When my brother-in-law and I retired from our short canoe racing career in 1999, we left that particular adventure, champions and undefeated. After that one particular race on that windy August day, I had vowed that my competitive years would be over and this forever. Let’s face it, paddling like mad men for 20 kilometers against young guys half our age had taken its toll. Winning first place and being honored for our efforts had had its moments of euphoria but the blisters in my hands and the burning sensation in my shoulders and lower back were telling me a totally different story. They were definite signs that at the age of 42, one might want to consider less intensive sports, sports like maybe golf or even lawn bowling. Serge, my canoe partner, had gone that route and I guess after ten years of playing golf, he had become quite proficient at the game. However, for some strange reason, it just didn’t “cut the pickle” for me. Oh sure, I had swung a club or two in my days but never could seem to get any satisfaction at chasing that little white ball across wide open green meadows.
But on that first Saturday of 2009, fifteen miles out on those high plateaus, running like a bastard behind my sled, with an injured dog in the basket and wearing no parka, I was way past starting to regret my choice of hobby. Add to that the fact that with the wind chill factor, the temperature was bouncing up and down in the vicinity of a January New-Brunswick tropical temperature of around - 38 degrees Celsius, and you know what? Training sleddogs was the furthest thing on my mind just at that moment. I was feeling that blistering wind reach my sweaty body and this even through four other layers of clothing. Keeping those legs moving was the only option I could come up with to stay warm so I had been at it for the last two miles and had no intentions of stopping. Hypothermia was a real possibility right now and we had another five miles before we reached that trapper’s camp. Hopefully the old man would be there and I would have a place to warm up and get reorganized. By now, some of you might be wondering as to why I’d be running in the middle of winter without my coat on and to say the least, you have a very valid question? Well let’s just say that “shit happens” and I was dealing with a whole pile of it.
You see, on that particular morning, the sun was shining and it looked like a great day to put in a “20 miler”. Although they had been out a few times during the previous week, the dogs had seen their daily training runs screwed up during the Festive Season. I could tell when feeding them that just like me, they were itching to get back on the ‘trail”. The “Holiday Crowd” had kept me hoping and awake way passed my bed time of 0800 PM. For a guy like me, this was most unusual and not necessarily something that entirely agreed with my system. I needed to settle back into my routine as I had to get back to my mundane comfort zone.
However, I would not have changed anything as after all; it was Christmas, wasn’t it? This particular one was going to be special as on the guest list for this occasion was an old “army buddy” and a real good friend, Bruce and his sweetheart of a wife, Heidi. This guy had made a supreme effort to come down from Ontario to visit. Considering that he had just finished a bout of cancer treatment during the month of November, I had promised myself that we would spend a lot of quality time together. Remembering how we used to enjoy poking them back, I was going to “go off the wagon” and make an exception so got well prepared and bought four cases of “24s”. If we were going to get some serious drinking done, we would do it right, so I thought. As it turns out, although the intention was there, the weakened condition associated with chemotherapy was to dictate how me and my friend would visit. Also, considering that he had suffered a “stroke” in the past and was presently on medication for possible blood clots, well this sort of “sobered the mood”. I was soon to realize that a true friend would not try to influence a person in such a fragile condition. This was not what he needed at the time. Instead, what “Dr Gino” would recommend was large doses of rest and relaxation and maybe some fresh air that is if he could get off the couch and leave the comfort and warmth of the wood stove. I think that both of us were mature enough to recognize the fact that this was the more prudent way of dealing with the situation. Besides, there would be future “get togethers” and I don’t think that even if we were in the middle of a world wide recession, they were not going to quit brewing beer. Bruce, I know you read this stuff so I’ll say it again, “It was great to see you. Get well and stay healthy, Buddy. There will be a next time.”
