Monday, July 10, 2017

Footprints of a Legend (An excerpt) by Russell Victor Acord


"Footprints of a Legend" is one of a series of three stories involving an unwilling captive who is submerged into the wild and secretive world of the legendary bigfoot. Many mysteries of their existence are revealed throughout the pages mixed with heart pounding suspense that will make even the biggest skeptic question his own doubt. This novel is filled with landmarks, facts, laughter, tears and white knuckle action that will take you deep into the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana. In my heart I believe that many mysteries of the great wilderness have only been revealed but to a select few, who share their experiences in the face of skepticism. From all that I have seen for myself; heard from others and have blind faith in; this is my story for your enjoyment. This could very well be a true story!

The following excerpt is from the book "Footprints of a Legend" by Russell Victor Acord.

I grew up as a great wilderness enthusiast and big game hunter in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana. At an early age, I understood that the wilderness needs to be respected as well as protected due to the rough terrain and fragile life within. As a young boy my father would take me into the high country through rockslides and heavily wooded areas where he would point out different tracks of the wildlife that inhabited the beautiful landscape. Each day provided a new lesson in outdoor survival. Fishing trips and camping in the never ending beauty had grown to be my favorite pastime. Little did I know that the lessons I learned in those backcountry wilderness trips, was an education for my survival in the future. It was here in the Bitterroot Mountain Range of Montana, high up on Kootenai Mountain, where the following journey begins.

I was 33 years old with seven years of military service in the US Army behind me. I was feeling the need to get out and reunite myself with my childhood. I wanted some high-altitude exercise, and a little reflection with time to drink up the plentiful supply of the pure fresh mountain air. Over the past several years I had seen my share of the military "action" and desperately needed some time alone in the wild for a bit of self healing and a lot less background noise. Nothing in my military career or my experience with the wilderness could have prepared me for the mysterious and wild events that lie ahead.

It was mid August of 2007 and the wide-spread smoke from the distant forest fires had the Bitterroot Valley looking hazed and appearing overcast. There had been no rain to speak of and summer was clearly going to continue its pattern of warm nights and hot, dry days.

A few years ago my parents sold our old farmhouse on the eastside highway in Florence and moved to some acreage in Helena, Montana. Trying to keep up with the livestock and ranch in Florence was too much for my parents without help. So I wouldn't be able to drop in unannounced and stay with them like I had in the past. I felt a little cheated as Mom always made the best breakfast in town and the familiar shuffling of Dad's morning newspaper was something that I had missed over the years. I checked in at a local hotel in Stevensville instead, just minutes away from the Kootenai Mountain trailhead. I prepared my backpack for a five or six day trip into the steep, rugged mountains and felt my anticipation grow. I was excited to get out, explore my old stomping grounds and fish the fresh backcountry streams for some rainbow trout. I knew I could make a fishing pole out of available branches or saplings so I stopped by the old convenience store in Florence and picked out a few fishing flies that were sure to catch the Moby Dick of the high country. I put three flies inside my wallet and hooked three more on the rim of my tattered baseball cap. I bought a disposable camera, beef jerky and picked out a couple of cheap lighters for campfires made easy. I laughed to myself as I thought of my military training on how to make fire without the benefit of matches or lighters. Boy was I going to be spoiled on this trip! I picked up a small spool of fishing line to complete my fishing supplies for the trip and headed south on highway 93 towards Stevensville.

I woke up around four-thirty in the morning and reviewed the list of necessary items needed for the trip and finished tightening up my backpack. After a half cup of awful tasting instant hotel coffee, I pulled on my good old trusty handcrafted Whites boots and headed for the truck. I backed out of the parking lot and looked up at the majestic Kootenai Mountain. I felt a great sense of calmness as I took in the view and contours of the beautiful Bitterroot Mountain Range. The hint of the red sunrise offered a nice backdrop for the jagged edges of the cliffs and mountain as it erupted skyward into the fading stars. Before I drove too far, I called Dad on the cell phone to give him a heads up on what I was up to.

