So there he was, standing there on the podium holding his first place cheque and accompanying trophy. To hear him speak, anyone not suspecting, would have thought that this guy was the “poster child” for the sleddog racing world. Very well educated, he knew how to choose his every word so to move a crowd and from their reaction, was obviously saying all the right things. Yes, there he stood. Finally, I was getting the opportunity of putting a name to a face of a person I had been seeking out for the better part of three years. This was Sunday evening at the Awards Ceremony in St-Pamphile and I guess his “shiny white teeth” speech was souring my mood and putting a damper on an otherwise great weekend. Don’t get me wrong. I know that what I’m about to say will make me sound like a sore loser but please do bear with me. Although I will admit that I was a bit disappointed with my results, this was not the reason as to why this “hero” was making me sick to my stomach.
First of all, to start putting things in perspective, I had taken a real hard one on the chin as I had come in dead last in the “45 mile” run. For the first time in my racing career, I had earned the not so coveted honor of being given the “Red Lantern”. As you would have it, there’s a legend attached to this curious identified item. It is said that somewhere up north, a widow of a musher kept this lantern lit, night after night so to guide her lost husband home after a snow storm. In the true spirit of this tradition, the “Red Lantern” is supposed to be given to the last racer to cross the finish line as a gesture that says that all participants are in, safe and sound. However, somehow this got twisted around and now the ones receiving this award are somewhat often subjected to a lot of razing and at the receiving end of a blunt joke because they came in last. I have to concede that I had to somewhat swallow my pride but in all honesty, I didn’t really care about the standings. For me, it was most important to see that the dogs had managed to tough it out and complete the event healthy and happy. Let’s face it, I had just put them through a most grueling challenge and they had completed the prescribed seventy-five (75) kilometer distance with just a couple of glitches. This in its own rights was a major accomplishment and a true statement as to why they call them canine athletes.
Now, this is where the “hero” and I differed and this was why I wasn’t too fond of the “man of the hour”. It didn’t really have anything to do with his first place finish. Hell, we hadn’t even run the same event. However and like I said before, I had been studying his case for a long time and he was one of the best examples out there of what the dark side of racing has to offer. In his game, the animals were simple tools that were to be used and abused. In his game, he would step on anybody that stood in his way and would backstab whoever he felt might be a threat. In his game, his word wasn’t worth spit and winning was everything thus he would do whatever it took and this at all cost.
But I’m getting ahead of myself and at this stage, the direction where this story is headed paints a pretty bleak picture of what I would otherwise consider a great outing. I wouldn’t want to turn you guys off right from the very beginning so it would only be fair to start accentuating the positive things that transpired during the weekend.
That Saturday morning, when I left “Baisley Lodges”, I knew exactly what I would be facing. It wasn’t rocket science. One only had to visit the race statistics found on the “Village des Mushers” to realize that these Quebeckers running that particular circuit were all business and took their racing most seriously. If one took the time to check the timings attached to the results of the mid-distance events, it wasn’t hard to figure out that I would be out-dogged and this right from the word “Go”. While they were pushing the envelope way beyond the “12 MPH” average on a “30 miler”, the best my band of misfits could manage to do on a same training run was “9.3 MPH. But this was to be a “45 miler” so I was gambling that some of the other teams would fizz out due to the extra length involved. So off we went to run the “Odyssée Appalachienne” for a second year in a row.
When you try to live a simple life and run a competitive sleddog team on a shoestring budget, well let’s just say that cutting corners in areas such as where the rubber hits the road, might not always be the best idea. Last summer, I noticed that my dog trailer could use some new tires. They were smooth as a “baby’s behind” and I could not but be amazed as to how long they had lasted. They needed to be replaced and I thought that I should do this before starting a new mushing season. Normally, if you don’t want any headaches, you invest in a good “6 ply” tire. This type is built to carry extra weight and in my case, I only have a single axle under my trailer so these tires should not be considered a luxury but a necessity. I think of my dogs as being very special and when you ride such a precious cargo, you should ensure that they can travel in all security. However, good or bad, I took the decision to go to the local scrap yard and invest in two used and may I add well weathered tires. They still had lots of thread on them so at a bargain price of $40.00 (complete with rims), they were a steal. While installing them and upon closer inspection, I had noticed that they were cracked so was a bit hesitant about them.