Also, although another cottage had been reserved for that same period, it remained empty as the client was stuck in a snow storm, somewhere between Montreal and here and this while traveling with eleven (11) sleddogs. I had been getting regular daily updates since his tentative departure on the 21 Dec 08. From I could gather, I could tell that this guy was a most determined person. Considering that he was so adamant about making it to destination and that I had seen his name on the “CAN-AM 30” list, I would take this opportunity to check out or even better “spy” on the competition. The principle of “know your enemy well” was as old as the hills but was one that could be adapted very well to this scenario. Being a strong believer that you don’t go into a situation without being very well prepared, I would observe and analyze this opponent. My team needed all the insights that I could muster and we would not go into that race without proper “intelligence”. This was one of the fundamentals of “winning” and besides, the “Baisley Mob” had become the talk of the town as a possible threat and some of these folks racing in Fort-Kent were now discreetly sizing me up. Although this unwanted attention had gone to my head, this had to make me laugh. If they only knew that my intentions were to simply go out there, explore new territories and enjoy the ride. But then again, after reviewing the list and assessing the possibilities, I had started to see things in a different manner. There was no way that I could win this race but the potential of finishing in the top “10” positions was in the scope of things. My guys had worked extremely hard at getting to the level of conditioning they were in and if we were to participate, why not give it our best. What I was not realizing there and then was that the old competitive nature of my inner “beast” had taken over and was dictating my existence. I had unconsciously reverted to this “GI Joe” mode and was treating this adventure as a military operation and this right down to leopard crawling up the garage attic and retrieving my old “army” webbing. This was to compliment my “Ghung-Ho” look and after slapping that sharp hunting knife on it and putting the belt on, I was amazed that it fit after all those years. Obviously, I knew that I had lost a lot of weight but this was a true testimony that I had reached my goal. I had changed that “shit locker” for an “hour glass” figure. It had been a “ruff” go on my “arthritis riddled” body but the physical exercise had done wonders to my mental state. Those doses of endorphin put me a smooth calmed “Zen” like state and I was amazed as to how I had forgotten how this “runner’s high” felt so great. I was hooked and would continue to get my daily “fix”. This was great but I was not alone in this endeavor. I was pushing the dogs too hard and it was starting to show. Some were walking with stiff hind legs while others were more aggressive than usual. These were signs but what the hell, it would teach them “tolerance”. When I would bed them down for the night, I was getting irritated by their non-eating of their meals. They had to eat as they had to keep up their strength. But this was not to happen. Instead, they would just crawl to the comfort of their dog houses and go to sleep or was it to just maybe get away from me. After a few nights of this, I got irate, shut the light out and stormed out of the barn. “Well, piss on you guys” I told them one evening, “You’ll bloody well eat when you’re hungry.” Walking away, steaming, I was pissed off that things weren’t going my way. Without realizing it, I had set myself in a frame of mind where I had entered the “dark side” of the sport and was treating my dogs as tools and a means to glorify my somewhat over-inflated ego. Now would have been a good time to suck back and reload but no, the guy was on a mission.
As you would have it, in the tradition of the “Red Lantern” where it is kept flickering till the last musher comes in, it was finally extinguished when Luc pulled in the yard on the 26 Dec 08. Parking in front of the “Bunkhouse”, I have to admit, it was an intimidating sight. This truck had to be the most expensive mushing rig, seen so far at “Baisley Lodges”. This brand new black Ford F-150 with sixteen (16) dog boxes was there, overshadowing my old 1986 “dog buggy”. Big and powerful, it seemed to project the image that said, “Welcome to the Big League. May we suggest that you get your act together or better yet, get out of the way?” After our initial meeting, I helped this individual with his settling in. This long trip had probably been hard on his dogs and this would need to be addressed immediately. At Fran’s suggestion, we turned her car porch into a “manger” and installed his “tie-outs”. As soon as I started lifting and installing the animals on the “drop chains”, I could tell that these “pups” could be serious contenders. This was soon to be confirmed when Luc introduced me to his team, ensuring that I was aware that he had gone to out of his way to “stack up his team”. If this was to be true, these dogs had pretty impressive pedigrees and quite the racing records. Compared to this, my “Canadian Snow Hounds” looked like they just did not belong. Let’s face it, they were a bunch of misfitted rejects that had been pooled together and called a “team”. This whole scene was having some psychological effect on me and the clincher was when he pulled this $2500.00 “Cooper” racing sled. This guy had spared no expenses to ensure that he would have that “winning edge”. Nothing had been left to chance. It seemed that he owned everything that the mushing racing world considered “high-tech”. And to say that most of my gear, I fabricated or bought at the local “Wal-Mart”.
