Sunday, February 19, 2017



            So anyway, this particular short story begins when a young twelve year old boy returns to school in September 1969 so to take on the challenge of starting his “Grade 6”. He was most enthusiastic about the prospect of returning to “École Notre-Dame-Des-Sept-Douleurs” for with his family, he had spent the entire summer at their cottage in “Baisley” for a somewhat semi-isolated period. He had not seen any of his friends or classmates since June of that same year and this for this youngster, seemed to be an eternity. The excitement had grown ten folds because as luck would have it, he had just learnt that the same nun, Sister Monique Thériault, that wonderful soul that had taught Grade 5 to him, would once again be his teacher for the upcoming year.
            The school bell rang and like in the previous years, the children would be categorised according to their age groups and what class they would attend. Discipline at this Catholic institution was at the top of the priority list and for those who attended it, they knew better than to not listen to the given instructions. If and when a child was caught misbehaving, he or she would be literally grabbed by the ear and dragged to the Principal`s office. At that location, the wrongdoer would swiftly be judged and would receive sentencing according to the nature of the offence and the number of times that person had visited “Old Man Collin`s Torture Chamber”. The punishments administered would vary and the assortment of disciplinary methods used could be quite imaginative, sometimes painful and even cruel. Where first time delinquents would be shown the “corner” and told to kneel down while holding bibles in each hand with arms spread eagle in the sign of the “Cross”, multiple time offenders would be given the notorious if not infamous “Strap”. The “Strap” was in actual fact a ¼ inch thick piece of leather that had approximate dimensions of 2 inches wide X 16 inches long.  Here again and according to the offence, one could receive from one whack to the hand to as many as ten. The practice would be that one would have to voluntarily extend his open hand, palm upwards and wait for penance. The person administering this would then firmly grab this person`s wrist with one hand while at the same time with the other arm, he would swing and smack the fleshy surface of the hand with this leather “belt”.
Our then young “musher in the making” had been a regular visitor to the Principal`s office over the years and his name was well known within those four walls. The threshold of tolerance was set very low at this Catholic school and according to their standards, the young boy was considered a hellion and a shit disturber. Over the previous five years, he had received the full array of punishments right up there to where he had managed to survive the gauntlet of the “Ten Smacks to the Hand” sentence. To this day, he could remember how it felt being at the receiving end of this most serious reprimand. He remembered how after the first five strikes, the hand sort of became warm and numb to the point where you could no longer feel the rest of the incoming volleys. If this was not bad enough, the worst would yet to come for during the next day, most of the times the hand would have swollen up to the point where one could not close his hand and make a fist. He had been subjected to the “Ten Smack Sentence” three times and that third time he had received the punishment, this one he could remember quite vividly. The Principal had had enough with this lawbreaker and had put in some extra efforts in administering pain. After the fourth “Whack” and because of the severe throbbing sting, our apprentice musher swiftly pulled his hand away from danger and the Principal with all the momentum in his swing smacked himself in the “Balls” with the “Strap”. Now half bent over and also in serious discomfort, he took a deep breath and decided in a very determined fashion to continue on. However, this time he went for it with extreme prejudice and with all his might. He had lost it and would show the pupil who was “Boss”. The good Nun had been standing there all this time and had counted how many “Whacks” the child had received. They were now at twelve of them and the old man was not finished yet. He was out of control and would continue till who knows when. Sister Thériault took pity of the young boy and yelled in a most authoritative voice, “Mr Collin, he has had enough.” The Principal was surprised by her outburst, saw by her “beet red” face that she was furious so he stopped. That incident had occurred that previous year and since then, the boy had developed total respect and some sincere affection for his “Guardian Angel”.  She had shown compassion towards him and this was something that would mark him for the rest of his life. The “system” had not broken his spirit. Instead after observing how she went about with her lifestyle, he had personally decided on his own to turn his young life around and mimic the good Nun`s ways of doing things. He would try to do good while helping and offering protection to the disadvantaged.
So after gathering all her sheep and once there was complete silence and the kids were all standing at attention in double files in the parking lot, Sister Thériault went into action. In her matching veil and long black “habit” that even covered her ankles, she quickly took position in front of them and led these cadence drilled marching students to their respective class. There was to be no surprise for them as the “6 Graders” would be going to the same classroom that they had attended the previous school year. When they entered the room, not much had changed and most of the students went back to their respective and familiar desks. Our apprentice musher found his regular seat and if the janitor would not have cleaned the junk in the “lift top” desk, you would have never known that two months had gone by. The various projects that the students had worked on in “Grade 5” still adorned the walls and bookcases even that huge grey wasp’s nest displayed on a windowsill. There was a story behind this wild version of a “Beehive”, one that had spread a lot of panic throughout the school. These same “Grade 5” students had worked on Science projects that previous autumn and while most of them had collected and pressed different types of colourful tree leaves, our hellion has decided to take it up a notch. He had gone hunting with his father and would use the occasion to find something for the upcoming “Show and Tell”. He had never seen a wasp`s nest and was intrigued by the fact that such miniscule insects could construct such a beautiful oval shaped home. It was “Humongously Big” and if it interested him, maybe the rest of the class would appreciate it also. So after explaining what he wanted to do with it, his father lifted the child on his shoulders and this one broke the branch that was securing this high tech abode to the birch tree. Everything had gone well and he just couldn`t wait for the weekend to finish so that he could return to school and show off his prized possession. As you would have it, this wasp`s nest was the attraction of that Monday morning. However and after a couple of hours, the excitement would subside and after complimenting the young boy for his find, Sister Thériault displayed the nest in a place of honour on that windowsill. Sitting proudly after receiving all this attention and compliments, our apprentice`s “bubble” would soon be busted.  One of his classmates, Sally Dumphy, who by the way was sitting by that particular window, abruptly got up and started jumping and screaming in pain. Then Benoit Couturier, who was sitting next to her, also got up and started swinging his arms in the air. Where two of them were making quite the commotion, all of a sudden the entire class was in a panic. Yup! The hoard of wasps had been hibernating in the comfort of their hive way out there in the bush and they should have been left alone. When they were brought into the warm classroom, they thawed out and were mad as hell for being disturbed.  They came out in swarms and this by the hundreds. Gathering and circling above in a dark cloud formation, they assessed the imminent danger and dive-bombed on anything that moved. It was chaos in there and everybody rushed to the hallway still screaming. The attackers were not finished with the intruders and would pursue them to the bitter end. Nobody other than the “6 Graders” knew what was happening so pandemonium spread through the school and the fire alarm was activated. Everybody escaped the building and waited outside while the Fire Department, who had attended, finished walking through the halls before declaring the “All Clear”. When the dust did eventually settle down, all eyes turned towards our apprentice and the finger pointing started. Yes, he had made a mistake bringing in that wasp`s nest but it was unintentional. Now why would a twelve year old be allowed to take all the blame when all these adults around him never saw the prospect that such an incident could happen? Once again in the Principal`s office, Sister Thériault had taken it upon herself to defend the young boy and had saved him from once again, receiving the “Strap”. She had won the argument and “Old Man Collin” backed down reluctantly. Who knows how it would have ended up? Because of the office he represented, Principal Collin had stayed within the edifice to make sure that all had evacuated safely. In the course of his intervention, he had been stung for more than his share and his face was swollen up like a balloon from all the venom. He looked funny trying to speak with his flopping uncontrollable lips. While the boy did not dare to crack a smile, on the inside, he relished the thought that this huge brute of a man had been taught a lesson by something much smaller. Here was to be a lifelong lesson that our apprentice would learn and what had been learnt, was that “There is strength in numbers and if we pull together, we can get the job done.  For reasons that only Sister Thériault could explain, the wasp`s nest was not destroyed. Rather, she had Mr. Hammond, the janitor, take it to his quarters where he got rid of the pesky bugs. Then it was returned to its place of admiration on that windowsill where it was allowed to collect dust for years to come.   
            “Good Morning Class!” Sister Thériault called out with a radiant smile to her excited students. “Good Morning Sister Thériault!!!” the schoolchildren replied in a singing and serenading tone. “How is everybody doing?” she continued, setting the mood for a first lesson. Without waiting for an answer to that question, she added, “Today, we`ll start the class with everybody telling us what they did during their summer vacations.”  All eager hands were raised and one by one, all were getting a chance to articulate their highlights as they saw them. One must understand that in a small town like Edmundston, N-B, there isn`t much excitement to entertain adults let alone children. In as such, most of the focus and topics of conversations had been put on a Circus that had come to town in the month of August. It seemed that everybody had assisted to one of their three performances and would relate what they had liked the best. When you have twenty students that basically say the same thing, this tends to get a tad boring. When it finally came to our apprentice`s turn, of course he had not seen any of these performances and it was news to him finding out that tigers and elephants had roamed the streets of his city. He had spent his summer at the neighbour`s farm where he had helped the “Lynch” family with the daily chores. When the occasion would arise, he would follow the men and go to the woodlot. There he would ride “King” the draft horse and tow logs to the “yard”. Of course, the horse had been doing this for years and was accustomed to the back and forth routine of harvesting wood but the huge animal seemed to appreciate having the horseflies swatted off his neck and back so allowed the young boy to tag along. Our apprentice  “Farmer” was always around to help with the milking of the cows and when it was time for “Hay” season, he was right there on top of that wagon packing down all this green stuff so that fuller loads could be brought to the barn. This was always the same routine during those summer months, way out there in Baisley. But during that special summer, he had spent most of his spare time with his best friend, Gerald “Ti-Co” Lynch fishing and playing in the small clear stream that criss-crossed their property.
It had been a very dry summer and although the “Lynch” brook was still flowing, the volume of water was at its minimal and only dribbling in between the exposed rocks. One day while these two explorers were walking the dry beds of the stream, Gino and Ti-Co came across a strange sight. The “chubbs”, the many small aquatic residents that live in schools of fish in this type of habitat had understood the serious nature of the drought and to survive had started to swim in a circle formation at a high rate of speed in a continuous counter-clock direction. This had for a result to create a vortex effect that syphoned the sand from the bottom only to have it expulsed over its sides, thus digging a deep basin where the fish would find depth and plenty of water so to continue existing.
The explorers now turned engineers thought that it would be a good idea to build a dam across the waterway so to accumulate water for the school of “chubbs”.  The boots came off and with their bare hands, they started constructing a retaining wall. Rocks were initially placed then sod was compacted so to form the barrier. They worked at this for the better part of the day and when one of the Lynch sisters showed up to tell them that it was past suppertime, they had managed to seal off the width of the creek and had a good six inches of rising water in their “pool”. Dirty but satisfied, they walked home vowing to return the next day to check on their “dam”.
The next day, bright and early, they returned to their project where they were met with complete disappointment. Overnight, the water level had risen above the top of the levee and had started overflowing. The more it leaked, the more it dug a trench. The bigger the trench got, the more water kept coming. Eventually, it all busted loose taking with it a lot of the accumulated material. The two “engineers” looked at themselves and decided that this was just a small setback and again got into the construction of another dam. This one had been better designed according to them but again the next morning, it had busted. This trial and error kind of approach to this endeavour went on for a week and every time it ended with the same results. “You know Gino,” Ti-Co said, “maybe we should quit trying to save the fish.” “Well, I don`t know about that.” the other one replied. “Maybe we need to approach it from another angle.” After discussing how to proceed, Ti-Co suggested that they go way up stream and check out how the beavers constructed their “dam”. So without telling anyone where they were going, away they went to check out what procedures the “Masters of Dam Building” used, to do their thing. It took a couple of hours to reach destination and a couple more hours of patiently sitting there before the beavers decided that it was safe to continue with their work. It was a remarkable spectacle to see them toil at raising the retaining wall even higher. They hauled twigs and large branches that they planted in the ground with their mouths only to bulldoze mud with their front paws in between these sticks. When they had more than few of these twigs lined up, they weaved them together so to have a flexible but strong bonded structure. Satisfied that they had found the solution to their problem, they hoofed it down the mountain. It was late and the sun was going down so the reception at the Lynch homestead was quite angry and cold. Mrs. Lynch, the mother, told young Gino that they were worried sick about their sudden disappearance and that Ti-Co would be grounded for a couple of weeks. This was to be another setback but the now alone engineer had resolved that the “chubbs” would be saved so the next day, he went back and carried on with his work. It didn`t take long for his sidekick to soon show up and when asked, Ti-Co simply replied with a big grin, “Hey, if I get caught here today, I`ll be in serious trouble but guess what, it will have been worth it.” So applying the principles that they had learned from the beavers up stream, they proceeded to reinforce their dam. This time it was holding pretty good so ambition took over and with picks and shovels during the next days, they continued to build it even higher and better. The contained water started to rise and spread out over its banks and the then small pool of water grew to the size of the surface of an ice rink. News spread of this feat and everybody came to the “swimming pool” to cool off during those hot summer days. Going for a dip in three feet of water was an enjoyable time while it lasted but in late August, a severe rain storm would come along and break up the party. The brook swelled up big time and the rushing water eventually busted the dam apart sending hundreds of thousands of gallons of water downstream. This wall of water brought with it branches and trees and other debris that collected and got stuck under the bridge of the main road. This caused the whooshing water to overspill across the roadway. Everybody attributed the flooding of Baisley Road to severe weather conditions but the two engineers knew better. It was their fault and it was best to keep quiet about that part where they had built the dam.
That`s the anecdote that our young apprentice had told the class when it was his turn to speak about his summer vacations. On one side, the girls couldn`t really understand what  the captivation would be behind playing in water and mud while on the other side the boys saw him as an oddball that didn`t fit in with their crowd. “Hey Gino, show us your feet!” they would laugh. “Did you grow webs between your toes?” Amongst many others, another comment that would be made was, “Have you grown gills yet? Can you breathe under water?” As you would have it, this would be the onset and preview as to how he would be pegged for the rest of the year. He would be the laughing stock of the school and would be bullied and razzed by many fellow students. On the outside, it looked like he was taking all of this in stride but on the inside, it was eating at him and he was sad. The cruel nature of the poking fun at him, was telling this young man that he didn`t fit in the conventional mold. Subsequently, he would continue on this path of isolation and go on in his own direction doing his own thing and doing what felt “right”.
Sister Thériault on the other hand, saw that her “misfit” showed interest in the domain of hydraulics and electricity. So she took it upon herself to guide him towards that field in hopes that maybe someday he might just become an actual “Engineer”.  The year of “1969” would go down in history as a very proud moment for Canada especially for the province of Quebec. After ten years of labor intense work way up there in northern Quebec, a series of five Hydro dams had been constructed on the Manicouagan River. Although the other four dams were spectacular if not most impressive, everybody that would relate their work experience on the various projects would all associate themselves with the “top dog” of all those dams, the mighty “Manic 5”.
And why wouldn`t they? It was truly a major accomplishment that had employed thousands of workers, many of them from the Edmundston region. In the “60s”, the construction of these mega Hydro dams was what Fort McMurray is today to the province of New-Brunswick. It was a way for the local folks to go and earn pocket full of cash so to have a chance at a much better life. It seemed that everybody had gone out there to get their “Ticket punched” and the topic of conversations always gravitated as to how huge “Manic 5” was. Of course, our “Engineer” had never seen it but from what he had listened to from those who had contributed to its construction, he was most curious to see what the big deal was all about.  They called it a marvel of architectural design and engineering which was apparently then as it is still now, the largest multiple-arch buttress dam in the world. This was only something that the young boy had heard about. However, they had spoken so much about it that he had this vision of what it should be and would grow up with the thought of one day, visiting “Manic 5”. 
So when his “Grade 6” teacher had suggested even insisted that the pupil do his “End of the Year” project on “Hydro Dams”, the good Nun had never realized how much she had influenced him with this fascination that he had with these electricity fabricating outlets. He had worked exceptionally hard at turning in a top notch “A+” paper during that school year and his research had exposed way more information than the building of “Manic 5”. Through the research, he had acquired the basic knowledge as to how dams functioned. Plus, he had found out that this method of producing electricity, the sending of water precipitating down through a “Turbine”, was an efficient and economical way that was used all around the world by those who wished to use such a commodity. As an added bonus, it also helped him identify what that weird “Donut” shaped like formation that stood in prominence in the middle of the map of Quebec. Called the Manicouagan reservoir, it was the main source of water to all of the Manicouagan river power generating stations that were situated downstream. The reservoir`s odd circle like formation, as he had discovered, was a geological phenomenon that had been created when approximately 215 million years ago, an asteroid measuring roughly 5 kms (3 mi) in diameter, had come crashing down from the sky to embed itself and explode on impact. The massive explosion would change the landscape forever and the force of the impact would not only create huge peaked mountains throughout this remote region, it would also dig this huge crater that eventually filled with water.
For this now much older explorer, this was what some parts of this trip would be all about. To see all of this, had been on his “Bucket List” for more than 45 years and now here he was on a powerful ice breaking Ferry, crossing the beautiful and majestic St-Lawrence River from Matane to Baie-Comeau, Quebec. The dogs and their “caretaker” had travelled more than 400 kilometers by land and now here they were sailing for the next three hours in route for a date with destiny. So far, the “68 kms” trip on this vessel, called the “NS Camille-Marcoux”, had been uneventful and he felt the need to pinch himself just to make sure that this adventure was for real. For some reason, when a person travels with ten sleddogs, not only does it incorporate serious logistics, it also tends to attract a lot of attention. In as such, the professional crew of this said ship would go out of their way so to make sure that their passage would go on as smoothly as possible. Normally for safety reasons, passengers would not be allowed to the lower deck where the vehicles were parked. However, a lot of the crew members were obvious “dog lovers” and they would make an exception for our nomadic “voyageur”. Subsequently, they would escort him to his truck so that he could check on his dogs. This was a first experience for the Canadian Snowhounds on the ocean and he didn`t really know how  they would react to the rolling movement of the waves or to the loud banging sounds of the hull crushing through the thick ice on its way to the North Shore. He was much relieved to see that none of his trail companions had been seasick. Instead the side to side rhythmic shifting of the unsettled sea had made it that most of them were resting comfortably, enjoying the back and forth rocking motion of the boat.
“Is everything all right?” one of the passengers inquired when the man came back to the top deck lounge of the ship. “Yeah, surprisingly enough, they are!” our explorer said, smiling back and viewing this as an opportunity to strike up a conversation. “For their first time traveling by boat, the dogs seem to have adapted quite well!” he continued, opening the floor for some small talk. “So where are you headed?” one of these three truckers asked. “We`re going to Fermont for a dog race!” the musher replied in a non-chalant manner and as if it wasn`t a big deal. The three experienced drivers looked at each other with this look that said, “You`re a brave man, trying to get to that remote place, this time of the year!”
This was to be as to how the briefing was to begin. While one individual explained that “Hwy 389” was in deed a sanctioned provincial road, he also made sure that it was understood that it was not by any means a roadway that could be considered a modern thoroughfare. As a matter of fact, this stretch of road that connected the northern community of Fermont to the rest of the world, was a half paved/half gravelled “pathway”. To make things even more interesting, it made its way through hundreds of twists and turns, down deep valleys and over mountain ranges and this for the better part of 560 kms. It was said that if one could take all of the bends out of the road, one would shorten the trip by at least a couple of hundreds of miles. This was most likely an exaggeration but “Hwy 389” did have the daunting reputation of being a tough one to tackle. To survive this dreaded “Hwy 389” and according to these truckers, if you wanted to live through the experience, you needed to be “on your toes” all the time. It was said that only those who approached the challenge with a lot of respect and common sense would get to destination in one piece.  Without warning, here was our musher finding himself in a position where he was being grilled about his readiness. His truck was questioned and as it was a newer “4 X 4” Toyota Tundra pick-up, it was accepted as a vehicle that would get him there. The distance between gas stations (there is only two of them on that stretch) was also dealt with. Here again, he received a passing grade as he had an extra 15 gallons of fuel in case he got stuck out there. To put all the chances on his side and also, just in case that he did actually get stranded, he had brought along with him a generator and electric heater. These two items and all the “Army rations” he had packed for the trip would ensure that if need be, he could park in the middle of nowhere, set up his “camper” and survive for at least five days. He had full confidence in his skills and after being cross-examined by his inquisitors, they also had come to the conclusion that our explorer had come well prepared to take on the trip up north. Eventually, the Captain came over the “Comms” and announced that they would be debarking in Baie-Comeau in the next 10 minutes. Everybody was to make their way to their vehicles and wait for further instructions. While going downstairs, “Gary”, one of the truckers that operated a “snow-plow” on the “Ice Road” would provide valuable information to our traveller. “Gino,” he said giving some words of advice, “I checked the weather forecast and it looks like you`re going to be dealing with some heavy snowfalls. If you want to make it to Fermont in time for the “Mushers` Meeting”, you need to get to “Manic 5” by daylight tomorrow. Otherwise, the road might be closed for a couple of days and you won`t make it for your rendez-vous. With that said, don`t you worry too much about that. We have seven snow-plows continuously working around the clock so to keep the road open and I`ll make sure that the “Boyz” know that you`re out there. If push comes to shove, remember to follow the big red “Snow-plow”! Good Luck up there. We`ll be rooting for you!” 
The ship finally did come to rest at the dock and just like that huge white shark in the movie “Jaws”, the Ferry opened its mouth to regurgitate some and swallow more vehicles. It was an entertaining moment to see the massive prow of the boat lift up only to reveal an emerging corridor where semi-trailers could disembark with the greatest of ease. When one of the attendants signaled to the explorer that it was his turn to move along, this employee never suspected that this roving caravan of dogs were on their way to a fairy-tale like escapade. Then again, neither did our musher...
Once back on solid grounds, at the exit of the terminal, an “18 wheeler” with its four way flashers was waiting for the explorers. Jake, one of the other truckers from the boat, was standing behind his rig, motioning the driver of the dog truck to park behind him. “Just follow me!” the helpful man said. “And if we get separated, just remember that it`s right at the first light, left at the second one and right just before the Ultramar gas station. The small truck and trailer shadowed the big truck and trailer and on their way, they continued. At the entrance of “Hwy 389” Jake flashed his back-up lights to indicate that this was where the turn-off was. The musher acknowledged these indications, flashed his headlights to confirm this but instead of following his escort, he stopped at the gas station to fill up and “drop his dogs” (It should be noted that the term “to drop his dogs” means stopping and allowing them to stretch their legs and do some business). The trip so far was going very smoothly and the musher was really impressed by the discipline his dogs were showing every time he would stop for a “Pee Break”. This team of seasoned veterans of the racing circuit were used to the routine of going to these events and it seemed that they would try to always be on their best behaviour while getting there. A short but much needed 15 minute break was had and after this, one by one, the dogs retreated to the confines of the trailer and jumped back in their respective dog boxes. They were very well trained for a bunch of mongrels and as long as there was a “treat” associated with a good performance, all would go according to what had been taught.
The Manicouagan River Hydro dams are owned and operated by Hydro Quebec and once you start travelling on the southern part of Hwy 389, it is easy to see who the main players are and by their conduct, one might be left with the impression that you might be infringing on their turf. It was now Wednesday, the 18 Mar 15 and past supper time. He didn`t know what was going on but he was meeting Hydro Quebec employees by the dozens and this in convoys after convoys. Without exaggerations, in the first 100 kms of paved highway, he had met more than fifty white Hydro vehicles and what was curious about all this, was the fact that most of them were driven by one lone occupant. Add to that the fact that they were speeding down the “Track” in “NASCAR” like clusters and it made it that our musher didn`t feel too comfortable sharing the road with them. Maybe they were used to the curvy road but still, it seemed that they thought that they might own it and did not care about the other travelling patrons.  The parade of white trucks and cars eventually dwindled and our determined group continued to push ahead. The truckers had been bang on with their predictions and the snow was now filling the front foreground. Where it had started as a light dusting, it was now a full blown out of proportion “white-out”. This would severely impede their visibility and if it wasn`t for the high snowbanks on each side, one would have had a hard time recognising that they were on a public road. The white stuff was accumulating quite quickly and our “ex-military man” recognized that this was serious business especially when he had to stop at the bottom of a steep incline where a tractor-trailer was backing down because he couldn`t make it up the hill. This courageous driver had managed to drive his “rig” backwards for a length of perhaps ½ mile to the bottom of it and would wave to the musher to go on by. There was only maybe three inches of accumulated snow on the ground and the Toyota managed to get up there with very little difficulty. Getting up would not be an issue but going down on the other side would prove to be an “Adrenaline” rushed moment. She was a 12% decline and because of the weight and momentum they carried with them, the brakes locked on the vehicle and trailer and this whole affair started slip-sliding away downhill. Pump them as much as you want, the speed could not be reduced accordingly and braking was proving to be a hazardous proposition. “Oh Shit”, the now alarmed driver thought to himself, “We`re in for a good one!” Realizing that the braking surface might not be at its best and that his studded tires were not adhering to the ice, he grabbed on to the steering wheel with both hands real tight, exposing nothing but “White knuckles”.  He looked straight ahead as to what he would have to negotiate and allowed the truck to coast down on its own power. Toyota trucks with their “towing packages” have a safety feature where when one applies the brake in such a situation, the engine goes in compression mode so to assist in slowing the vehicle down. In this instance, it did what it was supposed to do and while the tachometer was revving in the high 7000 RPM range, the speedometer was reading 60 km/h. In other situations, one might have felt comfortable driving at that speed. However, there was a serious left curve at the bottom and he was worried that he would not make the turn. “Steady, Big Girl, Steady”, he spoke to his truck as if it was a person. “We can do this!” He then spotted a long brown ribbon-like surface in the middle of the road only to grasp the fact that it was sand and salt. He steered towards it and once upon it, he gently re-applied the brakes. They were grabbing. The “ABS” system came into play and slowed the “runaway train” to the point where danger had passed. His heart beating through his eardrums with his hands shaking from the excitement, he pulled over to the side and thanked his lucky star that they had made it safely. Travelling at about 50 km/h would prove to be too fast under the present conditions and he would slow her down even more. He was carrying precious cargo in that trailer of his and his “friends” trusted and depended on him to make it to destination.
“So be it!” the determined adventurer thought to himself. “If travelling at 15 km/h is what needs to be done to get to Manic 5 then that`s what we`ll do.” And on that note, they carried on. The plan was to see how far he could get without getting stuck so tediously they continued with their journey. Where under normal conditions, it takes just over three hours to cover the distance of 220 kms, here was our musher plugging along in the middle of nowhere in complete darkness. He was entering his fifth hour of slugging through thick eight inch deep snow with still another 75 kms to go.
He hadn`t slept too much since he had embarked on this trip two days before and the lack of sleep was starting to make itself felt. He was driving with his window wide open to get some fresh air and was replaying in his mind what had transpired in his life during that previous year. It had been another doozy and it had been filled with too many personal disappointments. He had lost a mushing friend/military colleague to suicide after she had been bullied by her peers who eventually pushed her over the edge. He was sort of blaming himself for her demise as she had contacted him via “Skype” a couple of days before she did the deed and at no time had he suspected nor recognised that she was saying “Good-Bye” to him. Another great and dear friend had systematically broken off their long-time friendship and had abandoned him in search for what she described as a better life.  The option that she had chosen was what she considered the right path for her but he didn`t agree. Rather he saw the people that she was associating with as an offbeat “cult”, filled with bloodsuckers that were there to take advantage of good hearted and naïve people. He had voiced his concerns but this had fallen into deaf ears and he was now being pegged as a “Paranoid Freak” by this same person.  Then of course there was the period where he had to say “Farewell” to his lifelong companion, “Mosqua”.  It had been a long time coming and the poor old 12 year old German Shepard was way past his prime when the decision was made.  He had traversed over the fragile line where one goes from quality of life to quantity of life. Although our “ex-soldier” was as tough as nails, here was a situation where he just could not find the courage to say a final “good-bye” to his “Best Buddy”. Eventually the decision was made and he managed to find enough nerves to eventually take the dog to the veterinarian. There, he would hold his paw and stay with him till the end when he crossed to the other side of “Rainbow Bridge”. Compounded with many other hindrances, those were three incidents that would bring him once again facing a series of “lows” where once again he would have to fight the depressions associated with PTSD.   
“Thank God for that precious cargo!” he reflected thinking of the dogs that were travelling with him. “Who knows what would have happened if I didn`t have the responsibility of taking care of them?” And this was what these dogs had been to him all throughout those years. They and the sport of dogsledding were the main reasons as to why he would get up in the morning. Whenever times would get tough, he could always count on their unconditional love and camaraderie to get through the day. Their daily antics and interaction made it that they were always entertaining him and this to the point where he thought for the most part that “life was good”.  They counted on him to be fed and properly trained and he counted on them to bring joy to his daily existence. It was a “left hand washing the right hand” type of affair and everybody participating, was a winner.
