Thursday, February 27, 2014



This year`s CAN-AM 250 race is dedicated to those who came back from Afghanistan but who have still not found “Peace of Mind” and who are contemplating in doing the “deed”.

Once upon a time or rather on a very specific date in early December 2013, a young combat veteran, afflicted with PTSD takes his own life. A somewhat shocking event, this particular incident brought back to the surface the ever ongoing debate in my head as to if I should lower the flag at half-mast at “CIMENT HILL”. The decision was a “No Brainer” and out of respect for the “Fallen”, I did. Let`s face it, here was an individual who had survived the atrocities of war only to come back with a serious form of mental injury. An injury so perplexed it is said, that even within today`s modern medical world, they still don`t fully understand the symptoms, never mind trying to cure it. Yes this poor soul had physically returned home from the “Sand Box” but in his mind set, he was still walking around somewhere out there “outside the wire” , in full battle gear, armed to the teeth, super alert in a hyper-vigilant state, waiting to encounter, engage and terminate the enemy. Of course, this was all in his head and the system was to and did provide him with some form of assistance. However, this was to prove to be nonetheless a “band-aid solution” to a most traumatic psychological wound. Looking for relief and deliverance, he decided to take matters into his own hands and end the suffering…

As tragic as this episode might sound, this was not to be an isolated occurrence and as we would soon hear in the medias, this would turn out to be a precursor to a series of events where an additional eight (8) current or retired service members would take their own lives and this in the span of just over two months. Now this is where it gets interesting. If you were to throw in the mix the other veterans that also did commit suicide in the previous months of 2013 and pile on top of all this, those of the previous years since the beginning of our commitment “over there”, one would want to ask the question as to what kind of treatments these soldiers are actually receiving. As I write these lines today (26 Feb 14), two more soldiers took their own lives in the last few days. After hearing this latest news, I really needed some fresh air to process all of this so I disappeared into the backcountry for a final training run. Running this through my mind, it didn`t matter how I dissected it, viewed from the runners of my sled, it painted a bleak picture of epidemic proportions. Of course, when compared to the USA where they lose an average of 22 soldiers a day to suicide, our numbers do sound relatively insignificant. However and with that said, when you consider that our Armed Forces are in the 60,000 troop numbers and you realize that less than one third of these are Combat Arms ground pounders (Those guys that took on the blunt of the dirty jobs of mixing it up with the insurgents), all of a sudden these small numbers translate into statistics that are staggering if not alarming.

Anyway, because of the events of last December and January, that poor flag at “CIMENT HILL” never did see the day where it was to be raised again to the top of the pole. To make matters worse, in one of the severe rain and ice storms of this past January, the weather succeeded in ripping it to shreds, destroying our proud country`s national emblem. When I collected the pieces of the tattered rags all over the grounds, it made my mind wander only to ponder on further pertinent questions. – Was this some obscure form of distress call? Was this an indication that the government was way over their heads with this dilemma? Were they planning to do some additional “something” about all of this? Did they really care for those who put their lives on the line so to represent Canada in this infamous so-called “War on Terrorism”? To all these I did not have the answer but one thing was for sure. I had been there and gotten the T-Shirt and knew why some of these individuals would want to choose to end the “suffering”.

  To those who did take their own lives, the only thing we can add is “God Speed” and “You can now Stand Easy as your time in Hell is over”. However, to the other too many “Zombies” walking around with demons and ghosts that have invaded your minds, you guys should not despair. There is honest to goodness real help out there and it comes in many forms. If and when the mood does settle in, your first line of defense should be to take whatever courage you have left inside you and try to live the next “24 hours”. In a lot of circumstances, this will help in dealing with this immediate sudden urge. Secondly, do not be afraid and do speak to someone. Allow yourself to explore other points of views. A lot of times, when someone convinces you that the glass is half full and not half empty, this can do wonders to lift your spirits. And lastly, do focus and reach real deep inside you. You and only you have the power to get out of that depressive state of mind. Simply “crack your knuckles” and allow yourself to visit some happy times in your “previous life” and remind yourself of what still makes you “tick”. It is a wonderful venture when someone can find a hobby and/or a passion that can make him forget the nightmarish thoughts that cloud his mind. Yes it is a given that the demons and ghosts will be constant companions that will live with you for the rest of your lives but instead of allowing them to invade your space, take the opportunity to take a stance and control the outcome of this nasty mind game. You see these aggressors are for most of them a bunch of lazy and out of shape souls. Heaven forbid if you participate in any form of physical activities. This, they do not like as this might promote the secretion of hormones called endorphins, a natural stimulant in the body that promotes wellness. Yes Folks, you heard right. Physical activities in any form will help you fight off these entities and keep them in check. I have to submit to you though that for my person, it took a very long time to realize that the choices were simple - Continue to “Party Hardy” to numb the memories and allow the demons to control my existence or “Stay Sober and Addiction Free” so to become stronger than them. I know that might sound a bit simplistic but speaking from experience, it can be done. One simply needs the willpower to set some realistic goals that one might want to attain and then “Go for it”. In my case I chose dog sledding as a way to escape. I chose this sport because I love dogs. To make a very long story short, at one point I ended up in a small town called Fort-Kent, Maine, to assist at the starts of the CAN-AM races. It was in early March 2001, sometimes soon after I “pulled the plug” and retired from the military. A worn-out broken down soldier, the “Head Shed” had put me through the “wringer” by sending me to most of those many exotic places where they were deploying Canadian troops after the “Berlin Wall” came down. Then the “winds of changes” made it that the system decided that I was no longer of any use therefore flushed me down the sewer system of “Civie street” like dirty used up toilet paper. “Oh yeah,” they said, “Go out there and enjoy life”. And, Boy-o-Boy, did I ever. Drinking like a drowning fish and dabbling in that delightful “Nose Candy”, I was using these “poisons” to fight off the thousands of ghosts crowding my skull. Soon enough the poison created demons and they all joined forces. Between them, they brought me so low that I had lost the will to live. But for some reason, I still had a ray of hope and when I saw all those excited sleddogs barking and banging in their harnesses in the “Starting Chute”, this lit a flicker of a spark inside me, a tiny little flame that would not only warm my stone cold emotionless rock of a heart but one that would also guide me through that very long dark tunnel. Yes, I will admit that it was a hard and hazardous journey and that in many instances I just wanted to re-join my “friends”, the demons, but for some reason, the love and compassion that these canine trail companions gave me, helped me muster enough courage to continue pushing forward.

Today, I still have to deal with this crap that I have in my head but instead of riding with ghosts all the time, when I evade to the safety of the woods, these entities choose to leave me alone and hide. Let`s face it, running a dog team is hard physical work and they`re a lazy bunch and they hate the cold. So, to make a story that`s starting to get long winded, I am embarking in this year`s 250 mile race bringing along all of you soldiers that feel that you`ve been abandoned and left behind. I will try to tap into your energy and if we pool together, this might just provide me with enough incentive to cross the finish line. Trust me, this is not a given. I tried last year and met up with some of these old ghost friends of mine. Lack of sleep made it that the nice fluffy falling snow shining in the beam of my headlamp turned into tracer rounds being fired at me in the middle of the night. That “Angel Hair” that is so beautiful to see hanging like decorations in spruce trees all of sudden transformed in hundreds of little evil enemy elves with “camo” paint all over their faces. For half an hour or so, I wasn`t in the backwoods of Allagash but rather back on patrol in one of those god forsaken hell holes. Yes “Boyz” you`re not alone and this is normal when you have some form of Operational Stress Injury. Panic attacks are part of the “game”. How did I get out of it? I focused on the rhythmic cadence of my faithful dog team and the music of their feet brought me back to reality. I still scratched but vowed that I would not be defeated by those playing games in my head. Completing the CAN-AM 250 is not a given especially for an “old fart” full of arthritis but what is important to retain, like most of you, I`m of those guys that has seen what the bowels of humanity have had to offer and we survived it. Sure it has affected us. However and this most important to remember, “The Canadian Soldier is one that is made from the strongest “Kevlar” material and it is inside every one of us, this “Will to Survive”. Time and time again, we have been tested only to have earned a worldwide reputation of being a selected few of proud proven professionals. If all fails and one wants to continue down the path to “Inner Peace”, then try this for a change. Straighten those shoulders back, pump your chest out and look at them straight in the eyes. From the bottom of your guts, let it out and tell them “You`ve had your last meal “Demons”. Time to fucken check out!”

Remember “Boyz”, we`re much better than this. Find something that makes you “Feel Alive” and “Keep on Trucking”.

Now that the rant is over, I just hope that I can live by what I preach and finish this thirteen year project. = -)

Soldier On “Boyz”, Soldier On!

