiness to overtake him; but it didn’t.

After a while he opened his eyes to discover it was only the regular old sun warming him. One of the infrequent, but not entirely unusual summer “heat waves” here in the mountains, the temperature felt to be in the balmy upper forties. He was still alive! Down perhaps, but not out. He felt like he deserved a small gift to himself for having survived.

Most field snipers carry personal items to reward themselves when they need it; for some it’s a half-pint of whiskey they occasionally sip from; for others it’s a chocolate bar they can break a piece off and let melt in their mouth; for Wade Meese it was a six-ounce squeeze tube of smooth peanut butter.

Freeing up an arm and shoulder from the sleeping bag, he fished the tube from a side pocket on the backpack and squeezed a couple of tablespoons onto his tongue, letting its savory goodness slowly dissolve there.

It lifted his spirits, enough so he screwed up the courage to peel down the sleeping bag, pull of his socks and check his feet. It was not as bad as his imagination – his nightmare? – had anticipated. The skin was red and blotchy and sensitive to the touch, but no grayness yet, and no blisters.

Good, it meant he was ahead of the game.

Meese had always taken care of his feet but took extra care today. He started by rubbing them all over with a lubricating ointment, then pulling on a fresh pair of thin, sweat wicking socks, followed by a final pair of thick wool insulting socks.

He knew there were maybe five miles of mountain path left – hopefully not too difficult – then another five miles descending into the wide Lake Zorkul valley – the easy part. If he could cover those first five miles today, his eighth day, then the descent into the valley tomorrow, he could be picked-up on the morning of the tenth day, Saturday. It was workable, although he would need to stretch his remaining supplies a bit to cover those two-and-a-half days.

He made good time, despite twice during the day feeling hot spots on his feet, the early warning of a blister forming, and taking the time to remove his boots and socks and cover the spot with a small strip of duct tape to prevent more abrasion.

Late in the afternoon, as he moved east, there were even tantalizing glimpses of the grassy lake valley ahead, a welcome relief from the barren mountains he’d spent the last week traversing.

It was six o’clock when he guessed he was only a mile from the rim of the valley, a good time to eat, find a place to hide for the night and head down to the lake in the morning. But the mountain, in its perversity, said him, “Sorry, Natty Bumpo, but I’m not gonna let it be that easy for you.”

He heard several gunshots in the distance.

Next: Old enemies can be new friends when riches are involved

© 2019 Dave Lager

Through the mirror

“Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living; the writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.”

Catherine Drinker Bowen (1897-1973) – Biographer

And each creative – poet, novelist, artist, composer – sees what’s in that mirror differently.

Sniper’s Day: Chapter 12

12

Glacial Lake

Monday, July 11, through Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The path again climbed steadily, although there were relatively few switchbacks, and by early afternoon he’d covered three miles and was thinking with any luck it could be seven or eight today and make-up for yesterday’s lost time; that’s when he heard the helicopter. But it was faint, far off. It seemed to be coming straight from the east, so it was a probably a Russian patrol from the base at the other end of Lake Zorkul. While sure they didn’t know he was there, being dead and all, at the same time he couldn’t chance being detected by radar or infrared.

They were probably aware of the group of backpackers, who had no reason to be secretive, but a lone man suddenly appearing out of nowhere here in this wilderness would need to be checked-out. So, he scrambled a quarter mile up the side of the mountain, hid in the rocks, and waited.

Apparently, the sound of the helicopter had been amplified by the mountain terrain because it took almost an hour for it to over-fly his position; it was a Russian Hind. He waited another half-hour after it passed, for the thwap-thwap of its blades to be completely gone and be reassured they weren’t circling back, then scrambled back down to the trail. Unfortunately, the lost time meant only covering five miles on day five.

Three days of supplies left and twenty miles to go – still doable, he thought with mental fingers crossed.

Tuesday was a piece of cake, more or less. The path was not difficult and by sunset he had gone seven miles – so far so good…

He’d been moving through Tajikistan’s Alichur mountain range and was sure each of the individual mountains must have its own name, although he didn’t know what they were. Except as Wednesday, the seventh day, unfolded, he was now pretty sure whatever the name was in Tajik, it had to translate as “bad luck” for him.