“No problem,” I told myself, “I’ll carry a spare when traveling on long trips.”
On this particular “adventure”, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I had made the wrong investment. We had driven about 70 kilometers and coming close to Rivière-du-Loup when abruptly, my Toyota “4 Runner” started swinging from side to side. I looked in my side mirror and could see that my trailer was the cause of all this commotion as it was fishtailing like there was no tomorrow. I eased off the accelerator and pulled to the shoulder. Other than having been surprised by the unusual behavior of my vehicle, there was no real harm done so I parked on the side of the road and went to check on the “Mob” and inspect the damages. If the trailer leaning on one side wasn’t a clear indication that I had a “flat”, the mangled stringy black mass around the dented metal wheel sure confirmed it.
“No big deal,” I said to myself, “I came prepared.”
Prepared or not, I wasn’t going to change it there on a busy highway. I just didn’t want to gamble that by an odd chance, someone might come along and plow in the dog trailer. Like I said, they’re simply too precious. I was close to an “exit ramp” so opted to get off Hwy 185. Besides, I knew there was a gas station just around the bend and I reckoned that it would be a good place to stop.
I was parked way back so not to disrupt any possible customer traffic and in the process of jacking the trailer when the owner showed up. After exchanging casual greetings, he piped up and said, “So you run dogs, do you? Are you headed to the big race in St-Pamphile?”
“Yup” I simply replied.
“I used to have sleddogs when I was younger but old age got the best of me so I packed it in.”
I knew that he couldn’t be much older than me, so out of curiosity I asked,
“How old are you?”
“51”, he answered.
Trying to keep a straight face, I twisted my tongue around three times. I didn’t want to have to admit that I was older than him, thus immediately changed the subject.
“You wouldn’t happen to have a spare wheel like this, in your back pocket?” I inquired jokingly.
“No, not in my back pocket but I might have one behind the garage. It’s a Chevrolet Cavalier rim, isn’t it?” he asked.
Before I had the chance to answer, he was gone and back, carrying something that looked like it might be compatible.
“Here,” he said convincingly, “this should do the trick.”
To my delightful surprise, the “Old Man” (tongue in cheek) knew his stuff as this thing fit the exact bolt pattern.
“So, how much for the tire?” I asked sheepishly, knowing quite well that on too many occasions, the price goes up when a person is in need.
“Oh, considering you changed it yourself and that you look like a guy that takes care of his dogs, I guess five bucks should cover it.” he said.
“Five dollars?” I rebutted immediately. “Are you sure that’s enough?” “Yeah, Yeah!” he insisted. “The thing had been collecting dust and was cluttering the backstore for years so if I can do you a favor by getting rid of junk then we’re both happy.”
“But are you sure though, that it’s enough?” I asked, now feeling guilty for thinking that he might have been a “thief” waiting to take advantage of me.
“Don’t sweat it.” he replied, waving me off. “Besides, now you owe me a big one. Hopefully, one of these days, you’ll remember this episode and return the favor to another complete stranger.”
I reached in my pocket and retrieved some cash. I spotted and insisted that he take at least $10.00. He reluctantly accepted and after thanking him and shaking his hand, I was on the road again. Looking in my rear view mirror, I could see him standing there in the parking lot, with his hand still up in the air and waving “Goodbye”. I couldn’t but wonder if he was envious of me for going or regretting not running dogs anymore. Did he do this because at one time, we shared the same passion or was it because he had a kind heart? Whatever his motives were, his act of generosity struck an agreeable chord with me. It left me with that warm feeling inside, the one that leaves you thinking that in these hard recessive times where everybody is struggling to make ends meet, it is nice to see that someone else would actually go out of his way to help a fellow man. For some strange reason, I did not feel so alone that day. For some reason, this unselfish act truly emphasized what I really believe in - And that, is that the day we decide to put greed to the side and truly make an effort at being kind to one another, then there will be less problems in this world.
That’s what was going through my head while again going down the highway when the second bargain priced tire ripped off its rim. Contrary to its counterpart, this one just disintegrated into thousands of shredded pieces. It didn’t blow nor did it deflate slowly. It simply pulverized and scattered to the four winds. Curiously enough and I guess some might even call it “Divine Intervention”, it did not affect the driving performance of the jeep and at 100 km/h this was most remarkable. I once again pulled over to assess the damage and I guess with all that flying debris pounding the undercarriage, most of the dogs got scared by the noise and were whining.