The swirling snow in front of his windshield was having an hypnotic effect on the driver. In as such, his mind kept going back and forth from “dreamland” to reality. He was losing the fight against the drowsiness and all of a sudden, he was half-dreaming that he was following “Mosqua`s” footsteps through the thick snow. His head was bopping up down from the fatigue and he knew that at this rate he needed to somehow wake himself up. He gave his head a serious shake and it brought him back to reality, so he thought. He couldn`t really comprehend what was being displayed in front of him. The headlights of the truck were illuminating animal tracks which were the only thing showing on the snow covered roadway. These were fresh and going in the same direction as he was. They were real and associated with a large black mass scampering in front of the vehicle. In his confusion, our musher thought that it was “Mosqua” guiding him to safety but reality would set in only to establish that the new arrival was a huge black “Timber Wolf”.  It didn`t seem to be too riled up about that “thing” that was trailing it and it just kept on trotting along at an average speed of 12 km/h. It would once in a while turn its head and look backwards as if to check if they were still following but other than that it just kept moving forward towards that complete obscurity. By now, the musher was wide awake and enjoying this magical moment. It was to last for the better part of ten kilometers and it seemed that he could not get enough of absorbing this “sighting”. “Wow!” he muttered to himself. “This is something you don`t see every day. For that matter, how lucky can one be to have the chance to travel with such a gorgeous creature?” This encounter would ultimately come to an end and it was obvious by how the wolf was reacting that something else was disturbing it. He stopped in the middle of the road for an instance, looked at our musher with these beady shiny green eyes of his and through that steamy breath emitting out of his mouth, he seemed to want to utter the words, “Welcome to the Great White North, my friend”. As if he wanted to avoid danger, he scurried up the snowbank only to disappear in the thick brush. He was right. There was something there. The blackness way past the range of the headlight beams started to light up, carrying with it a snow billowing ghostly form with blinking yellow lights. There it was. The snow-plow from “Manic 5” was on the road and making its way south.
Both vehicles stopped side by side and the driver of this large but most useful piece of equipment leaned out of his window and yelled from the top of his lungs, “Good Evening! Aren`t you that musher from New-Brunswick that the guys are talking about?” “Yup, that would be me!” the other one answered laughing. “We heard that you were driving through this snowstorm and were wondering where you were? You`ve only got another fifteen kilometers before you get to the “Motel de l`Énergie Manicouagan V”.  The road is nice and clear from here to there so you shouldn`t have any problem getting to that “Truck Stop.” The gentleman was right on the money and the travellers reached this most important waypoint without any further difficulties. Pulling into the parking lot, the “rolling snowball” would make quite the impression. A bunch of still running tractor-trailers were parked all over the place and most of the drivers were sitting in the restaurant having late supper or early breakfast.  All looked out the front windows and there was no doubt. All were questioning the sanity of this guy who had just pulled in.
            “What are the chances of getting a room?” the tired adventurer asked the lady at the reception desk. “That`s not a problem this time of the year.” she retorted with a sarcastic smile. “Besides,” she added referring to the snowplow operator, “Joe got on the “CB” and told us you were coming in so we decided to stick around in case you needed something.” “For a room,” she continued, “normally we charge $150.00 per night but since you dared to come up here in this sorry weather, I`ll give you a break on the price and charge you $100.00”.
She was a chatty old gal and from what she was telling him, she treated everybody like family and enjoyed making sure that whoever stopped in at this place, felt welcomed. She had been doing this for over twenty-five years and you could tell that she was efficient, on the “ball” and cared a lot for others. Her clients for the most part, were those who routinely trucked up and down this winter “ice road”.  They were men and women who had nerves of steel and who knew that danger could possibly lurk around each and every corner. It didn`t matter to them and they would accept these challenges daily. They were a significant element in this really important re-supply chain and would continue to risk it all so that remote northern communities like Fermont, Quebec and Labrador City, Newfoundland could continue to strive year round.  Her motherly attitude towards her “regulars” made it that they would make it a point to stop in if only to say “Hello”. Subsequently all that were stopped there for the night were no strangers to her. She pretty well knew just about everybody that were waiting the storm out by their first names and would make sure that they were most relaxed and comfortable.  As for the snowstorm, she had seen worse and just like our musher, she didn`t seem to think that the weather conditions were a big deal.
She was talking about anything and everything but none of it was registering too much with the man. He had paid for the room with his credit card and was waiting for the lady to give him his key. All this time, she had it in her hand and had been holding on to it as if she wanted to make sure that she would get to say all of what she had to say before surrendering it. Seeing that this might take long and progress into the wee hours of the night, the man lifted his hand so to get her attention then in an almost desperate move, interrupted. “Excuse me!” he said, “If you don`t mind, could you tell me where I`m sleeping?” From the tone, she got the hint that he was tired so stopped talking but not before she pointed to the room where he would stay.  “You have yourself a good rest now, you hear!” she finished and on that note he was out the door for a quick exit.
            It was around midnight and although it appeared that the snow had slacked off and not necessarily falling down vertically, the winds were now part of the game and moving the white stuff laterally. It had indeed stopped snowing but it was still a bit miserable out there and trying to feed the dogs before going to bed would be a non-starter. His canine troubadours had taken the time to do some “business” but were not too keen about standing outside in the freezing cold. If the fact that they weren`t touching their food and turning their backs to the wind did not attest to this, their constant tugging on their drop chains so to liberate themselves and go back to the warmth of the trailer, did. “All right guys, I get the message. Let`s hit the “hay” and we`ll deal with this in the morning.” he told them. The dogs seemed to totally agree with this decision and none of them made any fuss about going back in. Once they were all tucked away for the night, he made his way to where he would bed down for a few hours.  He didn`t care what the room looked like. He just wanted to crash and once he sat on the bed, that`s the last he remembers about it.
            He had zonked out for the better part of six hours and woke up with a stiff neck. He grinned, brushed himself off and snickered, “Oh well, at least I`ll save some time getting dressed. I slept with my clothes on.” He washed his hands and brushed his teeth in a hurry because he was here and didn`t want to waste any daylight. The sign on the road just before the driveway to the Motel had said it all.   Manic 5 was just one kilometer away.  He was really excited at the prospect of finally seeing this “Marvel” after all those years so best get with the program and see what the fuss was all about.
            When he came out of his room, the scenery had considerably changed in the parking lot. Many more tractor-trailers were in attendance and so were two snowplows. Saying “Good Morning” to all of them, the dogs seemed to be in good spirit and after letting them out for their breakfast, he noticed that the weather had changed for the better. Although it was the crack of dawn, Jupiter was shining convincingly bright in that clear dark blueish western atmosphere accordingly announcing a beautiful day. The restaurant was full and all its patrons were peering out the windows, curious and examining what the “dog man” was doing. They say that what goes in eventually must come out and he was hoping that the sight of him shoveling shit didn`t make it that the onlookers would lose their appetite. The feeding routine done, the dogs were once again secured in their dog boxes and it was his turn to get fed.
He walked in and would be bombarded with all sorts of questions about the dogs and his destination.  It seemed to be a big deal for a lot of these folks that he was going to Fermont for a 200 kilometer dog race so he cheerfully answered their inquiries. He was relishing all this attention and was even “floored” when a complete stranger told the cashier, “Whatever the musher is having, I`m paying for it.” That gesture would set the mood for a lovely day and after shaking the man`s hand and thanking him for the meal, our explorer briskly sauntered out, jumped behind the steering of his truck and drove off. The information obtained during breakfast would be beneficial and implied that the snow removal crews had worked all through the night. “Hwy 389” was opened for its entire length and this was music to his ears.  He was a man on a mission and after all these many years of anticipation, this last downhill would finally lead him to the first stop of this trip and expose the mindboggling characteristics of this superstructure. He would eventually negotiate one last sharp right turn leading onto a bridge and out of the blue, it would come into view. Blocking the entire panoramic spectrum and commanding complete respect in a most authoritative manner, this gigantic and most impressive sculptured retaining wall, appeared. He had finally reached after all those years, the location of the largest dam on the Manicouagan River. “Manic 5” which also officially goes by the name of the “Daniel-Johnson Dam”, in honour of the 20th Premier of Quebec, the man who was responsible for giving birth to this mega project, was a very well-constructed work of genius. It would and has stood the test of times and remains to this day and age, a strong symbol of Quebec’s hydraulic wealth and technical prowess. It by itself can generate more than enough electricity to supply the entire population of that province and this with plenty of thousands of megawatts to spare.  It was for our “Engineer” a moment of true fascination and for that reason, he would need to stop because he just couldn`t concentrate on his driving. Putting his four way flashers on, he parked it and got out of his vehicle. With a sense of true accomplishment, he took in a deep breath of fresh humid air. Taking it all in, he walked to the bottom of the dam and looked up and I mean way up. He could identify in the wall, the progress lines of the cement as it had been poured way back then during the “Big Build”. Way above in the sky, tiny little black specks could be observed circling and gently gliding in complete silence. From their flight pattern, he recognised these specks as seagulls. “Boy,” he thought to himself, “those gulls and I are some puny, compared to this monster.” To use this term to describe this mega hydro dam was kind of acceptable if one was to imagine the damages it would cause if it busted. Simply put, it would be an environmental catastrophy.
The thought of billions of gallons of water plummeting out of control from the reservoir on its way down through the busted dam would most likely have devastating consequences downstream. Would the other dams hold under the pressure or would they also collapse due to a “Domino Effect”? Whatever the scenario would turn out to be, one thing was for sure.  The power and force associated with all that rushing water would forcibly plow its way right down to the St-Lawrence destroying everything in its path. Like that asteroid that we talked about way back at the beginning, it would also permanently change the countryside of the North Shore.  Of course, those who had built these dams had considered this as a possibility and had incorporated stringent fail-safes in their designs.  But still, just the thought of being there at the bottom of it when the dam would bust would send chills up and down the explorer`s spine. The vision of a rushing wall of water would bring with it good souvenirs of times he served in the military. To be more precise, it would bring back to the surface a recollection of specific good chapters of his life that had taken place during the summer of 1986 while he was posted and living in Germany. Luck would have it that a friend of his by the name of “Ray Lyver” was at the time, in a position to refurbish a small micro hydro dam. It turns out that this work colleague of his had fallen in love and had married a German girl from a town called, Appenweier.  She had quite the “set” of credentials and amongst other things, not only was she the “Wine Fest Queen for the region, her father owned a large vineyard and produced a quality wine in the cellar of his own private castle.  
In the 1920s, this stately home which was sitting on top of a mountain and secluded, would be in the middle of a serious controversy. While the town below would be hooked up and supplied with electricity, this country mansion would not be afforded such luxuries. It was out-of-the way and it was thought by the authorities that running wires to the place would not be cost efficient. So the owners, with their entrepreneurial spirit, decided that they would build their own power generating station. They had spent a couple of years on the development of the site but eventually success was achieved. They were off the grid and had their own source of cheap electricity. Through a series of concrete conduits, they were gathering various sources of water supply from the highlands and funneling these to one main canal. This main artery would channel the water to the “Power House” where the pressure of the water would enter and spin a vertical “Pelton Wheel” turbine. This high “RPM” rotating wheel was hooked up to a generator and this would produce electricity to be used.  They were so successful with this undertaking that the electric company ultimately put up telephone poles and connected to the site. It was a supply and demand kind of thing and they needed additional electrical energy so they bought the surplus.
In 1937 and because they had more than enough water to spin it, they removed the “10 Kw” water turbine and replaced it with a bigger version of it. Now this more modern “30 Kw” turbine was more efficient and would put the “station” in a different category, upgrading it from a residential to a commercial power plant. It was a good move on the entrepreneurs` part and they continued selling electricity for decades to come. 
That was the story behind the entrance into service of the “Appenweir Turbine”. Many years had gone by since then and when in the summer of 1986 those two Canadians were seen walking the mountainsides and evaluating the potential of re-starting it, the people of the town thought they were crazy. They thought it could not be done. The castle`s power plant, because of neglect and poor maintenance, had been sitting there idle and rusting away for the longest time. However, for those two “Engineers”, they did not see the harm in trying to bring it back to life. The “Master of the Domain” was having acute financial difficulties and “Ray” thought that if they got it to work again, it would help out his father-in-law make ends meet.  In the spirit of “Good Karma”, the restoration project was attacked and within weeks, it started to take shape. “Lyver” was making head waves and his determination was noticed by some of the town`s people. Where he was to be alone at the beginning, without solicitation he had managed to recruit volunteers and together they cleaned the canals and re-built the “flood gates”. As for our musher, it was his job to put his millwright hat on and see what was needed to fix the turbine so that once again, it would be operational.
The task of unstucking the “Pelton Wheel” would prove to be an achievement in itself. The three feet circular housing containing it, needed to be opened to get to it. The problem was that all its nuts and bolts were rusted tight. It took a few days of injecting litres of penetrating oil to the area to get them loose but strong willpower would have the upper-hand. The nuts finally gave in and the removal of the side cover exposed the “Pelton Wheel”.  Here again, another drawback would be encountered. The center shaft connecting the wheel to the generator had a three inch nut on it and they didn`t have the tools to deal with it. “Surely we can find something to fit this without us having to buy it!” the determined man said to the boss of the project, Chief Engineer Lyver. “Let me see what I can come up with in the next few days.” Our musher was a very resourceful person and was well known at CFB Lahr. This Army military base housed the 4th Canadian Mechanized Brigade, a battle group that had for components, two Infantry Battalions, an Artillery Regiment and a Tank Squadron. These four units had large pieces of equipment so one would assume that in one of those maintenance garages, one could find such a large “Ratchet and Socket” set. After visiting the first three and meeting with negative results, our self-proclaimed millwright would finally locate what he needed in the “Tank Compound” of the Royal Canadian Dragoons. They had such an animal called a “3 inch” socket. It was a speciality tool and one that was only used in a specific area of the “Leopard” tank. The mechanics were quite absorbed as to what it would be used for so did not hesitate to lend it to him. “By the way,” one of them said, “what about the copper winding in the generator. Did you guys test it for humidity?” “What for?” our less than knowledgeable millwright responded. “Well for one thing, if it does contain humidity, depending on how much there is, the coil can short out and fry the generator. This is serious business when you`re dealing with such a large unit. The thing can actually explode if you`re not careful.” This bit of technical data was, at the time for our musher, news to him. He gladly accepted the guidance and would alleviate further problems by asking assistance from this “Electrical & Mechanical Engineer”.  A couple of days later, three individuals were back at the “Power Plant” where with an instrument called a “Megger”, they verified as to how much humidity was contained. “Humm!” the professional “ELM Tech” said, “you do have extensive humidity in there. As to know for sure if it`s enough to cause damage, that`s something that I`m not too sure of. My advice would be to remove it, bring it to a heat source and dry it out.” “Can we chance it?” Ray Lyver asked. “You can but there is no guarantee that it will not blow up on you.”
There was to be no extra money spent on fixing this turbine and it was decided that they would gamble with the likelihood that it would be fine. The millwright was against this ruling but would respect the project manager`s decision. Finances were tight and this additional measure was viewed as an unnecessary cost. So keeping all this in mind, he carried on with dismantling the “Pelton Wheel”. The “3 inch” nut proved to be no match for the ratchet wrench with a “3 feet” handle. It came off without any difficulty and where he thought that a “puller” would be needed to unfasten the wheel from the shaft, this would not be the case. Whoever, way back then had installed it had taken the time to pack the shaft with lots of grease and it was still doing what it was supposed to do. Nothing was rusted and the “Pelton Wheel” slid right off. The “Why it had stopped functioning” would soon be identified and all the accumulated branches and other garbage packed in the intake nozzle was cleaned out. The total disassembly process was reversed and after everything was back in place and the “Pelton Wheel” was loose and spinning freely, it was time to see if this thing would produce electricity.
It had been a dirty and time consuming job but the two friends were satisfied that it would work. A plan was formulated and two days later, they were ready for a long awaited trial run. Equipped with two-way radios, Ray Lyver took position upstream where he would be in charge of releasing and controlling the flow of the water. His partner in crime would be at the bottom of the main canal at the “Power Station” where he would check on how things would pan out once the water arrived at that location. “Hey Ray, can you hear me?” the nervous and exited man said on the radio. “Roger that!” the project manager replied. “Anytime you feel like it, just let her rip!!!” the millwright answered back. “OK, here she goes!” Lyver confirmed after cranking the flood gate wide open. The quiet afternoon silence would soon be broken by the thundering sound of charging water going downstream. It was had been ages since these concrete borders had guided water to the turbine but it was functioning just like brand new.  The water coming down at this furious pace reminded our now less than confident man of an avalanche hurtling down a mountain crushing everything in its path. This was not snow but the turbulent white water was a sight to be seen as it was making its way to the bottom. When it arrived and hit the protective grill at the “Power House”, there was too much of it at the same time. The intake pipe could not swallow all of it in and it started rising and rolling on itself, overflowing over the three feet walls. The millwright moved inside to check on the turbine. After a bit of hesitation, it started to rotate. At first it was just very slowly splashing but with all the pressure of the water being guided through the nozzle of the intake pipe, this would soon change.  Faster and faster it started gyrating. The more water came in, the faster it was whirling. The more water came in, the louder the noise of the spinning “Pelton Wheel” sounded. After maybe five minutes, this same wheel was rotating at an “RPM” where the pressure coming in would be close to being equal to the pressure going out. When this happened, it was in the range where it would produce electricity. During all this, the resonance in the building went from a low humming sound to a high pitch frequency. Eventually, our millwright would realize that this was typical for such a system but at first glance the racket that it made was a bit alarming. The entire building was shaking and from the vibrations, dust was falling from the rafters of the ceiling. “Is this normal?” he asked himself. He wasn`t too confident that it was. Adding to this what the ELM Tech had said about the possibility that this humid generator could blow up, he decided to take additional precautions so walked outside so to observe the outcome from afar. Things would soon after settle down. The turbine was now at full operating speed and it was singing and purring. The “Pelton Wheel” with all the kinetic energy it was creating had stopped vibrating and had found a sweet spot where it was balancing itself out. More than a few minutes passed and after determining that it was safe, he elected to go back in. He was just about to step inside when the Project Manager showed up out of breath. “So?” the excited Ray Lyver asked. “Is it working?” “I don`t know”, the millwright responded. “I was just going to go back in and check.” Both of them re-entered the “Power House” and after evaluating that things were under control, they both looked at the electrical panel and said at the same time, “Should we?” “Well, it`s now or never!” the “Boss” shouted excitedly over the noise. And with that he walked over to the large disconnect that married the generator to the panel and lifted the lever up to the “ON” position. Current was at the appointment and the three gauges instantly came back to life. The arrows of the Voltage and Amperage meters were in the “green” zone and showing that the turbine was producing at 80% of its full capacity. The tachometer was displaying the “revolutions per minutes” and it was also in the “green zone” also telling them that it was working in its normal operating range.
They looked at it, located the switch and flicked the light on. It had been over twenty-five years since it had last been turned on but there it was once again shining nice and bright in that now cozy looking room. Both men looked at each other and smiled. Nothing more needed to be said as this calm sense of accomplishment could be felt by both of them. There was to be more work to be done so to get the power back up and running to the castle but this needed to be undertaken by the local electric company. Overgrown trees needed to be trimmed so to clear the electric lines and this was done during that next month. The fact that it was once again working, was big happy news in the town of Appenweier. So to celebrate the successful re-birth of the “Appenweir Turbine” the owner proclaimed that there would be a “Stromfest” to commemorate the occasion. Spotlights were again installed and all facades of the castle were once again fully illuminated. Where it had stood for all those years in a creepy like darkness, now here it was gleaming in its full splendor inviting everyone to take notice that hard times had been surmounted and that they had survived the storm. The “Electrical Festival” went ahead and like all good German parties, hundreds of people came and celebrated till sunrise. The next morning, when it was time to leave, “Lyver`s” father-in-law met with our millwright. He wanted to thank him in a very special way and as he knew of his interest towards water turbines, this man summoned him to follow him to the barn. Under a set of stairs in a remote corner of this outbuilding, he removed a brown tarp that was covering a bulky object. Our musher couldn`t believe his eyes when he saw the original “10 Kw Pelton Wheel” sitting there, still hanging around.  “Vielen Danke” the old man said while tears were rolling down his cheeks. “Das ist ein kleine geschenk fur dir”. He was speaking in the most basic form of the German language so to make sure that this Canadian would understand that he appreciated all the efforts put forth and that this was a small gift to him. Our then soldier appreciated the gesture wholeheartedly but would refrain from accepting it as it was just too big to bring back home to Canada…
So that`s what was running through his mind that morning while he was visiting with this modern day piece of engineering art, called “Manic 5”. Yes, the superstar of all Canadian hydro dams was a mastodon when he compared it to the “Appenweir Turbine” but the working principles and all the components were the same. They were just supersized…
It was once again time to move out and continue with this adventure. He regained the comfort of his truck and got going. To carry on and get to the top of the dam, he needed to deal with a steep hill with an 18% incline. This portion of the road had not been plowed yet so the proposition of ascending it would be “iffy”. He started negotiating it and half way up there, the Toyota even in “4 x 4” mode, started to spin out and he wasn`t going anywhere. He pressed the brakes real hard but the grade was as such that the vehicle started to slide backwards.  Before starting the climb, he had noticed that at the beginning of this treacherous gradient that only a guardrail protected the travellers from falling over a forty foot cliff. Now here he was in a dodgy situation where he was backing up helplessly towards this precipice. Distressed to the point of being panicked, all he could come up with was, “Oh Fuck! Now what do I do?” This moment of anxiety was to last maybe a fraction of a second or at least one would want to think so. This was not a time to be terrified so he buried these feelings deep inside of him. This situation needed to be addressed with self-control and calmness. Not having any influence over it, that “sixth sense”, this defensive mechanism that all soldiers acquire and depend on to survive while in a combat setting, automatically kicked in and instantly he was on “full alert”. It had been an eternity since he had entered that zone where this tool of the trade does come in handy but it was still alive and well within his subconscious. This high state of hypervigilance and although it had been dormant for all this time, took center stage and he could absolutely focus on the ugly task at hand. “Alright, let`s see if we can`t back all the way down without killing anybody!” he said to himself while concentrating on his driving.  Backing up a trailer was child`s play for our musher under normal circumstances but in this occurrence he would need finesse and skill. He pumped his brakes and he started to engage the manoeuver. He guided his trailer in the same tire tracks that led him to this mess. Even though he didn`t have total control over his truck, he managed to reach that level portion at the foot of the hill. There he stopped and leaned over his steering wheel so to try to catch his breath and to also thank his lucky stars for making it without incident.
He was in his own little world and wondering as to how he would get up there safely. There was no way he`d attempt another climb under these conditions. His dogs and their welfare were his priority and he would not take unnecessary risks to hurt them. He was reviewing his options when his bubble was burst and he was brought back to reality. “Honkkkkk! Honkkkkk!” were two long blasting sounds that came out of those “air horns” positioned on the roof of that beast of a truck that was parked in the bend behind him. It was once again “Joe” and his snowplow.  “Hey there, Mr Musher!” the jovial man told him after he got out and walked over to the driver`s window, “I should have told you that this portion of the road wasn`t open yet. It can`t be plowed starting from the bottom so it is standard operating procedures that the guy plowing the 100 kilometers above the dam does it on his way back down. I just spoke to him a few seconds ago and he should be here any minutes.”  The words hadn`t left his mouth yet when the reinforcement showed up at the summit of the hill. With its huge blade dragging on the ground and pushing the snow sideways, in one pass, this other snowplow cleared the gradient. To make sure that travellers could drive safely on this particular hazardous stretch, a more than healthy amount of salt and sand was spread. It reached the bottom without difficulties and Joe`s co-worker stopped to exchange some nonsense with the other snowplow driver. “Hey Musher,” Joe yelled over the noise of the two powerful diesel engines, “I think that it`s safe to go now and if you don`t make it up there, I`ll come and push you up.” It was a sarcastic comment but it had been made all in fun. The ex-soldier, still a bit apprehensive about it, started again for a second try. This time, he had no problems and on his way once again he was. “Boy, those “Plow Boyz” know what they`re doing. I wonder if people realize the importance of their work and if they appreciate it?” He didn`t know about the other users of “Hwy 389” but he could. He had just recognised the fact that the snow removal operations on this road were very well organised and that the workforce constantly monitored its status. If during a storm, driving back and forth on a constant basis was needed to keep the highway cleared then that`s what they did. It was a matter of keeping things moving.
For some strange reason, when our traveller crossed that bridge maybe one kilometer upriver from the headwaters of “Manic 5”, he felt compelled to stop and appreciate the spectacular view of his surroundings. It is unknown what the desired effect was when they designed this particular concrete link. Nevertheless, if one took the time to think about it, this straight, long and narrow structure sort of drew one to the conclusion that this was the dividing line that separated the true “North” from the “South” of the “North Shore”, if that makes any sense. It seemed to want to proclaim that “One was now leaving civilisation as most of us know it and entering serious wild bush country.”  It was an invading eerie feeling standing there pondering as to what was at stake here. People were factually different. Down south in that modern urban setting, people dwelled in an abundant “throw away” society where they just had to go to the “convenient” store and get what they desired. Up north, they were less fortunate and needed to make due with what was on the shelves at the time you went shopping. Supplies were limited and a minimalist approach needed to be developed if one wanted to survive the harsh realities of the “Great White North”. While the Southerners lived amongst all types of electronic gadgets that kept them “connected”, it wasn`t the same for their northern cousins. Down south, people were actually at the mercy of constant propaganda and actually influenced by what the mass media put out there. To keep this attentive audience entertained, these broadcasters would persistently bombard them with sensational, right down to the last minute newscasts. The more negative the better, it would seem. This in turn would make it that it would seem to paint a bleak and pessimistic view of one`s surroundings thus having a strange effect on all those who were engrossed by it all. Their stress level was forever high and the confidence in their fellowman had dwindled to the point where a lot of people would retreat to their own little “space” where they lived apprehensive existence. You live through pretty sad times when not only do you not want to be bothered with helping your neighbour, you don`t even want to know his name. Up north, in those small remote centers of population, things were much different. People tended to be more trusting and willing to cooperate with each other. There was less hustle and bustle and this simpler life seemed to re-unite these groups into a much tighter community. They didn`t have much choice in the matter. They all lived under harsh conditions and their “helping each other out” was pivotal in their subsistence if not their survival. Anyway and this according to the “Backwood Philosophy” of our musher, was the basic fundamental differences between living in those two different worlds.   
Here also from this vantage point, one could see the ultimate variances of what they referred to as the “Boreal Forest”.  South of the dam, where vast tracks of luscious green conifers intermixed with leafy hardwoods, this was called the “Temperate Rain Forest” or deciduous woodlands. In these whereabouts, trees were plentiful and were a major source of revenue for the Forestry industry. This large supply of this natural resource was a most important contributor when it came to furnishing needed raw material to the well-established Pulp & Paper and lumber mills that dotted the North Shore of the St-Lawrence River. On the other hand, as you gradually went further up north past “Manic 5”and across that great divide, one could definitely understand as to why harvesting trees in this region was more than limited. You were entering the sector called the “Taiga” and here the leafy hardwood could not endure the harshness of the climates. As a result, it would disappear from the topography only to be replaced by dominant proportions of mainly white and black spruces, tamarack and balsam fir. Although these species would overshadow these northern areas, these conifers would be dwarf size compared to their southern equivalents. The short summers would make it that their growth would be hampered significantly. Therefore, the further north you travelled, the colder the climate would persist and smaller these trees would be. At one point, if you kept going, one would encounter the moss covered treeless plains of the most northern region, these desolate barren caribou  feeding grounds, called the Tundra.
Fermont was situated just above the 52nd parallel and sat on the edge of the Taiga close to the spreading Tundra. What he knew about these various ecosystems, he had only read about them. Pleasant emotions were stirring up inside him as here he was in the third day of his fact finding trip on the verge of putting practical facts to all this theory. Looking way up north in those vast distances, he was just about to enter this mysterious region that led to the “Great White North”. The excitement of finding out what this biosphere had to offer was like a magnet attracting him and he needed to answer that “Call of the Wild”. He still had another 340 kms of rough terrain to attack so best get with the program.  
