Authors: Sherry Shahan
Published by Yearling, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books a division of Random House, Inc., New York
Copyright © 1998 by Sherry Shahan
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Especially for Christine Peterson
intrepid and “enlightened” traveler
Cody tried opening the door of the old pickup so that it wouldn’t squeak. Darn! She should have greased the rusty hinges. Everything about the old truck was rusted and worn out. No wonder, with a constant gray mist strangling the sunshine in Southeast Alaska.
“Pssst! Derek!” she whispered through the rolled-down window. “Come on!”
Her cousin slammed the cabin door as always. He was as quiet as a bear breaking into a grocery store. How could they sneak off in a stolen truck when he was so noisy? Well, Cody thought wistfully, it wasn’t really stolen. Just on temporary loan, without permission.
Cody tossed the last duffel onto the flatbed already loaded with canvas bags holding a tent, two sleeping bags, and other camping gear. There was enough food to last a week, though they would only be gone two nights. Two nights was the amount of time both their mothers would be in Juneau picking up supplies for Yakutat Lodge and Tavern.
Two nights alone on the fjord, without any adults. They would paddle their kayaks down the steep-sided
seawater passage until their muscles ached, then scout a sandy bank and pitch their tent—the image warmed Cody’s insides. But first they had to drive to the fjord without getting caught.
“Quiet!” Cody hushed her cousin as the door on the passenger’s side creaked open. “We have to leave before someone from the lodge sees us.”
Cody’s mother managed the tavern during the summer, so Cody spent all three months with her mother in a log cabin behind the lodge. The cabin was private, although people were always coming and going and rarely knocked.
Cody’s space was a small loft upstairs, her sleeping bag spread on a foam pad. Her clothes were stacked in discarded cartons. Sometimes, since the divorce, that was how she felt. Discarded with a bold
Cody often wished she had a real bed and a dresser in Yakutat for her things, so that the loft upstairs would seem more permanent. But mostly she wished they lived in Alaska year-round. Then she wouldn’t have to think about her life on the “outside,” a term Alaskans used for any spot outside the state. Sunny California? She smiled at the irony. That was what other people called it. For three years now, any thought Cody had of the Golden State and its inhabitants—especially certain inhabitants—had been tarnished with bad memories.
Cody flicked on the windshield wipers. “I hate the way the truck rattles,” she told Derek while he tried buckling the broken seat belt. “It sounds like it’s saying
Help! I’m being stolen!”
The truck splashed through the potholes that pitted the narrow alley between the main lodge and the smaller cabins out back. Cody watched the cabins fade into the gray mist in her rearview mirror. For a moment she wondered if she’d ever see the buildings again. Then she pushed the idea from her mind.
“Can I drive?” Derek asked, raking damp hair out of his eyes. Burnt-toast-brown hair and dark eyes, just like her older brother, Patterson. Being around Derek kept her from missing Patterson so much. “When we’re out of town?” Derek was saying. “Okay?”
“When did you learn to drive?” Cody turned onto the unmarked road that twisted through an old forest that had recently been clearcut. There was nothing now but acres of pitiful stumps. “You aren’t even old enough for a permit.”
Normally Cody would have laughed at someone calling Yakutat a town, with its tiny population of 750. There wasn’t even a road to the rest of the state; the only way in and out was by boat or plane. Still, Yakutat was the only community within hundreds of miles of the fjord. A one-hangar airport and its narrow landing strip bordered the lodge parking lot. Add a grocery store, Laundromat, and post office. That was about it.
don’t have a license,” Derek pointed out.
“That’s different,” she said. “I’ve driven this truck three summers now.” In her mind she added the words
ever since the divorce
Cody sometimes drove the truck to the beach even though she didn’t have a driver’s license. It
wasn’t any big deal. The native kids started driving when they could barely see over the dashboard.
When a van pulled out from a wooded area Cody slumped in the seat. Normally she would have waved and whistled. But not with two of the lodge’s foldup kayaks in back, one of their bear horns, and a water purifer. All borrowed without permission.
The uneasy feeling in her gut told her she should have called her mother in Juneau. She should have asked to spend a couple of days camping in the fjord. Mrs. Lewis might have said okay—the laid-back Alaskan lifestyle had changed her in so many ways. Giving Cody more freedom was one of them. Still, it was Aunt Jessie’s and Derek’s first visit to the forty-ninth state, and they had only been in Yakutat ten days. Aunt Jessie would have said no loud enough to be heard back in California.
“Mom doesn’t even like it when I leave the lodge,” Derek had argued two days ago when the idea began unfolding. “She’s all freaked out about grizzly bears. And close encounters of the moose kind.”
“What would she say if she knew you hitchhiked?” Cody had asked.
“That was only one time. Besides, it was an emergency.”
“Surfing? Some emergency.”
“Waves like that don’t hit California every day,” he’d said. “And I didn’t have a ride to the beach.”
“You’ve always been too trusting, Derek.”
So the cousins had made a bet to settle the argument about asking permission. If Cody won, she’d ask
her mom about the camping trip. If Derek won, they wouldn’t ask. Cody lost. How had Derek known that a caribou was the same animal as a reindeer?
“Come on,” Derek pleaded. “You can teach me to drive.”
Cody sucked in a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves. She hated sneaking around. “Forget it.”
Only one outfitter had a wilderness permit to lead expeditions into Russell Fjord Wilderness of the Tongass National Forest. Cody had gone with their expeditions many times, as an unofficial assistant. She had helped set up tents, cook meals, break camp. “Pack it in. Pack it out.” She’d heard the rule a dozen times.
No trips were scheduled this late in the summer, she knew, so no one would see them once they were on the water. And they were planning to return home hours before the flight from Juneau landed late Sunday night with their mothers.
“Just a little way. Plee-eease?” Derek kept at her. “I won’t go fast.”
“You’re such a nag,” she said lightly. “Maybe on the way home if there’s time.”
The old truck pushed through the heavy mist to a sloppy dirt road, which twisted alongside a patch of berry vines until it dead-ended. Bears hadn’t raided this patch yet: The vines were still bright with salmonberries. No one used this narrow road except the outfitters.
Cody eased the front of the truck into the tangled vines and hid the keys under the back bumper. “Let’s start unloading,” she said, looping the arms of her rain
slicker around her waist. A pair of shorts with Velcro pockets covered her dance tights. If the sun came out, she would shed the tights. “We have a three-quarter-mile hike to the beach. It’ll take a few trips to carry all the gear.”
On the last trip to the beach Cody lost one of her knee-high rubber boots in a soupy muskeg, a swampy hole of dark decayed matter. Her boot was sucked right off her foot. “Darn. Now my only pair of socks is drenched.” Wet socks produced instant blisters. “How many socks did you pack?” she hollered back to Derek, who was behind her.
Derek was wobbling in a mudhole studded with knotted roots. There wasn’t much of a trail and his heavy pack made it difficult to balance. “None.”
“You aren’t wearing socks with your boots?” She couldn’t believe it. “Don’t you think your feet will get cold?”
Derek had figured out how to rest without taking off his pack, by leaning against a tree. “What for? We’re going camping. Not to a Christmas parade.”
Cody shook her head. “The kayaks will be on water with glacial runoff.
, get it? As in a frozen river? Ever hear of frostbite?” No one got frostbite this late in summer unless there was a freak storm. Still, she thought it sounded impressive.
Derek tried to shrug but it was impossible with the heavy pack.
“Did you bring long underwear?” She hated sounding like Aunt Jessie but this was important.
Preparation wasn’t everything in the wilderness. It was the