Anyway, the gauntlet had been thrown my way and knowing that I would never back down from a good challenge, I started to seriously keep tabs on a future adversary. Tactics were used that sent the message that my team was a bunch of wimps. What else could I do? When I saw him pull that “4G” right-hand turn and tackle the uphill segment of “heart break” hill at just under eighteen (18) miles an hour, I just knew that the dogs and I were outclassed by this bunch of expensive purebreds, called “Alaskans”. So the poker face was put on and I sat there waiting for the right time to pull a perfect future ambush. Oh deep inside, I knew this wasn’t the right approach and such stunts should not be pulled on a fellow musher. However, the old competitive addiction was rearing its ugly face and I just couldn’t help myself, I needed to feed this old habit. So this was to set the stage as to why I was running in the middle of winter without wearing a parka.
You have to understand that the “intelligence” report suggested that I needed to test the waters so to see where I stood against other teams. During his week long stay, Luc had mentioned a thirty (30) mile race in a place called St-Pamphile, Quebec, an eight (8) dog configuration event that he had entered. Of course, this had not fallen into deaf ears as the event could serve as a good benchmark as to where my dogs rated when sizing the competition. What the hell, “Snooky” and “Gidget” had been alternating back and forth as spares to the “A” Team therefore I had enough dogs to enter. So on that faithful morning, my intention was to hitch seven (7) dogs on my way to eventually build up to a full compliment at a later stage. Not considering the fact that I’ve got brand new sections of ganglines hanging in the “main foyer”, I decided to use an old one that had been given to me by an old musher who had dropped a whole bunch of gear off last summer. I should have known better than to use this rotten segment of rope but it was closer at hand and I was too lazy to walk the extra ten steps to get a new one. At the trail head, I added this section right in front of my “wheels” then hitched the “Boys” and “Gidget” the midget. When we took off, I don’t know if it was because of the excitement of having a girl on the team or the three day rest period but the team was pulling like there was no tomorrow. We were clipping right along and were at least ten (10) miles into the run when suddenly, I heard this “snap” sound and the pulling sensation, leave my steering bow. I looked up only to see that the powerful steam locomotive had detached itself and was leaving the caboose behind. Yup, that stupid gangline had broken right in front of the “Kid” and Irving and five (5) dogs were running full tilt and leaving us in their dust. “Stay “JR”, stay” I kept screaming but this was not to happen. “Oumak” had in his mind that he would lead the “parade” today and had taken over the situation. My two “wheel dogs” were still pulling me and my sled, trying to catch up but this was not to happen. Faced with prospect of losing dogs or even worse, have some of them killed, I decided to address the problem immediately and slowed my “two dog” team. We needed to conserve energy as this could be a long haul. All this time, I’m whistling for the team to come back and from I could see in the distance, some were responding, trying to stop and wait for us. But what I was focusing on more was the leadership struggle in front of the team. “JR” and “Oumak” were snapping at each other while running. I can only guess that one wanted to stop while his partner wanted to run. When they get to the junction where we’re supposed to turn right to complete the twenty (20) mile run, they go straight instead. “Oh Fuck” I whispered to myself, “this smells like disaster.” That road led a series of avenues that we avoided visiting because of all the motorized traffic using it. The thought of them meeting up with a pick-up truck or even worst an “18 wheeler” fully loaded with logs made my stomach turn. The nausea I was feeling suddenly brought my morning coffee up and I vomited close to half a cup, leaving a brown trail along the snow bank. By now, they were nowhere in sight but I knew they were still in front by the paw tracks. From what I could gather, they were following a deer but who knows for sure. Then a ray of hope presented itself. That “dear deer” veered left into a small trail, a pack of dogs following. There was no way I would take the “Kid” and “Irving” in there, so I planted the anchor and told them to stay. In knee deep snow, I trumped after them. I didn’t know how far ahead they might be but at least they were no longer headed towards a heavy traffic