Thursday, November 1, 2012


If you were to put it in physical terms, it would be best be described as follows: "PTSD is not like a broken arm. Rather it`s like having that limb amputated and having to re-learn how to live without it." Author: Adrienne Turnbull
According to the GPS, the team was clipping along at an average of 5.8 MPH. This same instrument was also indicating that they had covered almost three-quarters of the distance in this 60 mile race and this was excellent news. However, what was impressing the musher the most was the fact that although the trail conditions were absolutely miserable, not only were the dogs looking in good shape and in great spirits, he was actually relishing the challenges of the experience. Just like an Olympic “8 man” sculling crew, his trail partners were focused and holding that beautiful synchronized cadence. The “Boyz” as well as the only female of the bunch, the mighty “Twister”, all were in the frame of mind that they could not be disheartened at this stage of the game. To put it in canine terms, the going had been “Ruff!” and no “walk in the park” but they would succeed.
The previous evening, the weather channel had forecasted a heavy snow fall and the “white gold” had started to fall early in the morning. Freakishly enough, when they had left the starting chute, the meteorological conditions resembled a lot to what they had seen the previous year when they had run the same CAN-AM race. They had predicted eight to ten inches and from the looks of it they were not wrong as the competitors were being plummeted hard by the system in the backwoods of the Allagash Mountains. So far at that point, the second thirty mile segment had proved to be a grueling twelve miles. Not only would the participants have to deal with a punchy trail, they would have to contend with the extra white thick blanket that now covered it. Where there was once a proper four foot wide avenue, this was now buried and reduced to a single “follow the disappearing tracks of the sled in front of you and hope for the best” type of affair.
“Twist”, a secret weapon if not a ringer that the man had borrowed for the season, could no longer keep up with her lead partner, the musher’s main man, “JR”. Through the last forty-two miles, she had put in herculean determination but the snow was too thick for her small frame and the exhaustive efforts had taken their toll. She was done for the day and would have to be replaced as a leader.
“Sounds like it’s time to take a break there Boyz!” he spoke out loud to the listening team. Then thinking to himself, he reflected, “And now would be a good time to see what he’s made of”.
“Stay” he sang out! And with this said and without the slightest hesitation, all the dogs stopped dead in their tracks. They knew exactly what would be coming next in this well established routine and welcomed this “snack break” wholeheartedly. Going down the line, each and every one got a “pat on the head and a good scratch behind the ears”. This was the least he could do to thank them for that splendid ride they had given him so far. He could tell that they appreciated these gestures but what they really long-awaited for, was savouring that small chunk of “Roast Beef” when he stuck his hand out and presented it to their mouths. That was always the highlights to these “Pit Stops” and the musher always got a kick at seeing them devour that dried up piece of meat. He was always left amazed at seeing that they would work so hard for such a small reward. When he got to the front of the line, he looked into those tired brown eyes and knew that he was making the right decision. Those cute floppy black ears and that sad stare that she was wearing spoke volumes. Although she had done all the rigorous training with the “A” team throughout the season, the “Twister” had proved to be more comfortable being employed as a “speed demon” and did not necessarily take well to being used as a “snow plow”. Right now, the trail settings warranted that the front of the team necessitate that it be fitted with strong long legged dogs that could first of all, find the trail and break it to then guide the team at a decent pace. “JR” had no difficulties with this concept but it had been hard to match him with a partner that would keep up with this “trail eating snowdog”. The musher knew that there was another dog on today’s string that had the balls to take on the challenge but there was one problem… Every time they were loose in the yard at Baisley Lodges, these two “Alpha Dominant” males would clash and sparks would fly between them. Simply put, they just couldn’t stand the sight of each other. The dog that the musher had in mind was a good leader in his own rights but had always worked alongside good old quiet and dependable “Oumak” on the “B” Team. Unfortunately at this juncture, there were not too many tricks left in this “Magician’s Hat” and he needed to pull one more magic trick.
“Rhum, Old Buddy! What do you think? Do you figure that you and JR could get along for the rest of the trip? What about you, JR? Are you willing to put your differences to the side and work with the red guy?” Both dogs were looking at their boss with a certain puzzled stare on their faces. They knew that he was talking to them but weren’t too sure if what they had heard was right. As a matter of fact, all the other dogs were looking around at each other as if to say, “Rhum in lead? Did the musher go completely nuts?”
“Don’t worry about it there Boyz!” he said to Jacko and Vince as if he felt the need to reassure them. “Things are going to be just fine!” Switching them around, Twist was dropped back to point position while Rhum, now partnered with his nemesis JR, would replace her in lead. At this point, the man knew that if they were going to succeed with this specific mission, it was essential that they pick up some speed to make up for some lost time. They had trained long and hard all throughout the winter and right here, right now was where it would be decided. The task at hand was not to win this event. He was racing against some of the biggest names that the East Coast mushing world could muster and it was clear in his mind that he was outdogged. He knew that he had to work within the confines of these parameters and accepted these terms. However, a goal had been set, now six racing seasons ago and he needed to push the envelope so to make this happen. The clock was ticking and it would not wait for anyone.
“All right Boyz, let’s blow tis pop stand!” he said out loud while slugging through the thick snow and making his way back to his sled. “Let’s see if we can qualify”. By this time while he had been snacking his dogs, four other mushers had passed him and were now breaking trail in front of him. Although still very punchy and treadmill like, at least now there was some sort of a defined pathway and the dogs seemed to enjoy chasing the rabbit instead of being the rabbit. He had stuck to a pre-set strategy and from what he was seeing on the string, it was paying off full dividends. The team all had their harnesses embedded deep in their furry bodies and under the leadership of JR and Rhum, they were effectively working together as a finely tuned running machine. To those who were in this race for the glory, this particular team was never considered a serious threat and they would probably mock him behind his back after the final results would be tallied. Our musher was quite aware of this and although it really irked him to the point of crushing his ego, he was really proud of not venturing to the “Dark Side” of racing. Don’t get me wrong, he was strongly tempted to throw caution to the wind out the window with the baby and the bath water but had resisted this invitation. What he was seeing right there, right then and now, was what it was all about. The dogs didn’t look like a bunch of tired run-down mutts. Instead, they were full of confidence with an attitude that they had proved to themselves that they were an all-around dependable dog team that could go anywhere and anytime they felt like it. And that spoke volumes as to what this sport was all about to this old soldier. These four legged friends of his had butted heads with the best of them over the last six years and although he had never even come close to a podium position, the man had always stayed true to his dogs because for some reason, he felt like he owed them something and this something was what they called loyalty. He was most loyal to them and vice versa they were most loyal to him. This strong bond that they had, was for life and not just for one season or two.
The best example of this was “Old Man Irving”. Here he was at nine years old, still doing his thing in the wheel position and this after a grueling six years and with more than 10,000 miles under his belt. Once considered a reject of the racing circuit, he had been rescued for the musher because of his connection to the “Spirit Dogs” world. At that time, he had visited six different locations before finding permanent residence at the “Howl-A-Day” Inn and you could actually tell that he appreciated his upgraded living standards. Contrary to now, the first three years of his life could best be described as a pitiful existence where he had travelled from one kennel to another on both sides of the border and lived under appalling conditions. He had been beaten with chains, almost starved to death and once at his stay forever home, would need to be bombarded with constant treatments for a bellyful of worms and parasites. The person that had brought him had done it out of guilt because he had before reneged on his words and had sold Irving to someone else even after the musher had told him that he would buy the dog. As a result, this had caused a volume of friction between the two “dog men” and this was the guilty party`s way to make things right. When the scared animal had been pulled out of the dog box from the back of that truck, he had this “death stare” in his eyes and looked like hell. After reflection, the musher had still welcomed him aboard. He had figured that with a bit of tender loving care and proper exercise, this poor soul would most likely become a good sleddog and if this was not to be the case, it wouldn’t matter. He would still be accepted as a family member as he was a direct descendant and the son of the original “Vince”. And that was most important to our mushing friend.
According to his mentor, it was imperative that the legend of the “Spirit Dogs” be kept alive. The Tutchone native people of the “Land of the Midnight Sun” believed in their magical powers and so did his old Malecite friend. The original “Vince” had been saved from a certain death by Leonard Lanteigne and he believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the then puppy possessed such mystical powers. They had gone through almost an entire lifetime together and through those years, there were many instances where “Vince” had pulled some spectacular “tour de force” that at best, could not be explained rationally. Oh for sure, all this Hocus-Pocus could be accredited to exaggerated stories told around a campfire by someone somewhere up there in the “Yukon” but still, there had to be some sort of legitimacy behind all these folktales.
Regardless as to where the truth lied, although our musher did not necessarily believe in the power of the “Spirit Dogs”, he did in fact believe in the power of the “Spirit of the Dogs”. Through his struggles with his particular affliction, these faithful companions of his had brought tremendous amount of joy and comfort and this on a regular and most daily basis. This particular event that they were now participating in, was more than a race against the clock. Instead, it was to be the prelude of an extremely long journey through the darkest dark of all tunnels. The dogs and him had shared thousands of miles together and his canine friends had guided him at getting through this ordeal so to see the bright light at the end of it. To the musher and this was just a personal thing and a matter of principles, it was most gratifying to see these three generations of “Spirit Dogs” out in front on the same gangline. Pushing towards retirement, this would most likely be “Old Man” Irving`s last race as he did not have the needed stamina to keep up with the younger crowd. Although this was true enough, the fact remained that he had many other great qualities. And that Folks was why he had been brought along. Not neglecting the fact that he had always been most dependable, as a bonus he had the heart of a lion. In as such over the years, he had earned his stripes the hard way and had definitely earned the right to be there today. Subsequently, it was only natural that he be allowed to set the “not too fast” or “not too slow” trotting pace for the rest of the team to follow. This was certainly one purpose but the two main reasons for him to be participating in this race, were rather more basic than this.
First, this was the musher`s way to honour this dog`s great contributions at making who the Canadian Snowhounds were – A bunch of recruited misfitted rejects that were to eventually gel into a most loyal and trustworthy bunch of dogs that had kept this old trooper on an even keel. “Old Man” Irving had always been a main participant during those years, never missing a training run and always pounding the grounds through the good times as well as the bad if not hellish ones. For the duration of it all, he had been a faithful mutt and the driver of the sled considered that he owed him this privilege and much more.
Secondly, his grandson had joined them on this trek and this was of some concern to our musher. Young Vince was still a yearling and this was his first real “60 miler” and his first real test at being a mid-distance racing sleddog. At twenty months old and sporting a whopping 65 pounds of muscle mass, he was a hard working concentrated dog who had more than impressed throughout his first training season. Regardless of all this potential and if you were to put it in human terms, he was just a twelve year old child and nobody would expect such a youngster to run competitive marathons. He was in spite of everything still a growing boy and his joints were not fully developed. These grueling events were at the best of times, hard on any seasoned veterans let alone such a young yearling. So yes, even though that through his hard work and dedication, he had forged himself a spot on the team, it was crucial that this race be run with a smart and well-thought out strategy.