Back on the road, which by now had gone from pavement to gravel was the portion where all habitual users called it, the “Devil`s Backside”. It was called like this because after a long stretch of straight roadway, it would serpentine tightly around cliffs and go into deep canyons. You knew you were negotiating this sector by the signs on the side that warned travellers that they were entering fifteen kilometers of sharp curves and steep inclines.  These distorted crevices that he was travelling through were part of the southern outer ring that had been caused by that asteroid that had crashed 215 million years ago. The “ups and down and all around” bends were nasty to handle and the treacherous driving across this jumbled maze would prove to cause headaches to our adventurer. A “Ding-Ding” warning bell was sounding from the front of the “Toyota”. With it, a red light was flashing from the same dashboard. Upon verifying what it was, the man soon comprehended that the automatic transmission was overheating. If this was not enough of an indication, the needle of the gauge for this component was way out of its normal working temperature range and was in the “Red” area to the right side. “Oh shit!” would again be the descriptive words, our man would use, “This doesn`t inspire confidence.”
There was no time to waste so he pulled to the side of the road to see what the problem was. He would deal with this by using a process of elimination. The man first crawled and looked under the truck just in case something was leaking from the transmission. From what he could see, everything seemed to be fine. He was looking for the transmission “radiator/cooler” but could not see it as the entire undercarriage was jam packed with snow. He could distinguish the pipes that ran oil from the “tranny” to the “cooler” but there was no sense trying to clear it as the entire area was nothing but a large chunk of ice. Trying to break some of it off, might cause additional damages to this component so he wouldn`t start pocking that area with a stick. “If it`s full of snow under there from last night`s storm, I wonder what the main front radiator looks like?” he speculated after standing up and brushing himself off. He popped the snow covered hood and it immediately identified what the problem was. Travelling through that snowstorm had made it that the entire front facade of the main radiator was nothing but a two inch thick solid block of ice. “No wonder, it`s not cooling down, it can`t get any air.” He was scratching his head as to how he`d take care of the situation but ended up not having to do much more than watch. While parked, the vehicle still idling, was generating enough heat to melt some of the block of ice. In a couple of minutes and with a casual punch to the center of the area, the “one singular mass” broke in a “spider web” pattern and he could now pry off large chunks of ice from the clogged radiator. The more pieces he removed, the more fresh air could pass through the fins of the unit thus cooling the assorted components accordingly. “I guess I should have left it warm up this morning instead of taking off like a bat out of hell. If I would have done that, this situation would have probably not happened.  Oh well! There`s a lesson in there!” he smiled to himself when he got back in the driver`s seat and saw that the gauge was back in the safe operating range. “At least we can continue on.”
A good Samaritan in a “18 wheeler” coming down from Fermont, would stop to see if everything was alright and after confirming that it was, both men left and carried on with their travels. Feeling quite comfortable that the problem had been resolved, our explorer was appreciating what had turned out to be, this beautiful sunny morning. He had pushed on for another 75 kms on this gravel road and it was nice and clear. It was in such good conditions that if one didn`t know any better, one could have sworn that he was still on asphalt. In the winter, there wasn`t much difference in the two types of surfaces when it came to traveling on either of them. The road crews were constantly working at its upkeep and it made moving about on that road a breeze that`s if you drove keeping in mind that it was glare ice you were rolling on.
He would soon be out of that series of snaky gorges and entering the inner core of the impact area of the Manicouagan asteroid. From how the sliding slopes defined the bowl shaped surroundings, one could determine that they were on the East side of the blast area. The new mountain range presenting itself in front of our explorer were picturesque and just didn`t fit in the general description associated with the rolling hills of the Appalachian mountain range. Rather these elevated sharp alpine peaks called “Les Monts Groulx” stood out radically as tall hills in the geographic center of Quebec. Having their tallest peak as “Mount Veyrier” which towered over the rest of the countryside at an elevation of 1104 meters, these mountains would have fit better either in the Rocky Mountains of western Canada or the “Alps” of central Europe. They were definitely a strange and unexpected sight, right here in the middle of nowhere but this “on a different planet” encounter   was worth experiencing. “Wow,” our more than stunned man thought to himself, “Visiting this place at a future date is a “must do” on my lengthy “bucket list”. One of these days I`ll have to come back and hike up there so that I can really appreciate this geological phenomenon.” Yes, this place was that impressive and yes it was a noteworthy destination for anybody who wanted to do some serious trekking of high-altitude massifs. Right now unfortunately, our adventurer needed to keep going because he hadn`t reach his primary destination. Situated on his left, he would follow the contour of the Manicouagan reservoir where he could see the central uplift of its inner plateau. The way everything presented itself in the impact zone, it clearly showed that on its collision course with earth, this big rock from the sky had come from the southern hemisphere at a ridiculously high rate of speed only to hit the ground at a velocity that had a force that can`t be reproduced by the human race even at present. If one was to try to find something to compare the power of this massive explosion, one would have to acknowledge that even the biggest nuclear bomb ever tested, paled in comparison to the magnitude of the energy produced by this asteroid.
The “Tsar Bomba” was the nickname given by the Russians to the AN602 hydrogen bomb, the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated. This ultimate weapon of mass destruction was a three-stage Teller-Ulam lithium bomb with a yield of 50 to 58 megatons of “TNT”. Its destructive strength was equivalent to about 1,350-1,570 times the combined power of the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in 1945 (quote from Wikipedia). As powerful as this “Mother of all Bombs” was, when it was detonated in 1961, it was “child`s play” when compared to the asteroid. It had not dug up trillions of tons of granite only to spew it out of the way and in all directions nor had it carved actual high peaked mountains. No it hadn`t. Rather, it had just flattened everything in its way. Therefore, the blast generated by this “Big Rock” must have been super huge and of such magnitude that it is still beyond comprehension as to what this force of nature actually was. One thing for sure, it had destroyed the local ecosystem and its habitants, the dinosaurs of the Triassic geological period.
Leaving the impact area and climbing the north side ridge of the crater, he was driving in the same direction that coincidently followed the trajectory of the explosion that had happened those millions of years ago. In as such, one could see the pathway of the blast as it had then rocketed and flattened everything that stood in front of it. The topography here was noticeably much less accentuated and a good indicator that a massive shock wave had gone through burying everything in its travel. Looking at this likelihood, the question that was running through his mind there and then was if in fact somebody had unearthed fossils from the grounds of this crater area. He didn`t have any data that reinforced this notion but he was convinced that they were there. They had to be. They were found all across North America so why not here. In his mind it wasn`t a question as to if they were there. Instead, the question was, “What kind of animals roamed these Temperate Rain Forests, 215 million years ago?”  
This question would rouse up old remembrances of a place and time that had transpired in the summer of 1981. During that season and while with the military, he had volunteered to accompany a company of troops from 2 PPCLI, when they had flown up to Resolute Bay, Nunavut. Their mission was to provide close ground support to a group of scientists doing surveying work of this Arctic Circle region. How could he not come forward and raise his hand. It was an opportunity of a lifetime as not too many people had bragging rights to the fact that they had explored such a desolate land that was only 600 kilometers south of the magnetic North Pole. He had enjoyed the pristine environment that this trip had taken him on and it was absolutely amazing what the landscape had offered. Pure crystal clear turquoise water ran from the inlands to the Arctic Ocean. In those streams, not schools but walls of “Arctic Char” swam up current so to go to their customary spawning grounds. Unfertile arid flatlands were the major highpoints and the norms for this rugged backdrop and to the untrained eye, all of it looked the same. Polar bears and Muskox seem to be the main occupants of Cornwallis Island and while the big white predators seem to be quite plump, feeding on the bountiful fish, the buffalo`s northern cousin seemed to barely survive on the lichens and moss that the land provided. Navigating through this red tinted terrain was like being on planet “Mars” and would prove to be difficult. Adequate and reliable maps of the area hadn`t been produced as of then and one could not depend on a compass because of the close proximity of the magnetic North Pole. One of the Sergeants from this infantry battalion had professed to be an expert with a “Sexton” but when put to the test, he had managed to get the convoy of APCs (M113 tracked vehicles) lost for four days. This had been viewed by the Commanding Officer as a serious hindrance never mind a real embarrassment to the Canadian Armed Forces. After discussing this failed strategy, it was decided by the “Head Honchos” that the Canadian Rangers, that volunteer force made up of local Inuit Aboriginals would be used as guides. The people of the land knew every inch of the island, were expert navigators and knew the basic bushcrafts needed to deal with the extreme conditions of the “North”. Under their guidance, patrols of scientists and soldiers re-deployed throughout the Tundra where they explored and accumulated data so that new maps could be updated.
It was on such a patrol that our adventurer would become conscious of the fact that Canadians didn`t know much about this country`s geographical history. He was sitting in the “crew commander`s” hatch of one of these “APCs” where he had been basically just tagging along. They were “tail-end Charlie” and had the crucial job of transporting the ration packs, the water and some of the extra fuel. Their group had left “Resolute Bay” two days prior and the trip had been nothing but exhilarating. The “Rangers” definitely knew how to get around and it was remarkable to see how these natives of the Arctic could use just the sun and stars to navigate. This patrol was maybe 125 kilometers North-East of their “Start Point” and traveling in a deep and long canyon that had been formed by thousands of years of eroding water. The highly visible greyish cliffs of this entrenchment were for the better part composed of highly polished sandstone that gave the impression that somebody had used a lot of elbow grease to rub them down to a shiny finish. He was enjoying this artwork created by “Mother Nature” when unexpectedly, his eyes were drawn to what he thought was a drawing of fern leaves. Right next to it, the rock formation seemed to bulge out and it looked like a bunch of seashells had been glued to the wall. He first thought that these were somewhat out of place but then grasped the fact that they were fossils. Thinking that maybe some of the scientists might be interested in checking these out, over his “headset”, he radioed the packet commander and informed him of his observations. This individual who didn`t have a clue as to what he was talking about basically told our adventurer that this was impossible considering how far up north they were. Trying to impress these researchers, the “leader of the convoy” continued to voice his less that educated assessment of what these could possibly be. He was way off the mark but continued to belittle the young man who was just trying to help. His audience, a bunch of bored soldiers, were now all getting into it and making fun of callsign “Watchdog”. The damaging comments would soon be coming fast and furious and this to the point where it was starting to look like bullying. It had been so far a humdrum of an afternoon and none of them wanted to miss out on this action. They were lapping up all this “Pick on Gino” stuff and it could have gone for ever if one of the scientists had not intervened. Doctor Lockhart, an Oceanographer and one of the main players of this expedition came on the radio and advised all that they would be stopping to check what this could possibly be.  When him and the young man walked to the scene, this elderly gentleman was like a kid in a candy store. He had been searching an eternity to find such evidence and these fossils were quite the discovery. By this time, everybody had gathered around to check these prehistoric remains and those who didn`t know would soon be briefed about certain facts. According to this professor, some 30 million years before, this deserted land had also formerly been part of the temperate rain forest where dinosaurs had roamed and lived healthy lives in this luscious paradise. They had since then been long ago extinct and their demise and disappearance by coincidence could also be attributed to another meteor. Situated next door maybe 150 kms East from where they were, the Haughton Crater was located. This 16 km-wide circular depression on Devon Island, had also been created by a powerful asteroid strike and was the major cause of the disappearance of these animals. Their main Inuit guide, who had been baptised by the nickname of “Ranger Rick” could not really understand why people were so fascinated by such trivial objects as they could be found all over the place. Doctor Lockhart then explained to him what their value was to the scientific community. Once “Ranger Rick” understood this, he gladly volunteered to take this nomadic crew to a site where actual bones could be viewed. It was discussed at length but at the end, the expeditionary force would stick to their original planned patrol. Tracking down this other fossil site would have to be done some other time. This present course they were travelling on was uncharted territory even for “Ranger Rick” and it was important that proper records be kept of it. Consequently, the Inuit gathered some flat rocks and marked their passage by erecting an “Inukshuk”, a small traditional person like sculpture made of unworked stones. “This is for those who will come through here in the future. They will know that other people have walked these grounds….”  
He had forgotten about this pleasurable episode and the Manicouagan Reservoir experience had made it that it had been brought back to the forefront. “You know that a lot of that time spent in the military was not all that bad after all.” he said to himself convincingly. “There were occasions and there were many, where good times were had by all.” Instead of harping over the “Tragic Things” that happened, maybe one should reflect on the good instances. Maybe this way, one can relax the brain, be less bitter and carry on with a normal existence. “Humm!” he continued reflecting on this, “Maybe you`re onto something there, Gino.”
 He had just finished re-fueling his truck at the “Relais Gabriel” and at a $1.77 per/liter, he was glad that he didn`t need a full tank. One likeable fact about the place was that this was one of the three base camps if one wanted to climb the Monts Groulx cluster of mountains. “Nice to know!” he said to himself, satisfied with this small find. “I`ll have to keep that in mind”. Another thing that had peaked his interest was the fact that he was halfway there and that the rest of the road was again paved. Hitting the road once again with enthusiasm, he was making good time clipping right along. He passed the “Ghost Town” of Gagnonville where soon after he knew that he was entering the “Mine” property when it again changed to gravel. He had maybe another 75 kms to go before getting to destination and would do what one of truckers from the boat had told him to do. He had said, “You`ll know you`re close when you start dealing with railroad crossings. While the company railroad runs in a straight line from Fermont to Port-Cartier, Quebec, the highway while it crosses the mine`s territory is full of bends that cross the railroad tracks fourteen times. If you get bored, start counting the crossings.” So not necessarily believing this joker of a character, our musher had decided to see for himself if there were that many crossings. That trucker had been right and once “Number Fourteen” was traversed, the City of Fermont came into view. Finally, after many years of wondering, a few months of planning and 1253 kilometers of travelling, our excited man had reached the location where he would participate in the much anticipated 200 Kms race, called the “Défi Taiga”… = -)
He stopped at the “3 Way” intersection that led into town and looking around, he was liking what he was seeing so far. In the past, he had visited more than his fair share of mining towns across the country but Fermont seemed to be different. Instead of all the normal pollution associated with the mining industry, no big gray cloud could be detected hanging over the skies of the processing plants. Something else that wasn`t present was the smell of sulphuric acid or those other chemicals that usually invade the atmosphere. No, at first glance, Fermont seemed to be an operation that while they did extract “Iron Ore”, they did it with a technology where a sense of respect for nature was associated with it. The city center was not vast but that enormous “wedge” shaped housing complex that occupied most of it, was to say the least, impressive. It was a fairly modern cluster of buildings that were interconnected together. The commercial center was established within these walls and was readily available to the many residents that lived in the same complex. The joke in this town was that if one did not want to deal with the cold or mosquitos, one just had to stay inside. In there, it was like a “Tropical Paradise” year round.
He needed to “drop his dogs” once again and would park in the huge lot in front of this complex. While the Canadian Snowhounds were drinking water and stretching for a bit, a white truck with company logos on it, pulled up next to the “Troubadours”. To the musher`s great amazement, the first person that he would come across this far away from home, would be his young neighbour from “Baisley Road”, “Alexandre Lynch”. This now 25 year old young father was Ti-Co Lynch`s nephew and a person that he had seen grow up from being in diapers to a now responsible adult. “Hey Alexandre, how are you doing?” he said before giving the “kid” a huge “Bear Hug”. “I was told you were here. So, don`t keep me in suspense! How do you like it?” “Gino, I love it! This is probably the best move I`ve ever made.” the youthful carpenter retorted. “I would have to say that I`m very lucky to have found such a job opportunity. I`ve given myself five years to make and bank some serious cash and then I`ll see what the future holds for me and my new little family.” He was speaking of his wife and their new baby boy and the pride was overflowing when he spoke of them. Back when he lived in Edmundston, he had struggled working various construction jobs but the salaries he had been earning just made it that he was just barely making ends meet. “Here,” he continued, “I have the opportunity to make a six figure salary and if I play my cards right, I should be able to provide quite comfortably for them.” The older man could recognize the plan and the logical approach behind it. It was solid and the only thing he could do was throw his support behind “Alexandre” by providing the following statement. “You know that at the end of the day, it`s not how much you bring home, Alexandre. Rather, it`s what kind of budget you plan on living on. If you make $100,000.00 a year and spend $120,000.00 then you won`t get anywhere. However, if you make that type of money and limit yourself to say a $40,000.00 budget then you will be on to something. You have the perfect chance here to start looking at a comfortable and early retirement and this, right here, right now.” Alexandre knew exactly what he was talking about. He had grown up seeing him in action and was aware that the ex-soldier had been lucky enough to be semi-retired and this since the age of 48. To reach that goal had not been easy. It had meant working hard and making personal sacrifices but it could be done. The “sawyer” was a fine example that attested to the fact that if you plan ahead for the future, with a solid financial strategy, early retirement could be attained. At least that`s what young Alexandre thought when he used to hang around Baisley Lodges.   For many years when he was a playful boy, he had attended the “Musher`s Mill” and sat at the end of the “track” watching the man process thousands of saw logs. They would never say much to each other but both were comfortable with the situation, just the same. That time period was in the early years of the 21st Century, in the years covering 2000 to 2004. The recession was hitting Edmundston and its regions real hard and job outlooks would go from slim to basically non-existent. Living with the constraints of a defunct economy made it that hard times would be felt by all. Looking at how he had to put so much time and energy just to keep things afloat had been a tough proposition if not a disheartening one for the business operator. The writing had been on the wall and even in those days, the musher would wonder as to what the likelihood would be for this “ten year old” youngster to find gainful employment. Alexandre had probably never worried about such details back then but would eventually come to the same conclusion that if he wanted to make a decent living, he would have to exile himself to a place where wages would support this line of thinking. Fortunate circumstances would make it that he was now here in Fermont, a young “white construction hat” wearing foreman, happy that he had made the right choice. More chit-chats were had by the two men and the musher would once again hug the young man and finish their visit by saying, “I`m real proud of you Alexandre. Good Luck with all this and remember, a little sacrifice today will help you a lot to have an easier life later.”
He had noticed a sign, a white“ question (?)” mark on a blue backing in one of the windows of the commercial center so thought that this would be the best place to start looking for details. It was a good call. The helpful employees of the “Tourist Information” bureau knew exactly what he was talking about and would get a hold of a representative of the “Défi Taiga”. A pleasant lady by the name of “Joan” soon showed up and she whisked him away so that he could get settled in one of small houses supplied by the organisers. These sleeping arrangements were nice, warm and clean and much more than adequate. This was totally not expected but most agreeable and would be another piece of evidence that would attest to the fact that this event had the potential of being most pleasurable. “Joan” updated the man about what would be transpiring during the week-end and would show him where if he wanted to take his dogs for a training run, he would be able to.
When they reached a small parcel of land just outside the town`s limits, “Joan” had driven our curious man to an area that said that he was right in his element. A bunch of dog trucks were there and a whole slew of canine athletes were barking, excited to be going for a run. “Joan” introduced “Serge” to our musher and these two men hit it off immediately. How could they not. Both enjoyed the company of sleddogs and both had plenty of stories about winter camping trips. “Serge” was an interesting fellow and his recollection as to how “Chienville” (Dog City) got to come into existence was an attention-grabber. I guess the chronicle of events was that at one point, there were too many people with sleddogs within the city limits and it sort of became a controversial issue in the municipality. Subsequently, laws were passed that the dogs would no longer be tolerated in town. “Serge”, who had this parcel of land where he kept his own “malamutes”, made it that if other mushers wanted to set up their kennel in this same vicinity, he would accommodate them. More mushers established themselves and small “shacks” and fenced in areas started to pop up on this piece of property. To look at everybody`s setups, one could tell that the dwellers were quite comfortable in this very well organised system. Captivated by how well things operated in “Chienville”, the musher recognised that “Serge” had gone way out of his way to make sure that all the sleddogs of Fermont had a great place to stay where they could live the “Good Life”. By any stretch of the imagination, this was a major achievement, one that should be acknowledged. He knew with certainty that it would never make the front page of the local newspaper but nonetheless, the musher would articulate the following bold proclamation. “You know Serge? What you`ve done here is quite remarkable. I know that in the scheme of things, this won`t mean much but let it be known that as of today and because of your hard work and dedication, I here by now do declare you, “Serge Dallaire”, Mayor of “Chienville”. Both men laughed at this statement but unknown to both of them, the news of this nomination would get around and it would soon after be accepted as an acceptable title. The population of Fermont from then on, would address “Serge” as “Mister Mayor”.   
It was still a bit chilly by any measures so “Serge” invited the musher to his small cabin where amongst other things, life was good for his dogs. A roaring fire was burning in the woodstove and his “Fur Buddies” were lying there, spread all over the floor just appreciating the heat. What you were looking at was pretty well a basic display of the interior of a shed and the only niceties hanging on the walls were the necessary gear needed to practice this sport of dog sledding. Harnesses, ganglines, axes and snowshoes hung everywhere all over the place and seemed to be the general decorating theme for the premises. The conversation was plentiful and our adventurer was getting his daily fix of “dog therapy” when out of the blue, something quite interesting would catch the corner of his eye. In a dim lit corner covered in dust and cobwebs, somewhat hidden by the protruding stove pipe, was hung this beautiful poster of “Huskies waiting for Supper”. This print of a painting called the “Barbecue Blues” by a renowned artist named “C. Caldwell” had been chosen to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 2003 “Yukon Quest” 1000 mile sleddog race. While it was a beautiful depiction of this “dog world”, it had since then been out of production and was a rare find if one could put his hands on one. Here in the “Mayor`s Office” of Chienville was such a treasure. Our main actor had been looking for this actual “Lithograph” for years but had only seen it on the “Internet” and the few that were shown were not for sale. In his mind, if he was to bring back a great souvenir of his time up here, way up north, this exquisite “dog” painting would be it. So he risked it and daringly asked. “By any chances Serge, would that picture on the wall over there be for sale?”  Not surprisingly in any way, it didn`t take long for the answer to come back and it was, “No, not a chance! It was a gift given to me by a friend of mine who was in the Yukon way back then in 2003. I`ve had it for years and I`m kind of attached to it.” The musher would not take “No” for an answer so tried to sweeten the pot by offering a generous amount of money for it. Still the answer was “No”.  Seeing that this didn`t work neither, he decided that he would try another approach so offered to trade for it. “What do you need? I`m sure that that I`ve got something in my truck that you could use.” Still, the answer was a categorical “No”. This negotiation went on for a fair amount of time but the musher could not convince the other party to relinquish the “Dog” poster. A bit disappointed, he decided to quit while he was ahead. He had pushed the envelope and was afraid that “Serge” might be getting annoyed by his persistence so he would give up. At the same moment, “Joan” would come in from the cold and tell our adventurer that she had other business to attend to and they had to go.  This enjoyable visit had come to an end and it was time to leave. The two men shook hands and both agreed that it had been a pleasure meeting each other. The musher was almost out the door when the “Mayor” stopped him and said, “Aren`t you forgetting something?” A bit confused, the man turned around only to see that “Serge” had removed the print from its place of honour and was handing it to him. “You know after all considerations, I think this will look good in New-Brunswick. Consider it a gift from this office.” The musher was totally shocked by this kind gesture and the proper words were just not coming out to show his gratitude. “Wow, Serge, are you sure?” was all he could come up with. “Yeah, take it away before I change my mind”, he declared while winking and smiling at him. “By the way, welcome to Fermont!”
When they came back from "Chienville", "Joan" noticed that the man was a lot less talkative than he was on his way there. He was once again in his own little world trying to figure out what he would give back to the “Mayor of Chienville” in exchange for this magnificent but unexpected present. To his best recollection, this was one of the best gifts that he had ever received. One could not necessarily put a monetary value on it and that was all right. It had been given with no strings attached and came from the heart and this was what made it so precious. “Somehow, I have to thank him in my own way. Somehow, I have to press the button and send the “elevator” back up. Now how am I going to do this?”
He had spent the rest of the day checking out what could be offered and came to the deduction that Fermont was a small town that showed all sorts of potential. Under the watchful eye of an efficient “City Council” who apparently were known to run a tight ship, it seemed that everywhere you looked, things were very well-organised.  People all over the place were hustling and bustling, doing something productive.  That week-end, in conjunction with the 200 kilometer race, they were holding their annual “Winter Carnival” and this was a fitting example of a small community pulling together to make things happen. The work that they were doing at the main fairgrounds so to accommodate the general populace had been in full swing since the beginning of the week and they were now putting in the final touches so to make this event an awesome success.  To see a huge tent capable of lodging hundreds of people come into existence within the span of two hours was a major “tour de force” but it hadn`t erected itself up. A whole bunch of volunteers had pulled together to get this done in that short of a time. To our musher who was watching them in action, they reminded him of a bunch of elves working for “Santa Claus” at the North Pole. “Hummm!” our inquisitive man thought to himself about the prospect of this possibility. “I know that this is farfetched and that it doesn`t exist but if there was such a place where Santa would hang his hat, this would be the perfect setting. It is a far away and hard to get to place up north where they extract “iron ore” from the ground so to make all sorts of steel products. With all those many toys that Santa produces each year, wouldn`t this be the logical spot to set up his “Workshop?” “Hummm!” he once again went, “Now this is something to think about, isn`t it?” Of course, this was a silly notion but the realities were that there were definite similarities if you compared the North Pole to Fermont.” Although he would file this improbable concept in the back of his mind, little did he know that as the following days would progress, more tips and tell-tale signs would be revealed that would put the likelihood of this theory in the realm of possibilities.
So Thursday had come and gone and here he was lying in bed, wide awake staring at the ceiling. This was normal for him as every time he would attend a racing event, this “get ready for it” sleepless night pattern would accompany him. Tossing and turning, he just couldn`t get any “shut eye”. Instead, he would go through this checklist in his head so to make sure that he wouldn`t forget anything. This was something that he couldn`t avoid. His brain was wired that way. Subsequently and because of this, it would automatically go through a process of reviewing all that was needed to survive the pain and suffering associated with such grueling dog races. Every time it would come to an acceptable conclusion that he was well prepared, his brain would not shut down and it would repeat the process over and over again. There was no stopping it and he would have to accept that this was what it was and that he had to live within these parameters. He would sooner or later manage to convince himself that he was “Good to Go” therefore ready or not he would take the plunge. After letting out a big sigh of relief, he asked himself the following question. “What could go wrong?” Well, a whole hockey sock of things could go “hay wire” when you sat down and looked at it. For one, this race was 120 miles versus 100 miles and instead of running a “12 dog string”, the normal number for this type of event, they would start at a disadvantage and take off with “10 dogs”. The second thing to be concerned about was the fact that instead of the normal routine where your food and your extras would be delivered and wait for you at the checkpoint, the mushers would need to be totally self-sufficient and carry all this stuff with them for the entire journey. This was “OK” for our adventurer as he would be racing the “XP 250”, a homemade sled that had ten foot runners and a six foot sled bag. He had lots of room in that bag and not only could he put all of the necessary gear in there, he still had plenty of space for much more kit. But here again, this could cause another problem. There would be extra weight in this configuration of travelling which meant that instead of carrying an average of 100 lbs, the dogs would be going out there and pulling a 250 lbs load. Another concern was with the race trail itself. It would be new to our musher and who knows what he would come across out there. As for the dogs themselves, this also caused a bit of anxiety as the entire training season had been somewhat of a mess. His main leader “JR” had slipped on ice at the beginning of January and had pulled something in his hind quarters. He could still run but had this lameness where it was judged to be safer if he was sidelined for six weeks. He had since then recovered and would be leading the team here in Fermont but he didn`t have the usual mileage that he would have in the other seasons. Also, he was getting up there in age and it was starting to show. In human terms, he was 63 years old and he could not keep up with the newer and younger members of the team. However, what he lacked in speed, he made up for in trail experience and this ever present drive where he would never quit however difficult the trail conditions would become. “JR” had been a strategic and most important player throughout all those years and our musher had missed that knowhow that past winter. Lacking that needed “power steering” in front, he would find himself obligated to amend his racing schedule so had only participated in two shorter races with the “apprentices” in lead. Although “Schrek” and “Barbie” had done extremely well, they didn`t have the confidence that his “old timer” had and this would prove to be a disadvantage. Talking about these upcoming superstars, “Barbie” and “Lady” were also just getting over a certain weakness. In mid-January, they had managed to open the door to where the dog food is stored and instead of eating some of it, they found it more appetizing to ingest “Warfarin”, rat poison that was present in the building so to control the population of these nasty pests. The musher`s wife had managed to intervene in time and had them drink “Hydrogen Peroxide”.  This solution would promote vomiting and it had flushed most of this poison out of their system. They had survived the experience but it had taken more than a month to recuperate. Also because of the weight in the sled, the distance to be travelled and the “10 dog” string, he was afraid that just having smaller faster dogs on the team might not be what was needed to finish this event. Therefore, he would choose to bring along heavier but more powerful dogs. Of course, this would mean travelling at a slower speed but he would approach this challenge with the attitude that it might be slower but at least, the “big boys” had a proven track record and they would have the stamina to finish the race. There were all sorts of other factors that had to be considered but it didn`t matter how you sliced it and diced it, everything boiled down to the same conclusion. His dogs were not as well prepared as in the previous years and he could anticipate that he would be facing some snags and complications. “Oh well,” he said in desperation because he couldn`t sleep, “we`ll deal with whatever the trail throws at us!”  On the flip side, there were a few positive notes to be attached to this problematic situation and one cold could count on the followings… The weather for the entire race would be most clement and hovering around – 10 Celsius, this an almost perfect temperature to run dogs.  The second thing was the fact that the racers were leaving in the afternoon at 1400 hrs so there was no worry about getting up late and missing their “Start times”. And the best of all, at the “Musher`s Briefing”, he had drawn Bib #8. He was most satisfied with this start position as he would be leaving behind André Longchamps. Now here was the guy that was expected to win this. He was one of the top three mushers in the province of Quebec and everybody that knew him, had the most respect for what he had achieved over those many years. He was as tough as nail and was a fearless competitor who usually climbed on the podium at every race he attended. He was the guy to watch if one was to size the completion and our musher would use that particular dog team to motivate his own. The strategy of “Chasing the Rabbit” was as old as the hills but in this case our musher would use this situation to his advantage. He would try to catch up with the “prospective champion” and ride his coat tails for as long as he could. Anyway, that was the plan and the last thing that was running through his head before falling asleep at around “4 O`Clock” in the morning.