He’d been warned about needing to skirt a lake at the base of a glacier on the mountain’s southeast flank, what the analysts back and Bagram had estimated was “only” three miles around. Except, either they didn’t know or hadn’t thought to say those three miles were along a broad “shoreline” composed of boulders the size of bowling balls worn round and smooth by the glacier – it was the nightmare converse of a powder-fine Florida beach.

The footing was literally impossible. No matter where he tried to put a foot, it either slid off a rock, risking a twisted ankle, or teetered precariously, with the constant danger of falling and breaking a rib, or his skull. He wished now he’d asked them to include a collapsible hiking pole in the supply drop, it would have helped immensely. With each step it was necessary to pause and make sure the footing was secure and his balance under control before then taking the next step. The going was arduous and maddeningly slow, to say nothing of tiring.

It took him most of the morning to reach the end of the glacial lake, where things turned really challenging: He needed to cross its wide and shallow outflow.

“Oh, shit,” the only expression of frustration he allowed himself surveying the seventy-yard-wide series of braided, boulder-strewn rushing rivulets blocking his way: There were a half-dozen, varying from only a few feet to a dozen yards across and from ankle to in some spots knee-deep. After two years of working in the forbidding wilds of the Afghani mountain regions, this was just another interesting challenge needing to be overcome…or at least it’s what he tried to tell himself.

But he did spend nearly twenty minutes considering exactly how to execute the only viable plan he could think of. While the inch-deep sections could be crossed with relative ease, the ankle and knee-deep parts were the problem; it was unthinkable for his boots to become filled with ice cold water.

If it had been possible to build a fire to dry them out once on the other side, it might have been worth the risk. But way up here there was no wood, let alone tufts of scraggly grass to make a fire. The small propane stove, which wasn’t designed for drying boots anyway, had been left behind at the ambush site. And trying to hike any distance with sodden boots in the cold was a sure path to frozen feet; a death sentence. So, instead he chose the only slightly less risky option, severe frostbite by wading across the outflow barefoot.

He carefully removed the boots and two layers of socks and pulled off his pants. The pants were rolled up and secured below a flap of the backpack, the socks went into the boots, which were then tied together and hung around his neck.

This was July, high summer in the Hindu Kush, with the air temperature in the thirties, chilly on his naked lower half, but bearable. However, the glacier-fed water coursing past him as he stepped into the first stream was also in the thirties, not so bearable.

Holding his arms out, tightrope walker-style, he waded in, his breath leaving him in a rush as the frigid water swirled around bare skin, sucking the warmth from his body like a vacuum cleaner.

Next: Despondence circled his psyche, like vultures smelling death

© 2019 Dave Lager

A wonderful way of life

“Imaginative writing is a wonderful way of life, and no man who can live by it should ask for more.”

Herman Wouk (1915-2019), quoted in Mr. Wouk’s obituary, “Herman Wouk, Perennially Best-Selling Author, Dies at 103,” published May 17, 2019, in the New York Times

Sniper’s Day: Chapter 11

11

Backpackers

Thursday, July 7, through Monday, July 11, 2005

The supply-drop soon after dawn worked like they’d planned…mostly. The initial release was from high over Afghani territory, then, by riding southerly winds and using the drop package’s remote-controlled guidance fins, it was sent into Tajikistan toward his position. But like a golfer whose slightly too strong iron shot is online with the hole, but overshoots the flag, Meese’s package landed against the side of the mountain a couple hundred feet above his head, then started sliding down. But the mountain was smiling on him as the still attached chute dragged on the rocks and slowed its descent, so it came to rest on the ledge only a few feet away.

It took the better part of two hours to unpack the supplies and empty his backpack, then, like a minimalist hiker, sort through everything and ruthlessly jettison lots of gear non- essential for survival. The resulting load was close to sixty pounds but would diminish steadily as he consumed his food supplies. The discarded gear, the drop package and parachute were piled next to the mountainside and covered with rocks.

He scrambled across the wide rockslide covering the trail below his former hide at around ten o’clock. He’d been right, although treacherous, it was passable by a man, even one carrying a heavy pack.

Irwin had advised him to stay on the trail for a couple of miles past its turn to the north, then to follow a crevice angling up to the right. At the top of the crevice Meese would find a narrow footpath going east along the north shoulder of the first mountain… He made it sound easy.

Thursday, day one, was… He made fast time along the trail, arriving at the crevice in late afternoon; except the ascent up the crack was steeper than expected and he didn’t reach the foot path until almost sundown. But by the end of the day he’d covered twelve miles into the forty-five-mile trek – a good start.

