Although John Howard’s team got caught more times, my team (Carlson, Carter, and Caskey) still had the misfortune of being caught twice, taken back to the beginning the first time to do the trek over; and forced to handwash trucks from a beaver pond the second time. The first capture was about a day into the trek. When we were spotted from a ridgeline by an aggressor, we bolted straight down a creek bed. Dennis Carter did the right thing and split off to the right on a trajectory away from us. I panicked and stuck close to Bill Caskey. Bill tried to shake me off and kept yelling over his shoulder, “Carlson, get away from me!” By the time I realized I should’ve been running in another direction, it was all over. When Caskey and I were taken back to where we were first spotted, Carter was there doing pushups with his backpack and gear still on his back under the direction of the aggressor who caught him. Bill and I were made to do the same thing. When we were done, the aggressors made Bill eat all his cornflake and pemmican bars. He came close to puking. I don’t know why he was singled out. After we were released, Dennis and I split the rest of our rations with him.
The second capture was one bright sunny morning, the second day I think, smack atop a ridgeline (rather than the military crest, two-thirds of the way up, where we were supposed to be). We slept past sunrise, snoozing in our sleeping bags. We woke up suddenly when the shadows of a band of aggressors loomed over us. One had this expression, like, “What are you guys THINKING?” since we were out in the open, no trees, no cover. We’d staked out on a huge bare patch late the night before, and I guess we were just too tired and hungry. We quickly packed up our gear as we followed our captors down a jeep trail. It was strangely calm, no shouting, no shooting of blanks from M1s – just a few bird sounds. It was actually a beautiful morning otherwise. I guess at that point, it would’ve been pointless for them to take us back to the beginning, again – so we washed the supply trucks, were given a stern lecture heavy with veiled threat, felt stupid, and then sent off to try and make the final checkpoint south of us.
By our calculations, we were so far behind, we figured it would take a miracle to get us to finish on time. I don’t know if it was true, but we had this idea that if we didn’t’ make the last checkpoint on schedule, we’d have to re-do the trek! From that moment one, we traveled without sleep all the next night and the next day, traveling southeast on an angle (hoping it would take us out of aggressor territory), then turning back southwest to the final checkpoint. Not very imaginative or evasive. We somehow made it, in blistering time, thanks to Caskey’s lead and Carter’s amazing map reading. I carried the pemmican and cornflake bars that I managed to eat only a little of and fed those great trek partners of mine. At some period during that last 30 hours, we took part in a great, massive conglomeration of foolhardy survival teams marching down the middle of a well-used jeep trail (by the aggressors to re-supply their base camps) under a barely cloud-covered full moon. Every time a set of headlights came around a bend, we’d scramble to either side of the trail, like cockroaches when the kitchen lights come on, to hide in any shallow depression and hope the jeeps kept going. Somehow, none of us were discovered for that hour or so that the strange ghostly parade of travel teams tramped on that road.