“It’s OK guys,” I tried to reassure them, scratching their noses through the grills of the doors. “It’s OK.”
I pulled into an emergency exit, put the spare and I must stress the “spare” aspect of it and headed out to the next town, called “La Pocatière”. There I found another garage where they fixed my flat using an old second hand tire. Where I had been given a break on the previous occasion, these guys didn’t have any qualms about “sticking it to the man”. So after forking out an exaggerated $75.00 in “cash”, I was again on my way, hoping or should I say praying that this was to be the end of the tire saga. “Note to self,” I muttered along the way, “Quit being so frivolous. If you would have bought those “6 ply” tires instead of those “El Cheapos”, then this would not have happened. You risked the lives of all those dogs back there and for that, you should be ashamed…”
Finally, we reached destination but it wasn’t where we were supposed to be. You have to understand that because of local politics as I was to later find out, the starting line for my race had recently been moved to “Tourville”, a small community approximately fifty kilometers on this side of “St-Pamphile”.
Now, you wouldn’t think that there would be much of a story about finding a cheap motel room but I guess what transpired that day was most unusual and needs to be addressed. It all started when I stopped at the “Tourville” Tourist Information Office and inquired about accommodations. Although being most pleasant, the young lady couldn’t find anything. The influx of mushers in the region made it that everything was booked.
“The best I can do,” she said with a bit of disappointment, “is to send you back to “St-Jean-Port-Joli”. This meant that I would have to backtrack 60 kilometers only to return again the next day and re-travel an additional 100 kilometers. To me, it didn’t make any sense as we needed to be back really early for the start. Add to that, the “Mushers Briefing” scheduled for 1900 hrs that evening in “St-Pamphile” and there was no way this could be done. Somewhere during this short span, the dogs needed to be fed and I needed to get some sleep, even if it was for a couple of hours. I declined this option and chose to carry on.
“If worse comes to worst,” I consoled myself “I’ll just sleep in the back of the jeep.”
At this stage of the game, some of you are probably questioning as to why I didn’t reserve a room ahead of time. Well, it’s like this. Although I had registered way early for the race, I couldn’t book anything as the details of the “45 mile” race were up in the air for the longest time and not published till two weeks prior. So by then, nothing was available. I was more than a bit upset by all this and I guess my piss poor attitude was showing. The kind girl, although she had tried to help me out the best she could, was on the verge of receiving an earful when I got a grip of myself and started breathing through the nose.
“Hold the fort here,” I commanded myself, “you can’t take it out on her?” “First of all, it’s not her fault and secondly, she’s trying her best to find something.”
Nonetheless, this situation plus the tire episode, made it that I was having a bad case of anxiety attack and it was just best that I simply leave. While she was still on the phone, I was on my way out the door and probably headed back to New-Brunswick, when suddenly she said,
“Hold on there Sir, I might just have found something.”
For some reason, that statement didn’t fall into deaf ears so I turned around to face that superb and beautiful radiant smile of hers. All proud to be telling me about her findings, she informed me that the organizers had set up a couple of “Prospector” tents in the school yard and that there was still room available in them for a few more mushers. It wouldn’t be the “Hilton”, she added with a snicker, but they were there if I couldn’t find anything else. You know, sometimes it doesn’t take much to turn that frown upside down and I guess this was one of those special moments. I don’t really think that it was in this young lady’s job description to take flack and entertain a crusty old fool like myself. But her “go out of her way” attitude sure made some points with me and earned her a gold star. She’ll probably never know this but her sweet kind ways sort of re-set my mood button which switched from a bitter negative to the positive side of things. And that is most important when dealing with PTSD. One should always try to look at the glass as being “Half Full”. After thanking her wholeheartedly and letting her know that she had brightened my day, I continued on my journey, now curious to see where I would be spending the night.