area. I was huffing and puffing through the deep white stuff and had been at it for at least ten (10) minutes when I heard the jingling sound of a brass snap. I whistled so to make sure that they knew it was me and one of them responded by whining then barking. “Sox, buddy, is that you?” From the answer, I knew I had finally caught up to my dogs. This sense of relief was short lived when I saw the messy sight. The dogs were there all right, all tangled amongst each other and around trees but it was not good. There was blood all over the place on the animals as well as on the snow. Panic struck in when I saw “Jacko” lying there, motionless, wrapped around the bottom of a tree. Was he still alive, I wondered? I didn’t know but the matter had to be dealt with immediately. I grabbed that hunting knife from my belt, pulled on that gangline that was choking him and cut it. This relieved the pressure around his neck and he started to move. However, this slacked off the tension on the rope and my two leaders were still having issues and got at it. The way they were stuck, one was to survive and one was to die. There was to be a fight to the finish and they were seriously inflicting some deadly wounds on one another. I got in the middle of the “mêlée” but this was a big mistake. “Oumak” lunged at me and bit me. Protecting myself with my forearm, he fortunately settled his teeth into my thick mitten and was for now venting his anger towards it. “JR” saw this as an attack on my person and attacked him, embedding his strong jaw in his skull, initiating more blood to drip from the side of his partner’s head. “Let go, “JR”, I commanded, “let go!” This was not to transpire and from the growl and rage I could see in his eyes, I could tell that if I was to save “Oumak’s” life, drastic measures would need to be used. Without hesitation, I cocked my naked left fist and drove him one in the side of the head. The blow of the impact sent him flying backwards but he didn’t go too far as he was still being restrained by the neckline. But it had the desired effect and he came back to his senses. I managed to undo his neckline snap, releasing him from those close quarters and he backed off. My gray leader still had a grip on my mitten and would not let go. “Oumak,” I suggested, past the point of being annoyed by this dog that would listen when it suited him, “you better give it up, buddy. If you keep this up, one of us is going to stay in the woods. I can guarantee you that.” Hanging there, just standing on his two hind legs, it was like he was possessed by the devil. He was scary to look at and every time I moved that hand, he gave it a shake with his head. “Let go, Oumak, let go.” No way would he cooperate and the decision was made. Seeing the shiny chrome blade glitter in the sun, I nonchalantly recovered that hunting knife from the ground and settled it comfortably in a tight grip in my left hand. There was no way that I was not going to leave my skin out here. If this was a matter of survival, the dog would lose. “For the last time, “Oumak”, let go.” “Non, “Oumak”, I tried in French, “Non.” This struck a chord with him. His ears went back straight up in the air and that “fire” from his eyes just went out. “Bon chien, “Oumak”, bon chien.” I continued in my mother tongue. Sure as hell, I had just solved a four (4) month old mystery. This dog had been raised listening to French and I only had assumed that he would learn English. “Bon chien Oumak. Bon chien.” This seemed to re-assure him and he started to moan and then released his grip. He then just sat there wagging his tail and looked up at me with that “Colgate Smile”. “How could I stab such a beautiful face?” I wondered, still trying to sheave that knife in its scabbard. This was quite the challenge right then. I had just injected myself with an overdose of adrenaline and my hands were shaking from the rush.
I don’t really recall how long this episode lasted but when the dust settled down, I assessed the situation. My team was in sad shape. Except for “Gidget” all of them were sporting new bite marks. I don’t know exactly what had happened when they all got tangled up but I don’t think that it had been pretty. I examined the various injuries and deducted that except for a deep gash in “JR’s” left front leg, none of the other dogs would be affected too much. With a little time and some “Aloe Vera”, they would be left with a few more battle scars but would live to “soldier” on. As for “JR”, I would have to stop the bleeding so I took some snow in my hand and applied it and pressure directly to the area. While holding it there, I was looking around and trying to figure out how the hell I would get out of there.