He had managed to catch an extended “cat nap” but had been awake since 0530 hrs. He was ready to start his day but didn`t want to get out of bed, afraid to wake up his cotenants. That quietness of the house would soon be shattered when his roommate, Eric Chagnon started moving about. This was a sound that he would embrace and it would be his cue to get up and get going. It didn`t take long to be done with the morning ablutions and out the door he went. “Good Morning you guys!” he merely said to his dogs when he got to his trailer to feed them, “Hope that everybody slept well because, I didn`t.” They all looked to be in a good mood and as usual they ate everything that was put in the bowl in front of them. He noticed that he wasn`t the only one that was up this early. This normally quiet neighbourhood had been invaded over the last 24 hours and the whole road was full of mushers feeding and getting things ready for the big race. Excited dogs were barking all over the place and folks were walking around dealing with the pre-race jitters in their own way. It was close to “Show Time” and the air was filled with restlessness. He was done with the feeding routine and the stir and commotion of all these individuals sizing each other up was getting under his skin. “So Boys and Girls, are we ready for this?” he asked his happy-go-lucky “Mob”. The answer was quite clear that they were in deed, “Good to Go!” They could actually sniff it in the air and had figured out that this agitated atmosphere spelled “RACING”. They knew the routine associated with all this quite well as most had gone through them many of times in the past and knew exactly what was expected of them. Their well-behaved “embarking and debarking” drills were spot on and they seemed to be totally enjoying being on this outing with the musher. “Boy, you guys are quite civilised when I compare you to what I see with some of the other dogs that are here today. You guys are almost regular house pets.” he giggled while putting “Miko” back in his dog box and scratching him behind the ears. “But then again, I guess if I had the room, most probably, all of us would all be living under the same roof.” he speculated before securing this always in a good mood trail partner to the confines of his sleeping quarters. As usual, “Miko” was savouring this additional attention as he would never miss out on an occasion to spend just that extra little bit of time with the “Boss”. He was as loyal as they came and had come a long way since being adopted a couple of years before. His high energetic and strong performances had earned him a permanent position on the team simply because he was focused and always willing to put it on the line for the man. To look at him though, everybody would question what kind of sleddog he was. One thing was for sure, he didn`t fit the regular profile of the traditional “Husky”. More than anything else, he looked like a Dalmatian with a bad haircut with more than a few black spots missing. Although he ate twice as much as the other dogs, he was still as skinny as a rail. Accordingly, every time he would go through the mandatory veterinarian checks, there was always this observation made by the examining staff to the fact that he might not be fit for running. He would always manage to get a clean bill of health but yet, the subject would always come up. Also, he lacked a lot in the hair department. He had a very short coat and the anecdotal story was that he was the type of dog that when he looked at a “Christmas Card” he would start shivering. Nonetheless and regardless of his looks, this misfit did go well with the rest of the crew and was one of those dogs that you could always depend on. It wasn`t his fault if he was born that way. True enough, he didn`t look like no conventional sleddog but he was one of these true examples of what trying to breed high performance canines could look like. He was the result of one of those exotic “cocktail mix” that had been tried and other than the “looks”, he was as good as any other “cross-breeds” out there. Checking his watch, it was still too early to go to the marshalling area so our ex-soldier decided to go to the local restaurant and have a long and leisurely breakfast.
After filling up with a plentiful plate of bacon and eggs, he was sitting there enjoying his third cup of coffee when some of the other competitors joined him. The trip so far had been a most agreeable one but the “Mayor” of “Chienville” would be the key element that would set the tone for a spree of gift giving. That previous day when he had given his “Dog” poster to our explorer, never would he have imagined that his generosity would be so treasured. The musher had been marked by this special and kind act and this would translate in him showing his tremendous appreciation by paying it forward. In as such and after great discussions and some laughs, he would start returning this favour by paying for these individuals` meals. He wouldn`t take “No” for an answer and that was it. The other three mushers didn`t exactly know what to make of this uncommon but kind gesture but still accepted this free meal. They would thank him and soon after would depart to get ready. Contrary to these guys, our main character was in no real rush to get anywhere and wasn`t panicking about the timings. So an extra cup of “Java” was ordered and he would savour it before going to the staging area.
The empty chairs didn`t stay that way for too long and soon again they were occupied. This time however, regular patrons of the restaurant were in attendance and again interesting exchanges would be had by all. Where the dogs would be part of the initial talks, this would soon move on to another topic, this being what kind of wildlife roamed the forest this far up north. Like their neighbours down south, they had their fair share of moose, white grouse and snowshoe hares. However, one additional habitant of the “Taiga” that would be mentioned, would be the “Boreal Woodland Caribou”. This nomad of the north could be seen wandering in this region and was by a matter of interest that same impressive animal that lives all around the circumpolar region where it`s also called the “Reindeer”. The musher had never grasped the fact that these two species were one and the same so was more than curious to learn more about them. He started questioning his table guests but would soon come across certain stumbling blocks. These “locals” seemed to want to avoid elaborating about these Nordic mammals. Noticeably, they would only say that they did exist in this neck of the woods and that they were protected as they had been listed as a threatened species since 2002. The musher would continue to try and get some additional facts about the “Caribou” but it was like trying to get blood out of a stone. His new found friends were being very tight lipped about what information they would volunteer and this to the point of being secretive. “So what`s the story here guys?” our interrogator continued with his line of questioning, “These caribous, what are they, Santa`s private livestock?” The comment was intended to be a funny remark but it wasn`t perceived that way.
“You know Gino, We, The People of the Caribou Land, have been living in harmony with these animals for thousands of years. We owe them total respect simply because they have always been there for us. They are an important part of our culture as they have provided us with meat to feed our families and fur to make our clothing. Since the “White Man” has moved up here, things have gone by the “way side”. He has overhunted these majestic beasts and their out of control methodology has threatened our livelihood. This is not necessarily the right approach if we plan on keeping a balanced and sustainable herd for future generations. Collectively, we are faced with a situation where if we don`t manage these resources properly, there won`t be enough of them to go around. If and when that happens, what`s Santa supposed to do then, drive around with sleddogs?” These were delivered with a bit of sarcasm but were the explanations given by this elderly gentleman who appeared to be the spokesperson for those sitting there. He seemed to be an intelligent person with interesting viewpoints so the musher figured that they might as well be formerly introduced. “I`m sorry, Sir!” he said to him while extending his hand, “I didn`t catch your name.” “People simply call me “Grand Chef.” the short stocky man volunteered. “I am originally from the “Montagnais” nation of the North Shore but moved here many years ago and now live with my “Inuit” cousins. Together, we run a successful fishing and hunting lodge out there in the bush and while we do make a good living off our clients, we also try to teach them what living with the environment is all about.”
  He wouldn`t pry any further into this Inuit`s personal history and would determine that the title of “Grand Chef” must have been bestowed upon him so to identify his status in that native community. Surely that must have been it as his physique didn`t put him in the category of tall persons. Rather and again as a matter of interest, he looked like an “Elf”. Nonetheless, he was a most entertaining and knowledgeable individual whose views went hand in hand with what the musher thought about what should be done to protect the green spaces of Canada. Both men were enjoying exchanging philosophies and for our man, this scene reminded him of those many long nights spent in that log cabin having these same types of deep conversations with his old friend and mentor, Leonard Lanteigne. The similarity was remarkable as both of these two aboriginals had similar physical and facial features and with a bit of imagination, one could have said that they could have been twins. “Pretty amazing stuff, this candid but remarkable resemblance is, isn`t it?” he said trying to convince himself that this was just a twist of fate. The exchange was going well till the musher mentioned his sighting of a black wolf. Unexpectedly, the expression on the face of “Grand Chef” went from cheerful to complete seriousness and with extreme prejudice towards it, he would deliver the following statement. “You do understand that the “Timber Wolf” might be one of the causes to the decline of our caribou herds. There are too many of them for the population of caribou that we have. Also, one needs to be very careful when in the presence of such an audacious predator. If he`s given half a chance, he will kill just for the pleasure of tasting blood. When it comes to man, the wolf is not afraid of him and it is quite conceivable that if they meet, he will treat the human as a prey and will not miss the opportunity to attack him.” The ex-soldier was well versed and educated on this subject and thought that “Grand Chef” might be exaggerating when it came to the killer reputation of the “Big Bad Wolf”. He would try to come to its defence but his side of the argument would prove to be more than futile. There was no way that he could sway the opinion of these experienced Bushmen. Their minds were pretty well made up and one man`s observations would not weigh much when it was compared to the thousands of scary stories that had been communicated around campfires over the last few hundred years. So he tried to ease the tension a bit therefore reached in his pants and pulled out his pocket knife. He flipped open its “4 inch” blade then boldly stated, “Well Grand Chef, let him try and take a piece of me. If nothing else, me and my carving tool will at least scare him.” The statement was again supposed to be of light humour but again, the joke fell flat. Instead of being amused, Grand Chef became most sombre and would deliver this stern warning, “Listen Gino, this is serious business here that we`re talking about. When it comes to the wolf, he`s something that can be most unpredictable. If you encounter one, you best be well prepared. That butter knife you got there just won`t cut it. You best heed my advice most seriously and be on your guards at all time.” This exchange would not persuade the musher of the viciousness of this untamed canine but the words spoken had come from a very wise elder of the Inuit people. Therefore, the adventurer would take these words under serious consideration. It was time to part company so after exchanging polite greetings, the musher paid for his breakfast and returned to his truck and trailer.
He attended the staging area and found the location where he was supposed to park. As far as parking spaces were concerned, nobody could have asked for anything better. Whoever had snowblown trenches in that deep snow   had made it in such that the dogs were sheltered from the wind and could benefit from the nice warm weather associated with that beautiful sunshine. Yes, the extra efforts had been noticed to the point of being truly appreciated and yes the dogs would take advantage of this top of the line arrangement. Let`s face it, they had been pretty well confined to their dog boxes for an extended period of time and would appreciate this extra fresh air.
That Friday morning, the staging area was filled with this very festive mood. There were plenty of people walking about and the musher wouldn`t miss a beat to brag about the “Canadian Snowhounds”. It was part of his routine to educate anybody that would listen on what was required to live with and not own “sleddogs”. He did this because he enjoyed talking about the subject but most importantly, people needed to know that these canine athletes were high strung animals that required lots of attention. Regrettably, a lot of good intentioned individuals didn`t know this about them and consequently they were setting themselves up for a crash and burn experience. Like all the other “working breeds”, sleddogs needed to be rigorously exercised. Otherwise, they would get in all sort of mischief and would cause major headaches for any one that wasn`t ready to help them release that “Penned Up” energy. One of his favorite lines when he gave such briefings was, “Remember Ladies and Gentlemen, these are living breathing creatures and should at no time be treated like “Baseball or Hockey Cards”. When you accept the responsibility of living with a dog, you should approach this as a lifelong commitment. They will work for you and try to please you as much as they can simply because, you are family and their entire universe revolves around this. To treat them otherwise only says that you`re not fit to own a dog.” In the racing world, his position was not necessarily shared with everybody but that was “OK” too. He didn`t care because just like “Grand Chef” with his caribous, our musher was totally committed to the well-being of his favorite animals and would do everything in his power to make sure that they were treated with dignity. All sorts of supporters would come and call upon him at the trailer but the most pleasing visitors to deal with, were the young excited and smiling school children. Of all ages, their minds were uncluttered with everyday problems and their little minds were like a sponge dying to absorb data. In as such, our man would make their stopover worthwhile and would sweeten the pot by saying that whoever had the best question would receive a prize, this being one of those coveted “Baisley Run Survivor” patch. Anyway that was to be the initial plan. However, it was breaking his heart to see that only a few were receiving this small gift so decided that all the “little ones” would get a prize. As you would suspect, he would soon run out of patches because of the number of young eager students so decided that the next crew would receive “Baisley Lodges” headlamps. He had a few of those promotional items lingering in the back of the truck and would start giving those away. To see all those small “Happy Faces” accept these small tokens made him feel good inside and this was all good in his books. After depleting his entire supplies, he thought that he was done with the school kids but this wasn`t to be the case. A young girl who the “town`s people” referred to as the “future” of mushing in Fermont came along to see him. She was a bit too shy at the beginning but eventually would find the courage to ask if she, like her friends, could get a headlamp. He felt bad that he didn`t have any left so apologized with the promise that he would somehow give her a memento at a later date. She accepted this as an answer and would walk away a bit disappointed.  Our ex-soldier was also a bit upset with this turn of event but promised himself that he would make up for it.
It was almost time to “blow this pop stand” and a lot of the other team had already left the starting chute. His dogs were hitched up and banging in their harnesses as they were excited to get this show on the road. He was standing on his runners trying to convince them to save their energy for the race but he was talking to a brick wall. They had ants in their pants after resting for a week and there would be no cooperation from them when asked to stand still. They had been jumping around for a few minutes trying to pull the dead weight forward but their efforts only ended up digging hollows in the snow and this right down to the bare ground. He let them have their fun as there wasn`t much he could do till it was his time to depart. Unexpectedly, someone was tugging on his clothing so to try to get his attention. To his big surprise, here stood “Grand Chef” with a smile on his face. “Hey Gino,” he shouted over the loud noise of barking dogs, “I never got a chance to wish you Good Luck earlier this morning. Here, take this on your trip. It is for your protection in case you need it out there. Now go and run a smart race and enjoy yourself. Be safe and enjoy the journey.” With that he opened the musher`s parka pocket and slid in it a white plastic bag. The musher hadn`t expected this but could tell that this was a present from this native and that it came from the heart. The two men would have to cut the visit short because it was “Go Time” and it was his turn to make his way up to the “Start Line”. There wasn`t much time left so the adventurer simply said “Thank You very much Grand Chef! Thanks for everything!” He would have wanted to at least give this mysterious “Inuit” a hug in return but this was not going to happen. It was time for him to edge forward and get ready for a date with the great unknown. When it was his turn for his countdown, he didn`t need to keep track of every seconds that went by. The crowd was taking care of that in a brilliant way . Instead he was reviewing in his head these gift giving episodes that had taken place during the last two days. To his amazement, it was as if everybody was celebrating Christmas in the month of March. If that wasn`t curious enough, hell, to put a finishing touch on the subject matter, even the Race Marshall looked like “Santa Claus”, believe it or not…
“And they`re off! No. 8, Gino Roussel from Edmundston, N-B!” That was to be the last thing the musher heard before heading into the wilderness. While the crowd on both sides of the “Starting Chute” were applauding and encouraging him, he was more interested in focusing on leaving this immediate area without any mishaps. How the “Défi Taiga” set-up was organised was a bit different from what was usually seen at other races down south. Here they did not use the most common system, that method of “blasting off” in a straight line for an extended distance. Instead, their unique formula for the “Starting Chute” was that you took off, traveling on a large counter-clock circular like trail. The thing would loop around on itself for more than 180 degrees and its interesting design made it that one needed to concentrate fully on the task at hand, especially with “fresh dogs”. “JR” and “Schrek” would not fail the rest of the team and they would lead them out of town with the greatest of ease. Like every other time he had faced this type of scenario, he would again have to fight the tears and concentrate on driving the sled. The “water faucets” would always turn themselves on and this was something that he could not control. He was super proud of sharing the trail with these dogs as he knew exactly how much sweat equity they had paid just to get here. They had struggled through a lot during the last training season and these emotions of pride could not be stopped and would simply boil over. It would never cease to amaze him how so willingly they would bolt down the trail knowing quite well that they were headed towards hardship and suffering.  Let`s face it. These popular overnight mid-distance races could and did suck the juice out of all who participated and no “Man or Beast” would be immuned.  
They had made their way onto the lake and the excited dogs were expanding too much energy for his liking. He would try to slow them down by stepping on his “drag mat” and coaxing them but this was not working to his advantage. The four younger members of the team “Schrek, Barbie, Lady and Big Jim” were just too excited thus would not show any cooperation. “Hey you guys! You need to slow down a bit, if we`re going to get through this thing. This is not a “50 miler” and we need to conserve some “gas” for the home stretch.” There was to be no slowing down on the part of the youngsters and it made it that you had half the team pulling hard forward not listening and the other half listening and trying to slow the pace down. These two forces acting against each other made it that the entire team was expending precious energy but not necessarily in an efficient “working together” kind of style. So it was decided to just let them find their own comfortable cruising speed and enjoy the “white knuckle” type of ride. Oh and yes, she was going to be a doozy one for a little while yet.
They got off the lake maybe two miles down the way and veered left into the bush. This segment had been added at the last minute so to have the correct distance to this 200 kilometer race. Now this would prove to be a bit of a tricky and peculiar section and would set the ambience for the rest of the ride. Where the lake trail was nice and solid, this part was not at all compacted. There was definitely a pathway through this shrub area but the snow cover was very deep, soft and punchy. He was the eight participant to travel it and he was some happy that he wasn`t one of the last team. The trail by the time he navigated through it had been plowed, turned over upside down and it was a mess. The fact that the dogs hadn`t settled down to a trotting cadence as of yet made it even more difficult. They were still excited about the prospect of being out there and this was proving to be a difficult proposition for the musher. He was bouncing around in the back of the sled and was having a hard time holding on to it. What one was not supposed to do was to be done by the sled driver and off the beaten track he went. It was a sharp right turn and all the seven previous teams had cut the corner too sharp and made it that when he engaged it, it was nothing but a deep rut. It was so deep that the dogs after dropping away into the abyss, needed to jump up and out of it just to get to the other side. When it came to the sled, our musher could not avoid this huge ditch and flipped his sled upside down. Still the dogs kept on moving forward and still they wouldn`t listen to any commands that had to do with stopping or slowing down.   You know there`s a lot of strength out there in front when a 250 lbs sled is being dragged along while it`s completely overturned. You know that you might be in some sort of trouble when attached to the handlebars of this upside down sled, a body is being dragged along face  first, eating snow and is holding on to dear life. You know that it`s going to be a long day when while you`re sliding along on your belly, the cold white stuff fills and packs your overalls quite copiously. But as the musher would say, “It`s part of racing and it`s the same for everybody. The obstacles put in your way are what one likes to deal with and if it was easy then it wouldn`t be any fun at all.” That statement as crazy as it sounded was true in all its senses but still, at that precise moment, he wasn`t finding the “filling your pants with cold snow” too funny. He had forgotten to zip the front of his “snow suit” and would have to live with a wet crotch till he got to the checkpoint. Now that wasn`t necessarily a good thing. This dragging along episode must have lasted for over three hundred feet when he would finally catch a break. A huge amount of snow had accumulated in front of the sled and it had dug itself in to a dead stop. This made it that it got too hard to pull for the dogs. He got up, clutched on to one of the runners and with both arms muscled it right side up. At the same time, the “Snowhounds” felt the slack in the gangline and immediately got back into pulling the load so away they carried on. He had managed to stay with the team and this time he would belt it out. “Listen you Guys! Stay!” It was a most loud authoritive command and it was clear that the team knew that the driver meant business. “Good!” he continued, “Maybe now we`ll get to put some sort of game plan together.” They all stood there with shit eating grins as if to say “Are we having fun yet?” Meanwhile the musher was reaching down his overalls, trying to dislodge the cold snow out of his “Long Johns”. He would manage to get some out but a lot of it would turn to slush and he would have to live with being wet from the neck down for the rest of the way. “Oh well,” he consoled himself, “at least it`s not going to be too cold today.”
They would finish with this test of the first five miles only to be faced with another challenge. When you enter the town, there is an unusual sight that is most noticeable as where it`s situated you just can`t miss it. A huge metal cross stands tall on top of a mountain that is situated across the lake from Fermont. For whatever reason it was erected there, this is unknown but one thing is for sure, it makes for quite the remarkable reference point. Standing there way up there, it tends to announce this powerful statement that says, “I am your symbol of hope and perseverance. I will guide and protect all of those who visit here. A warmest welcome is extended to everyone!” When one takes the time to survey its surroundings, one tends to acknowledge the fact that this “Cross Hill” peak could be a “Bitch to Climb”. It is a very popular “destination” for cross-country snowmobilers with their extreme go anywhere machines. For the hell of it, they go there and defy each other to climb that almost vertical “East Face” of the mountain. As he had seen that previous day, our musher would notice three of these daredevils tear up the gradient but not without complications. One of them had run out of momentum and had to jump off and abandon the “ski-doo”. Tumbling down, head over heel, that  specific “iron sled” would come to a final rest at the bottom of the hill, leaving parts scattered all over the place. Its rider had survived the experience and would walk down to check what could be salvaged. Obviously, it had quit functioning and they hadn`t retrieved it as you could still see the metal carcass from the lake on race day. After seeing that failed attempt to the summit, our musher was left wondering if it could be scaled by dog team. He didn`t know if it could be done but even so he would pester the organisers and the other participants by saying that “We should start the race by climbing “Cross Hill”. That way we`ll see who`s in shape or not.” Of course this was all gibberish that he was chucking but still it made people question themselves as to what they were getting into. The comment had been made during numerous instances and had caught the attention of one of the race coordinators, Serge Côté. He would sooner or later tap the musher on the shoulder and with a wink and a grin would supply the following proclamation, “Wait for it, Gino. You might regret what you`re wishing for!” He had snickered when he had said that and for good reasons. Here they were, the dogs and himself behind three other teams waiting to tackle the “North Face” of “Cross Hill”. From the looks of what was going on in front of him, other mushers were pushing and putting a lot of hard work, trying to get up the steep pitch.
“All right Boys and Girls, let`s see what we`re made of. JR, Schrek, Haw! Haw over and On By!” They listened well and went by the stalled team with the greatest of ease. There were two more targets a bit further up so he got off and started running behind the sled. The dogs were there and they were strong. They were chewing up that upgrade with the greatest of ease and all he could do was pray that he had enough endurance to run the entire length of it. He had to if he wanted to pass those two other slower teams. It was going to take an enormous “set of balls” to accomplish this but he had decided that he would go for it. Huff Puff, Huff Puff, he was panting like an old horse ready for the glue factory but still he would continue on. The sweat that he was now generating was now melting the left over snow mixed slush in his undergarments and he was getting even more soaked. “Come on Gino,” he kept saying to himself in his head, “You can do this.” The burn in his legs was starting to match his heavy breathing but still he would not quit. “Come on you guys, we can do this!” he shouted to encourage his trail partners. He had kept his eyes shut tight for the longest time as he found this to be a way to overcome the pain. When he did finally open them, success was waiting for him. He was done with the ascent and had left three teams in his dust.    Bent over his steering bow and trying to catch his breath, he was admiring Fermont in the distance from the top of “Cross Hill”. There was a real sense of satisfaction but this was not the time to be sitting on his laurels as there was still plenty of trail to deal with up ahead.  “Good Job you Guys!” he conveyed to the rest of the crew while wondering if they were as proud as he was with this accomplishment, “Good Job!”
“All right,” he thought to himself while settling in for the long haul, “Now that we`ve sort of got a game plan, let`s put it into action.” Going over the ridge to the other side had exposed a clearer picture of what the “Défi Taiga” would offer for the rest of the voyage. The trail was a four foot pathway that zigzagged through miniature spruce trees that were sparingly scattered, typically representing this harsh and barren region. Here was the perfect example of what those short summers would produce. The trees up here would never get a chance to grow properly and you could see right there why they would grow so randomly. For a guy who spent a lot of time surrounded by luscious forests, this was something that he found unappealing. “Hey,” he consoled himself, “at least you got to see what the “Taiga” looks like, first hand.” Another trait of the circuit, was the fact that while the surface of it had been well prepared and was well compacted, you didn`t want to wander off the trail. To do so meant that you would sink in waist deep snow. This was an acceptable outlook for our adventurer as this was the same type of trail that they trained on back home. As long as he knew what he could expect, he could adjust his strategy and this according to how things would develop in the next few hours.
By the time they reached the first of many frozen lakes out there, according to his calculations, they were most likely in fourth place and for now he was quite comfortable with this standing. It was a matter of keeping a trotting pace of about 10.5 MPH and see what happens. The dogs had finally warmed up to a working speed and were clipping right along with the greatest of ease. While he was “ski poling” to set and keep a suitable cadence, the dogs were all working together in harmony towards a common goal. The additional weight in the sled didn`t seem to be noticed by any of them and they were just motoring right along at a flawlessly timed rhythmic pace. It was a perfect day to be out there as the sun had stuck around and was beaming in all its splendour, sharing its nice warm heat with the travellers. Somehow, the “Snowhound” team had found themselves in a position where they would be running long stretches alone and if he wouldn`t have known any better, he would have thought that there was nobody else out there. However, he was smarter than that and that small airplane that was flying overhead was providing him with all sorts of intelligence. The “Bush Pilot” of that Piper Super-Cub was buzzing over the heads of all the participants while someone in the aircraft was taking aerial photos of the event. From the unorthodox flight patterns and acrobatic manoeuvers that the “man behind the stick” was performing, it was obvious that the pilot was somewhat of a “hot shot” who had the freedom of the skies to do whatever he wanted. This was “the Great White North” and while his stunts might be tolerated up here, the aerobatics that he was performing would have been forbidden or at least frowned upon in areas where flying regulations are more stringently controlled. This noisy little white bird would ultimately once again roar towards him head first. It was beautiful to watch and it reminded our “ex-soldier” of a scene in that war movie called “Battle of Britain” where a “Spitfire” flies in at full speed and dive bombs on an enemy convoy with its machine guns blaring. This was not the case and this lucky individual was just up there relishing certain liberties that his colleagues south of the 48th parallel could only dream of.  When he passed overhead at maybe thirty feet off the ground, the musher could see inside the cockpit where the pilot was sitting with this delightful smile plastered all over his face. This fly-by had stirred old souvenirs within the musher who although had never obtained his pilot`s licence, was very familiar with this flying business as this was another passion that was dear to his heart. Subsequently, he would give a big “Two Thumbs Up” to the aviator and this one would salute him back by tipping his wings from side to side.
“Boy, was that ever a dumb move on my part.” he suggested to himself when the vision of the incident was playing in his head. “And to think that I could have had a career, flying one of those things.” Yup, if he regretted one thing in his life, it had to be when he had decided that the rules didn`t apply to him and had crash landed a “glider”. It was the summer of 1973 and while in the “Air Cadets”, he had been chosen to go on a Glider Pilot`s course in Greenwood, Nova Scotia. During the six week training, he had been a very keen pupil and was going to finish as “Top Student” of his class. He had studied and worked hard for this on purpose as whoever did end in that position would be automatically chosen the next year to go on a single engine fixed wing pilot`s course. His performance at Glider School had been outstanding and would guarantee that he would proceed to that next level. But somehow he would be “pig headed” and would manage to screw things up.
