Door County Writes: ‘Eight Young Men’

Writing prompt: Tell a story about a time when you were very cold. Help your readers picture exactly where you were and what you were doing. You’re allowed to use the word “cold” only twice!

by Jim Nitz

Eight young men from the juvenile prison had qualified for early release if they completed our 30-day wilderness adventure training. Their last challenge: two nights in the backcountry of Lincoln County forest, just northwest of Merrill, Wisconsin. It was my first winter as director, and I had scouted a route through this rolling countryside of spruce, pine and aspen. The forecast said sunny, brisk middays in the teens, with bitter nights below -10.

Everyone took turns cutting trails through powdery snow, some still learning and others flying along naturally. I had to keep up with two “renegades” while my staff stayed with the group.

I raced to keep them in sight. When they headed off course, I surged to catch them. Later, we skied into camp, and everyone slid into action as planned: setting up tents and double sleeping bags on pads, building a fire that would be watched all night. 

Hypothermia was a dangerous side effect of skiing hard, sweating, then having temperatures drop as fast as the sun. Cold hit me like a vortex. I became disoriented, walked unsteadily and slurred my words. The young man next to me saw my distress and lit into action, energizing others to attend to me. Into my tent and sleeping bag. Heat water for drinks, hot-water bottles and soup. 

Two hours later, revived, I rose to walk to the fire circle. Proud of all eight young men. The cold wilderness no longer in control.

A wilderness lover, lucky grandpa, retired corporate trainer and career consultant with a growing passion for writing, Jim Nitz has been visiting Door County for more than 40 years, enjoying the beauty from Rock Island to Cave Point. He is a lifetime member of the Friends of The Clearing Folk School and a member of Write On, Door County.

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