A plan was hatched and I released all the dogs and let them run loose, all of them except for “Oumak”. I didn’t trust him. Holding on to him with one hand with my pieces of gangline in the other, we all made our way back to the sled and my two other dogs. When we got there, it was like they hadn’t seen each other for years. They were having a family reunion and all playing together like nothing had ever happened. Here again, “Oumak” was treated different. I had no plan of losing him, so I tied him up to a tree while I knitted a makeshift gangline. I used what was still good from the original one, then used the spare lines I kept in my “webbing” pouch. I still didn’t have enough to hitch the whole team so I used my boot laces as well as the draw string from my parka. Staring at this mishmash of a setup, it did not appeal to me but if it got the job done and got us out of the woods, then who cares about how it looked. I called the dogs and hooked them back on my very “low-tech” pieces of rope. When, I put “Oumak” next to “JR”, everything seemed to be back to normal. “Now, take it easy you guys. I don’t know how good this thing is.” “Oumak,” I translated in French, “gentil.” We were way off track with this run and had to find a short-cut so to get back. I didn’t know how “JR’s” leg was going to take the rest of the trip so rather take it slow and check things out. A route was chosen and “uptrail” we went. It didn’t seem to affect him and the fragile gangline was holding. Now, if I could only settle down on those runners, relax and make it back home. This seemed to be the message that the team had captured except for “Jacko”. For unknown reasons up to this day, he just didn’t want to pull. Instead, he was not only neck lining, he was trying to stop the team. Every time, we stopped and I checked him, I just couldn’t see what the problem might be with him. All I could notice was that he was shaking like a leaf. “You OK, buddy?” I asked trying to re-assure him. “You’ve got to keep up. We’ve got to make it back to the truck.” This was to no avail. He just didn’t want to run. Hoping that this was a temporary thing, I unhitched him and let him run behind. I needed to establish if he was limping. No, this was not the problem. I put him back in his spot and he just didn’t want to work. I knew we were coming to a very treacherous segment of the trail and slowed the team right down to a walking pace. Still neck lining and basically walking on his two front legs, he stepped in a “moose” track, tripped and fell, face first on the icy surface. “Bang” and he was down. Out cold, he was being dragged along by his neck, his tongue hanging and his eyes opened. For sure and this for a second time in the same day, I thought he was dead. I stopped the team, rushed to his side and unhooked him. He was stiff as a board and when I leaned over to listen, I couldn’t hear him breath. I had resurrected a dog in the past by giving him “mouth to mouth” and this seemed to be another one of these occasions where CPR needed to be performed. I started massaging his rib cage with some pumping pressures and this worked. I guess he had the wind knocked out of him in his fall and now he was coughing and catching his breath. “You OK, buddy.” I told him, looking at those sad blue eyes, “You scared the shit out of me.” I tried helping him up but he could not stand. I lifted his upper lip and saw that instead of being a normal pinkish color, his gums were white. This was a telltale sight that either he was in shock or subjected to frost bite. “Piss on this” I told myself, “Put him in your basket and take him home that way.” This did not sit well with him and he was trying to get out and away from the sled. Considering that this would have been a good time to have a sled bag along, I just couldn’t conceive as to how stupid I could be, traveling way out here without having the proper equipment. I just couldn’t leave him behind so I surrendered my parka. I put him in there, zipped it up and tied the sleeves to the side of the sled. “Oh, you stupid ass!” I kept repeating to myself, “A bag and maybe matches are not a luxury out here, you know.”
So, “Valderi, Valdera” I went, headed to that trapper’s camp. It was not easy trekking considering I had no boot laces but what the hell, the sun was shining and I was still able to continue. During that last five miles, the problems kept piling on top of on other. I broke my brake to then twist my left foot. Yup! And to think that some people play golf. Note to self, “Review this mushing crap and evaluate if it’s all worth the headaches.” By now, not only was I getting tired but I was also getting quite discouraged. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was freezing to death in that white-out, I would have stopped there, sat down and cried. “Why did I always put myself through these miseries?” At 52, one should leave such things alone. “Bull Shit” I scolded myself, “we’re not going to pack it in. We’ve seen worse and this is nothing.” There was no way I was going to let this thing beat me. I was going to make it to destination, so I closed my eyes and kept running.
