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It was just past three in the afternoon and the tour guide’s voice droned on
like a lullaby rather than an explanation of the passing scene. The forty seven
passengers were barely awake, the men anyway. They stared out the windows of the
bus at the passing miracles – each one more glorious than the one before – yet
curiously, all the same. They had been up since six-thirty this morning, eaten
heavily at lunch, (courtesy of Boomerang Tours) and the majority of them had not
had a bowel movement since they landed in Denver three days ago.
Jacki Bundy had a window seat, alert as a bird on a bough. She stared
attentively through the blue tinted window listening to the tour guide’s every
word. She held her brochure open to the page describing the vehicular tunnel
through the Going to the Sun Highway, while her husband, Gordon, sat next to her
trying vainly to digest the extra large cheeseburger and two dark lagers he had
wolfed down two hours ago. He glanced at his wife, shook his head slowly and
closed his eyes.
The tour guide decided to take a breather. He realized very few tourists were
interested in the scenery this hour of the afternoon. One mountain looked the
same as another, and it was far better to turn on the tape recorder which
explained the view outside better than he could.
Jacki Bundy was attentive however, regardless of who was talking – she had
fallen in love with Glacier National Park and she wasn’t going to miss a thing.
“Where are we?” Gordon asked.
“What do you mean, where are we? We’re in Glacier National Park. Gordon, Have
you ever seen anything so beautiful?”
“It’s a picture, that’s for sure.”
“Can you imagine what it must have been like for the pilgrims .... “
“Yes, them too, I mean when there were no roads and Indians around every bend.”
“Imagine what it must have been like for the Indians.”
Jacki chewed on that for a while, then she nodded her head as though she had
dutifully considered the effect of the pioneers on the Indians. “Jerry was
talking about that this morning, just as we were going through Logan Pass.”
“Our guide, Jerry. Jerry Ward. He was talking about Indians – the Sioux I think.
There was this chief, Spotted Tail, and the government did all it could to get
him out of this part of the country when gold was discovered.”
“I must have missed that. Asleep I guess.”
They rode in silence over the immaculately paved roads that wound their way
through the passes, cutbacks and brightly lit tunnels blasted through solid
rock. Most of the men were dozing, but the women kept watch at the windows and
occasionally a feminine voice could be heard exclaiming, “Oh look! There’s a
bear.” or “There’s a buffalo.” Every time Gordon raised his head to see, it
would turn out to be a tree stump or a unique alignment of shrubbery that in
some receptive minds might be misconstrued as a bear or a buffalo.
They burst out of the tunnel into glaring sunlight and even though Gordon’s eyes
were closed the glare of the sky at that altitude hurt his eyes. He was about to
shift in his seat when the driver called out, “Watch it! Hang on!”
There was a crash up front and the windshield broke into a network of brilliant
white, web-like lines. Jacki screamed and it seemed all the other women screamed
in harmony with her. The bus veered to the left, crossed the road and bounced to
a rough stop in a small grassy area. Jerry Ward, the guide had been riding in a
small jump seat behind the driver picked himself off the floor.
The driver’s eye were bulged out from shock when he turned to see if the
passengers were all right, and in a thin tremulous voice said, “Sorry folks, I
think we killed a buffalo ... everybody okay?”
Jacki Bundy, thinking that possibly the accident was part of the tour, expected
an explanation immediately. Her husband, however was wedged in a fetal position
on the floor between his seat and the back of the one in front of him. When he
extricated himself he looked out the window and couldn’t believe his eyes.
“Jesus,” he said. “We’re at the edge of a cliff!” The sight made him dizzy. It
wasn’t quite a cliff, but in all truth it was a precarious position at the edge
of a steep decline. The ground sloped down from the bus abruptly. He turned to
Jacki and said, “We’ve got to get the hell out of this bus!”
“My bag, the cameras ...” Jacki rummaged in the overhead but everything had
skidded up to the front of the bus. Gordon was suddenly pushing her up the aisle
... “Get out. Keep moving ... we’ve got to get out of this damn bus!”
The driver finally realized the bus was at a precarious tilt, and he, too, began
shouting for people to get off the bus. Gordon was one of the first off and he
noticed the step was nearly four feet off the ground. He and another man began
catching people as they jumped. The last man off was the driver, still bug-eyed
with confusion and fear. The bus, now lighter by thirty people began to slide
down the hill. Everyone watched it in amazement, until it stopped - held in
check by a huge boulder.
“Maybe it’ll stay there,” the driver said.
As if to prove him wrong, the bus rolled over the boulder with a grinding sound
of bending metal and the crash of breaking glass. It began to roll over and over
with increasing speed. The noise faded until it could be heard no more; Gordon
estimated it was a good 200 yards down the mountainside.
“Did everyone get out?” Gordon shouted.
The tour guide stared at him dumbly. It was obvious to Gordon that he must have
a concussion ... he seemed more helpless than the passengers. The bus driver was
alert but shaken, he had wrapped both arms around himself and was looking back
at the buffalo lying dead in the road.
“We can’t just stand here,” Gordon shouted loudly enough for everyone to hear.