When we pulled in at the St-Pamphile school, you could feel that the entire town’s people were in a carnival mood. Young and old, it seemed that everybody and their “dog” were participating. There were kids playing street hockey, music blaring throughout the whole area with folks “line dancing”. While some guys were para-sailing, there was a humongous “bomb” fire right smack in the middle of the parking lot. I was looking for the mushers’ marshalling area when I spotted Rob Cooke’s now almost famous calling card. There she stood, that huge right-hand drive beast of a white VW van of his, making that European statement amongst the North American “dog trucks”. For some strange reason, I had taken a shine to that old girl. I don’t really know if it was because it reminded me of my years spent in Germany or for when I used to move furniture as a sideline with a similar “milk truck” way back then in Winnipeg, but it always put a smile on my face everytime I saw it.
After finding a parking space, I walked over to Rob Cooke, who was standing there with a couple of other guys and watering his dogs.
“So how did you make out?” I asked, dying to find out if all his hard training on the “Baisley” trails was paying dividends, “Where did you place?”
“Bloody hell,” was this Englishman’s generic response. “Those Quebeckers are crazy. We had the best run we ever had and still we came in last.” After, listening to his account of the event he had just raced, I couldn’t but feel sorry for him. He was sort of in the same “boat” as I was. Where I stubbornly refused to and would not change any of the dogs in my line-up to better my standings, he was a “die hard” traditionalist who still ran Siberian Huskies. Although nothing would be said, we both knew what needed to be done to stay ahead of the competitive game. However, the compromise was just too big and a stepping stone to a never ending game of “catch up”. To take that plunge might mean that one might be willing to seek the glory of the game and this on the backs of some poor animals. Speaking for myself, I wasn’t prepared to go down that road. These loveable mutts of mine were family and these outings were our way to meet interesting people and promote the “Be kind to animals” philosophy. Besides, call it crazy if you want, but I had this sense of loyalty towards the members of the team that made it nearly impossible for me to sideline any of them. How could I replace a character like the ‘Kid” or for that matter, Vixen after all those years of hauling my ass around? True enough, they were no longer fast enough to keep up with the rest of the “Boyz” but they were most dependent and always there, day in and day out, pounding that trail. I don’t think they really understood the concept of faster is better but they sure loved to go out and mix it up. To me, driving this sleddog team was like having a ten year mortgage. I knew what I was getting into when I got involved with the sport and I would uphold my commitment. In today’s “Generation Me” society where everything needs to have immediate gratification and everything seems to be disposable, how could anyone treat these fantastic distance runners like outdated cell phones. After all, aren’t they beautiful living creatures made of flesh and blood? Yeah, I had this special bond with my dogs and I was reminded of this every time I went to the barn to let them out to do their business. It didn’t matter what kind of mood I was in when I walked through those doors, I was almost always guaranteed to walk out of there with an upbeat spirit. Their “glad to see you attitudes” and their crazy antics made for quite the entertainment. One had to just take the time and observe them in their natural environment. If one looked closely and really observed what is going on when they’re socializing, one could actually see fine examples of how “us humans” should behave and interact amongst ourselves. In a pack of dogs, there is a well established hierarchy, complete with its leaders. While every one watches out for one another, all have their places and respect that position. When something is not right, there is none of this bickering and plotting behind somebody’s back. Instead, it is dealt with there and then. Sometimes, the punishment might over exceed the crime but that’s the way it is. In their world, order and discipline is most important and you will very seldom have repetition of the same offence. They know exactly where they fit but most importantly, they know that they must cooperate, coordinate and work together if they are going to get a chance at survival.
“Did you find a place to sleep?” I inquired to Rob.
“Well, not really.” he answered. Then pointing to and referring to James Wheeler, he added “However, James here is supposed to ask the motel manager if we can crash on his floor.” “Yeah,” the other one interjected, “you’re more than welcomed if you can’t find anything else.” I didn’t say anything about the offer as I needed to keep my options opened. From the looks of things, some of my fellow mushers looked like they might soon be in the “party mode” and I could see where this might end up if I didn’t behave.
“Thanks, Guys.” I answered. “I’ll keep that in mind. However, there might be tents available and I’d like to check that out.” On that note, we coordinated a later meeting and away I went.