I reached deep inside and went looking for that “dead soldier” rage that had helped me with this getting in shape. I was thinking of those three latest casualties, yeah three more had fallen on their swords in Afghanistan, and was looking to exploit that fury that it generated within my loins. “Hey you guys?” I asked as if they could hear me. “Are you out there? If so, I could use a little help, just about right now. If you’ve got a bit of courage to spare, I sure could use some.” Then it dawned on me. Had I become part of the silent majority? I had been so busy with my own little private life lately that I couldn’t even remember what the names of those three Canadians were. They had died and this just six (6) days before on the 27 Dec 08 and for the life of me, I just couldn’t remember. “Come on, Gino, what were their names? I concentrated trying to remember but could only recall that they were Non Commissioned Officers of different ranks. Opening my eyes once in a while to check on our progress, I would then again close them and continue my visit with these three unknown comrades. Instead of feeling a bunch of negativity, I had found myself in a zone filled with calmness and positive energy. I was thinking of all those other brave men around the world that were giving their lives for whatever cause they believed, was right. It didn’t matter which side you rooted for. At the end of the day, the blood that runs through everybody’s veins bleeds red. We were at the threshold of a global religious war and no one seemed to want to back down. I wondered if all those who believed that soldiers should die for such noble religious beliefs, had considered what happens in the “after life”. If heaven did exist for all of them then did they continue to fight up there and if not, why wait till they got there. Wouldn’t it be logical just to go to a “neutral corner” and like John Lennon would say, “Give Peace a Chance”. If living in harmony was not right now an option, at least maybe we should try to tolerate one another? I’m sure that there were some cool heads on both sides of this present conflict, wise men that could see that there would never be a resolution to this “world domination” game. Were they now looking for some form of compromise? Hell, what would happen if the next President of the United States, Barack Obama would actually come on TV one night and offer an “Olive Branch” to the so called insurgents. I know it’s kind of a simplistic way of looking at very complicated world affairs but then again war mongers were making it confusing. And besides, what would it hurt? Nothing really. The present overall plan was to fight to the bitter end and it wasn’t going anywhere. Somebody had to talk the “first step”. So why not try thinking outside the box.
I came back to the task at hand when I noticed that I was picking up speed. When I opened my eyes, I was going down that last hill. I had made it to destination but was again to be disappointed. Looking at the chimney and seeing no smoke, I could tell that my friend the trapper hadn’t been around that day. “What to do? What to do?” was the question that ran through my head. Three options were possible. First, I could bust the cottage door down and make a fire. This was logical but would not make me very popular with the owner. The second one would be to push on and continue the remainder of the last four mile trip. I wasn’t doubting the capability of the dogs as they had just finished showing me that they were up to any challenge. However, my legs and arms were gone and I needed to rest a bit. The final option was to see what was stored inside the “Pink Shed”. I would check what was available to me in there then would decide to either stay or move on. We were somewhat protected from the winds in this valley so we would make a “pit stop”.
Planting the anchor and telling the “Mob” to stay, I walked over to the tin covered building and investigated what it contained. The initial thing that I noticed was how much warmer it was in there with the sun beating down on the metal. That was a “good thing”. Amongst the beaver carcasses hanging upside down anywhere and everywhere, were located a few “Canadian Tire” plastic tarps and something that struck my fancy, something we refer to out here as a “pulp mill” blanket. The best description to identify such an item would be to say that it’s some sort of thick brown wool carpet that the pulp and paper industry uses to fabricate their product. When deemed useless, they throw this material out where it often ends up being recuperated by people, washed then made into blankets. They’re not too soft to the touch but this particular one was a welcomed sight. I grabbed it and wrapped myself in it. Immediately, I could feel the warmth of it do amazing things to my body. I touched the wall from the inside and could feel the heat. Confident that it was a lot warmer inside this shed than outside, I decided that I would tend to “Jacko”. The pour soul had not moved too much since his “head plant” and if there was a possibility, I would retrieve my parka.
