Ramsden Burr brought the binoculars up to his face and surveyed the jungle landscape before him. The rising sun flared up in his vision forcing him to tilt his view at  different angels in order to see past the glare. The out of focus shapes of insects fluttered through his vision, but he ignored them along with the humidity leaving droplets on the lenses. Where is it now? It should be an outcropping just north of…ah, there it is.

“We’re nearly there. Maybe another hour,” Ramsden said to the team of people strung out behind him along the path they had cut through the growth. Their sweat drenched five person team followed a small, native man named Paco through the Ecuadorian landscape. Ramsden noted how Paco seemed very relaxed and a broad smile never left the man’s tanned, wrinkled face. Paco’s natural smile was contagious and Ramsden caught himself smiling in return for no other reason.

“You rest now,” Paco said in his broken English. Some stayed standing, while others plopped down on the ground where they stood. I’d rather get this over with now, Ramsden thought. Yeah, but there’s field work and then there is trekking through a jungle and some of the team aren’t built for this.

“About time! I’m sorry, but I did my best to plan for our water needs, but had no idea the terrain would take us three days around the place. How do you know this is where you’ll find what you’re looking for?” Marion Fulke asked for the hundredth time. She didn’t trust their teams mysterious sponsor and was showing her passive aggressiveness by asking the same question again in front of everyone. But she had done exceptionally well considering her bulk and twenty years senior to most on the expedition. A Twinkie appeared in her hand as if my magic and disappeared into her mouth just as fast.

“No worries Marion. We’re lucky there are plenty of streams through this route. Nothing a good boil and some iodine drops can’t fix. To answer your question, Mr. Jainukul pointed me in this direction,” Ramsden said as he pulled out a slice of jerky from a small, zippered pocket on the side of his backpack and began eating. Marion eyed him and he smiled pleasantly back in return, while chewing with his mouth closed. She’s the team’s mother hen and she loves playing that role. I know she’s just looking out for us all.

“He creeps me out,” Silvia Benton said. The thin woman was an avid cyclist. She could always be found wearing spandex and in this exotic part of the world was no exception. She wore long sleeves and long leggings in order to minimize the insect attacks.

“Anyone not attached to a pair of pedals creeps you out,” J.J. Herber said as he winked at her. Loosening the bandana from around his neck he wiped his face. In the low light caused by the canopy of trees overhead, Ramsden could see the muscles on the man’s forearms flex across his milk chocolate skin.

“That explains why a grease monkey like you completely creeps me out. No pedals involved anywhere in that,” Silvia said with a straight face.

“What? The accelerator is also called a pedal.”

“You still creep me out.” Ramsden could never tell with her humor if she was serious or overly eccentric. As their data analyst she was so buried in statistics and data dumps Ramsden wondered if she simply didn’t know how to relate to real people. But that didn’t dissuade J.J. from trying to poke fun at her, like he did everyone else, including himself.

“You’ve been unnaturally quiet Jude,” J.J. said tossing the man a bottle of water from his overstuffed pack. The 6’6″ gangly man worked in vain to move his long hair away from his eyes and face where it seemed to have permanently matted itself as if the sweat were quick dry cement.

“This climate is ruining the equipment and my attitude. Figured I have nothing good to say, so I’m not going to say a thing. Ram, I hope this is worth it.” Ramsden didn’t take this last part as an accusation, but Jude simply stating the facts. J.J. was the eternal optimist and very agreeable but Ramsden figured that is because he the man thought he owed Ramsden his life. Silvia was just negative at times. Jude Tamarak was probably the closest to a realist there was versus a Negative Nancy who tries to justify their attitude by saying they are a realist.

“I get it Jude. Wish there was a different option. At least most of this trip will rely on J.J.’s gear and less on yours, but I needed your tech skill in case whatever it is we find we can’t take with us or we need you to work some of your magic on site.” Ramsden gave the man an apologetic smile.

“AH!” screamed Silvia as she jumped and danced away from the stop where she had been sitting a second ago. Ramsden’s hand instinctively went to the machete at his hip. Where Silvia had been sitting, Ramsden watched a colorful insect with a thousand legs and about six inches long made its way back into the undergrowth.