They weren’t hard to find and when I reached those white canvas structures with smoke stacks coming from the sides, I inspected the premises. Although the first one was full to capacity, when I entered the second one I was met by a couple who according to them were in charge of keeping the “buck stove” fed. Yes, there was plenty of room in this one, the nice lady told me. For that matter, they were the only two people sleeping in there that night and would be more than happy to share “the straw” with some weird French speaking Acadian. They were most cordial and as a “Come on in and join the party” gift, the husband reached by the stove and offered me a drink from his bottle of “Caribou”. For those who might be uninitiated to this particular potent beverage, it is wise to know that if you can stomach this concoction of red wine and pure moonshine alcohol, then you best be prepared to be dizzy in a flash and this for a very, very long time. Not only will this mixture give you a complete “body stone”, it will peel paint right off the walls and even explode if you put it too close to an open flame. In my younger days, I had tested my capacities against this ever so “evil fire water” and had not been man enough to meet the challenge. I remember then waking up two days later with a bad case of alcohol poisoning and with a most severe hangover. Not knowing what day it was, I literally had gone out and bought a newspaper just to confirm that I had been out like a light for that long. Just the smell of it reaching my nostrils while he was pouring some in a glass for me was bringing back those bad memories and was enough to make my stomach churn.
“No thank you, not for me.” was my immediate response. “That shit is just too much for my weak constitution.” This seemed to satisfy the cause so the man re-poured it into his own glass and took a long drawn out swig. There was no adverse reaction to the taste on his part and from the half dozen or so empty bottles lying at his feet, you could tell that he was accustomed to poking back this Quebec nectar.
“Jesus,” I reflected to myself, “the guy must have a cast iron stomach. How the hell can he still be sitting up after drinking so much of the stuff?” “One thing is for sure,” I giggled while exiting the tarp door, “he won’t feel the cold when he passes out tonight.”
With that, I went to the school to register, satisfied that things were picking up for me when it came to the “where am I going to sleep” department. Instead of curling up in a ball in the back of my jeep, I would actually get to see what it was like to sleep in a “Yukon famous Prospector tent.” Like that girl had said in “Tourville”, it wasn’t the “Hilton” but what the hell, it was a dry and warm shelter and as long as the “Stoker” for the stove didn’t blow us up, we’d be all right. I located the office and when I walked in, it was like I was meeting old friends. So pleasant these volunteers were, they made me feel like royalty. I was charming the pants off them and making sure that they knew that they were a special bunch and one of the reasons as to why I enjoyed coming back to this particular event when the accommodation topic was brought up.
“Well,” I hesitated while putting on the “sad eyed puppy” look, “I’ve found a straw bed in some stranger’s tent and from the looks of things, we might be in for a “Rigodon (referring to Quebec Folklore Music)” all night but that’s OK. Hopefully, I’ll get some sleep and won’t be too grumpy tomorrow morning.”
All three school teachers looked at themselves, I guess taking pity on me, when one of them said,
“No, no, that’s not good enough. I’m sure we can find something better suited for our soldier friend from New-Brunswick.” one suggested as if I wasn’t in the room.” Turning to me, she added,
“Stay here for a minute, I’ll go and check something that might be better.”
She left only to return with an attractive woman that might have been close to my age, who she introduced as her mother. After some small talks with this newcomer, in an engaging voice, she eventually said,
“You can come and sleep at my place, if you want.”
I was kind of taken by surprise with this gracious but most unusual invitation and didn’t really know what to make of this offer. Not really knowing where we were going with this and not wanting to put myself in a maybe compromising position, I came up with an excuse.
“That’s fine,” I replied, “but there’s two of us so I wouldn’t want to impose.”
“No big deal,” she continued, “there’s two bedrooms in the basement. “Maggie,” she instructed her daughter, “just take them to the house and show them where they can sleep.” Now, reassured that the invitation had nothing to do with “Hanky Panky”, I was glad to accept the invitation.
The daughter and myself were almost out the door when a man’s voice calling her name could be heard in the long hallway.
“Maggie,” the voice said, “Hold on for a second.” We both turned around only to see the mother and now the husband coming to us.
“Take him to the camp.” he suggested. “I’m sure they’d be more comfortable there. They’d have lots of room to let their dogs run loose and they wouldn’t be disturbed.
“Are you sure?” she replied.
“Yeah, I think it would be better.” the father concluded with her only to address me directly. “Besides, some of us have got to take care of some of you.” he added smiling and pointing to my “Veterans Canada” patch on my parka. “It’s the least we can do for you guys.”