So this is why this particular dog team took so many “snack” breaks during this event –“Old Man Irving” could enjoy his last “Kick at the Can” and retire with his head held high while his grandson could learn the ropes so to follow in his footsteps. To see young Vince trotting side by side with his father, Jacko and seeing these three generations run together in the same team was most gratifying to the guy on the runners. Just thinking about it brought a tear to his eye and a lump in his throat. “So many years have gone by since I had this true sense of being part of a great team.” he thought to himself. Then he added, “I really appreciate sharing this moment with you guys.”
Yes just like those “Boyz” that he had the honour to serve with while in the Canadian Armed Forces, this bunch of dogs that shared his daily activities back at the lodges, filled a huge void in his heart which gave him this sense of pride and responsibility. It was so true that there was not much he could do about the circumstances that surrounded certain events that had triggered this long period of seclusion and it was also true that he would never be by far “out of the woods”. However, during those past six winters spent with these beautiful animals on the trail, he had come to realize that the “Baisley Mob” was to be the lifeline that he so desperately needed to keep him sane and alive. Out there in the backcountry with all that solitude, he could focus and find the peace and quiet to really sort things out in his head. Not only had this had done wonders for his state of mind, it had in fact helped him crawl out of his “basement” so to face the realities of what the outside world had to offer. For a career obsessed military man who had lived during all that time with this “kill or be killed” attitude, this was to be no easy task. But, here he was beating the odds set by the “bookies” and proving to others that it could be done. Not too many would have believed then that this more than obese drugged up alcoholic could accomplish such a feat. Nonetheless there he was now, slim and trim and as sober as a judge out there racing sleddogs in mid-distance events. To the many that hadn`t been there to “get the T-Shirt”, this would never be construed as a big deal but to those who could relate to what he was talking about, to them this was a major personal accomplishment. It set the stage to say that for sure there were many other options when it came to dealing with this awful syndrome called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Although in a lot of instances, the prescription pills were a necessary evil to numb the memories and nightmares, there were limits to this gobbling of multi-colored “Smarties”. Besides, there were still these individuals that wanted to face their everyday living and this without becoming that subdued walking-talking pharmaceutical zombie living on “cloud nine”. And for this breed of particular true soldier, that “Man of War”, that so-called “rebel” who still wanted to have control over his own existence, he would dare venture out there so to find that sense of escape. And this folks is what this was all about for our snow covered musher. The “Spirit of the Dogs” had made it so that he could actually live with the past and not be at war with it. It had been a long and arduous journey and this race would be the culmination of what he had learned during this exciting voyage. In his mind, he had reached the other side of that darkest tunnel where there stood a very simple sign that read, “PTSD IS NOT WHAT`S WRONG WITH YOU. RATHER IT`S ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU.” And that, for this simple man was all he needed as an explanation. It brought him the answer that would provide him with that true inner peace that he had been searching for all those many years…
Spotting a shadowy figure in the distance, this brought him back to reality and to the task at hand. He had just become conscious of the fact that he wasn`t the only dog team struggling to finish this race. Here was a perfect opportunity to complete that specific mission that he had set out for that morning. It could still be achieved but this all depended on the dogs.
“What do you think there Boyz? Do you think we still got enough fuel in the tank to get her done? JR, Rhum, what do you think? Do you think we can catch these clowns way out there in front?” It was as if they were just waiting to get the “Go Ahead”. They started yanking on that gangline like there was no tomorrow and the musher could feel that they meant business by the extra boost of energy that exploded through the steering bow right down his arms. They didn`t need to be told twice as to what had to be done and it was as if they were communicating through telepathy. “OK then Boyz, let`s go for it!” he said out loud, confirming with a “Witt- Witt” whistle. “Let`s get her done!”
They were within close to ten miles of the finish line when the two lead dogs together sounded out in one single loud enthusiastic bark. The boss had given them the green light and here they were these two old arch enemies, pulling in harmony and matching each other`s gait, stride for stride. It was beautiful to finally see them put their differences to the side and work together for the betterment of the squad. Never breaking their rhythm, when the entire team brought their trotting speed to a faster pace of 9.8 MPH, this was going to be a “hold on to your hat” affair. Never mind trying to help by peddling or poling, the best and safest thing to do was just to hang on and enjoy the rush. That silhouette grew bigger by the minute and just to make sure that they knew they would be barreling through, the driver belted out “Trail! Coming Through!” Stunned by the unexpected request, this worn-out musher just pulled to the side and waved them on. “Thank You!” the man said as they whizzed by, “We`d chat but we`re late for a very important date.” This same scenario would draw itself two more times in front of them down the trail and our enthused crew of “head cases” was leaving them behind in their dust. This was exhilarating to our musher but when he came across this “30 miler team” stuck and exhausted on the final stretch home, he soon came to his senses, now recognizing the fact that this year`s CAN-AM had been a doozy of a race. All teams had been walloped by stormy conditions and records would eventually show that all contestants of the three events would develop a renewed respect for “Mother Nature”. Seeing this person hunched over the back of her sled and not moving brought some worrisome thoughts to the man. He honestly didn`t know if she was dead or alive. There was also another problem. Where she was stopped, in this tree line, there was very little room to get by her and he was hoping that he could get by without incident.
“JR, Rhum, Haw Boyz!” he requested to his leaders, “Haw!” Like pros that they were, they responded spontaneously to the command and zigzagged their way through a cluster of trees. Pulling up to the side of the other sled, he asked this woman as to how she was making out and she responded that her team was “toast”. He tried encouraging her by telling her that there was only five miles left but she had in her mind that the best thing to do was to scratch. He parked his dog team in front of her leaders and walked down the line checking her dogs. They were a bit beaten up but still had that glitter in their eyes that suggested that they could do it.
“I think that you can do this” he suggested to the discouraged sledder “and if you want to, we`ll wait for you guys.” This seemed to comfort his new trail partner and on that note he went to her leaders and got them motivated. “OK you guys, you follow us!
"JR, Rhum, Uptrail!” Looking behind them, the musher smiled and said surprised at the scene, “Well I`ll be damned. It seems to me like we`ve got a convoy!” Yup, with all this time spent helping this stranded musher, the other teams had caught up. They were now to be no threat to the “Snowhounds” and would be most likely very satisfied just to wait in line so that they could just complete this grueling event. Every time he looked back, the greater the distance was getting between them. Judging that she could probably make it home on her own, he called out his last order of the day. “JR, Rhum, take us home. We`ve got a job to finish!”
When they reached the top of the ski hill, the dogs still had lots of power to spare. Nonetheless, he needed some time alone with them just so that he could thank them for not giving up on him during his times of need. Stopped there, he planted his snowhook and while giving them their last well deserved treats, he talked to them as he would have done when governing his troops.
“You know guys,” he said to them with honest modesty, “it was a real pleasure to have shared these many adventures with such a bunch of swell fellows. In a few minutes, when you do cross that finish line, do remember to hold your head high and feel great about what you`ve accomplished. Although it is true that we have always been considered the “underdogs”, remember what the initial goal was and what we have achieved. As individuals, all of you have brought joy and happiness into my life and for this, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. As a collectivity, you proved to the mushing world that even a bunch of “losers” could realize great things when given half a chance. You have shown real strength of character and this is most important and something that should never be forgotten. Yes, she was a tough journey at times and yes we did take the long way home. Regardless of all this, we did finally make it to destination and now the racing sleddog does have a strong voice that speaks for him, a voice that advocates his well-being. Let`s not kid ourselves! It didn`t make us very popular with some of the competition but it was most certainly the right thing to do. “Joe Public” needed to find out that although it appears all rosy viewed from the outside, this is not essentially the entire truth when you look closer at things behind the scene. With our efforts, his perspective has now changed and he is better educated as to how these fine athletes are and should be treated. That Gentleman, in itself, is a major coup and one that you have all participated in!”
After lowering it and after a long pause, he raised his head again to speak directly to the retiring member of the team.
“Irving my man, you were a great trail partner and your determination was certainly most commendable. Today, it is a privilege for me to be standing here in front of you, presenting you with this salute.” Not giving a hoot as to who might be watching, the ex-military man snapped to attention and presented the old dog with this gesture of respect. “Now, if you don`t mind, the lesson is not over. Young Vince still needs to earn his first stripe so at any time that you feel like it, you may lead off this parade.” His old faithful companion and the rest of the mob actually knew what he was talking about and without further direction, they trotted down and marched past the applauding crowd as if to say, “Hey Folks, we`re back! And guess what? We are the proud Canadian Snowhounds and we just qualified for the 250.”
As for our mushing friend, well let`s just say that he had once again one of these “moment”… THE END
Or is it?
Meanwhile back at the barn…
That evening, after the race, when they heard the truck pull into the yard, this brought some more than usual excitement in the barn. “They`re back!” Summer and Nikita were announcing to the remainder of the cheerleaders, “They`re back!”
“So how did it go Vince?” they were all shouting at the same time through their windows. “Did you make it?” The poor young dog was nearly too exhausted to walk to the building never mind answer their questions. Right now, all he wanted to do was to curl up in his dog box and get a good night`s sleep.
“He did quite fine!” Jacko, the proud father interjected while prancing along, escorting him. “He passed his first exam with flying colours.” “Yeah but we want to find out what he thought of it” Kameo insisted. “We want to know all the details!”
“I think that this can wait till the morning, there Girls!” the Kid directed with authority. “I think that for now we`ll just let the young fellow go to bed and call it a day.” This was the old black Husky`s way to acknowledge that he was in the presence of greatness and that young Vince was certainly the chosen one to carry on the work of his ancestors. “Vince my boy,” he finished, “I`m really proud of you, son!”
They were very few basic words but coming from the old bruiser, they would have meant a lot but there was one problem. They had fallen onto deaf ears as the young white yearling was already snoring, dead to the world, already visiting “Dreamland”. There in a sunny snow bright valley in this peaceful Tutchone village, he was welcomed by the elders of the “Wolf Clan” who were celebrating his finding of this forever home. It had been a two century long quest but they were now quite re-assured that at that location he would be able to continue their traditional ways and guide others towards the safety of the bright light.
“Welcome young Vince!” Leonard Lanteigne said, calling him over with open arms and a big smile. “We`ve been waiting a long time to meet you, me and this guy.” And pointing to this beautiful wide chested, crystal blue eyed white dog, he added, “This is your great-grandfather, the other Vince.”
Both dogs walked towards each other, sized each other out then introduced themselves. “Pleased to meet you!” the young one said in genuine embarrassment, “Now, what exactly am I supposed to do?”
“You will find that out, all in due time, young man. For now, let`s just say that the work of the “Spirit Dogs” will be in good hands. “Yeah but?” he tried to continue. “No buts”, his senior insisted, “It is a long story and one that we`ll continue later on…