I returned to my team and opted to let them all run loose. This was providing me with a better chance of not losing my sled. I didn’t trust that the anchor would hold them for any length of time and was afraid that they might take off again. When it came to “Oumak’s” turn to be untied, I hesitated then set him free. “Buddy,” I told him, “this is it. Whether you become a full member of this team or you fuck off, right now I don’t give a “rat’s ass. It’s entirely your choice and I hope you make a good one.” On that note, I attended my patient. He still didn’t look too good. He was still shivering and was kind of limp. I picked him up, parka and all and transported him to our humble abode. I grabbed one of those tarps, sat down in a corner with “Jacko” between my legs and started to share body heat. I was proceeding to bundle ourselves up in a “cocoon” when suddenly something strange happened. All the dogs showed up at the doorway and wanted to come in. Thinking that it was the raw meat that was attracting them, I scared them away. They left only to come back a few seconds later. This time, only “Sox” and “Gidget” ventured to step in. They approached us as if they wanted to check on their trail partner. “What’s up guys? You want to see if he’s all right? OK, come on and look.” I made an opening so they could sniff him and they hesitantly came. But, instead of just smelling him, they both flopped down with us. As if he was looking for some kind of approval, “Sox” put his head on my knee and looked up at me. All I could see were these new scars in his facial area and two large bags sagging under his eyes. “Yeah, Buddy! I think you’re right. I think I’ve taken this competition stuff a bit too far. I don’t think we’re enjoying this any more. Staring at us as to say “What about us?”, there stood the rest of the pack, waiting to be invited in. “All right you guys,” I signaled at them to come. “Group Hug!” All came except for my two leaders. “Now what?” I asked, specifically addressing the question to “JR”. Are you guys best of pals, all of a sudden? All right, come on “Oumak”, we’ll make some room for you.” For some reason, he knew what I was talking about and rushed in. “JR” followed suit and here we were all getting along in one mess of a gaggle but like the dogs, I didn’t care. Compared to that sub-zero weather out there, it was warm and to tell you the truth quite cozy. We stayed in that shack for close to two hours and most of the time, the dogs were sleeping, snoring and farting. “Holy Jeez, “Kid”, couldn’t you have gone outside. He just opened his eyes, fanned the smell out with his tail and went back to sleep. Lying there, I had a lot of time to think and although at no time, I had feared for my life, this entire escapade that day had been quite a lesson in humility and an eye opener. Add to that this quiet peace of mind I was feeling, sharing this very basic experience with my “friends” and you know what,? This mushing business was not for everyone but for me it beat drinking a “Manhattan” at the “19th hole”. Racing these dogs might still be part of our future but I would not do it at all costs. These guys were not machines and I was not going to treat them as such. They were too valuable “family members” to be treated like dirt.
While I pulled a four (4) inch nail out of the wall to fix my sled brake, I found some bailing twine in that “palace” and took this down time to better fix my gangline. While at it, I used some of this string to tie my boots. “Jacko” was getting some color back and looked warm wearing my parka. He didn’t seem to want to give it up, so I chose to have him continue the trip in the sled. So to compliment this “Hillbilly” look, I cut a hole in that brown blanket, put it on a coat and tucked it in, nice and snug with my “web” belt. I hitched the team up and it simply amazed me as to how they fast they could recover. It was getting dark and it was time to finish this day as we had been on this “adventure” for the last nine (9) hours. Fran was probably wondering where we were so we had to get home. We took off and were coming back to the trail head when I realized that the team had passed the ultimate test and had ran over thirty (30) hard miles today. From my perspective, they had managed to haul my sorry ass out of trouble and they had nothing else to prove and this to nobody. Yeah, we might participate in that CAN-AM race but “cool” heads would prevail.
I got to the truck, gave them their liver treats and unhitched them. All of them found the depth and comfort of a dog box, all except for “Oumak”. Instead of settling in, he jumped in his all right but laid there, his head out, front paws hanging. Looking at that grin again, I had a suspicion that he had decided that this bunch of misfits weren’t that bad after all and he might just as well hang around and stick it out. Who knows what might happen next? “Welcome Home, Buddy!” I told him patting him on the head before closing his door. “Glad, you’re on board.”
While driving home, like if they were intimate friends, the names of those three dead servicemen came back to me. “WO Gaétan ROBERGE, Sgt Gregory KRUSE and Pte Michael Freeman, wasn’t it? I was amazed as to how it seemed to be clear now. Staring at “Venus” up there in that clear dusk sky, I concluded my day by saying my version of what I’d consider a prayer. “Gents, it was a pleasure traveling with you today. Be well and God Speed!” P.S. If there’s anything I can do for you, let me know.
Oh by the way, I’ve since returned to visit the trapper and explained why his blanket had gone missing for a few days. He said that it was all right and besides, he owed me one. But that’s a totally different story altogether…
Peace on Earth to one and all. Collectively we can make a difference.