"Howdy Son," Dad said.

"Hey mister, how goes it?" I asked.

"Oh, you know how it is, heading out to feed the horses and irritate the dog. What are you doing up this early?"

"I'm in the Bitterroot Valley heading up to Kootenai for a week or so and see if our old stomping grounds have changed any. When was the last time you were up there?" I inquired.

"Well, I guess last year Jeff and I went elk hunting up on the summit. Don't you worry son, it hasn't changed much and it's all still tough and still beautiful," Dad replied.

Jeff was dad's favorite hunting buddy; the two always seemed to find a tougher climb and more challenging terrain to conquer every year. He had enjoyed Jeff's company and the two would constantly find some kind of trouble in the woods together, claiming that trouble had found them. Growing up in the Bitterroot Valley, Jeff seemed to be a natural part of the scenery. He was the picture perfect mountain man with great stories of adventure from deep within the backcountry. He struck me as one of those guys who had been born a hundred years too late, missing his calling as a mountain fur trader. There was always a gleam in his eye when he told stories of a new cliff or basin full of wildlife that he discovered in the wild mountainous country. He would always begin his adventure stories with:

And there I was, smoking gun in each hand, both chambers empty and out of bullets with my back against the wall, lying there in the dirt in front of me was a dead, riddled full of holes . . . tin can. 

I guess since I was out seeing the rest of the world, dad and Jeff kept this neck of the woods under close observation. Jeff's broad smile matched his broad shoulders and thick black hair, I never saw the man without feeling a touch of envy for all the time he spent in the woods and the carefree spirit that surrounded him. 

"Well," I said, "I'm going to follow the creek up the main trail for a couple of miles, break away to the right and set up a dry camp on the backside of the summit where we used to stay." 

"Sounds like a good time but be careful with the fire because you know how quickly conditions can change," Dad advised. "Give me a call when you get back down and we'll grab a bite to eat at Ruby's Café in Missoula. I'll even pay for it this time." 

"Sounds great, I'll give you a call you in about a week. Love you Dad," I said. 

"Love you too, Son," Dad hung up.

The morning air was cool, but you could tell it would be warm soon. I needed to hit the trail early and begin my climb while there was still some shade left in the canyon. Once I left the trail I would be on that east side with the hot sun. After parking my truck and hiding my keys on the truck body, I took a short pause at the trailhead to take in the clean air before heading up the steep Kootenai trail towards higher ground. The rushing water on the left side of the trail was loud and comforting as I began my morning hike with the jagged cliffs looming above to my right. What a great feeling after being away for so long. Dad was right, it felt new to me but everything was still familiar and very much the same. After about forty-five minutes, I came to a wide area where I could step off the main trail and begin my tough climb up the mountainside to the right. The sound of the rushing water had faded away as I came up the trail and separated from the stream down in the bottom of the canyon. The climb up the side of the mountain was much steeper and a little slower going. After a couple hours of hard climbing I turned away from the mountain and looked back down through the canyon and out across the hazy Bitterroot Valley. I felt pride as the beauty of the steep mountain fell away into the vast range of the peaceful valley below. Wow, this truly was God's country! The valley far below looked like a velvet blanket of green tones as they rolled gently into the dark trees that covered the more aggressive terrain of the mountains that blocked out the breathtaking blue skyline.