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Dedicated to all the men and women who at one point did wear the uniform and now find themselves with some form of PTSD. - Remember that you are not alone feeling this way. If you find yourself engulfed with thoughts of suicide, do not hesitate to reach out and talk about it to someone. It can only help.

To the spouses of these men and women that did wear the uniform, we might not say it enough but “Thank You for your love and compassion”.


For the longest time, he had been doing almost fine. When he had chosen six years ago to deliberately live a simple semi-secluded lifestyle, this had helped tremendously in forgetting that “previous life”. His nightmares were re-occurring less often, his mood swings were less intense and he could actually find that urge to laugh out loud when in good company.

But unfortunately this was not the case during this month of October as a multitude of events were making it that this “someone” had crept up in his head and this person wasn’t the “musher”. This uninvited guess was that entity that he knew so well but also that despised “evil side” that he had learnt to keep under lock and key. This “someone” was at best, a “beast of a man” that had been created by a well oiled and finely tuned military establishment. Like the many others before, during and after, he had been molded for one purpose and one purpose only and the mandate was quite clear – Produce super soldiers with robot like behaviors that can be controlled and can be unleashed by the governing body anytime they see the necessity arise. Unknown to him then, he had become one of the millions of “pawns” in the various World Class Chess Matches who had been brain washed in thinking that their services to their countries were absolutely indispensable. Like the other Chess pieces on the front line, he then would walk around nonchalantly, chest pumped and head high, truly believing that it was allowed to sanction someone else in a “Kill or be killed” scenario…

Anyway, that was to be the theory behind this doctrine and it would have been more than all right if the “puppet masters” could have controlled completely the minds of these individuals. However, this would never be the case as somewhere and sometimes maybe buried real deep inside under that “Kevlar” armored plated vest, exists the soul and beating heart of a person of good scruples. And that Ladies and Gentlemen is where it gets complicated.

The soldier that is asked to go to far away lands so to enforce the dictated policies of his country, does it because that’s what he’s trained for and that’s what he was ordered to do. The stressful external conditions that he encounters are way beyond what the common mortal will deal with on a daily basis and something that if you haven’t experienced it, you will never understand. Under these hostile and dangerous conditions, if the soldier is to survive, he must develop that much needed sixth sense that could be categorized as a constant state of “hyper-vigilance”. When in this mode, he becomes super alert and like “Spiderman” all his senses are tingling. If this is not grand enough, when he is to be “combat tested”, he enters an even higher sphere of euphoria which the new generation of veterans refers to as being in the “zone”. That’s when the brain is invaded by this sensation that can best be described as being on “morphine laced with steroids”. What this intriguing and very addictive “high” is all about, is what we call that “Adrenaline Rush”. This hormone/neurotransmitter is found in the body and when called upon, it increases heart rate, constricts blood vessels, dilates air passages and assists the nervous system when dealing with the phenomena called the “the fight or flight” syndrom.

In lameman’s terms, it is a chemical that is released as a defense mechanism through the entire body and brain. Its sole function is to put the recipient in a highest state of alertness when facing any type of threatening situation. It is most useful when facing danger but also most addictive. Consequently, with these high levels of euphoric episodes comes real serious downsides. Depleted of its reserve of adrenaline, the body goes into recuperation mode and tiredness sets in. The soldier that has to deal with an environment where violence and death is a daily determinant, lives with these “Ups and Downs” cycles constantly. And if continuously bombarded and that the body has no time to replenish itself with a new supply of these hormones, the brain warns the body of this shortfall and orders it to go into self-preservation mode. At this time, the body automatically shuts down certain functions that it considers non essential and sets itself up in survival mode, something that we would recognize as “depression”. The more you tax your system for the adrenaline, the more acute the delivery of the hormone is. Of course there is to be a downside to this and it’s the fact that it takes longer and longer for the body to recuperate from the last “rush”. So when the soldier has pushed his luck way beyond what his body can supply in adrenaline, it stops to function properly and he can and probably will develop a medical condition associated with “chronic depression”.