So on our way we went to find this camp in the woods. It was pitch dark outside by now and after driving for a little while, Maggie and her friend, another teacher, showed me where I would spend the evening. As luck would have it, it was sort of situated in the middle between the two towns. I eventually connected back with Rob Cooke and told him the good news about the “log cabin”. Later, when we eventually decided to pack it in for the night, I guess and as I had also previously been, Rob was totally surprised by what stood in front of him. It turns out that out of the goodness of their heart, this most kind couple from St-Pamphile, had lent their beautiful family cottage, a huge wooden structure complete with fire place and private lake to a couple of complete strangers.
“Do you think it can get better than this?” I asked my roommate while we were inspecting the premises.
“You know Gino,” Rob said shaking his head in astonishment, “I don’t know how you do it but it seems that you always land back on your feet.”
What amazed me about that observation was the fact that he was right. So that night, lying in a very comfortable bed only associated with a luxurious “five star” hotel, I questioned myself as to why I was so lucky. I didn’t exactly know what it was but I had to be doing something right. Contrary to what some might believe, there were no big revelations nor did the sky open to let angels fly down. Nope, none of this stuff happened. However, the events that I witnessed that day left me with a ray of hope and that warm good feeling that said that there were still a lot of us “good people” out there, still willing to go out of our way to help a fellow man. And that’s what put me to sleep with a “shit eating” grin on my face that night.
As for the race itself, they were correct when the organizers guaranteed that it would be a challenging and interesting trek. I enjoyed it whole heartedly as it took us through very scenic landscapes. We traveled through forested areas and went right “down town” in villages complete with the old traditional “white steeple” churches. We crossed a river via a “covered bridge” and made our way across frozen lakes. We tackled the water lines of a maple sugar operation by ducking them and got the chance to really test ourselves on one particular trail that can best be described as a “trap line”. I don’t know if it was intended as such but its design made it that it completely tested the skills of the driver as well as the endurance of the dogs. It wasn’t the perfect run and poor old “Oumak” was again giving up at approximately thirty-two miles into the race. I was really getting upset at his choking attitude if not style but really felt bad the next day when I saw the sore under his armpit. It turns out that the dog was not to blame after all. Rather it was the fault of his “dumb ass” master who had the bright idea to put on a brand new harness on the animal just before the race. Not accustomed to its fit yet, he ended up with a most severe case of “harness burn”, one that would hinder his performance for the rest of the season.
“Poor Mak”, I told him that Monday while he was rolling on his back in his “I’m so cute” position and exposing the raw meat. “You must think I’m cruel to let you run a marathon with sneakers that weren’t broken in.” He didn’t seem to take offence as to what had happened. He was just content and happy that I was rubbing his belly.
“If only man could be so forgiving.” I thought to myself, having been taught another dog lesson, “Wouldn’t this planet be a better place to live?”
Anyway, coming back to the race, I had once more taken another gamble that would prove to be again an incorrect choice. If you recall from a couple of months back, I had sidelined one of my best dogs, “Sox” due to some soreness in his hind quarters. He still hadn’t recovered from that so I had put a spare from the “B” team on the string. This dog, who by pure coincidence was Oumak’s brother had been given to me by these folks who had rescued him from what they said, was a pretty pathetic situation. As the woman described it, she had visited a breeder where she had found “Sky” tied to a post at the end of a two foot chain and this in “knee deep” shit. To make matters worse, this wild and scared “gray wolf” was nothing but skin and bones and reeked of urine and excrements. The reason why its owner was apparently getting rid of it was because it had a small shoulder injury and could not run the long distances. Not to worry, he had assured them, he was still a good dog for what they wanted him for, which was recreational mushing. The woman took pity upon him and felt so sorry for the poor animal that she forked out the demanded $200.00 just so that it could be taken out of that awful context. She would later find out that trying to turn a true sled dog into a house pet might be quite the challenge. On too many occasions, “Sky” would often run away, taking himself out for regular runs throughout the countryside. She felt that he needed to return to mushing surroundings so had given him to me last summer. True enough, he was a hard working individual that would keep his tug line tight at all times. Solid between the ears, he had this rare quality of a long distance dog where he would always stay focused and never get discouraged. Also true though was the fact that this shoulder injury was a permanent thing and one that would flare up on occasions. That Sunday afternoon, eleven miles from the finish line, the pain would be back and he started limping along. Watching him, favoring that right front leg, I was to realize that pushing him passed the thirty mile barrier was not good for him. His heart was in the right place and he never gave up but the realities of it all were that this damaged shoulder would cause him to be in severe pain whenever he would push the limit. Slowing the team down and trying to encourage him. I asked,
“You OK, Sky?”
