Sunday, November 13, 2011


On that bright sunny early November morning, there wasn’t much noise coming out of the “Dog Camper”. They were coming back from a “20 mile” run and at this early stage of the season and this according to “Vixen”, the “Boss” had pushed the envelope a bit too much.
“What the hell was that all about?” she busted out loud, trying to relieve the cramps from her hindquarters. Having limited success and wondering if she was the only one that felt the burn in her legs, she asked her brother, “What about you, “Kid”, are you OK?”

As if he wasn’t there, the bruiser stayed silent in the confines of his box. Of course he was all right and why not? They had gone through these drills on more than one occasion throughout their running careers and on this particular run, he had enjoyed himself tremendously as they had discovered and traveled through new and most beautiful countryside.

Right now, however, that’s not what was on his mind. He just couldn’t understand what was going on. His training partner for the last month, young “Kameo”, had blown the doors right off him during this outing. He just couldn’t believe that such a small package could pack such a punch and for such a distance. Put simply, he was ashamed that he had been outdone by this featherweight.

He wasn’t the only one to be impressed. The musher had also taken notice of the performance of the three young dogs on the string. But and this was the most important part, he was relieved that the team had made it back to the truck safe and sound. Let’s be serious here. He had taken off with the oldest and youngest of the kennel and while the “Viagra” clan had covered such distances in previous seasons, the yearlings were not used to being on the trail for such a duration. It’s not that he had wanted to take them on such a long run and it had just happened because he didn’t have any choice in the matter. At a most critical intersection along the way and this in the name of progress (yeah they’re pushing a four lane highway through there), the trail had been invaded by a bunch of lumberjacks and their heavy equipment. Where normally, they would have needed the surface of a “Wal-Mart” parking lot to operate safely, these guys had managed to squeeze their machinery in a space that might allocate at best, twenty vehicles. To make matters worse, with the skidders, they had pulled hardwood tree lengths all alongside this road so to process through a “Slasher”. Now here was a “10 dog” team, stopped and facing this monster of a machine. Quite impressive with its rotating 60 inch sawblade while flexing its extendable arm and grapple, it was straddled across the roadway, digesting logs into “8 foot” lengths and spewing sawdust all over the place. This was fine and dandy but it was also obstructing the right of way to a public thoroughfare to any passer-by let alone the dog team. Checking the situation thoroughly, it was obvious that there would be no possibility of turning around and the only other alternative was to push on forward through the obstacle course.

He just had to look at the musher’s face to realize that right now was not a good time to argue as to who might be at fault. His equipment was scaring some of the dogs and the driver of the training rig was struggling to hold them in place.
“JR”, the ex-military man belted out louder than and burying the sound of the diesel engine, “stay and hold that fucking line!!!”

Without the slightest hesitation, the seasoned leader did what he was told. He trusted the man wholeheartedly so stood fast right there and then and kept her tight. While he was doing this, little “Summer”, scared shitless, was trying to wiggle her way out of her harness to get away from that huge metallic beast. “JR” turned his head, and with a sympathetic look that said it all to her, he communicated, “It’s OK, Girl! It’s OK!” She didn’t know what to make of the situation but seeing that everybody else around her was cool with this, she hesitantly settled down but with her tail way deep between her shaking legs.

Now having the team under control and pointing to the operator, the musher made a sign with his hand across his own throat. The man in the cab didn’t know if it meant “I’m going to slice your throat, you bastard!” or “Kill the engine!” However, the way the man was glaring at him, he knew he needed to do something quick so chose to first test out the least harmful option so stopped the machine. It took a while for the sawblade to finish spinning but it gave the musher time to plan an escape route. There was only one solution so he called it, “JR, Uptrail.”