 It was the night before graduation and I guess he was getting a “Big Head” about his above and beyond performance. Anyway, he had been cruising this little blond beauty and wanted to impress her with his “savoir faire”.  So he suggested to her that they go up for a short flight around the airport so that she could see what this Air Force Base looked like. She agreed but when they reached the area where the small motorless aircrafts were hangared, the worker in charge of the towing winch (that`s the gizmo that puts them in the air) did not necessarily approve with this plan. He tried to convince the young “Air Cadet” that this was not a good idea as he was not allowed to take a passenger with him. “Come on Sam!” the young flyer would rebel, “What could go wrong? Besides what`s the difference between me having an instructor or a passenger in the back seat?” “Lots can go wrong” the annoyed man had said, “And besides it`s against the rules.” The young man wouldn`t take no for an answer so the tow cable operator would cave in and allow him to go. They had lifted off with the greatest of ease and after disconnecting from the cable, they were sailing up there and things were just fine but just for a while. After maybe ten minutes, it was time to land so he lined himself up with the grass runway. He was on final approach with his flaps down when suddenly a deer was seen eating grass in the distance. Our “dumb ass” decided to abort his landing and go check “Bambie” out. Unfortunately, he did not have the air speed to carry on with this manoeuver and would have to land wherever he could. He was a bit far away from his original landing strip so decided to put her down on the adjacent grass strip of the active runway. This runway was “full operational” and was used by these large four engined submarine detecting aircrafts, called the “Argus”.  He had no choice so went for it and brought her down with finesse and proficiency. His smooth landing would soon turn for the worst when he hit a small bump that would propel the glider up and over to his left side. He missed the first one but would clip the post of the second taxiway light with the tip of his portside wing. The contact was a bit brutal and the wing partially tore off only to send the glider spinning on itself before coming to a full stop. The control tower had seen this disaster in the making so when it did happen, they sounded the alarm and dispatched “Fire Trucks”. They attended the scene but would not have to do much other than check if the two kids were all right. They were but the incident would not go unnoticed nor would it be camouflaged or swept under the rug. The next day, the wannabe pilot was marched into the Commanding Officer`s office where he was grilled on both sides. It didn`t matter what he would use as an excuse, he would not be allowed to graduate and would have to leave the place immediately with a big fat “F” for fail. Yup, two things had happened that evening. He would not get lucky and he had pulled a stunt that he would regret for the rest of his life.
So anyway, that was water under the bridge and something that he could not fix some forty some years later. Right now, he needed to focus on the task at hand and this was to situate where the other competitors were. By where that spotter plane was soaring, it was easy to see that there were other teams close by and that they were in striking distance. The “Baisley Mob” had just finished tackling an actual “Trap Line” before they came onto a third lake. This trap line was narrow and full of ups and downs and all around and was not necessarily the right place to be driving a “10 foot” long sled. In as such, the musher needed to manhandle it so to keep it “between the lines”. It was tough going and the sides of the sled were bouncing off trees like a pinball in a pinball machine but our zany musher was still finding enjoyment in all of this. By now and this after maybe 35 miles into the run, he had recognised that the racing circuit had been designed in a fashion that followed a certain regular repetitious pattern. All competitors were following this trap line which led onto a lake and then back through the trap line to again traverse another lake. In other words, there would be a lot trap line trails and a lot of lakes to deal with. The run so far when you considered everything had been laid-back and trouble-free. When he got out of the bush and onto the fourth lake, he had caught up with two rivals. He started checking how far ahead they were by picking a “trail marker” that they would go by and then calculating the time it took for him to get to that same “trail marker”. According to his calculation, he was less than two minutes behind the guy in front and to his total pleasure, it was his primary target, No. 7 himself, André Longchamps. “Well, well, well,” he smiled internally, “What have we got here?” He knew exactly what he had there and knew that he had shaved a lot of time off and had caught up with the top contender. Like I said before, “André Longchamps” was there to win and at no time would he allow our main man to catch up to him. As soon as he saw the musher behind him, he called to his dogs to pick up the pace, got into an unusual “tuck” position behind his sled and started “ski poling” like there was no tomorrow. His work ethics and technique were impressive to see but what was most amazing was to see that strong will to never give up, in action. This guy was a true “dogman” whose track record spoke for itself. He had this super competitive approach to racing and his success could be somewhat attributed to two very big qualities. First, he could go days without sleep and still function properly and secondly he had an incredible threshold when it came to tolerating the pain and suffering that went with all of this “nonsense”. Proof was in the pudding at this event. Just the day before, both men had met and had compared notes on their “Frost Bite” injuries. They both had raced in St-Pamphile during the previous month of February under serious and atrocious cold weather conditions. There, they had frozen their hands and feet. As a result, both men were still sporting “war wounds”. While our musher was mending quite well and only had four black finger tips to show for his efforts, Longchamps had not been so fortunate. He had suffered second degree frost bite to both hands and the entire length of the back of his fingers on his left one was in bad shape. After they had passed the blistering stage, the swellings had busted only to have the skin peel off. Because of the locations of these injuries and because he used his hands constantly while working around dogs, they were taking their bloody time to heel. The scabs were large, nasty and disgusting to look at and one who examined them would be left wondering what would drive such a man to continue running sleddogs. Surely every time he would bend those fingers or put his mittens on, they would crack again and bleed. What about the pain associated with all this? Certainly, he was living with some degree of pain. Whatever motivated him, he was one of those “one of kind modern day legend” and if they would ever build a Canadian “Hall of Fame” for mushers, his picture would be right up there with the other great names associated with the sport of “Sleddog Racing”. Now here he was right there in the “Cross Hair” of the ex-soldier`s scope. While he was putting extra hard work to get away, our musher was relaxing on his runners as the only thing he had to do for right that moment was try to control the speed of his eager dogs by again riding the drag mat. They had caught a glimpse of that team and they had resolved to get a lot closer. For once they were on the other side of the equation. They were the marauders and Longchamps` team was the prey in this “Cat & Mouse” game. Like when the wolf hunts for caribou, they would be patient and trot along at the same speed as the chased animals. They would conserve as much energy as possible and hope that the ones in front would eventually get tired. Then and only then would they come in for the kill. Easy Boys and Girls, Easy!” he coached them along, “We`ve got them right where we want and we`ll tag along for a while.” And they did. They continued shadowing Longchamps and they would do this till dusk would turn to complete darkness.
Pretty well all the racers had settled in at a pace that they thought was comfortable and the only other team that would pass the “Snowhounds” would be No. 12, Marie-Eve Drouin. Just like Longchamps, she had faster dogs so he wasn`t surprised when she came from way behind and called for the trail. He knew that if there was to be somebody that would put pressure on the “Top Contender”, she would be that person. Subsequently, he would not hamper her progress and allowed her to get by without slowing down even for the slightest. “Thanks Gino!” she exclaimed as she whooshed by on that lake near the safety station. “That`s OK,” the musher replied with a certain cockiness, “It`s still early yet!” He had put on his poker face when he had said that but had also recognised the fact that he would not be able to keep up with the pace set by the front runners. At least that`s what he thought. His dogs on the other hand were of a different opinion and were putting a performance at a speed that would surprise everybody. They were actually holding their own and from the two shining headlights that were in front of him that kept turning around to check if he was still coming, it was certain that the “Snowhounds” were viewed as a threat. This three dog team convoy would travel together for miles and our man would play head games with the two others. Where he could not be detected by the others, he would use his headlamp to illuminate the “Trap Line” but would turn it on and off immediately when traveling on the lakes. This driving in complete blackness while sporadically using his own lamp would make it that they couldn`t tell where he was and this made them a bit nervous. He was having fun out there but that would end when he would enter the next bush area of this notorious “Trap Line”.
Now back down to the fifth place and with what he had seen over the last fifty miles or so, he thought that his dogs had it in them to drive her harder so he decided to go for it. He had once again tasted the addiction of racing and would allow his dogs to free run at the speed they wanted. He had yearned for that craving for a long time and it felt good to be running in front with the “Big Boys”. Once again, he had been sucked into visiting the “Dark Side” and had forgotten that principle of racing that says, “When you drive a tenth place team to finish fifth, you might end up with eggs on your face.” Without his leadership, naturally the dogs would shift it into a higher gear and would pick up speed down that stretch. He had mastered the technique needed to negotiate the tight corners of the “Trap Line” and they were zooming right along towards that checkpoint. He had just finished saying to himself, “Nobody is going to get away from us this time!” when disaster struck. “Skout” who was a renowned “crabber” (that`s a dog that runs sideways in his harness instead of straight ahead) decided to quench his thirst by dipping for snow. This had always been an acceptable method of hydrating and all dogs would do it. However, on this occasion, things would not work out so good. When he reached over to the right side of the trail to eat snow, the neck line that connected him to the main gang line got wrapped around a small a spruce tree. “Bang!” That`s all that was heard and all that was needed for the entire dog team to come to an abrupt stand still. The force of connecting with that tree and coming to a sudden stop was a result of poor “Skout” hitting his head and left shoulder against the trunk of that same tree. Consequently, he had knocked himself out. Lying there motionless with his tongue hanging out, the initial diagnosis didn`t look good. “Stay you guys!” our musher cried out loud after losing his self-control. “Stay!” He quickly planted his two snowhooks and dashed to his unmoving dog. “Hey Big Guy, are you alright?” he said while kneeling down and shaking him to see if he`d wake up. But this was not happening. He lifted his front left leg and dropped it. It was limp. He then lifted the canine`s head but this was also floppy. Scared of the worst case scenario, the man laid on his stomach and put his ear to his friend`s chest to see if he could hear a heartbeat…
            “Come on Buddy, don`t do this to me!!!” the alarmed man said after bending down and checking his dog for a pulse. “You just can`t abandon us like that!” Within twenty seconds after the collision, he had finished examining his injured friend and he needed to do something immediately. There was still a heartbeat but the dog`s lungs were not deflating. There was no time to lose so he moved closer to the patient and with the palms of both his hands, he started compressing the animal`s chest cavity. “Come on Buds! Don`t do this to us. Come on Skout, you can`t fucking die on us!” Applying this first-aid technique, he managed to dislodge the trapped air but the lungs would not re-inflate on their own. Instead, it sounded like he had expelled his last dying breath. The man had experienced a similar situation before and the procedure had worked. Therefore, he grabbed Skout`s mouth and nose with both his hands and after sealing that area, he gave the dog mouth to nose artificial respiration. It didn`t take more than three re-inflations and the dog started coughing and gasping for fresh air. Suddenly, a great liberation filled our ex-soldier`s entire body. His long time trail partner soon opened his eyes and started breathing on his own. “Are you all right, Buddy?” he said, relieved to see the dog who still had a confused look on his face, come back to the land of the livings. “I just hope you didn`t mind my bad breath. Hey sorry but it had to be done.” he said to him trying to spin a humorous twist on this tragedy. “No really Buds, I sure am glad that you`re still with us!” After making certain that he was good in the breathing department, he was subjected to a further more thorough examination. His head and ribcage seemed to be all right but when he moved his left front leg, the dog started grimacing when pressure was applied to the shoulder. “I guess that hurts a bit, doesn`t it, Buddy?” he said to his more than very co-operative patient. “You think you can go on?”  He would get the answer to his question maybe five minutes later and a big worry would be lifted when the dog got up and shook off the incident.
“OK, Boys and Girls, let`s see how our friend here is making out!” This is what he was suggesting after resting there for about ten minutes. “Let`s take it easy, Now, let`s Go! Uptrail!” After hearing the command and the accompanying “Wit, Wit” whistle, they were back on the road, once again. While the rest of the team still had plenty of vigour left in their legs, Skout was struggling, limping while he tried to trot along. “Humm!” the musher observed, “This doesn`t look good.” There was a lot of truth to this statement so he decided to slow the team so to see if there was a pace that they could set where the injured dog could follow comfortably. At the same time, he saw a beam of light come from behind so to take the fifth spot away from him. It was Éric Chagnon and his team was cruising. “Trail”, he called. “Go ahead Éric!” the slower musher would respond. “Thanks!” Chagnon replied after successfully overtaking the “Baisley Mob”. “By the way,” he added, “How`s your race going?” The driver of the slower team knew quite well that the competitive aspect of this outing was now more than likely over so simply replied, “Well I don`t know for sure but I think we`re done. Got an injured dog and don`t really know if he can still run.” “Don`t give up Gino!” Chagnon retorted in a sympathetic tone. “You guys are doing fine.” It might have looked that way but one of the main players of the team was being evaluated and it wasn`t going to take too much further convincing to “bench” Skout and send him to the showers.
They had made their way onto another lake and the bruised canine was hobbling along and just neck-lining. The man couldn`t bear to see his old friend suffer so opted to stop so to secure the incapacitated mutt in his sled bag. He parked the team and went to retrieve Skout. “Come on Buds! There`s no sense in further damaging that injury. You can ride with me in the sled. ” He walked back and guided the dog to where this last one would catch a ride when this surprisingly beautiful celestial spectacle started to perform right before his very own eyes. At first, when he saw them, he thought that they were city lights from far away that were glowing in the night sky. However, this would not be the case and he would soon once again “ground” himself and re-establish the fact that he was in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in the “Great White North”. With that said, it had been a long time coming and for his viewing pleasure and like by magic, one of his other many dreams was actually materialising itself right before his eyes. He had seen many such displays of colours in the past but he had never seen them while dog sledding. This was something that he had always wanted to experience and here they were dancing the night away in the atmosphere. To see these “Northern Lights” make an appearance when the firmament is completely void of other illumination was a precious moment and one that would be treasured for the rest of his life. Rapidly, his focus would change and go from racing mode to enjoying the moment mode. Accordingly, he elected to sit on his sled and while he was petting Skout`s huge beige face, he would take in the bizarre and eccentric light show. These “marionettes” as they`re called in French were just fluttering up there filling the dark sky with wavering colors, going from blue to green with some yellow to pink thrown into the mixture. They were marvellous to watch and made for a convincing argument to the fact that this journey had been worth every miles to get here. A completely dead silence was accompanying this and it was priceless.
That it was till without warning, a wolf started howling on the edge of the lake. Observing the “voyageurs” from a distance of maybe three (3) hundred feet away, he was being unmasked by the headlamp beam that reflected back from its beady, shiny concentrated green eyes…
The reason as to why he was singing would remain a mystery but its “melody” was loud, it was freaky to hear and it had caught our musher by surprise. Initially, it startled him as he was remembering “Grand Chef`s” stern warning. ““Listen Gino, this is serious business here that we`re talking about. When it comes to the wolf, he`s something that can be most unpredictable.” Where he had previously thought that those words might have been far-fetched, now that he was in close proximities with this discreet and illusive  predator, he wasn`t so sure. There he was, out there in the tree line and he was stalking them. Suddenly, the serenity of the moment was to change and the air abruptly filled with apprehension and anxiety. The dogs were also aware of the presence of their canine cousin so consequently started to get gnarly and vocal. “Come on Boyz! Quit that crap!” he sternly belted out. “Right now, what we need is to be calm, cool and collected, so shut the fuck up!” All heads turned around and staring at him, they stopped their growling as they trusted that the man would see to it that no harm would be done to them. “Besides Boys, there`s only one of him and eleven of us. I don`t think he`s stupid enough to challenge us.” To the dogs, his voice was soothing so they cooperated instantly. It is true that the musher`s voice had some calmness to it but inside he was shaking like a leaf from fear and that overdose of adrenaline that had instantly invaded his body, right there, right now. The rush was surreal and he had gone into full alert, “Action Jackson” style. Without hesitation, the ex-soldier took charge of the situation and started to look at possible solutions in case they would be attacked. He was starting to have a panic attack when he severely reprimanded himself and said, “Come on Gino, don`t let fear take over. Your dogs are counting on you!” Reaching way down in his guts, he tapped into that old rusty military training of his and applied it to the situation at hand. Now once again thinking rationally, he needed to establish that if there was to be an encounter with the “Big Bad Wolf”, he needed to be prepared for it. His “right now” priority was to make sure that his traveling companions and his person were to be safe. Reviewing his arsenal, he didn`t have much to defend himself except for a dull axe in the bottom of his sled bag. Then once again, the powerful words of the Inuit Elder echoed in his mind. “Here, take this on your trip. It is for your protection in case you need it out there.”

“Humm!” our agitated musher thought, “Now would be a good time to see what Grand Chef gave me.” Spontaneously, he reached in his parka pocket and retrieved the plastic bag. He opened it and found a hunting knife inside. He slid it out of its sheath and started to examine it. Under that same powerful beam of his headlamp, the twelve inch blade gleamed in all its glory. Feeling its sharpness with his thumb, he recognised that somebody with some expertise in the field, had honed that same blade to a polished perfection. “Wow!” our main character reflected, “Whoever sharpened this knife, knew what he was doing! I`m sure if need be, it would do the job.” That was the first conclusion that he would draw but most significantly he was touched by the kindness of Grand Chef. It wasn`t very often that the people of “First Nations” would give such splendid gifts to strangers. As a matter of significance, in their traditions, if they gave you a knife, this meant that you were considered a true friend and that they trusted you with their lives. What was most peculiar about this instance was that this was the third knife he had received from aboriginal people. While these gifts could all be associated with the same theme of “protection”, what was interesting about this was the fact that they had been received from natives from all across the land.  Why was it that although they probably didn`t communicate amongst each other, they had this common tradition? Why was it that the safety of a fellow man seemed to be of great importance to these people? Way back then, his Malecite friend, Leonard Lanteigne had once said it best when he had given that “Bowie Knife” to the musher. “We respect you as a person and trust you as a friend. The “Creator” has spoken and has dictated that you have the makings of being one of the chosen ones. Those who choose to walk the path of the “Warrior Society” agree to provide for and defend the weak and needy. One must always remember that as long as the world has existed, there has always been a struggle between “Good” and “Evil”. The “Warriors” are those who choose and vow to protect the elderly, the defenseless and above all, the children. They, the children, are the future of humanity and only through appropriate guidance and protection, will they learn proper values.”

Sitting there contemplating these thoughts, our musher could not but be left, flabbergasted. For a third time during his adulthood, this same message had rematerialized and somehow once again it had managed to find him in the middle of nowhere. Although he didn`t believe in cultural mythical personalities such as “God”, “Allah” or the “Creator”, he did accept as true the basic principles of walking this earth and doing good. He was a strong advocate of this doctrine that said that to make a difference in somebody`s life, one didn`t need to be amazing, rich, famous or highly qualified. Rather, one just needed to be himself and honestly show that he cared enough for others to the point where he was willing to extend a helping hand. To some, this was a very simplistic way of viewing the world around him but he knew better. In his previous “life”, he had seen and had been involved in too many incidents where the darkest side of mankind had taken center stage just to impose its brutal and sadistic ways on the weak and innocents. The many reasons as to why these belligerent evil forces would inflict such pain and suffering onto these unsuspecting populaces were much varied. However and with that said, three common factors seemed to drive forward these barbaric behaviours. It didn`t matter how you sliced and diced it, these same ingredients always resurfaced and could be categorized as greed, corruption and mass manipulation. On a global scene, both sides, the “Good” as well the “Evil” one, utilized these tactics to push their own ideologies. With extreme violence and prejudice, they imposed their ways consequently spreading chaos across the entire planet. Where very few powerful so called “Elites” profited from the spoils of war, millions upon millions of innocent people would continue to suffer and die in this immoral and gluttonous practice. It was a most unscrupulous and sickening approach but these “Select Few” were used to extremely extravagant luxurious lifestyles and needed the “Mighty Buck” to survive… While our broken down soldier didn`t know who was pulling the puppet strings, he knew for sure that the “oil industry” had a persuasive filthy hand at stirring the “shit pot”. They considered themselves above the law and where they could not control a certain government, they simply toppled it with whatever method needed and this at any costs. Although it didn`t paint a flattering picture of the world we live in, in his mind this was how it was run in the 21st Century. Hidden in there amongst all the complexities involved, the basic facts were that if one was to decide to explore what was going on outside his or her own personal “bubble”, that same person would soon realize that we were in a “world of hurt” and would have to deal with this for decades to come. While this sounded like a bleak outlook, our musher was convinced of one thing. If more people went out of their way to help their neighbours, the power of doing such deeds would make it that the pendulum on the clock of time would swing back to the good side. It was a simple matter of wanting to make a positive contribution.

Thinking about all this suffering that he had seen and would continue to see, he could not hold back the tears from rolling down his cheeks. Bowing his head in shame, he took a moment to reflect on all those poor souls that had died at the hands of that so-called secretive society of the “Illuminati”, those self-proclaimed rulers of the world that control amongst other things, the Military Industrial Complex. This thought was ruining the pleasure of this precious moment so he shook them out of his head vividly. He needed to push that thought to the side as he had other priorities to deal with. The supposedly ferocious “Big Bad Wolf” was still out there but for some reason, our adventurer felt quite relaxed while visiting with this newcomer. His dogs had now settled down and the situation had become once again tranquil. He was well aware of the habits of the wolf and he was positive that there was no way that the animal could sneak up on them as there were wide-open emptiness between the team and the “stalker”. Also by scouting the horizon with his headlamp, if the wolf was trying to approach them, the beam of light would shine in its eyes and it would be detected way before it could reach a distance where it could be dangerous. No, it was not a hazardous situation and at no time did the musher feel threatened. Rather, he felt most privileged to have had this chance to share this occurrence with one of North America`s most misunderstood creature. From the song that it was singing, it gave the impression that this individual was alone and was telling whoever was in hearing distance that he was there and looking for some companionship. The message had been received loud and clear by the “Troubadours” and all at once, all of the dogs on the team started to serenate their long lost cousin. “Wow!” our man said to himself, “Can it get any better than this?”

For a guy like him who craved for such precious little moments, he was in all his glory. He would sit there through the symphony and light show for about fifteen minutes but not before concluding that if he was to die right there and then, he would have been most happy as to how his life had turned out. He wasn`t filthy rich but this fact had never stopped him from going out there and doing his own thing. While others only dreamed of such adventures, he actually lived them. It had been a personal choice where he had long ago decided that he wasn`t married to a career. Throughout his entire lifespan, he had always, on a continuous basis, visited all sorts of strange new worlds and had discovered that once you get to know what you`re dealing with, things seem to sort themselves out and they become less of a scary prospect. In his books, he didn`t see much difference between dealing with this so-called “Big Bad Wolf” and the people of different religions and beliefs that one might meet on a regular basis. At first glance, when you looked at these two models, both spelled mystery and intrigue. However, once you were willing to take the time to investigate the obscurities surrounding them and start to peel the many layers of any of these peculiar onions, one would soon draw a conclusion to the fact that they weren`t as frightful as they appeared. Many times, their reputations of being “monsters” were based on exaggeration, rumors and scare tactics used by fear mongers. This approach of terrifying people with the “great unknown” and putting your own personal sensational spin might get you “air time” on Fox News or CNN but it wasn`t necessarily the real and entire truth. This type of disinformation fed to certain journalists was just another ploy to de-stabilise what could be a peaceful world. Was it working? Yes it was! Were the puppet masters achieving their goals? Yes they were. As for Grand Chef`s contention of the wolf`s reputation, this made for an interesting story but it was based on a lot of folklore. Scientific research had proved otherwise. The musher had read extensively on the topic and had learned that contrary to man who kills for the pleasure of it, the wolf only kills when necessary in order to stay alive. So after reviewing the entire situation, our man felt most comfortable and this made it that the experience would turn out to be a pleasant one rather than a frightening one. In both scenarios, the “principle of war” where it says, “Know your enemy better than he knows himself” did apply and in both instances the process could be useful to defuze a situation. When dealing with people of different religious backgrounds, it was a simple matter of establishing good lines of communications where trust and integrity would be the main ingredients used in this recipe. When one would take the time to know the person behind the “mask”, one would soon realize that like most, they just wanted to live in peace and harmony. That was the theory on this subject and this according to his “Backwoods” philosophy. For him, he had tried to be the “Good Samaritan” all his life and had been rewarded in the form of having thousands of friends, friends of varied skin colours and traditions that lived on all six continents.

Mushing for him had become a passionate way of life as it provided him with the opportunity to live a somewhat peaceful existence. The bush afforded him time and space where he could sort things out in his head and make sense of what was invading his troubled mind at the time. While serving in the military, he had been to “Hell” and back and had lots of garbage in there to deal with so appreciated those “meditation sessions”. As an added bonus, he enjoyed attending the various racing events as it filled that ever present need of giving this old “Adrenaline Junky” his fix. Although considered a slightly unorthodox way of doing things, his dogs and himself prided themselves as being “Good Will Ambassadors” that went out of their way to do good deeds and give a helping hand to anybody that needed it. It had worked and as a result many good folks had joined the “Band Wagon” and the “Good” side was taking baby steps but still they were making steady headways. It wasn`t much of an exploit but he figured that if everybody that he came in contact with did their share, then planet Earth would be a much better place to live. However and with all that said and done, this craziness called “mid-distance dog sled racing” had not been so kind to the aging “Dogman”. Operating in that freezing environment for over fifteen years, it had left him with aches and pain that he needed to deal with constantly on a daily basis. Yes he pushed it to the limits when it came to his own body but it was necessary. He needed to physically and mentally burn up that cooped up energy inside him so to starve the demons that had permanently taken up residence in his brain. He had found that such activities did allow him to give some quiet time to his mind and this without having to resort to “prescribed drugs”. Unfortunately, he was at an age where while he still thought he was young, the people that he would encounter regularly would treat him as if he was an elderly person. This seemed to be more prevalent here in Fermont as he was being addressed most of the time as “Sir” or “Pops”. It didn`t bother him that they would approach him in this manner as one thing would continuously surface during these exchanges. This was the fact that although he was probably in better shape than most of them, he was no longer in his prime and had reached a period in his existence where the body couldn`t follow with exactitude what the mind commanded. But with that said, he had also accepted the realities that even though he was no longer a “spring chicken”, he would continue to do what brought him fulfillment and this till he could no longer stand up. To him, the list of places and things he wanted to explore and do seemed to be endless. He would not hold back and would continue to go on these adventures and this wherever they would take him. He had seen too many examples where people simply dreamed of doing stuff rather than actually taking the time to do this same stuff. He had seen too many friends put their dreams on the “back burner” so to pursue success in the workplace only to wake up one morning, old and decrepit and asking themselves a few simple questions like “What happened? Where did the time fly by?” “The sands of time,” like his old mentor Leonard Lanteigne would say, “waits for no one. It constantly continues to pour and there is nothing humanly possible to do to stop it. At the end of the day, it`s a matter of whether “You work to live” or “You live to work”. Don`t wait till you`re dead to decide to bring some positive changes into your life. Simply put, we are not master of our own destiny and we don`t know what tomorrow might bring.”
 “All right, Boyz!” he sounded out, “This is really cozy and romantic but we got a race to run. You guys, ready?” And from their immediate response, they were. Almost as if it had been choreographed and synchronised, they all stood up, shook it off and put some serious tension in the gang line. “All right then, let`s move out. Ready! Uptrail!” They had been traveling for another half an hour when the musher started to be concerned. According to his GPS, they had traveled 62 miles and if this was the case, the checkpoint should have been near. But they kept pushing forward and the mileage kept stacking up with no signs of life in front of them. 65, 66, 67, 68, those were the digits that were being tallied on his electronic gadget. He wasn`t alarmed about all this as his lead dogs were still following the trail and he could see a headlamp, way out front across this other lake that they were just about to cross. The more he got closer, the more the beam of that other musher started to grow larger. His team soon enough came to where the light was shining only to find Carole Cladonie stopped there and tending to her dogs. “Is everthing OK, Carole?” our inquisitive man asked. “Yeah, everything is fine. My dogs feel like screwing around and they`re not cooperating! You might as well go by while I deal with this!”  At that suggestion, the man called it out, “On by, you guys, on by!” They tried their best to continue on without incident but the team they were overtaking would not collaborate. Some of those dogs wanted to socialize while others were growling and intimidating his team. “JR” had seen this type of scenario before and this aggressive stance did not phase him. However, his new Leader in Training, “Schrek” was not so confident about the situation and froze in the middle of the trail. “OK”, said the man on the runners, “This could be interesting!” He wasn`t going to wait to see if the situation would deteriorate so flipped his sled on its side and started walking forward in between the two teams guiding and separating all  the “butt sniffing” canines towards their appropriate side. When he got to the front, he was to be faced with Cladonie`s huge dominant black leader and this guy felt the need to show that he was the “Man in Charge”. Our musher knew exactly what this was all about and would deal with it instantly. He put his headlamp on “High Beam” and flashed it directly in the uncooperative dog`s eyes temporarily blinding him. In the same instance and with both hands, he simultaneously grabbed the nose and collar of the animal. He bent over and brought the subject`s head close to his mouth where the musher started to growl in the dog`s ear. Confused and surprised, his friend`s leader bent its ears back and put its tail between its legs. “Now that I`ve got your attention,” the miffed man said out loud, “do you mind if we pass?” The dog had received the message loud and clear and he would back off and stay quiet. “As for you “Schrek”, it`s all good, Buds. Shit like this happens all the time.” Done dealing with the situation, he snatched the neckline between his two leaders and pulled his team in front of the other one. “By the way Carole, how far are we from the checkpoint?” he asked. “It`s not that far,” she replied with her cute Belgian accent, “maybe another three kilometers. “All Right then, we`ll see you there.” After putting his sled back right side up, he once again whistled and instructed his team to carry on. I guess it was the motivation that Cladonie`s team also needed as they revitalized, started barking in excitement and started to chase them. Although she was a well accomplished musher in her own rights, the man sensed the need to wait for them. The wolf encounter had established that if you were to travel in the wildest of wilderness, it might be a good idea to stick together as one huge convoy. The old adage said it all! There was such a thing as “Strength in Numbers”.  Carole Cladonie was right on the money when she had gauged the distance and after negotiating the twisty trail of a creepy area of burnt forest, the sound of a generator could be heard and a glow in the dark sky could be appreciated.  The dogs were way more on the ball than our musher and they knew they were close so put their shoulders into it so to move faster. Crossing yet another lake, one could now see it. A huge warm inviting fire was guiding the participants and a small gathering of people were there at a tent waiting to greet them. Finally they had made it to the “Check Point”. This was fine but he was scratching his head as his GPS was recording that they had traveled seventy (70) miles to get there.