You think that this is complicated? Well let me tell you! We’ve just started scratching the surface. In the combat environment, this acquired taste for the “stuff” is most valuable if our soldier is to stay alive. However, he eventually develops some sort of habit and becomes what they call an “Adrenaline Junkie”. Just like any other addict hooked on whatever the addiction is, in his case, he needs to have this “hyper-vigilance” state of mind stimulated and this constantly. This is where another additional problem lies. The brain doesn’t recognize the nature of the threat. It simply automatically and unconsciously responds to a demand and that’s what makes it hard for the soldier to adapt to a lifestyle outside that combat environment. Although he is conscious that he is back home safe amongst friends, tucked away, locked in the back of his mind, he’s still in “full alert” ready to “rock and roll”. And that’s what makes it dangerous. He is so accustomed to counter violence with violence that it becomes his main tool used to address any stressful situation, regardless of the size. It doesn’t matter what the stress factor is, he lashes out with this most basic instinct of survival. Now, if he’s lucky enough to be aware of this downfall, he tries to control these bouts of fury but unfortunately, the anger boils inside of him and just like a pressure cooker that’s left on the stove on high heat for too long, he’s ready to explode at any moment. This makes it that his existence is chaotic. He walks around all day with this feeling of animosity and resentment towards his fellowman and brings this to bed with him at night. Of course, still upset and even angered, he’ll have a hard time falling asleep and if he does get to “catnap”, this is certainly not a peaceful rest. An “Up and Down Yo-Yo like mood swing” pattern eventually sets in, leaving this walking wounded tired, depressed and living in some sort of “Zombie” world.
In World War One, they used to call it “Shell Shock”. During World War Two, the new name given then for this condition was “Battle Fatigue”. Today, it is known as “Post Traumatic Stress” and is identified by the medical profession as a psychological disorder that develops in some individuals who have had major traumatic experiences (for example, have been in a serious accident or gone through a war like arena). The “zoned out” person is typically numb at first but later certain symptoms eventually evolve to include depression, excessive irritability, guilt (for having survived while others died), recurring nightmares, flashbacks to a traumatic scene and of course over exaggerated reaction to stressful situations and/or sudden noises. Referred to in its abbreviated form as PTSD, it became known as such in the 70s when adjustment problems to a civilian life of some Vietnam veterans were to be recognized.
“The truth has got to come out, Gino! The truth has got to come out!” That’s what this head attached to this exposed rib cage was always repeating to him in this same repetitious dream. It had been ages since being visited by the ghost of this army buddy “Daniel Gunther” and this particular nightmare had sort of faded away over time. However the accumulated stressors and lack of proper sleep during the last few weeks had provided the right conditions so to make it resurface.
It was always the same reverie. The Military Police would enter an autopsy room to identify the remains of this soldier. There they were, spread on top of this cold stainless steel table, left there after an attendant had tried to put the various body parts together so to make it look half human. Although totally mangled from the blast, he could recognize the face of the individual by that friendly smirk that “Dan” always seem to have on. He would confirm his identity and start walking away when the corpse would grab the policeman’s combat shirt with his right arm and start yelling, “The truth has got to come out, Gino! The truth has got to come out.” Scared shitless, the witness would try to get away but the arm would detach itself from Gunther’s body and it would be left dangling, the hand in a tight fisted grip, holding on to him.
Of course this was just a dream and of course then WO Roussel had only seen photos of this lifeless body as they were attachments to a police report but still to this day, the images of seeing the mutilated body of his “weight room” partner, haunted him. When he had come across it in his office back then in 1993, he had found it stuffed away in the back of a desk drawer. He had perused the said report but there weren’t too many details as to what had transpired. The investigating officer had done a crappy job at putting together a true picture of what had occurred during that fatal afternoon when Master Corporal Daniel Gunther was killed in his APC by an anti-tank rocket. Eventually, over the years, further details would come to light that would seem to indicate that the truth and nature of the incident had been somewhat covered up. Someone had taken on the job of running “tackle” so that it would not interfere with the agenda of certain politicians. I guess after the “Somalia” fiasco, some of them were afraid that the backlashes of a dead soldier in another unpopular war might have severe consequences back home. It was an election year in Canada and the Liberal Party did not have a strong grip on or many seats in Quebec. Subsequently, it was imperative that the proud reputation of the Royal 22nd Regiment be spared and protected as it represented the pride and joy of the Canadian Armed Forces in that French province.
On that particular evening on the 29th October, 2011, he was not suffering certain symptoms described in the previous paragraphs but had been swallowed up entirely by all of them. His evil side had almost taken complete control over his emotions and he would need to deal with this. If draconian measures needed to be applied, so be it, they would be used. He was dead tired from battling with the “Evil Wolf” and a show down was the order of the day. More than a few little incidents had been added up on the already huge pile and not only was he feeling the weight of it, he was collapsing under the “shit load”.
Amongst other things, the dogs had been pissed on by skunks and the nightly hunts and killings of these intruders was a definite stressor. You know that the guy is not in the right frame of mind, when after delivering a blast of “12 gauge” buckshots at the vermins, he puts the barrel of the shotgun to his nose so to take in the fumes and enjoy the intriguing smell of gun powder smoke. Two of his likeable mutts had taken off on an adventure, met up with a porcupine and tangled with it. While “Thunder” had come back to the barn, her face full of quills, her sister “Lightning” never did return and was up till now, presumed dead. The news of the tragic death of a Canadian soldier by the name of Master Corporal Byron GREFF would not help either. He was to become the 158th casualty that this country would encounter in Afghanistan. Like all the other “Boyz” that had died before him, those who had made the ultimate sacrifices had a real severe negative effect on our musher. It was close to his best friend’s one year anniversary as “Bruce” had died of cancer on the 30th October, 2010 and this was a hard pill that he had not yet accepted to swallow let alone digest it. Through the couple of weeks before Remembrance Day, the Government of the day was plugging their propaganda on every possible media sources, advocating that we should remember the great work that “Our Troops” are doing or had done. This was fine but his memories of his “war efforts” did not involve glory and ticker tape parades. Rather, his thoughts were drawn back to the atrocities of the Bosnia/Croatia conflict where the United Nations had totally failed in bringing stability to the country. What was to push him right close over the edge, was an incident where while his dogs and him were training on a public road in the forest, they were stopped at gun point by two bear hunters. It wasn’t bad enough that they wanted him to turn around, they had ended up playing “chicken”. Nobody was flinching and this till the musher made his move. He grabbed the barrel of the rifle with his right hand and without batting an eye, he told the man holding the other end, “You either shoot right now or get this fucken thing out of my face. I’m not in the mood to play chicken shit games. If you don’t move it out of my face, I’ll rip it out of your hands and shove it up your ass. Pray to God that it’s empty!” For some reason, they allowed him to go on his “merry” way. What these two “red necks” didn’t realize was that they had just lit another fuse under his ass and he had been served with a violent dose of adrenaline. However and unconsciously, their camouflaged garbs had brought him back to a time when him and his navigator, a young Kenyan Corporal by the name of Thomas OGETANKE had been barred from carrying on with their patrol by two Croatian Serb soldiers. He had strongly insisted that they be allowed to gain access as they represented the “UN” but he would soon lose this argument. It had kind of made an impression when one of the two tall sentries had raised his left arm and the turret of this khaki green T-55 tank that was parked behind him, started to slowly turn its gun 180 degrees only to rest its barrel on the hood of the white VW Golf. I don’t know but when you stare at this huge black round orifice sitting there maybe two feet in front of your windshield and you know that at the other end of that extended tube sits a “100 mm” shell, well you tend to have a renewed sense of co-operation and you back the hell out of there. Once they had returned to their garrison in Knin later that day, they had filed a formal complaint through the proper channels but never did get feedback from them. Instead, information started trickling in that ethnic cleansing was taking place in the small villages surrounding the region of the city of BIHAC. It started with reports of bodies floating downstream on the Una river and was to be later confirmed when “UN” patrols would be allowed entry to the region. There, they found bombed out and completely destroyed towns, emptied of its populations. A tattle tale that would indicate that some barbaric activity had occurred in the area would be the hundreds of light blue latex gloves contaminated with human blood that were found discarded all over the place. To paraphrase the “Situation” report, it indicated that a well prepared group of men had attended the area with a well engineered plan. In location, they had systematically annihilated the Muslim citizens of the towns. To this day, the identity of the “butchers” in these “Death Squads” is still unknown but it was suspected that they were mercenaries with narrow ties to white supremacy “Neo-Nazi” groups from Germany, Austria, Rumania and the United States of America. All this information is not new as it is a matter of public records. However, what has been hidden for all those twenty years, is the fact that some “United Nations” soldiers had had an active contribution in the carrying out of these massacres. It turns out that an investigation done by the United Nations Military Police had revealed that a number of high ranking officers of the Kenyan Contingent in Sector South, had orchestrated a well organized racket where they were involved in Black Market activities and the illegal sale of United Nations fuel to Serbian civilians and its military. The leaders in these criminal activities had misled their subordinates who obeyed them with obvious blind loyalty. Throughout the interviews, it had been determined that close to 500,000 liters had been stolen by these gentlemen thieves. And adding insult to injury, these officers had abused their positions of authority to trick their subordinates into assisting them with delivering illegal fuel and this with “UN lorries”. While the United States and three other European countries had managed to push through the UN Security Council, a stiff punitive resolution that would place an “Oil Embargo” on Serbia and its satellite states, some greedy entrepreneurial spirits wearing blue berets on their heads, were supplying some of the belligerent parties of the “Republic of Krajina” with petroleum products through the back door. Since the “Intelligence” on the Croatians side was to indicate that the other warring party had very limited quantities of this precious commodity, they had decided to take this opportunity to move the confrontation line in a more westerly direction. Unknown to them, more than four full divisions of Serbian military Forces, was there, topped with fuel and ready to welcome them. Both sides blamed the other for not respecting the “Cease Fire” and they waged war against each other, killing with extreme prejudice, any civilians found in their way.

To this day, the musher still had this bitter taste in his mouth about that piece of the puzzle. Ever since his tour of duty over there, the month of October had always brought back awful memories of his time spent in the “Balkans”. Where people wanted to remember the “good times”, he was ever trying to forget that chapter of his life. Not a single day would go by without him wondering if things might have been different if the sale of “Black Market” fuel would not have not taken place. He would continuously analyze in his mind the prospect of what might have happened, if the authorities might have had a better control of its delivery system. “What if the Serbians would have been left in a position where they did not have the fuel to run their “war machine”, could UNPROFOR have maybe prevented the massacres of the “BIHAC” region or the “MEDAK” pocket. Like the many other soldiers that had served on that particular mission, he would be left with a real deep sense of shame for something that he had never had any control over.

So waking up from that dreaded nightmare again drenched in cold sweat, he found himself disoriented, sitting in his favorite blue chair on the porch of the “Outpost”. You know that a person has reached the end of his rope when he’s sitting there, staring at a rusted old non-functional shotgun mounted on the wall and is questioning his self-worth. He definitely needed to find some answers real soon because contrary to the relic on the wall, he had brought with him his old “security blanket”. There it was, tucked away under his left armpit, snug and warm in its leather shoulder holster, that dependable “Colt 45” semi-automatic pistol. Yup, right there and then, he was dead tired of dealing with all this mental anguish and Yup, there it was on stand-by with one round up the chamber and another one in the clip.

During all this time, “Mosqua” was sitting there, his back in a corner, looking at the man with this concerned look on his face. In the better part of the last ten years, he had seen too often the ex-soldier battle the ghosts of his dreams only to wake up in this frenzied state. More than once had he been at the receiving end of a flying fist from the man, not because he was sleeping in bed with him but rather because the “lunatic” could not get away from his past.

“Hey Buddy? What do you think?” the musher asked his fateful companion, “Is it time to cross over to the other side of Rainbow Bridge?” The animal, recognizing the soft and now calm voice of the “Good Wolf”, started to wag its tail and headed in his direction. He put his head in his crotch and looked up at the man directly in the eyes with that look that said “I’ll back you all the way there, Buds.” That stare brought a smile to the man’s face but also plenty of tears to his eyes. The dog didn’t realize that the first round was destined for him. All he knew was that he was with his trusted friend and would tag along for the ride.

‘It totally amazes me that I could do this to him and that he would die just because I decided that he would.” the veteran reflected through the sobs while patting Mosqua’s head. “Isn’t that what the “Powers to Be” are doing to all these soldiers around the world? – Create an environment where they are manipulated into believing that dying for the cause is the ultimate sacrifice for your country? Yeah, there’s a lot of “pawns” out there that were suckered into supporting the “power hungry 1%ers”, that secretive hush-hush society that tells world wide Governments what chess pieces they should move. This group of the so called “Elites” does exist you know. Just google “Military Industrial Complex” and see what you find. You’ll see that the lines found here were not written here by the hand of a paranoid “headcase”. Instead, they were written by one who was burnt too many times by the system and has decided to turn his back on society as we know it. Whatever would happen out there was their problem, the man concluded. He was even too tired to even care anymore. Right now, he had but one priority on his list and that was to get rid of the “Evil Wolf” and this he would achieve once and for all.

