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…

1 comment:

PowersHealth said...

Great story Gino. And love the Two Wolves Picture. Hope the rest of the season is uneventful. You've had enough to last you a while. Linda