The second day, Friday, was also relatively easy. The footpath wandered here and there, to say nothing of up and down, skirting around obstacles like canyons or rock outcroppings, but he again made good time, covering another six miles by sundown.

The only sign of human beings, other than those who had made the path over the centuries, was the contrail of a high-level jet moving northeast to southwest. There were no commercial jet routes he knew of over this remote part of the world, and the long contrail meant the plane was well above the height at which commercial jets usually fly. It had to be a spy bird, but whose, ours or theirs? To be safe, Meese hunkered down among some rocks for nearly an hour until it passed.

Saturday, day three, was when things started to, uh, become difficult… The footpath began to climb – not technical climbing, like with ropes and pitons – but steep switchback after switchback, ascending to a pass taking him around to the south shoulder of the next mountain. He found the combination of the severe angle of the climb, the still heavy pack and the thin oxygen – he was, after all, well above thirteen-thousand feet – punishing and had to take frequent rest breaks. He crested the pass in the late afternoon.

Although tempted to push on, he knew he was tired and not paying attention, a risky combination on the side of an unfamiliar mountain, so took the time to eat an MRE and rest for the night. While he’d probably hiked more than five miles and climbed a couple of thousand vertical feet, as the crow flies, he’d only actually covered a little over two miles. But he was close to the half-way mark to Lake Zorkul and still had five days to go…piece of cake.

Perhaps this new mountain wasn’t so friendly, though, because on Sunday morning he’d covered not even a mile when there were voices and laughter; young voices, casual and relaxed, definitely not soldiers or smugglers trying to be furtive.

He climbed up among the rocks and found a clear view of what was ahead; six young twenty-somethings, four guys and two girls, had set-up four colorful tents in a small clearing alongside the footpath. They were all speaking English, but with a variety of accents – a couple of Americans, a German and Swedes or Norwegians were identifiable. They were gathered in a loose circle around a pair of small stoves making breakfast.

Jesus Christ, backpackers. Where the hell do they think they are, on the Appalachian Trail? This is the middle of a fucking war zone, Meese thought, miffed and frustrated.

Except he understood as far as these young adventurers were concerned, “the war” was hundreds of miles to the west, somewhere over in Afghanistan. Listening to their conversation, he learned they were on a summer break from school; they had started at the Lake Zorkul Nature Preserve four days ago and were headed west but planned to lay-up where they were for the day, continuing tomorrow morning.

Shit! I gotta find a way around.

Except there wasn’t one. The clearing where they had camped was surrounded on three sides by a steep rock face that, while negotiable, meant he would be completely visible to the hikers. He thought about just walking up to the camp, introducing himself and passing through, but he was carrying a gun and wearing clearly military gear. Stealth and evasion…

So, he found a slightly better hide a half-mile back along the path and hunkered down to wait for them to pass, the fourth day a complete loss.

But they’d made it here in four days from the lake, he told himself, so the eight-day goal was still doable. Calling in his progress, he didn’t tell Irwin about the hikers, a little afraid the spook might just order him to go shoot ‘em and move on.

At least the group was true to their word; they were up at dawn on Monday and had packed-up and were on their way in less than half an hour. He waited another thirty minutes for them to pass before leaving the hide and starting east; his fifth day.

Next: The nightmare converse of a powder-fine Florida beach

© 2019 Dave Lager

Guilty, although – I’d like to think – less so as I get older

“The one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one’s work seriously and taking one’s self seriously. The first is imperative and the second is disastrous.”

Dame Margot Fonteyn (1919-1991) – British ballerina

While she was talking about her dance field, her insight is surely valid for us in the wordsmithing world as well.

Sniper’s Day: Chapter 10

10

A Walk in The Park

Thursday, July 7, 2005

“What’s the condition of the trail?” Irwin asked when he finally called Meese at nearly four o’clock the following afternoon, back to his usual let’s-get-down-to-business persona. “Is it passable?”

Meese had not been bothered by the delay in the call. While developing an ex-fil plan was complicated, he didn’t yet know how problematic it had become.

“Quick and dirty, it’s impassable for donkeys – tricky, but workable for people.”

“Are the donkey’s still on site?”

“No, they’ve wandered off.”

“Damn, I was gonna have you check their packs, see what was really in them.”