With that said, his ears perked up and his stride straightened out.
“I know you can make it, buddy. Only a few more miles to go.” I added.
Watching him struggle just to keep up with the team made me even fonder of him and proud to have shared this expedition with my friends and partners, the “Canadian Snow Hounds”. However, where one side of me could really appreciate the collective efforts of their performance, the other side of me wanted to put my fist down somebody’s throat and rip his heart out. You see, I had been curious about “Sky’s” injuries and had contacted Sylvain Voyer during the previous autumn. He didn’t know what the circumstances were but assured me that it had not happened in “his” yard. He referred me to another musher who would later discreetly confide in me that it had been caused by a beating with shovel which had simply been administered because the dog had jumped on the person and had soiled his clothing. He would not dare point any fingers but added, “It wasn’t the lady that gave him to you.”
Now remember, way back at the beginning of this story, when I was talking about a guy with shiny white teeth? Well guess what, it’s the same guy. It’s that same guy that when I wanted to buy Oumak, he tried to cut Sylvain’s grass and sell me one of his own dogs. It’s the same guy that puts nice people like Johanne Cloutier down, saying that she bought a reject of a Saskatchewan Cook’s dog even after paying $700.00 for it. It’s the same guy who borrowed Diane Marquis’ best lead dog for a two day race at the “Defi de Kemp” last year and for some reason, the dog could not finish the second leg of it and came back injured to her kennel. It’s the same guy who after having a very successful racing season, reneged on his word and decided to jack up the price drastically for stud fees, a price that he had previously negotiated with Gaétan Martin.
Yeah the guy can stand up there on that podium and bullshit all he wants as to how he’s the greatest but let’s get one thing straight. He’s building that reputation at the expense of a lot of good folks in the sleddog sport. Unfortunately for him, I can see right through that crap and it’s like I told the “hero” two years ago, “The mushing community is very small and eventually what you do might just come back and bite you in the ass.” To you, the “Man of the Hour”, I now say “Sorry my friend but right or wrong, somebody has to expose you for the fraud that you are. You’re not what a real dog person is all about and represent just a very small percentage of what the racing world is. If we all continue to keep our mouths shut then eventually your behavior will tarnish our good reputations and you will drag us all down into your sink hole.” As for the saying, “what happens on the trail stays on the trail”, well I don’t really care if I’m pegged as a “whistle blower”. I was raised with certain values and one of those qualities that I do possess is that I’m able do the right thing even if it’s not popular. In this instance, I feel that somebody needs to speak in the defense of the dogs. Publishing this, might not be one of the brightest things I’ve done but what the hell. Somebody needs to come forward and bring the mistreatment of sleddogs to light. For those reading this - If you think that this guy is the exception to the rule, let’s go back to last summer and remember those 100 + dogs that were rescued somewhere in the area of Mont-Tremblant. They were also left there abandoned and left to starve. If we remember correctly, those poor critters also belonged to another musher with a bright “Colgate” smile.
As for collecting the “Red Lantern”, somebody needed to bring it home so it might as well be me and the “Boyz”. It’s like I keep telling people, “We’re not in it for the glory but rather for the scenery. And folks, the scenery in this charming Quebec region called St-Pamphile, is a great place to experience if you want to race dogs. The citizens of that friendly township sure know how to put out an excellent product .
Peace on Earth to one and all. Remember, together we can make a difference. = -)
P.S. The name of this individual was withheld for specific and obvious reasons. The “Google” search engine is a very powerful tool and one that can be dangerous if used maliciously. The purpose of this text was not to “chuck shit” at anyone in particular but to remind one and all that these dogs that we share our daily lives with, should be cared for and not used as simple commodities. Just ask yourselves one question.
“Where do I rate on a scale of 1 to 10 when it comes to the treatment of my dog (s)? Hopefully, you won’t be left with a guilt trip…