It was going to be a tight squeeze but he had no choice. He would have to drive the team under the raised bed of the “Slasher”. It could be done but he would have to guide his lead dogs. The problem was not with his main leader but with his partner and apprentice. At two years old, “Nikita” had showed all the potential in the world to be a “Class One” leader. However, this was no ordinary situation and not something that you would see in a “Mushing 101” textbook. So, the driver called her name, got her attention and talked her through the process. “Easy Niki”, he said calmly, “Easy!” “Good Girl,” he said to her, satisfied with what he was seeing. Her and “JR” were actually leading the team out of that mess and were responding to the commands. “On by Guys! On by!” he continued. Still they were paying attention to his voice. Lying flat on the motorless ATV, the musher managed to hold on to the brakes while scrapping his back on the huge metal “H” beams under the “Slasher”. Finally clearing that obstacle, he stopped the team. “Good Job you guys!!!” he called out to his dogs, “Good Job!!!” Relieved that they had passed the first test with flying colors, he looked around him so to see what would be his best way out. On his right, the four lane highway - that was impossible to cross with a dog team. In front, five workers with chainsaws chopping away at trees and producing firewood – There was barely any room for them to work, never mind turning a gangline with ten dogs around. So, the logical place to go was up this hill on the left. It was, yes, the logical “out route” but with all that rain during October and the cold in November, this road was a sheer surface of ice and at a very steep incline. This, now the musher had figured out, was the reason why the loggers weren’t at their usual place. They couldn’t get up there. Yeah, OK but the dog team could not stay in the middle of that log yard all day so a snap decision needed to be made. “JR! Niki! Haw, Haw Trail!” Banging in their harnesses, they turned left and led the rest of the crew towards this next challenge. To see all the dogs with their ears flopped backwards and concentrating on not loosing their footing was an impressive sight. All the workers had stopped doing what they were doing and it was so quiet that you could hear the dogs’ nails scratching on the ice. “The guy’s crazy”, one of men said to his co-worker. “There is no way that they’re going to make it up there!”

The dogman was listening to this single conversation over the dead silence of the forest but was not worried about this too much. He had gotten off and was helping the dogs get up the mountain. While they were pulling, he was providing very limited pushing as it was real slippery and the stones protruding through the ice surface where he could secure a good footing were far in between. Nonetheless, they were making relatively good progress and for some off the wall reason, the man laboring and pushing on the handlebars was relishing this misery. The sharp and straight cliff on the left side and the deep ravine on the other reminded him of an expedition way back then where he had climbed a glacier on the north face of the “Shilthorn”, in Switzerland.
“The only difference,” he thought to himself almost laughing out loud, “was that over there, we were at above 2000 meters and we had cleats on our boots.” “Oh yeah,” he added now talking to himself, “you didn’t have ten dogs in tow.”

Now this constituted another serious problem. It was fine to climb to the top of “Mount Pimple” but there was no way in hell that he could come back down this way safely. Just sit down and imagine ten dogs slip sliding away downhill, in a mangled cluster, with an out of control “4 wheeler” strapped to their ass. Now envision, the log yard as a bowling alley and pins flying all over the place. Yeah, not too pretty of a picture, I would imagine. No, another way would have to be found so to get back to the truck in one piece. Within the span of 60 seconds, many scenarios were analyzed by the musher’s brain but none of them offered a viable solution. Then suddenly, he remembered a trail that he had surveyed a few years back that might have real potential. It would be taking the long way home but it would mean a less treacherous trek.
“What about the yearlings?” he asked himself. “Will they be capable of enduring the distance?”
“Now what about if you can’t find the right trail and you get lost? Are you ready to spend the day out there?”
So many questions and so many unknowns that needed to be dealt with. The turn-off was just around the corner and he had to make a choice soon. Then, unexpectedly this voice joined in this conversation within his mind.
“Trust the dogs.” his mentor Leonard Lanteigne whispered, “Trust the dogs.” It had been a while since the ghost of that old friend had come to visit and to acknowledge this, the dogman simply smiled to himself and said, “Hey Leonard, how’s it going?”

