Chapter 5 Summary

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Brian awakens in the midafternoon with an unbelievable thirst. He looks down at the lake and sees water aplenty there, but he is not sure if it is safe to drink. Brian thinks of the pilot, strapped down in the plane at the bottom of the lake, and is momentarily repulsed. But when he cannot think of another place from which to get water, he goes down to the lake and drinks.

Although Brian had intended to allow himself only a sip or two of the life-restoring liquid, once he feels the water trickle past his parched lips and tongue, he cannot stop. He drinks until his stomach is swollen, then he staggers back up the bank and is immediately sick. Even though he throws up most of the water he has taken, Brian finds that his thirst is gone and that, for the first time since the crash, he can think clearly. Taking in his surroundings, he considers his situation, diligently trying to maintain a sense of calm and to think about one thing at a time.

Breaking things down in his mind to an elemental level that he can handle, Brian says to himself:

My name is Brian Robeson...and I am alone in the north woods of Canada.

Seized with a momentary sense of optimism, Brian reflects that although no one knows exactly where he is, when his parents discover he is missing, they will certainly arrange to have search parties look for him. Brian knows from news reports and movies he has seen about lost planes, that pilots routinely file flight plans detailing their projected route before they set out on any journey. It should be only a matter of time before rescuers will find him; perhaps they will even come today! Something about his reasoning bothers Brian, however, although he cannot quite put his finger on what it is. In the meantime, he becomes aware of another pressing need—he is hungry, filled with an emptiness that roars within him with an urgency that will not long be denied.

Brian has never before had to worry about having enough to eat, but looking around he sees nothing in his immediate surroundings that might serve to ease his hunger. Initially discouraged, he remembers his English teacher,

a guy named Perpich, who was always talking about...thinking positive, staying on top of things.

Brian decides to take stock of what he has, and he empties his pockets. He finds that he has some small change, a nail clipper, and a billfold with a useless twenty-dollar bill in it. In addition, he still has the hatchet that his mother had given him on his belt as well as the pair of good tennis shoes he is wearing, his clothing, and his tattered windbreaker. He also has a digital watch, which is broken; all in all, he does not have much with which to survive by himself in the wilderness.

Brian then remembers one other important thing that he has. He recalls Perpich emphasizing to his students:

You are your most valuable asset....You are the best thing that you have.

Taking the initiative, Brian turns his thoughts back to the problem of finding something to eat. It is then that a realization suddenly comes to him, the reason why the idea of rescuers discovering him quickly had somehow bothered him. He recalls that when the pilot had been in his death throes, he had jerked the plane to the side, and although Brian had been able to steady it, the aircraft had undoubtedly embarked on a new course from then on. The plane had flown for many hours after that before running out of gas, and by the time it had crashed, it could have been “several hundred miles off to the side of the recorded flight plan.” Fear begins to overtake Brian as he understands that he might not be found for a very long time, but he fights hard to stay positive. Accepting that “right now I’m all I’ve got,” he resolves to do what he can to help himself in the interim.

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