As you would have it, there was nothing simple in this simple man’s life and if he was going to do this, he was going to do it right. The stage was set. He had a roaring fire in the wood stove and the thermometer indicated that it was a balmy 42 degrees Celsius inside the cabin. After closing the door behind him, he walked to the center of the room where he undressed completely naked, making sure that his clothes were neatly folded in front of him. He sat there, facing West and in the “Samurai Warrior” tradition, he placed his weapon on top of pile of clothes and waited for the heat to work its magic. This part of the ceremony was a ritual that he was accustomed to and he knew that through the sweat he would get courage and strength.

“So why would you want to do this?” his mentor asked him. “Why would you want to give up at this stage of the game?”
“I’m really tired Leonard. I don’t know what to do anymore.” was all the “pupil” could muster as an answer.
“Did you forget the fundamentals, Gino?” this somewhat annoyed voice inside him, told him. “If so let me remind you a bit how this works. It’s like your dogs. Right now, they are dead tired simply because you’re pushing them way past their limits. In as such, you continue to ask of them and they continue to provide. Somewhere in there, their bodies don’t get a chance to properly recuperate. Therefore, they become irritable and that’s why they fight amongst each other. They do not want to co-operate and if you keep this up, they’ll just flop on the trail and say, “Hey we give up!” The only way that they’re going to function properly as a team again is if you allow them to rest up their bodies. Does that remind you of someone?” he emphasized.
The listener blushed…

“As for your overreacting to any little annoyance, did you forget the story about the sport of “Dog Fighting” in Korea?” he stressed.
All of a sudden, the musher was reminded as to what this old “Korean Vet” had once told him many years ago while sharing a coffee in his kitchen.

These dogs that were thrown into the ring where they would fight to the death, were conditioned to become that way. Like the humans, they were born innocent only to be fashioned by whatever means to become “killing machines”. Many methods were used and none of them had anything to do with tenderness. These animals were trained to be aggressive and at the end of the day, it became instinctive to attack the one in front of it as it was the basic way it was taught to survive. While the vanquished were destroyed and fed to other potential gladiators, the old “combat scarred” victors would be kept as living and breathing trophies so to be displayed by their money thirsty owners. Eventually, they would also be discarded and deemed obsolete and as a reward these “dogs of the arena” would be turned loose on an unsuspected population where they would be allowed to go out there and fend for themselves. Lonely and mistrusting, they would continue an existence of agony. It wasn’t their fault, Leonard Lanteigne had accentuated. That’s what they were trained for and they only saw humans as thing that could bring them harm. “Fear Bitters” they would be known as. Just like the soldier we were talking about at the beginning of this “blog”, they were only reacting to a threat not because it was an actual threat but simply because they were conditioned to react decisively to what was perceived as a threat.

Directing his question to his knowledgeable teacher, the man then asked, “Yeah I understand that but now, how do you deal with that dog or for the purpose, that soldier?”
“Well, how did you deal with “Rhum?” the old Malecite Native rebutted?
By now, his old trail partner was making quite the solid case, the suddenly very alert and attentive musher thought. And yes, the tall lanky red dog had come a long way since he had been adopted close to two years ago. In this instance, this sleddog had come from a world where a set of circumstances had made it that he didn’t know any better. Bottom line, he had never been socialized and could not interact with other animals. At the beginning, he was a wild and uncontrollable running machine and would attack whatever and whoever he had in his line of sight. Many of the “Mob” had been the recipients of his vicious attacks and he would only deal with the other dogs in one basic pattern. Encounter the perceived threat and bite at it so that it retreats. Gobble up what food that was put in front of him as if he had never been fed. Go back to its enclosure and guard the door by snapping at any other friendly dogs that just want to invite it outside so that he may discover this great new world out there.
The musher would have to conceive that “Rhum” had been a hard nut to crack. He could roll up his sleeves and produce several old now healed bite marks all over his arms to prove this fact. How many times after violent clashes had the musher said to the dog, “Eat this and enjoy your last meal because tomorrow, you’re being served a “lead pill”.

Destroying a dog, was one of these necessary evils that needed to be done by the true musher. Having a vicious dog on the team was something that could bring you trouble out there in the wilderness. The best example to illustrate this would be the following - You take off with a “10 dog” string and somewhere deep in the “bush”, this mean dog attacks his partner and it is a clash to the finish. First off, you end up with a bunch of dogs that really get excited and want to get into the “melĂ©e”. You have to get control over these ones first to then deal with the fighters. These bouts don’t need to be long to be serious and it doesn’t take much or too long to have one of the combatants injured, crippled or dead. When all is done and the fur has stopped flying, you might end up with two injured dogs that now can’t help pull the sled and left with only eight who now have the burden of having to carry the extra load. So for the betterment of the “pack”, it is sometimes better to permanently eliminate the source of the problem.

“Rhum” had come real close at least seven times in becoming maggot food. The last time, the musher had his head tied to the bottom of a tree, he had the barrel of the“22 gauge” stuck between his eyes, the safety was off and it was a matter of holding that deep breath and pulling the trigger. For some reason, the oxygenated air to the man’s brain had a calming effect and he thought to himself, “Hey, doesn’t he remind you of yourself when you were young, wild and crazy but with a good heart? If that old boss of yours way back then would have written you off, would you have turned out the way you did eventually?” Yeah, “Rhum” looking down at the barrel cross-eyed, sort of reminded the ex-soldier as to how turbulent his first years in the military had been. Back then, he had been given one last final chance by this crusty old Warrant Officer by the name of “Lloyd Church”. This rough and tough ex-boxer had seen the true potential in the “always in some sort of shit” young Private and had taken him under his wing. Through patience, compassion and love, he had turned this out of control wild young man into a very functional and loyal Military Policeman. The musher just then had been reminded of all the time he had invested in “Santa’s little Helper” (he does resemble Bart Simpson’s dog) and the mega strides he had made since his being adopted. “Rhum” still had a few flaws but through the same methods used by “Old Flat Nose”, he had managed to turn him around where he had became a hard-working loyal team member that would now actually go out there and socialize with his peers. After attributing that everybody is allowed a bad day, especially when you’re pushed to the “max” without allowing your body to recuperate, the dog’s life was spared once more and it had paid dividends. Stuck on the trail one night because one of his leader had pulled a shoulder stepping in a moose track, the “dogman” had taken a chance and put “Rhum” in front. There, he had accepted these responsibilities with utmost confidence. Seeing them, “Oumak” and him, matching each other stride for stride and in harmony, the musher was singing “Rudolph the red nosed reindeer” to the team and was giving priority to the words, “Rudolph with you’re your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh to night!” This experience would bring the point home that if you have a good heart and you are ready to help your fellowman, positive things will happen and you will surround yourself with values attributed to the “Good Wolf”.

“What about the “Evil Wolf?” the confused man asked the “Shaman”. “What am I supposed to do with him?”
“Well,” Leonard replied with this friendly smile, “he served you quite well in that previous life and if he hadn’t been within you, you might not have survived what you went through. He is an integral part of who you are and it’s a matter of knowing that if you feed him too much, he will have the strength to go out there and roam through the peaceful valley... Best let a sleeping Wolf, lie…”

By the time, he woke up, he was lying on the floor of the “Outpost” and the cold temperature in the building could only be matched by Mosqua’s cold nose. Here he was, this dark shape creeping along and discreetly sniffing the length of his master so to see if he was still alive.
“Good Morning there, Buddy!” the rested man said in reassurance. “What time is it?”
His tail wagging, the dog didn’t answer but by the way he crouched down to then snuggle in his friend’s side, you could tell that he was glad to see that the ex-military man was all right. Grabbing that adorable head in a choke hold, the musher gave him a kiss on top of the head to then say, “Well there “Big Guy”, what would you think if we were to get off this mountain and we’d head home for coffee?” The dog knew exactly what he was talking about and after straightening things around, to the truck they proceeded after closing the door. Reflecting as to what had transpired during the previous evening, the man said to himself, “I guess we’ve managed to weather another storm, Leonard. Thanks for being in my corner, there, old friend.”
The voice in his head immediately answered,
“Sometimes, what you're looking for is right there in front of your very own eyes. It's a matter of putting your feet up and reviewing the "Good Things" that happened during the previous year. One can "break trail" on his own but it is sure nice to share the burden with trusted friends...”

To be continued…

Peace on Earth to One an All and remember. Together we can make a difference! = -)


Thursday, December 15, 2011


There is truth to the old saying that goes, “When it rains, it pours…” And the month of October 2011 would go down in records as to being the worst the musher had seen in a long time. Not only was the weather cold, miserable and gloomy, his mood matched the darkness of these days perfectly…

Starting with that ATV that rolled on top of him, it seemed that he hadn’t had enough “excitement” during those first fourteen days and the events would further unravel and stack themselves, one on top of each other. He would continue to be subjected to more adrenaline rushes that would make it that he wouldn’t be able to focus enough to walk that “path of red hot coals without burning his feet”.