When I turned back up the hill, three mule deer headed away from me on the next ridge with their oversized ears perked, and their hard hooves crunching the steep, rocky ground. I hadn't seen any wildlife in so long. The sighting was familiar but exciting to see deer in their natural element again. I watched in awe as they moved effortlessly through the difficult terrain and disappeared quickly over the hilltop. As I caught my breath and continued up the incline, it occurred to me that it would be great to have had my father here with me. He climbed these mountains like a Billy goat and always made me feel as if I were holding him up. Dad would stop and wait for me on the trail ahead with that big confident smile of his. He was conditioned for this kind of climbing and could cover a tremendous amount of territory during hunting season. If anything would have made this trip any better, it would have been having him here with me. I sure missed his company.
As I reached the summit, the wind picked up and the air turned cooler. The view below was hazy, but still amazing. On one side was the beautiful Bitterroot Valley and on the other was the wild and wonderful Bitterroot Mountain ranges reaching far off into Idaho. This is just what I needed... rugged wild country with no cell phones, traffic, interruptions or deadlines. I was finally alone, surrounded by nothing but beauty and open space with free time to absorb as much fresh air as possible over the next few days. I dropped over the ridgeline, a few hundred feet from view of the Bitterroot Valley and looked over the heavily wooded mountainside beyond. I continued along below the ridge looking for place to set up camp. Within a half hour I found the perfect flat spot below a small rockslide. Nestled within a cluster of smaller trees and shrubs was a nice big pine for support and protection from the breeze. I had a grand view of the backside of Kootenai Mountain and the vast rugged range towards Idaho that seemed to go on forever in front of me. 

I tied off my five foot by eight foot tarp, broke off several green pine boughs, and made a nice comfortable bed to sleep the night away. I tossed my rolled sleeping bag on top. I dug through my backpack and picked out some dried mangos and beef jerky. There was a breeze blowing so I decided not to build a fire tonight. The temperature was plenty warm enough anyway. Drinking water from my canteen, I tried to take in the whole scene—the trees, cliffs, mountains, wildlife and the sweet presence of nature all around me. I was away from all the hustle and bustle of civilization. This is what I would call "living it up." It was starting to get late, and I wasn't surprised at how tired I was from the day's challenging climb. I rested my backpack against the tree as a pillow and prepared to lay out my lightweight sleeping bag.

Kneeling down to unlace my boots, I heard what sounded like two rocks scraping together, as if something was crossing over the rockslide area above my camp. I figured it was another mule deer but I didn't want to miss out on seeing more wildlife so I had to take a peek. I sneaked around the big pine tree and dropped down so I could keep a little cover between myself and the rocks above. Once I was about fifty feet away, I headed back up the trail retracing my earlier steps and approached the opening. From this vantage point I had a full view of the rocky area above my camp. Suddenly I was engulfed by a terrible stench! It was like I had walked into a cloud of skunk spray, only this was much worse. I had never smelled anything like this in my life. Could it be a bear had been eating something rotten? Or maybe there was a gut pile from something left behind? It smelled of a wet dog that had just vomited up rancid meat it had just eaten, only much more potent. (I knew that smell compliments of my old Golden Labrador during hunting season). 

Just as quickly as it came, the obvious odor was gone, and from what I could tell there was nothing to see in the opening. Not even the pesky chattering squirrel that had scolded me earlier as I passed by. In fact, there was no movement at all. There wasn't even the background sound of chirping birds, chipmunks or even the wind. I felt the hair on the back of my neck start to rise. 

"Oh I don't like this feeling at all", I whispered out loud. 

Was there a bear, mountain lion, or possibly even a wolf hanging around? I knew there was an occasional bear in these areas and periodically wolves will also hunt this mountain range. I knew I had better stay alert and keep the old .45 pistol close. Heading back towards camp, I kept my left hand on my pistol for comfort. I felt like a wide eyed owl looking for anything that might be out of place. I knew the wilderness is always full of surprises and should not be taken for granted. I had to be watchful and not become dinner for a hungry meat eater. 

Out of nowhere the terrible odor struck my nose again. The stench combined with the forest's silence had the hair on my neck tingling straight up. Something was watching me—I could feel it. 

Alright, I told myself, I'm an armed military man in the woods and have no problem using my weapon. I can handle this. I'm a big boy and I am not going to be worried about some nasty smell in the dark. 