Coming back to the realities of this trip, he called it. “JR, Niki, Gee, Gee Trail.” Without missing a beat, they turned right at the “Y” junction and off they were gone, to explore uncharted territories. What had started as a disaster of a run was to soon turn into a most enjoyable journey. First, the dogs were working double time, excited at the prospect of discovering new smells. Down the next valley, they met up with two Bull Moose that had survived the hunting season, peacefully bobbing their heads under water and feeding on the plants at the bottom of a beaver pond. Up the next ridge and this to the musher’s great surprise, he met up with his old friends, the “Bald Eagle family, the three same birds that had been uprooted the year before when the industry had clear cut their nesting area across the river. Seeing them sailing about in the uplifting thermals maybe one hundred feet above the line of dogs, made of this reunion a real happy moment for this man. He had gone up and down the Madawaska River all throughout the previous summer in search of these birds of prey but they had been nowhere to be found. Along the way, he saw fit to get off the ATV and run so to help out with the carrying of the load. Huffing and puffing, trying to keep up with the pace was nearly impossible and this exercise was to truly suggest as to who was the weakest member of the team. “Conclusion,” he reflected, “it’s not one of the little girls in front.” Miles after miles, intersections after intersections, they pushed on. They were now deep in Quebec territory so to kill time and be in complete harmony with “Bill 101”, he started speaking to his dogs in French. “En avant, les pitous! En avant!” “Bon chiens, les copains! Bon chiens!” “Tout Droit, tout droit!” The dogs didn’t have a clue as to what he was saying but it seemed to amuse him, so they just zoned him out. All this enjoyment was soon to come to a closure as they made their way to where the Quebec side of the “four lane highway” construction site was at. “Yup,” the musher pondered, looking again at another huge clear cut patch with its millions of dollars of equipment, spread all over far and wide, “This would have been quite the training place if this project wasn’t here. But I guess that’s progress…” They eventually connected to the bicycle path and for the next seven kilometers, he let the dogs run at their own rhythm. The “old guard” was trotting along and amazingly, the yearlings didn’t seem to tire out. “Yeah, the little ones did pass the initial test.” he realized. “They actually completed their first “20 mile” outing and that for such a young bunch was quite the achievement. They had showed him that they could actually be contenders. Let’s face it – Any “couch potato” out there could run five and even ten miles at the time but it took guts, determination and a special will to go out there and do the longer distances. What is it that “Leonard” used to say? Oh yeah! “You will know that you have good distance dogs when you get back to the truck after twenty miles and they still have their “flags” up” and they’re winking at you with that third eye.”

Not only did they finish the run all happy but eventually on the way back to the lodges, they were playfully yapping at each other. Stopped and waiting to turn left because of oncoming traffic, the musher had to giggle to himself seeing the look on the faces of some of the people because of all the barking coming from the trailer. What they considered awful sounding noises, he simply loved it as it was music to his ears.

And in their own little “Dog Universe”, the young ones had cause for celebration as this to them, was a major accomplishment. “Vince” had instigated all this chanting only to be joined by “Summer”, “Kameo” and “Nikita”. Here they were all together now, singing at the top of their lungs, over and over,
“We are, we are! We are the Baisley Stars!”
Continuously, without stopping they went on repeating these lyrics. Suddenly, tired of hearing this quasi-nonsense, the “Kid” broke his long silence and piped out,
“Jeez,” he said almost in desperation, “and to top it all, now we’re stuck with a bunch of tight ass cheerleaders in the barn! What’s this world coming to?” With a smirk on his face and shaking his head, he curled into a tight ball and put his front paws over his ears to try and deafen the racket. It was somewhat working but he still could hear “Kameo” teasing him,
“Oh Uncle Kid! You’re a poor sport but we love you anyway…”
At this, he growled pretending to be upset but deep inside, he knew better. These puppies were managing to find a soft spot in his heart because according to this “Bruiser”, they had spunk…

To be continued…

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