So anyway, on the Tuesday morning of that third week, there had been a lot of yelling and ordering about by the man to get them loaded in the “dog camper”. It seemed that they just didn’t want to co-operate. Instead, they were playing chase and couldn’t understand as to why he was so abrupt and would not allow them to horse around in the dog yard.
“What’s his problem?” Orka asked the remainder of the cheerleading squad while they were eventually traveling to the “Baisley” trailhead. “Is it his time of the month?”
All the yearlings started giggling.
“I don’t know,” Thunder continued with that certain arrogance that only she had, “but doesn’t he realize that we’re the ones that are running this show and if we want to, we can make life real miserable for him.”
“Yeah, Yeah!” most of the girls seemed to say in agreement.

For them, completing “10 mile runs” were major accomplishments and this according to what they were telling themselves, they were “superstars”. This was of course a figment of their imagination because at this illustrious stage of their careers, some of them had maybe “150” miles under their belts while others had a lousy “75”. Nonetheless, they were getting bored of traveling to and back from the “Quebec Alps” and with all this “experience”, they had developed a confidence that surpassed what you might call a “cocky attitude”. They wanted more challenges and a change of scenery and they wanted it right now.
“According to Gidget, there’s a lot more trails out there to explore.” Kameo continued.
“Uncle Oumak, do you think you could take us out on a different route, this morning?” she went on. “We’d like to see what else is out there!”
“Well,” the old gray wolf like canine answered hesitantly, “one of the things you ladies must understand is that yes I do lead the team but the musher says where we go. That’s it, that’s all.”
“But it would be so nice to go and visit something else for a change! Oh please Uncle “Mak” you handsome devil you, can we, can we?” Lightning continued, pleading to the point of begging.
Oumak was a sly “old fox” and the type of dog that didn’t need much to have his ego stroked. He was one of the only two males on this all female team and he relished all this new found attention and flirting that he was getting from the eight bitches. He had always thought of himself as being the best available stud in the kennel and was not easily accepting the fact that he was no longer strutting his stuff with the “elites” on the racing team. In his opinion, the musher had made a huge mistake when he had demoted him to the “B” Team. He was not impressed and just maybe today was the right time to prove to him that he was not a “has been”.

What the poor old guy didn’t understand was that he could no longer keep up with the faster pace that was required to stay competitive. Although an excellent leader, he didn’t have between the ears that special quality that was needed to go the extra long distances. He was the type that would be all show and all go at the beginning but someone that wouldn’t keep anything in reserve to finish the job. However, to be fair to the individual, it wasn’t entirely all his fault. He was one of those fine examples of a dog that had been pushed way beyond his physical limits when he was just a yearling. Somewhere, during those tender and critical first two years, his previous owner had raced him way too hard and way too early. As a result, he had injured his right front wrist and the nagging pain to this articulation would flare up every time he’d run further than the “25 mile” mark. So why would a person waste rations on such a lame duck, some of you real mushers might ask? The answer to that was real simple, really. The dog had been a key component and had led the “Canadian Snowhounds” across many finish lines during the three previous years. What “JR” knew, he had taught most of it to him. Also, he had one of those very special and desirable attributes that all good lead dogs must have – He kept the team to the right side of the trail. And that folks was why he was still around and leading the “Girly Girl” team. Since the start of the training season, young “Nikita” had been paired up with him and he was teaching her all the intricacies of what was required to lead a long string of dogs with complete confidence. He had done a fine job as the young apprentice had gone from being very timid to being looked at as a strong contender for leading the “A” Team.

But that was neither here or there. Today, he was in one of his moods where he would not listen to the directions given and would take the team down the path that “he” would choose and this according to his agenda.
“So you ladies want to go exploring?” he snickered. “Well, I’ll tell you what. When the time comes, follow my lead.”
“Do you think it’s a good idea?” Nikita asked, not too sure why but knowing that this smelled like trouble.
“Oh mind your own business, Miss Goody Two-Shoes. Speaking for all of us, I think it’s a splendid idea.” Thunder exclaimed.

The old Alpha dominant female, Vixen, who had been listening to all this had just about had enough with all this bickering so eventually piped up in frustration. Directing her comments to Orka but loud enough so that little “Peanut Head” would also get the message, she belted out,
“I hope that you and Thunder realize that it’s because of you two little sluts that we’re in this predicament. If you would have managed to keep your legs together maybe you wouldn’t have gotten pregnant. And if you wouldn’t have gotten pregnant maybe you wouldn’t have needed to be operated on! Did you ever maybe think that it’s because the man is looking after your welfare that we’re going on these short strolls? Those were serious operations you had, you know? Did you ever think that maybe he’s not pushing the envelope because he wants you to heal properly. May I remind you that it’s only been five weeks since the “vet” opened you up? Give the man a break, will you!”
“Oh simmer down, you grouchy “Old Hag”, Thunder continued, edging her on from the safety of her box, “You’re just jealous because your “JR” is paying more attention to us than he is to you.” And with that comment, the teeny-boppers again started chuckling.
Vixen was just about to add more gas to the fire when her brother interjected.
“Hey Vixen,” the “Kid” told her also really annoyed, “save your breath. You know how it is. There is no sense in turning blue in the face trying to tell them how it’s done. They’re destined to find out the hard way…”
With that comment, “Vixy” swallowed her next words and just gave a low tone growl. After all, he was right. They knew it all and didn’t want to listen so why waste spit on them. For now, she would have to endure being humiliated as her and her brother had no choice in accompanying these “Air Heads”. The musher needed dogs with experience so to teach some of the “ropes” to the young ones and they had drawn the short straws. So instead of enjoying a peaceful quiet ride, they would have to endure this heckling.

It had taken more time than usual but he had finally managed to string up the ten dogs. He couldn’t understand why they were so full of piss and vinegar but suggested to himself that it probably had something to do with the new “meat diet” and the fact that they were getting in good shape. Oumak was putting on quite the show out there in front, jumping up and down and banging in his harness. Usually, when the musher would tell him to “sit and be a good boy”, he would calm down and not move but today he was just going crazy, raring to go. The young “shit disturbers” were mimicking him and cheering him on with their squeaky high pitch barks. During all this time, poor young Nikita was trying her best to hold the line tight because “Gino” had told her so. Trying her best, at 43 lbs, she was no match for the gray leader and he was pulling her by the neckline, tossing her around like a rag doll. This did not sit well with the “Boss” as having a calm team before starting out on a run was something that he considered quite useful. Not only did the dogs conserve energy, one stood a better chance of not being left behind in case they got loose. This was something that young dogs needed to learn but there was no way he would be able to get them to stand still on this occasion. So he decided to forget this part of the lesson, jumped on the training rig and pulled the quick release on the snub-line. Usually, his experienced team would have waited for the commands, “Ready” then “Uptrail” but the cheerleaders were off and running way before anything could be said.
“Look at them go!” he said almost amazed, seeing all those little “tight asses” galloping full out. “There is no way they can keep this speed up for any length of time.” He had been holding them back to a trotting speed for the better part of the last month so allowed them to have their moment of controlled chaos. “OK Girls, you want to go for it? Let’s see what you’ve got under the hood!” And with that, he whistled, eased off on the brakes and let them run freely.
“Finally,” the “Kid” said to his wheel partner “Vixen”, “we’re going to get to stretch our legs.” And with that they joined in and put the pedal to the metal.
The “Girly Girl” team was surpassing the musher’s expectation and he couldn’t understand where such “petite filles” were getting so much power. Surely they would slow down on that first incline two miles out but they didn’t. They just kept pulling and keeping the speed up. So he decided to see how far they would go before they ran out of steam. There was a lesson to be learnt in there somewhere and there was no way they could keep it up. Besides the run to the “Quebec Alps” was only 10 miles long.

When the team got to the “three mile” junction, it was critical that it went straight ahead. Not only did that left turn take you to a series of long and distant trails, a “RECCE” of the area needed to be done every autumn so to ensure that there were no obstacles obstructing the trail systems. So far, this hadn’t been done and as you would have it, Oumak had it in his thick skull that was where we would be headed that day.
“On By!” the dogman shouted to his two leaders, “On By!”
Young Nikita recognized this command and tried to lead the team in a forward direction but good old “Mak” would not listen and was trying to turn right.
Braking the motorless ATV to a complete stop, the musher yelled at him, “Non “Mak”, I said “On By!”
Him pulling hard to go right and Nikita putting extreme efforts trying to proceed in the correct direction, she was to lose this “tug-of-war” when the cheerleaders put their shoulders to the rope. Shout, brake, curse all you want, there was no stopping them now. They had managed to go where they wanted and were on their way to explore new frontiers.
“Well,” the musher said to himself, “I’ll turn at the trapper’s camp and just do a short “8 mile run.”
That’s what he thought but the team had other ideas. They climbed the next hill at break neck speed and instead of listening to the “Gee” command so to turn right and then loop around, they just whizzed on by the building. Across that narrow makeshift bridge they flew without even realizing that one of them could have caught a leg in a crack between the logs and might have broken it.
“Oh I didn’t like that.” he reflected while aiming and braking the rig across it till its four wheels were locked, “Those spaces between those logs can be mighty treacherous.”
By now, some of you might think that the dogs were out of control and I would almost have to agree with you. But what can you do? These things are known to occur especially with a young team that doesn’t understand what “Stay” means. When one ventures out with a light motorless ATV, two things are a “must”. First, the “four wheeler” must have not good but excellent brakes and it is important that you travel with a team that will respond to your commands. It is the only way that one should risk using such a contraption. On this day, the musher was being reminded of this. Holding on to dear life, he was just going along for the ride and was hoping that they would tire out eventually and this without incident.

