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Rescued Wisconsin couple 'happy to be alive'

By Rob Rogers

The Billings Gazette

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 5 2013 10:20 a.m. MST

The frustration they felt as Thursday turned to Friday, Nov. 1, still having seen no one, quickly gave way to hopelessness.

"Why is no one coming?" Kristine remembers asking.

"That's why it got so bleak so quick," Mark added.

"It was just bleak," Kristine added.

"There was no deck of cards, either," Mark quipped. Each day that passed was one day further from the sure rescue they had been convinced was coming.

On Saturday night, Nov. 2, with supplies running low, they began to talk about freezing together in the car and never returning home. They decided that, while they still could, they'd write down their goodbyes and leave a message for their families recorded on their cellphone.

Sunday night was as cold as they'd been the whole week, and that's when they finally accepted their fate. "We were like, 'Alright, we're going to die,' " Kristine said. And then Monday morning dawned a couple hours later, and Mark thought he heard an engine.

"Mark heard it first and he was like, 'Kris! Kris! Kris!,' " she said. "We saw him coming up the road and I was just crying."

Rancher Troy Barnett had decided Sunday night, Nov. 3, that he'd check the highway after hearing that a couple had gone missing from Yellowstone earlier in the week. He found them first thing, put them on his snowmobile and drove them down the highway.

By Monday night, the Wathkes were in Cody, Wyo., eating dinner at a Pizza Hut and getting ready to crash in a bed at the Super 8 Motel next door.

Mark's company, Bell Lumber and Pole, will fly him and Kris home Tuesday afternoon and Super 8 covered their room for the night.

"They've all been angels," Kris said.

But it's Barnett who will always have a special place in their lives.

"He's the angel in this story," Kris said.

Monday night, just hours from their rescue and sitting in the Super 8 Motel lobby, warm, dry and full, they were flush with an exhausted giddiness.

"We're just so happy to be alive," Kristine said.

Information from: The Billings Gazette, www.billingsgazette.com

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