The staff running the checkpoint had put a lot of effort into setting it up so to make the stay of the dog teams comfortable and they had succeeded. It didn`t take long for him and his team to get settled down for a well-deserved rest. Hot water to feed and fresh straw to bed down were waiting for them and within the span of ten minutes the dogs had gobbled down their oversized portion of food and were re-arranging the straw so to get comfortable for the next six hours. Checking their paws and putting their “little coats” on them, the dogs all looked good and he was satisfied that his team would be “A-OK” for the stay. However, before going inside the available building, he once again gave them another thorough “Look Over” patting each one of them on the head and telling them how proud he was of them. Proud of them, well this was the understatement of the year. Over the many years together, this group of select athletes had gelled into a very well-disciplined solid unit and he felt privileged to be part of such a team. Walking to the back of the string of dogs, his light would shine in Jacko`s ever sad blue eyes. His more than faithful old wheeldog was staring at him and the musher knew what he wanted. “So Big Guy! How are you making out? You think we got in us to make it back to the Finish Line?” The oldest dog of the bunch didn`t know what he was talking about but he knew that the opportunity was there so didn`t miss a beat to get an extra dose of cuddling. “Oh Jacko my boy, it`s a crying shame that you`re getting up there in age. You`ve always been a true companion and real good trail partner. Looks to me like this might be one of your last races. That`s quite OK, we`ll grow old together, I guarantee it.”  This particular “Snowhound”, as well as more than half of the remainder of team, all were a well-seasoned bunch. The funny thing about it, just like their “Boss”, they still had a strong willpower and thought that they could still tango with the best of them. That night, it was agreeably warm for this time of year so our man was in no rush to stop massaging “Jacko`s” shoulders. Next thing you knew, he had made his way between his two wheeldogs only to squeeze in and make room for himself to lie down between them. Sandwiched between “Jacko” and “Jim”, the nice smell of the straw was more than inviting so he closed his eyes and had a “Cat Nap”.
Maybe twenty minutes later, he woke up to the sound of snoring. His trail partners were out like a light and had settled in for the duration. “Now,” he decided would be a good time to make his way to the heated cabin and mingle with the other “Coureurs des Bois”. He walked towards the cottage and from the sounds coming out of the place, it was crowded and the people inside were in a festive mood. Typical “French Canadian Rigodons” music was blaring only to be eclipsed by the voices of the many loud occupants who were all speaking at the same time. “OK,” our musher thought to himself when he entered only to be hit by a wall of heat, “Looks to me like we`re in it for a long party!” He hadn`t had a chance to take his coat off when the two ladies acting as cooks and hostesses were at him to eat. Sounding like a couple of worried mothers trying to feed their child, they escorted him to a buffet table where tons of great smelling food had been prepared for the occasion. Looking at the bonanza of a spread, our man was most impressed with the efforts that these “Fermontoises” had put forth so that the competitors would feel comfortable and welcomed. “If you don`t mind ladies, I would need to strip down to my underwears and dry my clothes before I do anything else. I`m soaked to the bones and I`m getting a serious chill.” One of the hostesses, Catherine Joly-Cardinal, was a nurse by profession and knew that if this situation was not addressed immediately, the possibility existed that hypothermia and/or pneumonia could occur. Although he suggested it wasn’t much of a big deal, she took control of the situation and told one of person sitting by the warm stove to move his ass off the couch and give a chance to her friend from New-Brunswick to dry off his clothes. The young man was not too keen to surrender his spot but when he did, it was much appreciated by our musher. He was going to be settling in for a while and after removing his boots and all his outer garments, he put his feet up on the coffee table, thinking, “I`ve seen great checkpoint set-ups in those many years of racing but this one is fantastic. I`ve got to give it to the good folks of Fermont, you continue to impress the shit out of me.” And with that thought, he commenced running through his mind the trip that he had just “survived”. There were things that just didn`t tabulate and it was bugging him. After running a bunch of things through his mind, he was soon to uncover what the problem was. He hadn’t paid too much attention to certain details as for some reason, he had assumed that they were running a “120 mile” diastance.  The “Défi Taiga” had been advertised as a 200 kms race and while he sat there on the couch he took the time to convert those kilometers into miles. When he did so, he soon realized that this was a “125 mile” outing and these extra five (5) miles might come to bite him in the ass. He had prepared his race in such that it allowed for a “snack break” after 30 miles increments. The dogs were used to this routine and it was almost like “clockwork” that they expected to be fed at that point. Subsequently, he had snacked them twice on his way to the checkpoint but had no more reserves for the trip back home. Also, before setting out, he had no ideas as to what to expect during his travels and had packed his sled with everything but the kitchen sink. They were ready for any eventualities but it made it that they were carrying an extra one hundred (150) pounds. Normally, he would have had twelve (12) dogs on the string to haul a “650 lbs” load but this challenge had prescribed that it was to be a ten (10) dog race. The “Baisley Mob” could lug such a load as they had just proved but he had driven them a bit too hard and had sort of drained them. This was a concern to him so he would try to find a solution so to make the trip back to Fermont easier. A plan  was formulated and basically it was to lighten the load by emptying the sled bag of the extra food. “Hopefully that should work!”  he reflected still not too sure that it was a good strategy, “But at this stage of the game we are limited with our options.”  So after hatching this plausible plan, he decided to socialize a bit to kill the next few hours. He didn`t have much choice in the matter. The place was engulfed with a joyful atmosphere and due to fact that he was still pumped up with Adrenaline, there was no way he was going to get some “shut eye”. So might as well join in the fun and strike up conversations with everybody and anybody. As the night progressed, he met a young European couple that were traveling through North America on a very limited budget. They were professional photographers that had hitchhiked up to Fermont on their own dime where after presenting their credentials, were hired by the organisers to photographically record the race.  The young lady, a German by the name of “Lena Gudd” and her partner, a Frenchman called “Antonin Pons Braley” were both artists in the photography world who had different techniques of recording the events. Lena used “old school” technology and appreciated the “Black and White” pictures that her old cameras of the “50`s” would provide. As for Antonin, he was of the modern era and he used the most sophisticated equipment available. He had worked as a “War Correspondent” who had gone to a whole bunch of war torn countries where he had risked his life to expose to the world those awful atrocities that one could face in times of conflict. The ex-soldier could appreciate his devotion and courage so feeling at ease with him, they compared notes as to where they had traveled to. The Middle-East, Ex-Yugoslavia and Continental Africa were all places that both men knew very well. They understood what had transpired and very little needed to be said about the savagery and brutal extermination of humans that they had witnessed. A look in each other`s eyes where that blank dead stare resides was all that was required for one to feel compassion for the other. “Do you manage to sleep at night?” the musher asked the photographer. “Are you visited by ghosts of the past?” he continued. “Well,” said the younger man, “It did bother me at one time but now I use a mind altering technique where when I take the picture I remove myself from the certain realities I face. Furthermore, I convince myself that it`s a necessary evil, one that needs to be done so to tell the stories of those poor people.” The ex-soldier allowed him to explain but although he was putting on a brave front, he knew that the young photojournalist was haunted by some of the events of the past and most likely was suffering from PTSD. Four hours had now flown by and it was time to get once again dressed. The pressing matter was to tend to his dogs as although he was enjoying their company, this was not conducive to getting home. Before parting company, he invited the two young Europeans to visit him at @Baisley Lodges and informed “Antonin” of the following, “Listen my friend, suppressing tragic events by burying them deep inside your sub-conscious is a great coping mechanism. However, the syndrome in itself is very powerful and has a drastic way of eating at your insides to the point where it can consume you totally. If you find yourself in the position where you end up depressed and wondering if you`re crazy, then do not hesitate to seek professional help. You will never be cured but at least with their support, you might just find the required tools to help you move forward.” From the smile “Antonin” was sporting, it was obvious that he had received the message loud and clear. Convinced that there would be a future reunion, all three got up simultaneously and embraced in a “Group Hug”. “We`ll see you later, guys!” the mountain man said to them as he put on his still drenched fur hat, “And please do stay in touch.”
When he returned to the staging area, it was to a horrendous spectacle of barking dogs and just like him, the “Baisley Mob” had not gotten too much sleep.            Normally in longer events, he would check in and check out as fast as he could at these checkpoints and find some quiet spot off the trail to rest. Unfortunately, in this race, he would have to stay in location for the mandatory six (6) hour layover and deal with its consequences. He didn`t care for that format but everybody was in the same boat so he would have to “bite the bullet”. First thing he had to do was to take “Skout” off the team and leave him behind. He had never finished a race before with a missing team member and it was breaking his heart seeing his good friend being put in a cage for the transport back home. Back down to business, he proceeded to empty his sled bag and started tossing things out. The human food, he considered not necessary so out it went. He could go days without eating and figured that the return trip wouldn`t take that long so he could afford not to eat. He had brought a cooler with him where he would store bottled water and protect it from freezing but that “system” hadn`t panned out too good. The water was useless in its present frozen form so the cooler and all also ended in the trash bin. Snow was plentiful and if need be, he would just scoop it up with his hand and eat it. His clothes were still uncomfortable and damp so having spares in his sled, he changed and tossed those in the garbage. As for the dogfood, he still had twenty (20) pounds of the stuff so opted to feed equal exaggerated portions to his ten (10) dogs. By overfeeding his dogs and traveling shorter distances with more rest in between, he was hoping that by allowing them to gorge themselves, they would have enough fuel in the tank to make it to the Finish Line. It wasn`t exactly the smartest thing to do just before heading back out on the trail but he would gamble that they would have time to digest it and find the energy to get back home without incidence. Not smart for sure but he didn`t have much other choices. Besides, they had often put in sixty (60) mile training runs in the past and this without snacking along the way. With a bit of luck and all being well, he hoped that they would do the same. All this theory was what it was, only theory. He was now in sixth place and his start time to leave was scheduled for 0609 hrs and that`s where the rubber would meet the road.
By 0530 hrs, the front runners were starting to leave and excitement was again filling the air. The individual that was holding the fifth spot would leave at 0600 hrs so having time on his hands, he decided to visit with our musher and chit-chat for a few minutes. Étienne Bernier was also an experienced “Dogman” who had showed up for the “Défi Taiga” with only eight (8) dogs, himself racing with three broken ribs and a broken collar bone. He had sustained these injuries two weeks prior when an oncoming snowmobile had plowed into his dog team only to kill three (3) of them and injure him. The worse part of that story was the fact that the driver of the machine had fled the scene, leaving him to deal with all this mess. “Fuck Man!” our concerned musher said to him, “I didn`t really expect to see you here after all that.” “Well, you just can`t keep a good farmer down.” he laughed. “Anyway, I had to drop a dog (leaving it behind) so I`ll be going back to Fermont with only seven (7). Your dogs still look good and from what I can see, only nine (9) minutes separate us. So if you pass me, it will be fine with me. I`m only here for the pleasure of it.” Our main man was a bit suspicious of this casualness so elected to test if it was true that he wasn`t in it for the money. Using his well-known nickname, he told Étienne, “Well Farmer, how about if we make a deal… The fifth place is worth $1000.00 while the sixth place is worth $400.00. What would you think if we agreed to the fact that whoever does come in fifth, he splits the pot with the other one, 50/50. That way we both end up with a nice $700.00 each” “No,” he replied, “if you take fifth spot then you should be entitled to the entire prize money. You`ve got excellent dogs and it won`t bother me if you pass me.” He was good at bluffing but the wise old card player knew a “Poker Face” when he saw one. Étienne Bernier enjoyed the competition aspect of this event as much as he did and if our man was to overtake him, he would have to work hard and earn it. “So Mr Bernier,” our amused individual thought to himself, “I think you still got it in you to give me a run for my money. If that`s the case then, it`s game on, Buddy!” This exchange of pleasantries would end on that note and both men went back to their respective teams and started to get the dogs ready for the trip back. That again competitive dark side of racing would fill his veins and our man would throw the rule book out the window and gamble that his dogs had it in them to make him proud. “Hey Boyz,” he told them while waiting to be escorted to the start line, “there`s only nine (9) minutes separating us and this is to be your moment of glory. Let`s show these young “Pups” what this bunch of old farts can do. Let`s go for it and give it all our best. If we crash and burn so be it. It won`t be because we didn`t try.” Exiting the starting chute at break neck speed, he had forgotten one of the most important Golden Rule of mid-distance racing. He had decided to not pace himself. Rather, he would push his dogs to the limit in an effort to overtake the “Farmer” and this would prove to be another big mistake, once again…
Things were going well for the first hour and a half but the “wheels of his wagon” would soon start falling off. The dogs were not doing too good on those “Full Stomachs” and five (5) of them would upchuck their exaggerated portions of kibbles in the first fifteen (15) miles. Nonetheless, they were gaining grounds on “Bernier” and after twenty-two (22) miles, they had reduced the distance between them to a mere thirty (30) seconds. Bernier was pushing his team and now he was in their line of sight. Now, it was a matter of playing a “Cat & Mouse” game with the individual. He was there just in front for easy picking, entering a small bush area and according to the pursuer, he recalled that the trail would lead to a lake. There he would be provided with wide open spaces that offered advantageous opportunities to “blow the doors off the competition”.  He soon entered that same segment of the “Transmission Line” when unexpectedly, one of his “Swing” dogs, stepped off the solidly packed trail only to disappear deep under six feet of powder snow. It caused the team to jolt for a moment but with the momentum they had, they managed to pull her, right back on track. “Lady” shook it off and continued on. The driver of the sled thought this was funny so commented on this. “So Big Girl, did you have your fill of eating snow?” Of course, she didn`t answer but after observing her limping down the trail, the musher knew that she had hurt herself. Dawn was rising and as they made their way onto the lake, he was starting to notice that blood stains were accompanying the dog tracks in the snow. For sure by now he knew that she was hurt. How badly, this he couldn`t establish from his vantage point. He didn`t know what the problem was but knew that there were urgencies attached to this matter and his focus needed to be concentrated on the injured dog. “Stay!” he belted out before planting his “snowhooks” firmly into the ice. “Stay!” There wasn`t any time to waste so he ran to the front of his team. “Wow! That`s pretty gross, isn`t it!?!” he said to himself as he saw a piece of bone sticking out of the right back foot of the animal. No fucking wonder you`re bleeding like a pig!” He got closer to examine the compound fracture only to grasp the fact that it wasn`t a bone that was protruding. More exactly, while falling off the trail, she had stepped on a sharp pointy stick about the size of a three (3) inch long “HB Pencil” and it was embedded lengthways between the skin and the metacarpal bones of her foot. “Ouffff,” he said, sharing the pain with her. “That must really hurt!” From the looks she gave him, she didn`t seem to mind but running her any further would be out of the question. It was serious and there was to be a big problem with all of this. They were in the middle of nowhere, maybe still thirty (30) miles away from town and he didn’t have access to a veterinarian.  Therefore, he would need to do first line intervention with what he had on hand. “First things first,” he reasoned, “I need to get my First-Aid Kit.” He retrieved it from his sled and got back to the injured dog in a flash. “Hold on Girl!” he comforted his grey female, “We`ll patch you up in no time!” The satchel containing the medical supplies was a state of the art piece of kit that the Canadian Military used in modern day warfare. In it, he would find the necessary supplies to remediate the situation. Examining the wound thoroughly, he concluded that it looked worse than first thought and it was a matter of bandaging the area to stop the bleeding. But one thing needed to be done predominantly and that was to remove that piece of branch from her foot. Getting ready for a possible eruption of blood, he ripped the top open of an envelope containing a blood coagulating powder called “Quick Clot” and put it next to some fresh white sterilised  gauzes right there by his side and on stand-by. “Well Lady, it`s got to be done! Are you ready for this?” And with a bit of coaxing, the dog would eventually relax enough so that the man could carry on with the procedure. Firmly grabbing the top of her right thigh with his right hand, he then took a hold of that protruding piece of stick with his left-hand fingers. Making sure that he had a very strong grip on it, he yanked it backwards in one swift continuous pull. The dog yelped but the piece of wood had been successfully dislodged. With it, a fresh stream of red blood was coming out of the laceration so he quickly spread that “Quick Clot” to the affected area. This “High-Tech” gray ash coloured powder was easy to use as one simply needed to spread it generously over the entire wound, making sure that it was well covered then hold the “Qick Clot” in place by applying direct pressure with the hand. This miraculous residue, once in place would then instantly absorb and bond with the blood only to create an instant artificial scab that would stop the bleeding. Satisfied that it had done its job now was the time to bandage the entire foot. “Humm!” our First-Aid administrator reasoned, “It ain`t the prettiest piece of work that I`ve done but it will hold till we get back to town.”
            By now, they had been parked in location for more than half an hour and without knowing it, they had stopped in a place that was sheltered from the prevailing winds because of a small island that was situated to their right. Add to that, the most beautiful warm sunshine that was filling the blue unpolluted sky and this was just the right recipe and invitation that the dog team needed to get comfortable for a rest. Plead, scream, appeal to their sense of devotion, nothing was convincing the dogs to get up. They had curled up in balls and it was obvious to our musher that his trail partners had had enough for a while. Here they were all of them, sending him a very significant message. After more than ninety (90) miles, they were exhausted. If the musher wasn`t smart enough to realize these facts then they would take the initiative and quit on their own. Getting really annoyed and impatient about the whole situation, he begged, “Come on JR, Let`s Go! It`s not that far so let`s move out.” His old experienced leader had seen these hissy fits on many occasions in the past and had always cooperated. However, not this time. The “Boss” could spew out of his mouth all the venom that he could muster, it didn`t matter. The white dog was in fact the “Man in Charge” and what he decided would go a long way with the rest of the team. The stare that he was giving the driver of the sled said it all, “Listen Buddy! After all the things we`ve gone through together over the years, this is your way of paying for our loyalty? You best cool your jets for a while then we`ll cooperate.” Feeling an episode coming and almost in a frenzy, the musher was going to walk up front and show him who was in control when that small voice from deep inside him would knock some sense into him once again. “Gino, are you ever going to grow up?” Is this what a true “Dogman” does when faced with such circumstances? I don`t think so!” Leonard Lanteigne said.  “For some reason, you tend to forget that they are dogs and not machines.” And that was all that was needed to snap him out of that ugly foul mood. Taking in a series of long deep breaths, he remembered one of his mentor`s teachings. “What are the three most important things you need to have when dealing with sleddogs?” the Malecite native had once asked. Without giving him a chance to answer, the “Shaman” had continued and offered these simple words of advice… “Patience, patience and patience! That`s the only way that you will get your team to cooperate. To be successful, you have to be accepted by them. Harmony within the ranks and files will get you way further down the trail. You`ve been in this situation before and how did you make out? Not good as both of us know! Now relax and breathe through the nose. Running scared dogs is not where it`s at and your yelling and cursing is not beneficial to establishing a good rapport with them. They will run for you if they know that they are all working for the same cause. You will only be part of the team if they do decide so. Otherwise, if they see you as a threat then they will turn on you and do their own thing!” Looking at his worried dogs, he knew that his old friend from days gone by was right. He needed to concentrate real hard and push all that anxiety out of his system. They could feel that the atmosphere was not right and they were insecure as a result.  Our man needed to suck back and reload so would take advantage of this beautiful sunny morning to rest and catch some shuteye. “All right Boyz! I get the hint!” With that said, he laid down on that six (6) foot sled bag of his, zipped his Canada Goose all the way up to his neck and settled in for a while. The dogs knew what was needed to carry on and he would follow their lead. The “Défi Taiga” and its “Trap Line” had taken its pound of flesh out of every member of the team and now was a good time to recharge the batteries. His dogs had given it their all and he owed it to them to show some gratitude. He would rest for a little bit, falling asleep on one of George Simpson McTAVISH`s famous line that said, quote – “He who loves dogs is beloved by them, and they alas! give more than they receive!” unquote.
                …. “Wop! Wop! Wop! Wop!” Those were the echoes that he was hearing, bouncing off the silent forest floor. When he opened his eyes, although he did recognize the sound as being one of a “chopper”, he couldn`t see it from all the blowing snow it was generating. When the RPM of its rotors started to slow down proportionately so did the clouds of snow dust. Eventually, the engine would be shut down and there it was in close proximities. Parked maybe five (5) hundred feet away, a small black “Robinson R44” helicopter, displaying for a tail number the odd call-sign “NP-1”, had landed on the surface of the frozen lake. For some reason, its two occupants had exited it and were headed towards him at a rushed pace. Closer examination would make the situation even weirder and weirder as the scene presenting itself in front of him didn`t make any sense at all.  The shorter person, was wearing some sort of light green uniform with a funny matching hat while the other one, well yeah, you might have guessed it, was dressed in a bright red suit, complete with the white beard and the complimentary red tuque with white pompom! “Are you alright”? the big bearded fellow asked after they had made their way to his sled. “We saw you from up in the sky and since you weren`t moving, we thought we`d check up on you.” More than disoriented by now, our main character was trying to make heads or tails of all of this as he was at the best of times a rational man who didn`t necessarily believe in “Santa Claus”. Feeling a real need to explore where this “Close Encounter of the Weird Kind” was taking him, he would trust his guts and allow his subconscious to venture even deeper towards “La-La Land”. “Yeah we’re all right!” our puzzled musher replied, “We`re just taking a breather before we carry on with the race.” The senior gentleman looked at his “Number One” and said “Well, right now it would appear to me that this might have to wait. One of the reason we stopped in is because we thought you might be that child that got lost last Friday. As we speak now, the entire northern community is on alert and looking for her. It`s been over two days by now with still no signs of her to be found.” “Sounds serious?” our ex-soldier replied with sincere empathy. “Do you think you could use an extra pair of helping hands?” “You know Gino. That might be a good idea. Your background could come in handy.” Seeing the musher as maybe a possible asset, he made a snap decision that definitely demonstrated that the “Big Guy” in the red suit was the man who ran things in that town. “Quinton, you take care of his dogs while Gino and I head back to “Base Camp”. You make sure that they are well looked after and this till we get back. Is that clear? “Yes Sir, perfectly clear, Sir!” replied the “short person”. “Humm”, our musher once again expressed, “This still doesn`t make any sense. I do remember listening to those Christmas stories and being told about this guy but to be visiting with him? What`s that all about?” What it was, was what it was. Throughout his entire childhood, our main character had always been intrigued about the possible existence of “Saint Nicholas” and here he was being given this unique and magical opportunity to hear some sort of explanation.  In those many legends that had been shared with him, he knew “Elf Quinton” to be Santa`s best helper and his trustworthy “Go To Man”. He was that same individual who had the job of making sure that when Christmas Eve arrived, all the gifts destined to the deserving children around the world, would be delivered on time. He carried a lot of responsibilities on his shoulders and one of them was to ensure that Santa`s sleigh and the reindeers were always in top shape for the big event. With his imaginative approach and his paying attention to the slightest of details, this made it that he was a master of night flying and an important “dude” at the North Pole”. His credibility was well established in the ex-soldier `s mind so he concluded that if he was reliable enough for “Santa” then it was “OK” to leave his dogs in his competent hands.  “All right then,” the man in charge continued, “let`s get this show on the road!”
            The musher and the “Joly Old Fellow” made their way to the “Whirlybird” and once both passengers were secured in their seats, “Big Mick” introduced himself as the pilot then flicked a bunch of switches so to get airborne. He fired up the engine and while it was warming up to operating temperatures, he got on the radio and called out – “Base Camp, Base Camp, this is November Papa One. We have completed our check list and we`re ready for take-off”. Almost instantly, the squelch on the radio was interrupted and a voice was to reply – “November Papa One, this is Base Camp! Roger on your last. Permission is granted. You`re cleared for take-off. We`ve got you on radar and your heading should be North by North-West, on a bearing of 346 degrees.” “Roger that!” replied the aviator in the red suit. “I confirm, North by North-West on bearing “346”. Suddenly, “Big Mick” looked and winked at our baffled man and offered him the following instructions. “Hold on tight Gino, you`re in for one doozy of a ride. Pulling up on the elevator stick to its maximum and twisting its throttle handle to a fast 4000 RPM, it didn`t take long before they had lifted up into the wild blue yonder. From up there, the landscape would change significantly and now he could see from this “Bird`s Eye” viewpoint, what this strange land called the “Great White North” was all about.
Strange it was… For one, the many lakes that they had traveled across during the race were placed in such a configuration that they were all lined up, one behind the other, in long narrow bands of water that spanned from the South to the North. As a point of interest and according to “Big Mick”, these lakes had been formed as a result of many other asteroid strikes and this during that same meteor storm that had created the crater of the “Manicouagan Reservoir” those so many millions of years before. “I guess it wasn`t just one big boulder that fell out of the sky but rather many.” he added while smiling. The second oddity of this “Christmas Tour” was the way the electrical pylons were constructed. Instead of being of the regular configuration, this certain “Transmission Line” that connected “Manic 5” Dam to the Great White North had been designed in the shape of standing reindeers. “Wow,” our amazed man conveyed, “You don`t see those from the ground.” “No you don`t!” the concentrated guy flying the chopper simply replied. Daylight was gradually declining and nighttime had crept up on them.  In front through the windshield, they could see the shining lights of Fermont below them and our musher assumed that this is where they were headed for. They continued their flight over the huge open pit areas of the mine then over the “Wedged Wall” where a large part of the population lived. At the altitude and speed they were cruising at, it became noticeably clear that the town was not to be the destination. Twitching in his seat, confusion would change to serious concern to the point where “Big Mick” felt that this might be the right time to explain to his passenger certain secrets of the “Great White North”. “Listen my friend,” the pilot started, “What you`re about to experience is something that while most people have heard about this, not too many have actually visited the place. See that shiny bright cluster of lights way beyond the horizon, well that`s it, Gino…. Welcome to the North Pole!”
The musher couldn`t believe his ears. “You`re joking, right?” he asked this now even more stranger than life man that was shepherding him on this mysterious but yet unbelievable adventure, “This can`t be real!” “Oh really!” retorted the amused guide, “And why wouldn`t it be real?” “Well it`s like I said. Santa Claus is just one of those other creations that man invented so to keep children on their best behaviour.” His escort started laughing only to supplement the following details to fuel his argument. “Well, let`s suppose we examine what the “North Pole and Father Christmas” are all about.  The North Pole according to the myth, is where Saint Nicholas fabricates all the toys for all the children of the world. To manufacture them, they need high quality “iron ore” which is found right here in the grounds of Fermont. So you see, the reason we established ourselves here, has got nothing to do with coincidence. As for the “Main Man” himself, you do realize that he actually did exist. Way back then in the fourth (4th)   Century, a simple man named “Nicholas”, lived in a Turkish town called Myra where he took care of the needy, the elderly and the children. Throughout his entire existence, he dedicated his life to the service of others and his unselfish approach served as a fine example of how things should be done.  His beautiful exploits would be mirrored and this would ultimately give birth to the legend of “Saint Nicholas” and its immortality. Of course and just like any other “mortal”, this Turkish man would also see the day that his time on Earth would come to an end but his lifelong work would carry on and have the most positive influence over the world. His dedication to the cause of peace was viewed by many supporters as the way to advance towards a non-violent “Planet Earth” thus the tradition of Christmas. With this specific goal in mind, they would follow in his footsteps and promote the cause by educating the children so that they may follow that path.
