CORNELL, Wis. - Shawn Beck was about as low as he could be on Sunday night.
His good friends Mark and Kris Wathke hadn't been seen since leaving Yellowstone National Park six days earlier, no shows for a motel reservation in Miles City, Mont.
"I wouldn't say I was giving up hope, but I was feeling pretty bleak," said Beck.
He didn't know Mark and Kris had a guardian angel in the form of a Wyoming rancher.
"First I heard about them being missing was last night," said Troy Barnett in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.
The co-owner of the K Bar Z Guest Ranch and Outfitters said he had trouble sleeping Sunday night. He just had a feeling the Cornell, Wis. couple was stranded on Beartooth Pass, a windy, twisting road, already closed for the season.
At first light Tuesday morning, with the temperature five below zero, Barnett drove 20 miles in his pickup, then four more on his snowmobile and rode up to Mark and Kris, stuck in the snow, still in their car.
"They jumped out scared, but really thankful, relieved," he said. "They didn't think they were going to be found. They said they were writing letters to their family, goodbye letters."
The couple told Barnett they'd been following GPS and missed the road closed sign. Barnett said the couple told him they had survived on peanut butter and jelly and kept warm by starting the car for 10 minutes at a time, then shutting it off to save fuel. Barnett says the couple was wise to stay with their car, the nearest crossroads being 16 miles away. Barnett doubts anyone could have survived the walk in the windy, subzero conditions.
Barnett said the Wathkes were in good shape. They rode back to his ranch, first on his snowmobile, then in his pickup. Barnett made them breakfast, as Mark and Kris called their relieved family back in Wisconsin. The couple's family later released a statement thanking all those involved in the search and those who prayed for the couple's safe return.
"In a time when it's hard to believe in miracles, God has provided a miracle for our family," said the statement.
Barnett, for his part, brushes off suggestions that what he did was heroic.
"I guess it's stuff we do every day out here," he said. "If somebody's in trouble we go look."
Beck doesn't see it that way.
"He went above and beyond what the search and rescue teams were doing," he said.
Beck thinks a Wyoming vacation may be in order for his family next summer, with a certain rancher as their host. Barnett better be ready for a hug.
"Oh yeah," said Beck, "he might not want it, but he's going to get it."
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