When Meese explained what he’d found, or more accurately hadn’t found, Irwin said, “Okay, it fits with what we’re hearing…and seeing. Obviously, we’re not sure now how much we can trust our humint” – human intelligence (snitches) – “as they clearly fed us phony info to lure you into a trap.” He paused, as if thinking of what to say next. “But, that said, it’s beginning to look like you may have been only one piece in a bigger puzzle.”

Meese waited. Like Irwin, he wasn’t one for chit-chat; but his curiosity was piqued.

“Ordinarily, our first option would be a quick in-and-out helicopter snatch, but that might be too risky, at least for a while. The problem is, Natty, we don’t know where the Russians are on this. That they used their own helicopters, and quite likely their own troops to take you out was a big complication in our regional geo-politics, if you’ll forgive the intelligence-speak.”

Meese knew exactly what he meant. For centuries in this part of the world there had been often conflicting family loyalties, tribal loyalties, religious loyalties and national loyalties, any one of which could be shifted, even if only on a temporary basis, by the exchange of enough money.

Irwin continued: “Were they only local corrupt soldiers on a rogue mission? Or, at the other extreme, is this some sort of new alliance between old enemies against the American invaders?”

He paused, as if waiting for a response from Meese, who finally said, “Understood.”

“What we’re hearing is the shipment of raw opium wasn’t a subterfuge to flush you out, it is real, and they still want to move it, the Taliban needs the cash. Which fits with what we’re seeing on aerial surveillance; a large contingent of at least sixty human bearers – no donkeys this time – all carrying heavy packs are moving in your direction from the western end of the trail, accompanied by at least two dozen well-armed escorts.

“And here’s the kicker: Russian helicopters are providing air cover, making once a day or every other day patrols ahead of the trail the group is moving on.

“What this tells us is the smugglers are quite serious about getting the raw opium to their buyers in Russia, which means they’ll be on constant lookout for you or someone like you” – Meese had never been told whether there were other clandestine snipers, but had heard rumors – “and so would not be pleased to find a U.S. helicopter poking it’s nose where it’s not supposed to be… We don’t want another ‘Black Hawk down’.”

All U.S. military personnel, but especially special operations types like Irwin and Meese, feared a repeat of the 1993 incident in Mogadishu, Somalia, in which two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters were brought down by RPGs – rocket propelled grenades – and the ensuing rescue operation turned into a total shitstorm.

“So, we’re sending you east,” Irwin said, finally getting to the bottom line.

Meese nodded to himself, understanding. It was the only option they had; go where the enemy least expected. But – and this was a big “but” – having studied hundreds of aerial photos and topo maps of the Panhandle region, he knew what the geography was like in that direction.

“You want me to go to Lake Zorkul,” Meese said. It had not been a question. He could almost see the slight smile on Irwin’s face acknowledging he’d guessed right.

One of the great ironies of this war-torn region was that Lake Zorkul, which straddled the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, was the centerpiece of a giant Tajik nature preserve – roughly the equivalent of an American national park – popular with hikers and bird watchers.

“They won’t be looking for you to go east,” Irwin said, essentially summarizing the rationale behind the plan. For the next several minutes he outlined the details…

Meese was to stay put for one more night. In the morning they would drop supplies to him using a high altitude, low opening guided parasail chute. As the terrain became progressively more rugged further east, there weren’t any better LZs – landing zones – for a resupply.

He was to make his way east along the trail until it turned northeast, then leave it and travel overland, or more precisely, over-mountain – they would help guide him as best they could with aerial surveillance – to the western end of Lake Zorkul. There a helicopter would land on the Afghani side and send a Zodiac across the narrow end to retrieve him.

“We think it’ll take you eight or nine days to get there,” Irwin said.

Lake Zorkul was forty-five miles to his east. If he was going to make the eight-day goal – the number was in large part determined by how much supplies he could reasonably carry – it meant he had to average nearly six miles a day. The first ten miles would be the easy part, following the ancient Silk Road trail until it took the sharp left turn to the northeast heading further into Tajikistan. The reason the trail made such a bend was to avoid a pair of sixteen-thousand-foot mountains and a glacier blocking its, and his proposed path.

Although not usually given to levity, Meese couldn’t help himself, “Sounds like a walk in the park, sir.”

Irwin grunted. Both knew what a colossal understatement that was.

Next: Backpackers in the middle of a war zone

© 2019 Dave Lager

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