“Now this is where you have the choices of believing or not.” the helicopter pilot continued. “There are certain forces in the Cosmos that can`t be explained but regardless we are connected to this space and time thru the efforts of the “Star Children”. They are entities who have been sent here from all areas of the Galaxies so to help the earth and the people on it. These “beings” sometimes labelled as angels, elves and even aliens come and go as they please to “Planet Earth” and have been roaming this globe since man has been walking upright. While exploits of their numerous good accomplishments have been recorded throughout our entire history, they are a very reserved and timid bunch who will only reveal themselves to those who wish “Good Will” to their fellow men. In as such, these elves constantly intermingle amongst us humans where they are always on the “look-out” for a suitable replacement for “Saint Nicholas”. In a methodical “modus operandi”, once every one hundred years, a new candidate is to be chosen amongst the many deserving applicants to become “Santa Claus”. The qualified nominee is to bring new ideas to the table so to promote peace and ways to attain and maintain it. Whoever the “Counsel of Seniors” chooses, this person`s track record is then presented to the “Star Children”. They make the ultimate decision and if they accept him as the next “Carrier of the Staff”, they grant him the magical and wonderful opportunity to live for the next century in full health. Granted with such good fortune, he is to guide the citizen of this planet towards a bright future where all can live in “Peace and Harmony”. In their books, everybody regardless of the color of their skin or religion, all are entitled to live this way.” “Wow,” the now most fascinated man uttered while absorbing this information like a sponge, “this story sounds familiar.” “What do you mean?” the guy in the red suit questioned. “Well, first of all, what you`re describing awfully resembles the same structural design of most religions seen across the world and guess what? The “Big Blue Marble” is in turmoil because of this.” The intrigued passenger replied. “I do agree with you on that one but you must remember. The message since the beginning of times was and is, still very simple. It is “man” that created religion and took an opportunistic approach towards this template so to create for himself, “Kingdoms” and “Empires”.  And you know as well as I do, the bigger these structures are, the bigger the problems are. Man has the power to think for himself and has always had the choice to either do the “right” or the “wrong” thing. The message of the “Star Children”, has never deviated and the promotion of these same good words has been passed on through the ages with hopes that humanity would ultimately catch on. Unfortunately for them, in this century the self-professed “Controllers of the Game” know exactly that if the “Good Side” unites and walks in the same direction then they will lose grip of their followers. You must remember Gino that what runs this world is “Power” and to be powerful, one needs three necessary fundamentals.  Without “Money”, “Political Influence” and “Manipulation of the Masses”, this can not be attained. However, in the event that one does obtain “Power”, he has the choice to either do good or bad with it. That my friend, is the ultimate choice.  The “Select Few” that now have the upper hand know how powerful love and harmony can be and this is not conducive to promoting their agenda when it comes to controlling the world. Therefore it is absolutely of the essence that they create theaters where disorder and fear have the center stage. Their ultimate goal – Keep for themselves the bountiful resources that “Mother Earth” does provide. Greed in this instance, is the main motivator and there is absolutely no way they want to share the wealth with others. Bottom Line - There is no way they want equality amongst all men. “That sounds about right!” the almost convinced musher acknowledged. “But what the hell does this have to do with me?” “Well it`s like this Gino, “We of the North Pole” have figured that it`s time that we share certain secrets with you. Although you consider yourself unworthy of such attention, we have been at your side through the thick and thin of it all and this even during your darkest hours. It`s not every day that you meet a person that is willing to take the time to rescue an earthworm that is frying in the sun while attempting to cross a dirt road. Now you for one thing, actually do this. Picking it up and putting it in a shady grassy area so that it can recuperate is not much of an exploit on the world scene but nonetheless, it does show that you are not that bad after all. And that my friend is what it`s all about – Going through life extending a helping hand to your earthly brothers and sisters. Presently, the “Counsel of Seniors” is reunited and a new “Santa Claus” is to be chosen. Part of the reasons you have been summoned here is to witness such a monumental event. I do believe that you will agree with the choice of the “Seniors”. “Oh really? Who might this lucky guy be?” our main man inquired. Still very sceptical about all this “adventure”, once again he glanced at and examined the pilot from top to bottom. He seemed to recognize the man with the white beard so took a chance, “Hey, aren`t you the Race Marshall?” Surprised that the passenger had put “2 plus 2” together, he smiled and replied, “Yup! That`s me!” “Are you Santa Claus?” the inquisitive man burst out. “Ho!Ho!Ho! No!No!No!” the man in the red suit answered. “Is it you that`s going to be the next Santa Clasus?” the musher continued. Still laughing “Big Mick” replied, “Ho!Ho!Ho!, No!No!No! Although I`ve made the “Short List”, I`m still like the many thousands out there, still an apprentice. ” “So if it`s not you then who is it?” the man said once again raising the question. “That my friend is not up to me to say. The nomination of the new “Top Dog” falls in the realms of the “Seniors” and his identity will be revealed at the Counsel Meeting later on tonight.” Those were to be the last words he was to utter before contacting the “Tower”. They were on their final approach and he needed indication as to where he was to park the “Bird”. “Base Camp, Base Camp! This is November Papa One, we are on final approach. Requesting permission to land, over?” “November Papa One, this is Base Camp. Permission granted. Proceed to Heli-pad “4”, over.” the Air Traffic Controller instructed. “And by the way Mick, you and your passenger are to proceed to the Operations Center upon arrival. Our priorities right now are to find that little girl!”  “Roger on your last! We confirm Heli-pad “4” then the Ops Center.” Fully proficient at the controls of the helicopter, “Big Mick” touched down as if he had landed on a soft down-filled pillow.
They were just about to exit the cockpit when the musher realized that the question had still not been answered. Not knowing bothered him tremendously so he simply needed to ask. “So what you`re telling me is that we`re not alone in this great universe and that “Spacemen” visited us way before man invented religion.” “Yup, that sounds about right, Gino. They came here with a beautiful loving message.  It is “man” who took advantage of the situation and created the world wide nightmare we presently live with. It is “man” who has decided to kill in the name of his “God”. And it is that same “man” that is destroying the planet once again using the name of “God” as a reason to do so. Unfortunately, “man” doesn`t realize that he is being manipulated by the powerful but devious “Puppet Masters” whose voracious appetite for supremacy can not be satisfied. As a consequence, the human race is self-destructing itself and just like those dinosaurs way back then, we are on a course for complete annihilation. This strategy of waging war for the benefit of a scarce “Select Fews” has got to stop and needs to be replaced with compassion and tolerance. The message has always been the same and will remain, “If we are to share this world with one another, violence is not the avenue to travel on. Rather, it is time to put away our swords and give peace a chance to flourish. The human race and all the creatures that cohabitate with them depend on this. We all have it in us to plant that seed. It`s a matter of joining the “Good Side” and participating in any form we can.”
The hangar line was buzzing with activity as aircrafts of many configurations and from many nations were constantly on the go during this huge “Search & Rescue” operation. The little blond girl had still not been found but it wasn`t because they had not put the efforts in. Our musher was following “Big Mick” but at the pace he was clipping at, it was apparent that visiting with the “short people” in the toy fabricating sector of the village would have to wait. For now, the musher would have to be satisfied with walking thru “Town Square” and glancing at the beautifully decorated windows of the numerous shops along the street. Those multiple coloured lights that adorned the facades were very inviting but “Mick” had other things on his mind and the socializing aspect of the visit was not at the top of his list. The news that the little girl was still lost out there in the “Taiga”, cold, scared and on her own was not sitting well with him and he felt that it was up to him to save her. His people were doing their best so to resolve the “case of the missing person” but he felt that more should be done so he was in a rush to get to the “Command Center”.
“All right Boyz, talk to me!” Big Mick verbalized when he walked into the mighty busy “Ops Room”. “I need a full review as to where we`re at with the “Search & Rescue” operations.  This is taking too long and we need to focus or at least we need to come up with new suggestions of options. Come on Boyz! Put your thinking caps on. I`m sure that between all of us, we can figure this thing out!” Knowing that the “Apprentice Santa” was all business when it came to serious matters like this, “McSprinkles”, the elf in charge of coordinating the strategies during this particular “12 hour shift”, came to meet the “Big Guy” at the door so to escort him to the Boss`s chair for the briefing. He eyeballed the musher and with a smile and a casual nod of the head, acknowledged his presence and told him, “You can come also. I`ve got a chair for you.” 
Sitting there in the front row and waiting for everybody else to come in from out of the cold to get the latest updates, the musher started to scout the room. It was interesting to see how well the different segments of the different populations were being represented. Taking part of the searches, from Fermont, the dogsledders of “Chienville” were in attendance. So were the guys from the two local snowmobile clubs, “Les 24 Pouces” and their friendly rivals, the crazies from the “Club des Zezettes”. The “Syndicat des Métallos” and their union brothers from Labrador City were also there. In full force, they provided this powerful coalition that would prove to be a major player when it came to putting boots on the ground and doing the leg work. Two Canadian Armed Forces “Search & Rescue” aircrafts, a fixed wing “Buffalo” and a “Cormorant” helicopter were also taking part in the operations. And for the “Special Ops” division, from the neighboring Inuit community of George River, “Grand Chef” and his band of Canadian Rangers, with their much appreciated “Bush Skills”, were also well represented. All in all, more than one thousand able bodies had combed the targeted area but this had still not produced any encouraging results.
People were now worried that if this operation was to extend any further under the present cold winter conditions, this “Search & Rescue” effort would soon turn into a “Search & Recover” operation. Anyway, that`s what the “Buzz” word was, circulating amongst the many volunteers attending the meeting.
“Excuse me!” McSprinkles spoke out, trying to get his audience`s attention. “Excuse me!” the elf once again shouted out becoming less patient. “If everybody can find a seat and settle down, we`ll start the meeting.” The crowd was still too agitated so “Big Mick” got up, turned around and barked it out, “Quiet! Please!” And that was all that was needed! Instantly the room became very silent, so quiet that nothing was stirring, not even a mouse. Turning back to the elf, he said, “Go ahead McSprinkle, you`ve got our attention.” “Thank You, Sir,” he responded picking up his notes and adjusting his glasses. “Let`s start this briefing.”
…“As of 2100 hrs, two days ago, what started out as a fun day trip for a father and daughter turned out to be a tragedy. Late Friday, Angus Brooks and his 12 year old daughter, Laurie, snowmobiled from Fermont to “Lake Cladorie” to get a Christmas tree. While in the bush, the two somehow got separated. After having searched frantically for his missing daughter, Angus found her “Ski-Doo” stuck, half sunk in a “beaver bog”. Considering that no trace of her could be found, he decided that he had better get help.”
  …“As of 0745 hrs, yesterday, Search & Rescue operations  were implemented immediately as a storm front was quickly approaching from the North bringing with it extreme weather conditions. Volunteers from all over our region have showed up and are now combing the grounds with a fine tooth comb. As the storm worsened and snow covered all possible clues, this has made it that it is more difficult to find which direction the girl has wandered off to. Regardless of the threatening weather, the teams are still relentlessly looking for her and no one of the volunteers would even consider giving up the search for young Laurie.
By now, the musher had taken a real interest in all this sequence of events. Sitting there with a front row seat, he felt most comfortable amongst all these elves as this type of work environment was right up his alley. The large plotting board on the wall was something that the ex-soldier had worked with way back then. The many persons behind computer screens monitoring the chain of events were also something that was not strange to him.  Turning his eyes towards it, he was looking at the “old school” topographical map on the wall and this made him smile. He had spent many hours using such maps and although he was familiar with the “GPS”, he thought that its “ancestor” was more detailed thus using a map to plan any trip, still had its place. From what “McSprinkles” was describing, he recognised where the little girl had gotten lost. It was in the same general area as to where he had met up with the “wolf” the night before. Not really sure that it might be of any significance, he raised his finger and said, “Excuse me folks! I don`t know if this is of any importance but last night I was in the south end of that lake and while I was watching some Northern Lights, some wolf was howling at us. Do you think that maybe the child met up with it?” There was dead silence once more as everybody was thinking of the worst case scenario.  The possibility that the “Big Bad Wolf” might have clashed with Laurie was more than factual and this aspect needed to be explored. “Humm!” the briefing giving elf started while looking over his reading glasses, “I`m not sure what you`re talking about. You couldn`t have seen Northern Lights last night because first of all, nobody reported seeing any and second of all, you wouldn`t have been able to see them because of the snowstorm.” “Well my Friend,” the defiant musher rebutted, “I do know what I saw and last night, I saw Norther Lights!” That same “Shift Boss” had just finished saying “That`s impossible!” when “Big Mick” interjected. “Now hold on Boyz! Maybe there is something here that needs to be checked out. Gino, where exactly do you think you were when you saw that wolf?” And on that question, the ex-military man walked to the wall map, oriented himself and after determining where the “Check Point” was in relation to the lake, he tapped his index finger on the map and replied. “Here! In this small clearing, right here on the South-West side of the lake.” Big Mick was just about to say it, when McSprinkles interrupted him and finished his thoughts. “Yes Sir, we`ll be sending a search party to check it out.” In the same breath and after charting and writing the coordinates down on a piece of paper, McSprinkles went to his desk and got on the microphone. “All call-signs, this is Base Camp, over!” Within a few seconds all the crews started reporting in. Satisfied that he had their attention, he continued. “We need to go back to Lake Claridon and re-examine a certain sector. Anybody close to that area, over?” There was a short break in the conversation but soon enough the radio silence was interrupted by one of the “Ranger Patrols”. “Base Camp, Base Camp! This is Romeo Foxtrot Four. We are approximately seven (7) kilometers away, how can we help, over!” Delighted that he had somebody in close proximities, the “Shift Boss” quickly answered, “Excellent Romeo Foxtrot Four, Excellent! Romeo Foxtrot Four, we need you to proceed to Grid 59063414! Roger that, over?” The Ranger Patrol immediately acknowledged this request and replied, “Base Camp, we confirm coordinates 59063414. We`ll attend location and report our findings, over.” “Roger that!” McSprinkles responded, “And please do expedite.”
For some reason, even though lots of work could still be found and done in the “Operations Room”, nobody felt like doing any. All eyes and ears were focused on the red flashing dot on the plotting board and its constant steady “off and on” blinking. It had been flashing for the last two hours and everybody was waiting impatiently for some sort of result. Nobody would dare to say it out loud but the entire room feared that the worst had happened to the lost child. Sixty hours had passed and this was a very long time if you were spending it in the cold unforgiving “Great White North”.
“Base Camp, Base Camp, this is Romeo Foxtrot Four, over...” would be the words that would finally break that uncomfortable silence. Without giving McSprinkles a chance to answer, the patrol leader continued. “Base Camp, Laurie has been found and she`s all right!” The crowd went wild with excitement on hearing the good news almost drowning the rest of the transmission. “We`ll be bundling her up and we`ll be headed back to Fermont. Please advise the parents that we`ll be there in approximately two (2) hours, over” “Roger that!” a most happy “Shift  Boss” sang out over the radio, “We`ll make the call. By the way, Romeo Foxtrot Four, great job!”
The message was passed to the family and without missing a beat, Angus Brooks and his wife Cecile, rushed back to town to meet up with the Search & Rescue team. Needless to say, the reunion was quite an emotional one. When the father was to ask the team leader who had found his daughter, everyone stared at each other bewildered. Apparently, a mysterious old trapper accompanied by his wolf had found the little blond cutie and brought her back to the team bivouac. Before anybody had a chance to even get his name, he had disappeared into the bush and was nowhere to be found. The only record of the old man of ever being there was a snapshot of him and his wolf leaving, taken by one of the volunteers. Wondering if Laurie could shed any light on her heroic rescuer, the father asked her. Unfortunately, the only things that the blue eyed child remembered were a bit blurry. All she could relate was the fact that after making a fire so that she could warm up, the Christmas tree that she had chosen had magically lit up by itself, sending dancing images in the dark northern skies. After making sure that his “signal” could be seen across the heavens, the trapper approached her and provided these comforting words, “Hey Gorgeous! Don`t worry about a thing. Everything is going to be fine, now!”
“Well, that`s a nice way to end the day!” Big Mick said while grinning from ear to ear and clapping his hands. “Now that this is over and done with, let`s all make our way to the “Town Square”. If we hurry we still got time to be there for the big announcement. With a hand gesture, the big man in the red suit suggested that the audience follow him and without hesitation they did. “As for you Gino,” he instructed, “you stick by my side. It`s important that you are close when they make the announcement. 
“Excuse me! Excuse me! Coming Through!” the “Apprentice Santa” kept repeating as he made his way to the platform of the outdoor amphitheater, “VIPs coming through!” When they got right up close to the “Gazebo”, they had made it in the nick of time. The chief decision maker of the “Counsel of Seniors” was just finishing up introducing the “Main Man” himself. To the roar of the crowd, this older gentleman dressed in a brighter than bright red silk ceremonial gown, walked slowly on stage and with a hand signal greeted the patrons and indicated to them to quiet and settle down. They would comply almost instantaneously therefore giving him the chance to speak.  “Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends and Neighbours of the North Pole!” the man carrying the “Staff” started, “We are gathered here today so to announce who will be replacing me for the next hundred year mandate. However, before we proceed, I`d like to thank everybody that participated in the rescue operations and helped find young “Laurie Brooks. Once again, we have proven to the world that collectively, we can make a difference. With that said and without any further ado, the nominee selected to be sworn in as “St-Nicholas” and the person that is to guide us thru the 21st Century is…” The musher couldn`t believe his eyes. Here he was after all those years in the presence of his childhood hero, the supernatural individual that he considered a “great peace loving man”. If that wasn`t fantastic enough, here he was at the “North Pole” witnessing the swearing in of the new “Leader” of the “Elf Kingdom”. Who he was, this was something he was dying to find out. The retiring “Santa Claus” was just about to name him when…
“Gino! Gino!” the voices kept repeating, “Gino! Gino!” Somebody was tugging at his left shoulder so he turned his head, opened his eyes and looked up, trying to gaze at the two black space helmets through the blinding sun. He didn`t know for how long he had been zonked out and although he was having a comfortable sleep, being woken up like this would prove to be somewhat of a shock to the system. In a flash, the hyper-vigilance kicked in! He couldn`t help it! He was wired that way and instantly, his mind perceived these actions as a threat. Never had he anticipated another surprise visit so here he was confused, trying to make heads or tails as to what he was now seeing. These two shapes towering over him were most intriguing and for another moment, he could not but be full of anxiety. Sensing that he might be in some sort of peril, straightaway his body reacted and went on full alert. Clenching his fists and preparing for the worst, he exclaimed, “Now, what the Fuck?”
Realizing that creeping up on the sleeping musher might not have been the best idea of the day, one of the strangers lifted the visor of his snowmobile helmet and exclaimed, “Easy Gino! Easy! Is everything OK? It’s just us, Mac, Lucie and the kids. We didn`t want to scare you but we thought that it might be a good idea to check if you were still alive.” Still groggy and mixed-up, he yawned and scratched his head. Then lifting himself up from that restful prone position to a sitting one on his sled, it would take more than a few seconds for him to gather his thoughts and figure out that he wasn`t in any form of danger.  The two “spacemen” were not spacemen at all. Rather they were some good folks from Fermont, a young couple that he had met the day before at his dog truck. Now by pure chance, here he was meeting with them again while they were attending this specific location, a place they called their favorite “Ice Fishing” spot. To this father, the mother and their two kids, this was part of a regular routine. Every Sunday, they would pack a lunch and ride their two Skandic “Super Wide Tracks” to this “secret place” where they would attempt to catch the ever illusive “One that got away Trophy Fish” out of the lake. Unbeknown to him, our man had parked his dog team amongst a bunch of holes in the ice where fishing poles stood still waiting for “Lake Trout” to bite. “So Gino, how`s your race going?” Mac asked after removing his helmet. Checking on his resting dogs, they hadn`t budged from their “hockey puck curled up in a ball” sleeping positions. For that matter, they didn’t look too excited by the unexpected visit of this family. Essentially, they just wanted to soak up some more warm sunshine and rest for a bit longer. “I think from the looks of it that the racing aspect is done for us.” the ex-soldier replied. I think that at this stage of the game, just making it back to town will be quite the achievement.” “By the way, how far are we from town?” he continued. “To be more precise, you still have twenty-seven (27) more miles to go.” the father replied. “Oufff!” the musher simply said reacting to the not so good news. But deep inside himself, that guiding little voice would accentuate his concerns. “We`ve still got a long way to go and we don`t have any food or water to keep us going down the trail. We might be in a world of hurt.” And that in turn would now be the center of his focus. He needed to drive his dogs so to make it to destination safely and without incidents. Here he would be reminded of one of those many beautiful lessons that Leonard Lanteigne had taught him, quote “It`s very hard in the beginning to understand   that the whole idea is not to beat the other dog mushers. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.” unquote. At that moment sitting in the middle of northern Quebec, that little voice inside him was making a convincing argument and our man was just about to throw in the towel. The dogs were beat and so was he. Not knowing what his next move would be exactly, he reached down and grabbed a fist full of snow. He didn`t have access to fresh water and would try to quench his thirst by eating some of the white stuff. Lucie, the mother saw this and being the sweetheart that she was, she foraged through her food supplies on the back of her “ski-doo” and pulled out a small box of apple juice. After poking the straw through its top, she came over and ordered the thirsty man to drink it. “Here,” she insisted, “this might taste better than snow!” At first, he was a bit reluctant to accept this from a stranger but the need to hydrate would soon supersede his shyness therefore reached for it. Bringing it to his lips, he squeezed the liquid from the small container, putting serious pressure on it so that it would squirt the back of his throat without having to suck on the straw. It tasted fantastically good and tasted like more. Obviously, the mother was of the same opinion so brought another one. “Thank You!” the grateful man said. “Thank You very much! You`ll never know how much this gesture is appreciated.” For sure, it was. The juice while making its way down his oesophagus was to be more than soothing. However, but most importantly, what was to be retained from this act of kindness was the fact that it had been done spontaneously and without expectation. What our musher had just witnessed was just another of many signs that said that the people of the North would go out of their way to help someone in need. A sympathetic conversation was to be had afterwards and this one would end with our musher refusing to share a meal with them. “Thanks Folks!” he said while putting his hands up to show that he would be turning down the chance to put something substantial in his stomach. “I`ll have to get back on the trail shortly. I don`t think that this last stretch is going to be fast traveling so it`s best that I get going. If there is ever anything I can do to repay the favour, let me know. I`ll try my best to make it happen.” The spokesperson for the Clan, the young father, then responded, “Don`t worry about it. Just remember that one day it will be your turn to carry it forward and for some reason, I know that you will. That`s what life is all about.  Good people going out of their way to accommodate others.” With a smile and a wink, he extended his hand so to shake our traveller`s paw but cut it short because his daughter was shouting in excitement. “Daddy, Daddy, come quick! I think I caught the big one.” On that note, he dashed to that actual fishing hole where she was standing and instructed the thrilled little girl to take her time pulling the fish out. “It`s OK Josée! It`s well snagged and it`s not going to get away. Now give it some extra line and play with it. Allow it to get good and tired then it will be easier to reel it in then.” The scene was not necessarily remarkable but one thing that did stand out was the fact that it was nice to see this young family interact with each other. Who would have thought that in this day and age, electronic devices would still play second fiddle to nature its rawest form. “Chalk one up for the Great White North!” the revitalised musher said while laughing to himself. “Yes, the Great White North…”
“OK Boyz and Girlz! It`s time to move out!” he summoned his dog team. This command was something that they had heard plenty of times and words they recognised. He attended the string of “sleepy heads” and walked down the “gang line” checking up on every one of them. After patting them on the head and with a bit of convincing, all of his trail partners were now standing alert and ready to move out but this with a lot of reservation. They were drained and most of them were doing so out of obligation to the task at hand and this with a complete lack of enthusiasm. When he got to his injured “Lady”, he noticed that it didn`t seem to bother her that she had stabbed herself with that branch earlier on. Hwever, even though she seemed to be still full of “piss and vinegar”, there was no way that he would allow her to continue on pulling. The decision had been made and she would finish the race, getting a ride in the bag of the sled. “Sorry Girl but your fun is over for today.” he told her while kissing her on the forehead. “You`ve put in a tremendous effort during this outing but now it`s time to nurture and not aggravate that injury.” He continued his inspection and now at the front and after giving “Schrek” the apprentice a few words of encouragement, he turned his attention to his main man, “JR”. He grabbed his old fateful leader`s head and spoke with him. “Listen old Buddy! Do you think you`ve got in you to take us to the finish line? It`s really not that far you know and besides we`ve seen worse.” The musher and this particular dog had gone on many such adventures in the past and the bond between them was undeniably strong. It was so deep-seated that it was as if they could read each other’s minds and could communicate in this way. In as such, the veteran dog looked up into the man`s eyes as if to say “Yeah, we`ve seen worse but you have to remember that we were a lot younger!” “For sure, that we were!” the ex-soldier laughed, “But then again, where once we depended on strength and youthfulness, now we must trust that the maturity and wisdom are there on our side so to get us to destination. That my dearest friend is something that is only obtained through many years of hard work.” Although he was a having a convincing argument with the dog, deep inside him, he knew that most of the team had reached the twilight of their racing career and although their heart was into it, the body could no longer follow what the mind commanded. Subsequently, a change of strategy would be used and he would continue on this journey at a more relaxed pace. Simply put, it was time to imminently switch over to “expedition” mode. On the way up to the check point, they hadn`t had a real chance to do any real exploring. Therefore, for the remainder of this trip back to Fermont, time would be dedicated to see what secrets this beautiful “Land of the Northern Lights” might want to surrender.
Before hitting the trail for that last stretch, one thing still needed to be addressed. “Lady” and her banged up leg still needed to be pulled off the roster and secured in his sled bag. This was to prove to be quite the chore in itself as his grey female had never experienced hitching a ride and the prospect of being carried and not pulling did not sit well with her. She was scared and did not know what was going on. Try as much as he could to convince her to stay in the bag, the little female would not cooperate.  Wiggling and struggling, trying to escape, the musher had a hard time convincing her that this option was the best for her at this time. Eventually and after some serious coaxing, she settled down on her “mattress”, the man`s parka that he had put there in the bag for her comfort. He couldn`t trust that she would stay there so he zipped the sled bag completely shut and opened the vent portion in the rear of it so that she could have fresh air and a bit of a view. She was not happy about this situation and did let the entire world know that she didn`t want to be there. She was making a ruckus and her moaning and groaning was alarming and worrying the rest of the team. The musher would not have any choice so he unzipped the flap to the sled bag and spent a few more minutes sweet-talking to her in an effort to encourage her to settle down. He approached the commotion with calmness and kindness and she responded accordingly. After stroking her hair for a good ten minutes, finally she accepted the fact that her pulling for the day was finished.
“OK Kids, it`s that time again!” he exclaimed while reaching down to pull “anchor”. “Ready? Uptrail!” Once again, the crew of dogs was back on the trail and on their way to finish what they had started. Observing his team, he was confident that they would make it to destination but didn`t exactly know when they`d get there. “That`s OK,” he said to himself, “it`s a beautiful sunny day and it`s time to enjoy the journey.” The pace was slow and the dogs advancing down the trail had their heads down as if they were discouraged. To make matters worse, “Barbie” could not understand why her sister “Lady” was not pulling besides her. For the first time in their lives, these two siblings would be separated and this made it that the little blond dog at “point” wanted to locate her sidekick. She wasn`t interested in pulling and just kept looking back to see where she was. Both of them were whimpering and this added to the difficult task of getting home. “It`s OK Barbie,” the man spoke, trying to get her to concentrate on pulling, “Lady is right here and there`s no need for you to worry. Everything is just fine.” It would take a while for “Barbie” to focus but eventually she accepted this fact and like the trooper that she was, she leaned into her harness and helped the team in moving the sled down the trail. To say the least, they were still not out of the woods. It wouldn`t take long for the musher to notice that the dogs were in worse shape than he thought. Within a distance of no more than five miles, most of the members of the team started going into an individual “stop and go” routine so to piss and defecate.  Observing the urine and fecal matters, those were not “pretty”. The urine was dark brown and now he was dealing with steady streams of diarrhea instead of solid stools. They couldn`t help it. They had nothing left in their stomach and were totally dehydrated. Their systems had automatically gone in survival mode, taxing their muscle tissues so to extract some energy available in those fibers. “Humm!” the musher thought out loud, “This is not good. I need to find a water source in the nearest future before I start losing dogs. Dipping for snow is just not going to cut it. I need to quench their thirst and put something in their stomach before one of them dies on me.” He was just about to pull over to boil snow into water when he recognised some of the topography. If he remembered correctly at the north end of this particular lake stood a small spot of open water. It had caught his attention the day before as he found it curious that while the lakes had a minimum of one (1) foot thick of ice, this specific place remained unfrozen even in the coldest of winter. “It has to be some sort of hot spring that we`re dealing with.” he persuaded himself. “Whatever it is, that`s our destination. I`ll stop there, pull out my emergency rations and make some sort of soup with what I`ve got left. This might help us across the finish line.” As you would have it, the assessment was right on the money and soon after the bend he could see steam rising from that much anticipated watering hole. 