“Has anyone got their cell phone with them?” He turned to Jacki ... she shook
her head ...
“It’s on the bus,” she mumbled. No one had a cell phone, they were all with the
bus at the bottom of the ravine.
“What’s going on with the sky?“ One of the men pointed to the west, black clouds
were piling up on each other and assuming the shape of an anvil. Below them,
closer to the ground, dark and ominous clouds rapidly approached them.
Gordon walked over to the guide. “What do we do now, Ward? We’re standing out
here in the road with a dead buffalo and there’s a hell of storm brewing.” Ward
was in no shape to make decisions. His two months study course at Glacier
National Park was focussed on its beauties and natural history, it never
contemplated a bus accident on a rarely travelled road. Come to think of it, he
couldn't remember anyone ever telling him that it rained here in July. Besides
his head hurt and he couldn't really concentrate on the turn of events.
Gordon gave up on Ward and walked over to the side of the road and looked down
the steep wall of the ravine. The bus could barely be seen in the upper fringe
of the treeline. It would take ropes and winches – maybe a crane to get it back
on the road. His Nikon F3 was on that bus, so were his shoes. He just noticed
that he was standing at the side of the road in his socks.
The bus could wait. What was more troubling was the approaching storm. The guide
had drifted off to sleep – probably a concussion, and the driver didn't seem to
know much about the countryside. Gordon walked over to the driver, who was
trying to revive the guide. "Do you know much about thunderstorms up here," he
"This is my first time on the Glacier route. Don't know much about thunderstorms
in the mountains – haven't seen one. I hear they can be pretty bad."
They stood together for a moment. "I can get in a lot of trouble for this," the
driver went on. "Should'a stayed with Empire."
"It's a truckin' company. 18 wheelers from San Diego to the mid-west. Six lane
roads all the way. You'd never catch a rig goin' through these parts."
"You mean we're stranded?"
"Til the next bus comes along – three hours at least. They may quit if they see
a storm brewin' – could be God knows how long."
Gordon walked away, leaving the driver standing at the edge of the road and
looking down the slope – the bus had worked its way into the trees and could no
longer be seen. Jacki was sitting on a rock talking to one of the passengers, a
woman traveling alone. They both looked up at him. "Any news," Jacki asked him.
Gordon was about to answer but a dull subterranean rumble, more felt than heard
Jacki looked at him nervously; "What was that?"
"I think it's thunder. It echoes around the mountains. Once it starts it doesn't
To the east, beyond the ridge of Logan Pass a hundred miles from them, maybe
more, lightning was striking the eastern slopes of the Rockies – they couldn't
see it, but they could hear the deep subterranean rumble of it.
"I don't see the lightning," she said.
"You will, Look at those clouds building up in the east – look at the color!"
"I've never seen clouds that color." They were a greenish black. Jet black at
the bottom and turning to green at the top. They were moving fast in their
direction. "I can see the lightning now," she said.
With the lightning came the thunder – closer this time. Along with the thunder
came black clouds blotting out the sun. A cold wind picked up and heavy beads of
hail buffeted the bedraggled passengers. There was nowhere to hide, no cover –
Gordon covered Jacki's head with arms and bent to absorb the pelting hail. It
bounced and shattered on the road as if it were glass. He caught a glimpse of
her frightened face and realized she was trying to say something, but her voice
could not be heard above the roar of the storm. He tried to keep her flat on the
ground, thinking they would be less of a target for the lightning.
When it seemed to Gordon the storm would never end, the rain and hail stopped
abruptly. While the flashes of lightning were still blindingly bright, the
thunder was less intense and seemed to be moving away. He raised his head and
looked about him for the others. They lay in huddled heaps, like bags of wet
wash in the road. He looked down at Jacki and smiled nervously, "I think – maybe
– just maybe we've weathered it, old girl."
"I'm freezing. What was that anyway?"
"I think we were inside a thunderstorm; we're lucky to be alive I guess."
Jacki raised her head and looked her. "Look," she said. "There's sunlight down
in the valley." She turned her head and looked at the passengers huddled in the
road. Some were stirring. Some were not. "Hold me, Gordon ... I'm freezing."
"Get up, Jacki. Stand up. Get moving ... get the circulation going." He helped
her to her feet. "Let's see how the others are."
They were in poor shape, and as Gordon and Jacki passed among them, the
bedraggled passengers stared up at them with blank shell-shocked eyes as though
they had been through a battle field. Worst off were the single women, huddled
alone in their fear with no one to comfort them.
“Will we get through this?” Jacki asked.
“We’ll make it, love. They must be expecting us up ahead.” He look down at her
and saw the terror in her face. “If it’s any consolation we’re too high up for
There was nothing to do but wait. One by one the passengers gathered together in
a circle, their bodies touching, trying to protect each other from the cold.
They sat with their arms around each other, touching each other for warmth. They
spoke with affection of where they came from and how pleasant life had been back
home. They spoke of their children and their children’s children. They did not
speak of the mountain or the storm or the cold – and now that it was night, they
did not speak of the hunting sounds of animals – the sounds of cat and coyote.
They did not listen.
But they heard them.
©Harry Buschman 2007
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