I knew this mountain belonged to the wildlife, and I was the uninvited guest. Maybe coming out to this mountain was a bad idea. Perhaps I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Darkness was descending and the shadows were looking a little less friendly. It was time to get the flashlight ready and set myself up for a restless night. Wow! What was that nasty smell coming and going? Unfamiliar smells in the wilderness are not unusual but this odor seemed to stop the forest dead and leave a spooky silence in the air. Usually the birds and night sounds have a calming effect that helps me drift off to sleep, but tonight was stone quiet and felt completely unfriendly. The evening wind had stopped and left an unsettling heavy tension blanketing the night. The rancid smell was strong and almost nauseating with a pungent odor of unknown sweat and stench. Elk and deer have their own distinctive, unattractive smell, and even the bear doesn't smell this bad. This particular odor had me stumped! 

Everything had come to a complete stop in the forest. The overwhelming sense that something was watching me had become too evident to ignore. I wondered if I should put my pack together and move on to another camp site, or even leave this side of the summit. Heading back to the trailhead was out of the question, as there was no way I could navigate such rough terrain in the dark without serious risk. Maybe I could drop down to the cliff area and back myself into a rocky spot with only one point of entry? At least that way I could limit my approach of unwanted visitors. It would be better to close up my vulnerable sides to a smaller range. Whatever was out there wasn't going to have the advantage of coming from any direction it wanted. I decided I needed to move so I could protect myself if necessary. 

This was a good plan. Make the tactical decision by getting into a strong point and hold my position for the night. I pulled my tarp down and started wrapping it up. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flicker of movement. Was it really movement or was I starting to get myself worked up? It was dark enough now that I wasn't certain, so I kept working. I stood up and looked towards the rocky area and saw what appeared to be someone standing maybe two hundred feet away. I couldn't be sure though since the shadows were long. All the hairs on my body stood at attention and my palms began to sweat. My unease was intense! What was the big deal and why was I being so paranoid? If someone was out there maybe they don't know what to think of me either. 

"Hello?" I called out. Nothing moved. I froze and stood still, hearing only the sound of my own heartbeat in the silence. 

The smell was really powerful now. There was still no movement from the odd shape above me. Maybe it was an old tree stump that I hadn't noticed before or a dark shadow in the rocks playing tricks on me. The frozen silence and strong smell hung thick in the air. 

"Mister, you seriously need a bubble bath!" I laughed out loud. 

Hearing my words out loud seemed funny and somehow made me feel a little better. I brushed my hand across my pistol. Knowing it was close and loaded was comforting. Yet, the awful smell and the disturbing shadow still had me uneasy. I stood quietly for a moment, peering into the night, giving special attention to the odd dark shadow above my camp. I didn't want to use my light as I began putting things into my pack. I wanted my eyes to stay acclimated to the darkness. 

The light crack of a rock grinding on another broke the silence and confirmed I was not alone. I stopped moving and stood completely still with all senses on high alert. I strained my eyes and ears to get the exact location of where the noise had come. It was so close! The heavy smell was all around me, enveloping me like a second skin. My eyes pierced the darkness for any movement or indication as to what was out there. I took a step forward and moved closer to the large pine tree and slid my pistol from its holster, drawing the hammer back, and holding it low. I carefully scanned from the right to the left, until my eyes made their way back up to where the odd dark shadow was above my camp. It was gone! 

Every hair on my body was standing straight up and the saliva in my mouth vanished leaving it dry and tasteless. My pounding heart was going to erupt out of my chest, and the sound of my own breathing seemed loud and hollow as I tried to control my emotions. I was certain every creature in the wilderness could hear the adrenaline pulsing through my body on this quiet, eerie night. Every ounce of my being was caught in this terrifying moment as the seconds seemed to slow down to an agonizing pace. I cautiously shifted my weight to look back downhill, with my pistol held low in front of me. Not more than twenty feet away from me stood what looked to be a large bear standing on its hind legs. Something was very odd with the scene in front of me. In the darkness it was coming towards me on its hind legs, like a man. Quickly I raised my pistol to make sure I had the upper hand, but I was much too late. Before I realized what was happening, I was slammed with my back into the large pine tree directly behind me. The solid tree smashed into my flesh and cut deep against my back bone and ribs. The speed in which this animal covered the distance was unnatural and ferocious.
As my shoulder struck the tree, I felt the pistol jump in my hands as it fired low into the body that rammed me. The force of the blow sent the pistol spinning into the darkness. The massive size of this animal made me feel like a mere infant at its mercy. The pungent smell was sickening as I felt my stomach. heave. I felt myself falling, my body bouncing off the pine. I plunged forward and came down hard with my face on a large flat rock at the base of the tree. The shocking taste of my own blood from biting through my upper lip frightened me. I knew the smell of my blood would only encourage the aggression if this beast was a flesh eating animal. 