“Ha! That’s what you get for making fun of us grease monkeys. You okay?” J.J. asked. Paco still standing in the same spot laughed quietly to himself. Silvia shot him a disapproving look.

“I think so. God forsake critters will be the death of me. I can’t wait till I can get back to something normal like buying food from the roach coach that stops in front of the office. It seems light years safer than being here.”

“Okay folks, we should keep moving,” Ramsden said as he turned to Paco and with a nod the native man started leading through the growth.

An hour and a half later the group looked down at the outcropping that was fifty feet below where they had approached from. The side of the mountain was steep, grown over and wet from the humidity. Ramsden and J.J. looked at each other. J.J. then began to immediately unload the repelling equipment.

“Here,” Jude said as he handed Ramsden  GoPro cam. “I rigged this one so it not only records but shoots back the same images to some equipment here.”

“Water proof?” Ramsden asked.

“Absolutely. But the rest of the equipment is still going to be iffy. In order for Silvia to get clear images and start processing the data I’ll be crossing my fingers everything holds up.”

“I’m sure it will be fine. We good here J.J.?” Ramsden asked as he tested the tension the rope leading from his harness carbines to wrap around the trunk of a large tree growing near the edge of the drop off.

“Good here. We’ll go down together,” J.J. was saying as Ramsden took two large steps and jumped off the edge into open air.

I love the rush! If this were only a thousand foot drop instead of less than a hundred, thought Ramsden, as he let the rope feed freely through the carbines. When enough slack had passed through,  he gripped hard and twisted . The rope tightened and swung him back toward the face of the outcropping. Feet hit moisture, green growth. “Whoa!” Ramsden cried out as his feet slipped right out from underneath him and he hit hard with his tailbone on the rock face. The thick plants were the only things that saved him from being seriously injured.

“I was trying to tell you Tarzan we should take it slow because it’s slippery. Guess you know that now,” J.J. yelled down to Ramsden. Ramsden grunting as he turned himself around to face the rock wall and get his feet underneath himself. He signaled an “Okay” sign with one hand before twisting the rope again and continuing to rappel toward the opening he knew was near the face of the outcropping. Lowering himself down he rounded the edge of the outcropping and his feet sunk into the vegetation up to his thighs. Withdrawing the machete he began to hack at the growth, letting gravity carry it away in large chunks. He was still working at enlarging the cut away are when J.J. joined him on a parallel rope. Without speaking he took began cutting away at the plant life.

Ramsden appreciated J.J.’s companionship. Ever since Ramsden introduced the inner city kid to Marion many years ago,  she took him in as her own without thinking twice; he’d been a loyal friend Ramsden could take on any adventure. It also helped that J.J. had an affinity for all things mechanical. That skill had saved their butts more than once on a field expeditions or when J.J. followed Ramsden on some new adrenaline rush activity.

“Open says me,” J.J. said as large vine fell away dragging more of the vegetation with it and revealing a small cave mouth.

“This is it buddy. I just know it.” Ramsden said as he widened the gap, clearing the rest of the plants away. Swinging his legs he swung out then further into the cave mouth. On the second swing he let the slack go and he dropped to the floor of the cave.

“I hope so. I hate that Marion is on this trip with us. This has got to be torture on her.” He looks out for her as much as she’s looked out for him all these years.

“Agreed, but I’m glad we have her skills with logistics for these kinds of trips or we’d all be eating tree roots and sleeping with the rest of the critters.”

“You got me there. I like my three meals a day.”

“I’m getting good reception,” Jude said over the walkie attached to the shoulder of each man.

Ramsden pressed the talk button and leaned his head closer to the walkie mic, “Gotcha. Proceeding in.” J.J. had dropped next to Ramsden and began undoing the rope from the carbines to let it hang freely at the cave mouth. J.J. withdrew a flare from his pack and lit it holding it in front of himself to illuminate the darkness before them.

Ramsden was examining every part of the entrance. I’ll bet. . .he thought to himself. Pulling a laser measure from one of the many pockets in his cargo pants, Ramsden measured from top to bottom, left to right and two diagonals. Amazing!

“From that grin on your face I can only guess,” J.J. said holding the flare forward and pushing back more of the shadows.

“The entrance is a perfect circle,” Ramsden said grinning ear to ear.