They were coming up to a “Y” junction and it was imperative that the team turn left. The other direction offered a series of possible dangers, including a large beaver pond that these industrious animals would build across the road every year. Usually, the trapper and his son would dismantle the dam every late fall but the beavers would just consider this effort as more overtime challenges to keep the water levels high. The dogsledders of the area were aware of this and would avoid this particular stretch of trail till late in the winter when it was frozen solid and safe to cross.
“Niki, Mak, Haw, Haw Trail!” the “Boss” shouted.
Niki did want to go left and was trying to proceed in that direction but Oumak was dragging her to that “Gee” trail, a trail that he remembered so well from before. He guided the team past that sharp right hand corner and was headed towards potential disaster. Along the way, it was clear that nobody had been in this area lately as there were fallen trees at three different places. These didn’t really offer challenges to the team as the tree trunks were small and were something that they could simply plow through and jump over. As they tackled each obstacle, it was pleasant to see that the young girls were getting accustomed to wearing that harness on their back and were enjoying themselves.
“They’re actually working as a dog team.” the driver thought to himself, starting to relax but being led into a false sense of security. “They’re actually really showing real potential.” What was really happening is that they were catching their second breath and once they reached a certain descending part of the trail, it was as if they had passed the word around and here they were at “full speed ahead” again. The musher knew better than to let them run full blast downhill and slowed them to a comfortable speed that would minimize the possibility of shoulder injuries. Eventually coming around a long left bend and coming face to face with this monster of a water hazard, he was astonished by the dimensions of this natural wonder.
“Holly Shit, look at it!” he exclaimed out loud.
Yup, he was surprised to see the shear magnitude of this beaver pond. With all that exaggerated amount of rain the region had had over the last six months, the surface area was at least five times its normal size. Gazing up at the sky and laughing to himself, he wondered if they could see it from the International Space Station.
“Probably not,” he smiled, “but still…”
Needing to immediately immobilize them, he commanded his team. “Stay you guys, Stay!”
Both leaders did slow down to a crawl but because of the slippery icy grass, the ATV wouldn’t adhere properly to the surface and the “Girly Girls” kept pulling it closer and closer to the edge of the pond.
Almost in desperation, he called, “For fuck’s sakes, you girls, STAY!”
It was useless. They would just not listen and just wanted to go and play in the beautiful clear water.
Not being able to stop the team in order to turn them around, he was losing this battle. They kept creeping forward and by now, the front six dogs were in knee deep water and they were committed to fording the beaver pond. Getting himself mentally prepared to take a cold bath, the man didn’t say a thing and let the dogs test the water for themselves. The further they went, the deeper it got. Not even in the middle of it, the small yearlings soon found out that the water was way over their heads and this was not fun anymore. Oumak, not capable of walking on the bottom, started rearing himself on his hind legs and started trashing about not really knowing how to get out of this mess. He suddenly stopped right in the middle of the “lake” bunching the team all together with him to the point where dogs were stepping on top of dogs so to keep breathing. An immediate panic spread amongst the young females and all of a sudden, it was to be a desperate fight for survival. Add to that a tangled mess of necklines and tuglines and you had a serious situation where dogs would die.

There was not a moment to spare so the musher got off the rig to render assistance to the submerged animals. As soon as the ATV was released of its rider, with its huge balloon tires, it started to float. Suddenly, an idea popped into his head. With water way past his waist, he pushed the buoyant rig backwards so to get the gangline tight. This done, he turned around and sure as hell, there she was, swimming. You see, she was used to deep water because back at the lodges, at their private beach, she would spend hours accompanying Mosqua when he’d swim in the river to fetch a stick. Here in her element,here she was, as cool as a cucumber, dog paddling. She wasn’t going anywhere because of the tangled gaggle behind her but she was staying on top, threading water.
“Nikita, Uptrail Girl, Uptrail!” he said after quickly managing to get some sort of straight extended line, “Uptrail!”
With her pulling, Oumak and the remainder of the team now facing in a general direction and the musher holding the ATV back, heads started bobbing up from the “Abyss”. Coughing and gasping for air, all of them were accounted for except for little “Thunder”. You could see her small white figure struggling with all her might, under water with the gangline somehow wrapped around her neck. Try and try again, she just couldn’t squirm her way out to reach the surface.

An immediate jolt of “Action Jackson” super juice spread right through the ex-military man and he rushed to the side of his rambunctious but loveable little “Peanut Head”. With both arms, he grabbed the gangline on both sides of the choking dog and pulled them together so to release some pressure around its neck. In one single same motion, he lifted the rope above water so that “Thunder” could get a chance to breathe. Gagging and spitting volumes of liquids from out of her mouth, it was time that she got oxygen to her brain. Looking at how the noose was fashioned, he figured that if he could make the loop bigger, she could get out. He pulled the two sides even closer together but she wasn’t getting the right idea. She needed to back out of it but all she wanted to do was go forward and head to shore. Thinking fast, he gambled and let go of the gangline. With his left hand, he grabbed the top of the loop and held it tight. With his right one, he pulled the dog by the tail backwards and released her from that strangle hold. Still in that overwhelming feeling of terror, she was trying desperately to climb on top of her sister’s head and in the process, was submerging her. The man, seeing that this provided more potential danger, reached under Thunder’s belly and moved her away so not to harm Lightning.
“Easy there, Girl! Easy!” he repeated this on more than one occasion. Recognizing his voice, suddenly she was relaxing in his hand with a look on her face that said, “Please, please don’t let me drown.”
“Don’t you worry about that, you “Peanut Head”, you. Everything is going to be all right.” With that he started following the forward momentum that the swimming team was providing. Looking at the front of the line, here was Nikita leading the parade and Oumak really happy that she was. This period of weightlessness made it that she was able to drag the stubborn old mule in the direction that she wanted as here the size of the dog didn’t necessarily matter.
“Good Girl, Nikita! he encouraged her, “Good Girl!”
Still cupping little “Peanut Head” in his hand, she had caught on that to get to the other side, she needed to swim and by “George”, there she was doing it, helping the other team members.
The musher, with his soaked and wet to the neck insulated overalls, was being a hindrance more than anything else. He couldn’t move fast enough through the water so allowed the team to swim the width of the pond on their own. He let them pull the ATV past him at which point he latched on to the rear axle with his right hand. Half gliding behind it and half “scissor kicking” with his legs, the entire gang managed to traverse more than two hundred feet before they again found solid ground under their paws. Glad that they had reached the shore, they stopped and “shook it off”. Getting up after crawling on his “four” for a while, the exhausted man reached to where the “snowhooks” were on the rig and planted them firmly into the mud.
“Stay, you Guys! Stay!”

For some strange reason, there was a renewed sense of collaboration. None of them hesitated to co-operate and he walked up the line towards the leaders, inspecting the “Troopies” from head to toe, making sure that nobody was hurt while readjusting some neck and tug lines. When he reached the front however, he was still engulfed with this warrior entity and everything it encompassed. He couldn’t help it. This persona would invade him every single time that he faced an imminent threat and this in whatever form it appeared. In the past in that military forum, this had proved to be an indispensable and welcomed asset as it had more than saved his bacon and this on numerous occasions. However, when these adrenaline filled episodes would enter and spread throughout his body, not only did he not perceive danger, he would become a liability to himself as he would try to eliminate the menace and this at all cost. This side of him was not accepted as a way of resolving things on “civvy street”. Therefore civilized society didn’t understand and were somewhat scared of these “robots” that military systems produced and let’s face it, there was cause for concern. They were hard to deal with as there were no switch to turn them on and off at will. The man was aware of this dark side of his personality so had chosen to basically retreat to the quietness of the backcountry. In this manner, he would stand a better chance at avoiding confrontational situations. So with some of the rage still in his heart, the initial thing he really felt like doing was to close his fist and drive it real hard in the side of Oumak’s head. However, the wiser side of him would prevail and he refrained from doing so.
“There was no sense in this,” the “Good” wolf said to his “Evil” twin, “as canines live the moment and he would probably not understand what was happening. After all, didn’t he just finish swimming across the "English Channel" to save the day?”
When the ex-soldier did reach him, the dog’s ears were flopped down, his tail was between its legs as if he was ready and expecting some sort of punishment. Looking down at him, the musher figured that his old trail partner had had enough for one day so gently patted him on the head. “Oumak, Oumak, Oumak! When will you ever learn?”
Sensing that things might be good between them, his old friend started moaning like only “Oumak” can and he started nibbling at the man’s hand in a sign of affection.
“It’s OK, Old Buddy! Shit happens! Now do you think that maybe we could go home without arguing as to who runs things in this town?” Eyeing all the wet dogs, there seemed to be a consensus that they all had had enough excitement for the day. Figuring that it was just about that time, the tired old serviceman went back and hoped on the ATV.
“All right, Boys and Girls, let’s go home!” he said calmly, “Ready? Uptrail!”

They moved out slowly and under control but the trip was not going to be too pleasant. The dogs were tired and their harnesses were becoming stiff from the cold and causing armpit rubs. Meanwhile, the musher was running besides the training buggy but regardless, he wasn’t generating enough heat to keep his clothes from hardening as hard as a rock.
Panting as he went along, he could hear once again the pounding of his heart just behind his eardrums. “Oh Great!” he reflected. “Just what I needed, another sleepless night.” He knew exactly what would transpire in the next couple of days but what could you do? It was the nature of the beast and something he had to live with…

To be continued…