Without a sound, the creature was instantly on me again with superhuman strength and power, yet with the human hands of a large man. Was this a gorilla, or a man, a freak of nature escaped from a zoo? What the heck was happening to me? As the enormous hands grabbed my right arm and left thigh, I was picked up with virtually no effort and pitched to the ground with incredible force. As I landed, I remember putting out my hands to catch myself, but the force was too great and the ground
accepted me with a tremendous thud. My face hit the exposed roots of the large pine tree splitting open my cheek just under my left eye. Oh please, I thought, let me become unconscious before this thing tries to eat me! I couldn't bear the thought of hearing the sounds of my own bones being crushed by this monster. Once I hit the ground, everything was still, nothing moved. The beast was standing over me and breathing so close that I could feel the hot rancid breath on the side of my bleeding face. 

Be still, I told myself. Play dead, maybe it will lose interest and go away. 

After waiting for what seemed like an eternity the large hands wrapped themselves around my arm and thigh again, pulling me out and away from the tree. Was this where it was going to pull me apart and feed on me? Is this how it was all going to end? 

"No!" I yelled. 

Using every bit of strength I possessed I tried to break away from its rock hard grip. I may as well have been trying to lift a full sized pickup truck. The strength and size of this creature was easily a few hundred pounds heavier than me. Kicking with all my might as I tried to free myself, I was lifted high up off the ground and again thrust towards the unforgiving earth. Thankfully all went
black.

As I regained consciousness, I became aware that the earth was flying by, literally. I was rushing through the woods on the shoulders of what felt like an enormous man. My head was spinning, and I had lost a fair amount of blood as it was still flowing from my face. My body was draped over the creature’s shoulder like a rag doll, my face bouncing off of its back, and the same sickening smell penetrating my nostrils. Its back was broad and hot with sweat oozing from its surface confirming that this was not a costume but a live creature with more strength and power than I had ever encountered in my life. I thought this had to be a form of human carrying me, as nothing else walked upright and had human-like hands.

I thought about the old tales of the legendary Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, that had been told around the campfires to scare the living daylights out of children. Yeah right, Bigfoot! There's no such thing. It’s only a great imagination growing into tall tales of something that doesn't exist.

Every inch of my body ached, and I couldn't feel my legs anymore. The numbness was probably due to the lack of circulation from being carried like a toy doll. I made the mistake of trying to adjust myself or maybe even get some leverage to break away from the grip of this monster. In an
instant, the thing effortlessly hoisted me up high, and I heard the wind rush past my ears
as I came crashing back down to the earth. Darkness closed in on me again.

Through the haze between blackouts I heard the sounds of running water, rocks, gravel and even branches and brush that tugged at my clothing. Was I back on the other side of Kootenai Mountain again? Where were we going in such haste? What does this monster want with me, this beast
who kept me sedated by bouncing me off the ground like a ball? I needed it to be over so I could be free from all the pain pulsing throughout my face and battered body. As I checked in and out of consciousness, I could tell I was in a large body of water, not really swimming, but rather being carried through deep, still water and submerging my captor to its chest. I saw a hint of the morning sunrise coming in from the east and then blackness again.

You can purchase the book "Footprints of a Legend" by Russell Victor Acord here.




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