“Stay you guys, Stay!” he told them when they got there. “Park it and relax while I prepare a snack for all of you!” There was no hesitation on their part and soon all of them were once again lying down. “Shit, I don`t like seeing them like this. No I don`t like it at all.” Not discouraged but close to it, he unzipped the “flap” to get to his emergency supplies out of his sled bag and “Lady” didn`t miss the occasion to spring right out of there. He wasn`t worried that she would run away so allowed her to carry on. He knew her quite well and knew that she would go and visit her sister. Those two were inseparable and besides she needed to tell “Barbie” that she was still alive and well. Tails wagging, it was as if they hadn`t seen each other for years if not decades. While they were fraternising, he rummaged through his dwindled source of supplies and retrieved two “IMPs”, military rations that he had obtained through “scrounging”. Of course, he had brought with him the best menus that these individual meal packs could offer, so subsequently he would treat his dogs to tasteful portions of “Montreal Smoke Meat”. Retrieving water from the hot spring with his cook pot, he estimated that it was warm enough so abstained from heating it up.  He ripped open the two packages and started throwing stuff into the pot. The smoke meat would be the first ingredient added to the “wish soup”. Crackers were available so those were crushed and thrown into the mix so to thicken the broth up just a bit. Small loaves of bread were found and with the butter and cheese that accompanied this staple, all this would complement the “concoction”. Stirring the mixture, the musher reasoned that it might be eatable so ventured a taste. After scooping some of it out, he tasted the concoction and concluded that if it was good enough for him, it would be good enough for his dogs.  There was truth to this fact as the soup was more than tasty. “Humm!” he once again contemplated, “I`ll have to remember this recipe. For sure, this is going to be a future trail meal.”   He pulled out their bowls and poured an equal portion of the broth for each one of the dogs. He couldn`t figure out if it was because it smelt good or it was because they were hungry but as soon as the “bouillabaisse” was put in front of them, all slurped it up as if there was no tomorrow. “It ain`t much of a meal Boyz and Girlz but maybe it`ll be enough to get the job done.”      
 Half an hour went by so it was time to once again move. The bowls and cook pot were stored away and “Lady” was once again “bagged” for the ride. She accepted this but again with great defiance. “Come on baby Girl, how about some co-operation.” he ordered her. “I understand that you want to run with the team but you can`t. You`re on the injury list and you need to stay put.” After finally securing her for the last leg of the trip, he asked and did not tell the rest of the team, if they were ready.  The soup seemed to have hit the spot and accordingly they responded and once again the sled started to glide forward.
The Manicouagan reservoir and that dream that he just had the previous night had roused up the inquisitive nature inside him. It turns out that the day before, he had noticed a random bunch of grey oversized boulders, scattered throughout the entire “Taïga”. For some strange reason, he felt the need to find one and examine it more closely. He was wondering as to how these huge “Volkswagen Beetle” sized rocks had gotten to these locations. They were numerous, in the middle of nowhere, had been there for centuries and for sure, man had not placed them there. Could it be that they had dropped out of the sky those many thousands of years ago? Were they the remnants of smaller asteroids that had been left behind after that meteor storm that formed the reservoir and the “Monts Groulx? Or, were they rocks that had been dislodged and propelled skyward when that huge asteroid impacted the soil to create the crater? The possibilities of these scenarios were more than plausible so he needed to find one and see. Of course, he was no scientist but from what he understood about asteroids, many of these were composed in part of iron. Considering that they were exploiting this same mineral in Fermont, this opened a distinct possibility that all of these coincidences might be related. He might have been wrong with this evaluation but still he believed that it was worth investigating. Within maybe another four (4) miles down the trail, he found one. It was egg shaped and just on the right off the beaten path. He parked the team not worried that they would take flight on him and walked over to the grey boulder. He examined it and noticed that it had a bunch of “pot marks” where rust seemed to ooze from those orifices. Not afraid of possible consequences, he licked his fingers and rubbed them against one of the many oxidized and eroded reddish spot on the rock. Transferring it from the rock to his fingers, he once again brought them to his lips and tasted the rusty coloured stains from his fingers. “Yup! It definitely tastes like licking a dirty cast iron frying pan.” Not satisfied, he pulled out his “compass” and approached it to the boulder. It`s needle instead of pointing towards north, gravitated towards the rock further indicating that it had a substantial amount of the same metal within its core. “Humm!” was again the expression that he was to use, “This thing is definitely something that is most interesting and should be examined by professionals. Unfortunately, since I can`t bring it with me, for now, I`ll just make a mental note of these findings and further query about them. If I recall, that “airplane building guy” that I met in Fermont was a Geologist. Maybe some of those guys might be interested in finding out as to what they actually really are.”
He was walking back to his dog team when he noticed that another musher was approaching them from behind. It was Ed “The Sled” Obrecht, another long time friend from the racing circuit. These two mushers had known each other for many years and both men basically had similar philosophies when it came to dogs. They both enjoyed their company probably more than they enjoyed people and when it came to racing, the dogs always came first. In that same weird and wonderful world of dog sled racing, many good folks couldn`t figure out what made him “tic”. Therefore, a lot of them considered that Ed “The Sled” was somewhat of an “oddball”. Yet, our main man knew better. Since meeting up with him way back then in 2008, the musher had had frequent occasions to socialize with this individual only to realize that this Ontario musher was full of knowledge and wisdom. Not only was he a very smart person when it came to the sport of “Dog Sledding”, his vast understanding of the world and the intricacy of its daily events made it that he was a very fascinating person to strike a conversation with.   Over that extended period of time, the musher had learned many tricks of the trade from this fellow sledder and had developed a real sense of respect for the man. “So Buddy, how`s it going?” Ed quizzed him when both men were in hearing distances. “Not much Buds!” the ex-soldier replied. “Just taking a break before the final push. I don`t know about you but I found this trail mighty tough.” “Hey, it wasn`t that bad!” the newcomer laughed. With that and in his traditional Ed “The Sled” fashion, he would give these words of advice, “The weather is beautiful and we only have a few more miles to go. Now get your sorry ass on those runners and get fucking moving down the trail.” The Ex-soldier knew that this was not in the cards for the moment so simply suggested the following, “Well Ed, this time you can wiz right on by and go on ahead. I`ll be hanging around here for a few more minutes. The dogs need to rest a bit more and at this stage of the race, let`s just say that I`m in no hurry. By the way, my GPS died. Do you have an idea as to how many miles we got left to go before we get to town?” The other dogman hesitated for a moment, looked down at his electronic “gizmo” and replied. “Well, I would say that we`re not that far by now, maybe fifteen (15) miles left, I would say? I`ll tell you what!” he continued. “I`ll put some markers out at the ten (10) mile mark and at the five (5) mile one. This way it will give you an idea where the finish line is.”
The conversation had been brief and within another very short span, “Ed” the “Mystery Man” had once again taken off only to disappear around the next cluster of trees. Our musher hadn`t eaten for quite the stretch but he had gobbled those kind words of encouragement as they seemed to lift his spirits a bit.  
“All right you sleepy heads, you heard the man. We`re not that far by now so let`s finally put this one to rest, once and for all.” His trail partners responded to his voice by opening their eyes but were not necessarily overly enthused about moving from their cozy spot. The sun was more than nice and warm and they were satisfied to just lie there and soak up its delightful appreciated rays. The tired dogs on the line were not too keen but for the one in the sled bag, well this was a different story. From how she was wiggling and barking, she had no intention whatsoever of staying in that sled bag.
She was a special character that one as for when it came to pulling her own weight, “Lady” definitely was the type of dog that would always give her “110%” on the gangline.  But and this was a big but, when it came to the dog yard routine, this was a completely different story as she was more than a bit “bossy”. As a matter of fact, she was a handful.  On her own, she had acquired this certain exaggerated confidence where she wasn’t afraid to mix it up with any of the other bitches. This climbing up the hierarchic ladder had taken more than a couple of years and these squabbles had left some serious marks on all challengers. For herself, she sported a face full of scars so for that reason, she had been nicknamed the “Mother Superior from Hell”. Tough with those who defied her authority and very protective of all the young pups, her assistance was somewhat welcomed as there were things that could not be taught by the “human”. She took on this role very seriously and her devotion towards the pack made it that all the other dogs, male and females, were afraid and respected the “Alpha Dominant” female. She had a strong grip over all of them and she filled in the gaps when it came to teaching the young ones of how to act in a disciplined atmosphere. This was an acceptable compromise as when it came to pulling, she was all business and one of the best dogs that he had. Still, that morning her behaviour was way over the top and the exhausted musher was not in the mood for her “bullshit”. The racket that she was creating with her howling and squealing was echoing through the stillness of the “Great White North” and it was at the same time embarrassing and maddening. In front of the team and short on patience, he was just about to turn around and shout at her to keep her mouth shut when all of sudden, there was a lull in the yapping department. Unbeknown to the man, she had ripped the “vent netting” from the back of the sled bag and had managed to escape. Here she was now, standing just behind him, proud as a peacock.
“What’s the story here, Lady? he suggested, “You think it’s time to get this train back on its tracks?” Her response was instantaneous. She started her flirty two step back/ two step forward routine and started to roll on her back doing her “I’m so cute” routine. This dance was to be accompanied by her running around the musher in circles like an idiot and dashing back and forth from the team to the man. From the looks of it, she seemed to be less concerned about her injured leg than the musher was. Then for one last time, she again rushed to the team and back but this time, she bypassed the man and ran down the trail for a good two hundred feet. There she turned around, sat down and looked directly at him.
“Now what, Lady?” he asked her, now again finding the funny side to all of this affair, “Are you telling me that you’re ready to rock and roll?” Although he wished he did, he didn’t speak dog language. However, he had been around them long enough to recognize what they wanted by their behaviour. Whether they wanted attention or they were sick, they did have a particular way of showing this. It was that simple. You just had to observe the signs. Looking at his “grey nun”, here she was definitely sending a clear message that she was fit for duty and ready to help out. “So you think you got it in you to lead this parade?” he continued. Once again, she reacted and started barking crazy like in an affirmative way. She reared herself on her back legs only to pivot in mid-air and land on all “fours”. Majestically standing there tall and proud, her fur sparkling in the sunshine, she kept looking back at the team and him as if to say, “The finish line is in that direction. Now let’s go.”  The musher wasn’t too sure that this was a good idea, scared that she might aggravate her injury. So he tried to convince her to get back to the sled bag but this was not to happen. She just stood there looking down trail yapping to move out. “Come on Lady!” he almost begged, “Get your ass over here!” Still she defied him. This attempt was to go on for a good five minutes but she wouldn’t budge. So the man decided to take matters into his own hands [GR1] and go get her. As he walked towards the “sentry”, she kept moving further down the trail only to stop. This cat and mouse game was getting on the musher’s nerves as she was seriously testing his patience. Trying real hard at holding back his frustrations, all of a sudden he could feel a presence behind him, sniffing his butt. Almost in shock when he turned around, here they were “JR” and “Schrek”, guiding the rest of the team and just casually following him, sneaking quietly, scared that they might be left behind. This made it that he was consumed with that warm fuzzy feeling that he so much appreciated. This little trivial moment made him smile. Yup, it had become obvious that the train had left the station without him so he figured it was best that all march to the beat of the same drum. “OK then!” he ordered now reaching down in his very soul and retrieving that old Sergeant-Major hat, “Everybody stay! If we’re going to do this, let’s do it right!” Taking a position slightly ahead of the team and way behind his stubborn girl, he played the game and called it out as loud as his lungs could belt the words out, “Lady in front, troopers in double file, by the front, Quickkkk March!”
 “Left, Left, Left, Right, Left!” That’s what the musher was vocalizing to amuse himself and kill some time. To the unsuspecting observer, this stood as a bizarre panoramic view in deed but then again there were always strange sights in the “Land of the Northern Lights and nobody seemed to be bothered by them. But this one in particular was a bit over the top. It wasn’t every day that you would see a “mad man” out there in the middle of nowhere, chest out, eyes front and swinging his arms shoulder height. Then again, he didn’t care. Chanting away and marching down the trail at a regular cadence of 120 steps per minute, here he was, checking on how all the dogs were doing. From the smile on their faces, it was obvious they seemed to be enjoying this unorthodox style of traveling. So he focused on the mission at hand, this being bringing his trail partners safely to destination by whatever means necessary.
The pace was way slower than normal but they were making steady progress with their rhythmic tempo. He was wondering how close they were to Fermont when he saw the clue strapped to a trail marker. True to his word, “Ed the Sled” had secured a surprise on that stick with a bright orange fluorescent dog bootie. You couldn’t miss it and this according to him was, the “10 mile” mark. This sort of lit a fire under the man’s ass as accordingly he could now start the final countdown. To emphasize his determination, on his way by, he snatched that granola bar, brought it to his mouth and ripped the wrapping with his teeth. Chewing this frozen cluster of grain, nuts and berries, he devoured it in less than a few bites. Savouring every tiny little morsels, he could not believe how good it tasted especially when you were starving. He had no problems swallowing it and from the “clunk” sound it made when it dropped at the bottom of his stomach, it sort of confirmed that it had hit the spot quite nicely.
Keeping an eye on the dogs just to make sure that they were still following, he allowed his mind to wander to the past as for some strange reason, this certain scene was bringing back some very old souvenirs associated with the Bosnian conflict. After all this time, these were still quite vivid in his mind and these were episodes that he would remember and carry with him right down to the day that he would die.
They were a great bunch of men, those Canadian soldiers that had accompanied him during those troubled times and it had been a very proud moment when he had finally achieved what he had set out to do. As a matter of records, before deployment in October 1993, he had made a promise to the spouses of these warriors that he would bring them back home safe and sound. That last morning in theater, after lifting off from Splitz, Croatia for the return flight, he had firstly felt this overpowering and ever present stress evacuate from his shattered and worn out body. Now knowing that they were no more in harm’s way, he could finally relax.  Walking down the center aisle of the “Airbus A-310”, he visited with each one of them, shaking their hands and making sure that they recognised the fact that he had appreciated the dedication and loyalty that they had shown while serving with him during this UNPROFOR tour. The mandate as to what had been expected of these men when dropped in that “Hell Hole” called Sector South had never been clearly spelt out. In as such, they had toiled very hard to create their own functional work environment and while progress had been slow, they had succeeded where others had failed. None of them had ever been exposed to such chaos and this would prove to be a tremendous shock to the system for all. This small town called Knin, in the then Republic of Krajina, was at the time the European version of “Tombstone City” before Sheriff Wyatt Earp showed up. Just like that famous lawman, these Canadian Military “Cops” would need to first of all, establish “Law and Order” only to then enforce these same laws. Just surviving this ordeal would prove to be a tall order as it was the real “Wild, Wild West”, complete with the drunken nightly brawls, the rapes, the pillage and of course the daily gun fights. Through hard work and total commitment but especially because they were a tight knit group, they had swiftly adapted to the hardships of what this crazy place had to offer. They would ultimately prove to friends and foes that they were true professionals that you didn’t fuck around with. That message had been received quite loud and quite clear by all who had to deal with them. Eventually, out of all this turmoil, a certain respect from both, the United Nations personnel and the belligerents, would be earned. Their reputation of being honest to goodness “Good Samaritans” would become the recognised norm and this trusted standard would soon be accepted all across the entire vast area of their 2500 square/ kilometer patrol sector. Thinking back of the complex cases that these “MPs” had dealt with and the atrocities they had witnessed, it was beyond comprehension as to how they had lived through the experiences. Although all of them had been shaken to the core, they were considered the fortunate ones as these soldiers were returning to Canada, yes a bit loose in the mental department but at least not in a “pine box”.  He still called them “Boyz” but this was because of the father like role he had taken on in his “family” of Blue Berets. To see them sit there alive and well made him grasp the true nature of what he was witnessing. They had come out of that war zone, now mature individuals that had not only provided a great service to their country but they had actually re-invented the role of the “Peacekeeper”. They had showed the world that in this day and age, the old way of peacekeeping had very little effectiveness in a torn apart and violent setting. Thus, to stay alive, they would need to grab the bull by the horn and develop new strategies which would be eventually adopted to become the bench marks to what the Armed Forces now refers to as “Peacemaking”. Many hard lessons had been learnt during their six month stint in Ex-Yugoslavia but they had prevailed only to proudly emerge as true tested “Combat Veterans”.[GR2]  And that “Folks” was an honour that they had truly earned, one that could never be taken away from them.  
They were the lucky ones. They had survived. Now this was to be a different story for his dear friend, “Dan Gunther”.  He had not been so fortunate. The fact that he had died for his country and that his superiors had camouflaged the truth because of political pressure had never sat well with this “Military Policeman”. The fact that some “higher ups” had hidden the true occurrences   behind this tragedy so to further their career, was something that he had never digested. He was remembering that serious heated argument he had had with his Commanding Officer reference further examining the details behind this incident. He was recalling as to how his blood started to boil when told by this same individual to, quote “Leave it alone, WO Roussel! That’s an order!” unquote. He had obeyed as all good soldiers would do but not before voicing his true feelings to the “Captain”. “Listen Sir,” he had said tight fisted while grinding his teeth, “If that was you lying there in that body bag, wouldn’t you want your wife and son to know the real circumstances as to how it happened?” The young officer had simply bowed his head in shame and replied, “Listen Warrant, I know how you feel but this is out of my control.”
That had never sat well with our main man and for the better part of twenty years, he had kept searching so to be able to put together this complex puzzle. There were many who could provide answers to his questions but very few were comfortable discussing the incident for personal reasons. Nonetheless, he kept at it because like “Dan” would say when he continuously visited him in his nightmares, the truth needed to come out. It had taken a very long time but by piecing small sketchy details together, this retired investigator had finally managed to visualize the clear picture of what had happened on that fateful day that was the 18 June 1993. It had been tedious work but just like a “dog with a bone”, he had never given up.
The incident had been nothing but a “blip” on the radar way back then and the major part of the Canadian population had never heard of this terrible tragedy involving this soldier in that far away land. To add gas to the fire, after the body had returned “home”, for some reason, his unit was still “tight lipped” and continued to try and hide the true details of how he had died and this for, they hoped, eternity. Why would the “R22R Battle Group” act in such a fashion? Well, was it maybe because they were too embarrassed about the incompetent way they had dealt with this and could not provide all the details and necessary explanations? Was it because they weren’t used to dealing with such unusual events and they had to learn to deal with this, the hard way and this on the “pile”? Or was it because, they were ashamed of certain decisions they had taken days just before the deadly assault?  This was something that only the qualified “select few” running the show from their “Command Post” could answer. Unfortunately, and although our main character had invited them over the years, to supply additional information so to resolve this “set of circumstances”, none of these officers would dare to speak out publicly. It didn’t surprise the man as the “Vandoos” were known to be a real tight bunch that stuck together and who kept their cards right close to their chest. Hell, he had managed to get access to a copy of the results of the “Board of Inquiry” and even in there, no valuable information so to clarify certain details, could be found.
However, to be fair to all involved, it is important to remember that in the “1990s”, the Liberal Government had introduced new policies where drastic budget cuts to the Department of National Defence would be implemented. In that particular decade, another one of the downfalls was that effective leaders would be pushed to the side and/or forced into retirement only to be replaced by bean counting efficient managers.  Consequently, when Canada accepted to participate in this particular UN mission, they were ill prepared and sending its troops to that volatile region where they would have to make miracles on a shoe string budget. This was to be one factor that would contribute to Gunther’s demise.  Another factor was that they did not have the adequate resources to properly defend and secure the large perimeter of “Camp Visoko”. It turns out that this “OP” tasking where Gunther was killed, had been initially assigned to a sub-unit, the “12 RBC”, the reconnaissance squadron attached to that Battle Group. Awkwardly enough, the “Tankers” could not continue these duties as most of their “Cougars” had become non serviceable. In May of that year, they had been overtasked with humanitarian and other convoy escorts and after putting more than 50,000 kilometers on their ten (10) light armoured vehicles, these needed to be parked. The old outdated “Tin Cans” on wheels could just not withstand the grueling thrashing that was asked of them by the operators. This was to become a logistical nightmare as soon enough after, the maintenance platoon would run out of spare parts to keep them on the road. But even worst, they could not find replacement parts nowhere, either in theater, the rear echelon or in Canada - The supply system was just out of stock… So in light of this precarious situation, the tasking was re-assigned to the anti-tank platoon, the “TOW” elements of the “Vandoos” who then deployed two of these Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) to take over the sentry duties. It was imperative that this “OP” be manned and this within very short notice. Three days prior, in Sarajevo, the Canadians had supposedly just negotiated a cease fire between the local Bosniaks and the Serbs and this “OP”/Check Point was to serve two purposes. While it would re-enforce the security of the compound, at the same time, the sentries would be able to control and observe the traffic traveling through the general area. That was the plan. Unfortunately, the results from the decisions made during those negotiations, had not trickled down to the commanders on the front lines and this would be another major stumbling block in this calamity. Not knowing that this accord had been reached, when the local “militia” saw those two missile carrying vehicles take position, this was seen as an escalation of force and a situation where they thought that the Canadians were taking side with the Serbs. This tactical deployment was to be a highly controversial subject and heated verbal exchanges would result at ground level.
Components of the Bosnian Army, including foreign Muslim volunteers who came from all over the world and who had been secretly re-routed to that location from North Africa, were clandestinely bivouacked in the town of Visoko and would not stand for these developments. The main complaint would be that the “TOW” missile equipped APCs were too aggressive and they wanted them removed immediately. The reason given was that this “hardware” was outfitted with “Infra Red” guidance systems and this was not an acceptable compromise for this situation. That was the official reason. Unofficially, it was because the “Infra Red” guidance system allowed the Canadians to have night vision capability, therefore hampering any “sneak and peak” operations that they might be doing under the cover of darkness. What is important to retain here is that within the ranks of these volunteers, some of the “Freedom Fighters” that had fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s against the Soviets, were there in support of their Muslim brothers and they had vast experience in the art of “Guerilla Warfare’. These “Mujahedeen” who had been trained by the “CIA” only to be abandoned by them after the end of that campaign in 1989, were experts in small squad tactics and were itching to mix it up. Although the Bosnian Army thought that they could control these mercenaries, this was not the case. They were there for the money and only answered to a higher authority, this being an obscure organization which would in due course, be identified as “Al Qaeda”, a militant Sunni Islamist multi-national organization founded in 1988 by Osama Bin Laden. These “guns for hire” were nothing but undisciplined street thugs who pushed their weight around and who were not afraid to use deadly force to show that they meant business.
This was to be main cause behind Dan Gunther’s untimely death. The situation had turned into a “game of chicken” where both sides had dug in their heels and would not give up one inch of real estate. Lacking proper “intelligence” and not fully understanding with what or who they were dealing with, the “R22R” Battle Group refused to move the vehicles and gambled that they had the winning hand. This was to infuriate the other side and consequently they took action.  Although it was never ascertained as to who had delivered the fatal blow, witnesses who were involved in the incident all reported first hearing small arm fire coming in their direction from a westerly position of that location. This initial contact drew the attention of the Canadians manning the “OP” but this was to only be a ruse so to allow the trigger happy individual to take position and properly aim his “RPG-7”. Seconds later, the rocket was launched and it successfully hit its target. From all the accounts amassed together, the weapon was fired from an approximate distance of maybe 200 to 300 meters and came from a South-East direction from a built-up area. The projectile traveled towards the APC at a high rate of speed, bounced off the lip of the front of the crew commander’s hatch and ricocheted only to hit the victim squarely in the chest. It exploded and although it killed him, a major part of the blast was absorbed and redirected upwards by the opened metal hatch cover, thus saving the lives of the two other occupants of the “TOW” vehicle. From the angle of attack, this would suggest that the assailant had taken position on higher grounds and most likely used a second floor window of an abandoned building to execute the felony. From the direct shot right into the center mass, the shooter had probably been observing his target for an extended period, all this while taking proper time to aim and commit premeditated murder. What was not known then by the military scholars is the fact that this method of engaging the enemy, was a textbook technique used by “Mujahedeens” which proved to be most effective against the Soviets back then in Afghanistan. While this tactic is commonly seen being used by “hit squads” all over the world, we need to keep in mind who the players were during this confrontation and draw an educated conclusion from there. Contrary to what might have been believed for all these years, it is very unlikely that whoever killed “Gunther”, was a professional soldier. No “Folks”, the evidence gathered, does not suggest that either the Serbs, the Bosnian Muslims or for that matter, the Croats are to blame for this particular atrocity. Rather, the deadly shot was most likely the handy work of a young radicalized “punk” who wanted to show that he was the “big man on campus” who was worth more than a “pinch of salt”. He was probably some poor schmuck who, like the many thousands out there, was brainwashed into believing that he was part of a movement that would establish a new “world order” and who would be rewarded for his efforts here on earth or out there in the afterlife. What he was probably never told was that he was being manipulated by self-centered spoiled Middle Eastern billionaires who had nothing better to do to entertain themselves. Yup, that’s the bottom line to all this global Islamist threat. It’s got nothing to do with religion. Instead, this war that is being fought around the world is nothing but a huge game of “Risk” where actual living and breathing humans are being used instead of plastic pieces on the “game board”. It’s got to do with extremely rich and greedy men who belong to the so-called elite “1%ers” who think that the laws of the land, do not apply to them. It’s got to do with having all this money to burn and feeding the “Military Industrial Complex”, the most lucrative business in this day and age. These are the main ingredients to all this mayhem. We have been engaged in this war against terrorists for a very long time and the last twenty-five years have shown that this is not working, not one fucking bit. All this fighting and killing has simply created a situation where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. While these fat spoiled brats sit there in their “Golden Palaces”, not showing any compassion and not concerned as to what happens to the rest of the world, regular folks are having their lives destroyed, not in the name of “Allah” but in the name of the “Mighty Buck”. It’s all a smoke screen which will implode on itself once their puppets realize that they’ve been used as fools and suckers. Remember those “Afghan Rebels” that were abandoned by their masters’ way back then in 1989, they felt betrayed and turned on them. This will be the same scenario with this new wave of “Jihadists”. They will also be thrown to the wolves because they’ve outlived their usefulness and yes the same scenario will take place but this time it will be of epic proportions.  It will be Karma served with a vengeance and a revenge that will be carried out in its rawest form and with extreme prejudice.  But that’s their problem and a totally different subject all together…
Anyway, that in a nutshell is how this Canadian soldier lost his life way back then while serving his country. A terrible tragedy indeed but for some morbid reason, the musher could find positive energy while dealing with the details of this affair. It was one of those obsessions that all throughout those years after retiring, whenever he would feel those depressing and suicidal thoughts invade him, he would reach out to his friend “Dan”. He would ask him to guide him through that dark tunnel and in return this “ghost” would provide him the momentum to carry on living. It had always worked and ironically enough, it was amazing that even after death, this individual was still helping others. Who would have thought? That afternoon, marching down the trail on that frozen lake, Gunther was there with him, not physically but in spirits. No word of a lie, he could feel his vitality running through his veins and that was a good thing. Looking up to the heavens, the “old man” would take a moment to not only thank him for being in his corner but also to tell him that his legacy would be carried on. After all, there was more to this soldier than the uniform he was wearing. He was a third generation Canadian military man who viewed his duties as a calling where he would fight the good war not with a rifle but with kind words and gestures. He was a good man with a warm heart that would go out of his way to help others, always disregarding the envelope that wrapped the person. In his way of thinking, there were no such things as the colour of their skin or the religion that they practiced. People were people and that’s how things needed to be seen. In his philosophy, if discrimination and racism were out of the equation, the world would be a better place to live as peace and harmony would take center stage. These examples of how he lived his life were plenty but two of them would always be present in the musher’s mind.
The first one was when both of them were serving in Germany in the “80s” where then Cpl Roussel and him were driving to work to CFB Lahr. Roussel was telling him that it was a tradition for him and his wife to fabricate gifts and give them to needy children. He was a bit pissed and feeling the pressure as Christmas was just around the corner and because of the work load he was under, he didn’t have the time to make this special gift for this special child. Dan had been just sitting there absorbing the information and nodding his head up and down in an affirmative way. A couple of days later, while working in his office at the Investigation Section, he heard his name being called and recognized Gunther’s voice. He went to greet him at the door but could not exactly see what the fuss was all about as all the people from the section had gathered in the small foyer where it seemed that they were all dazzled by something. He finally got through the crowd of “seven” only to see what was such a big deal. To his great surprise, here it was still rocking back and forth, this beautifully crafted one of kind wooden “Rocking Horse”. “Here you go Gino. Merry Christmas! It still needs to be painted but it’s a start.” he said with a lot of casualness, trying to leave the building as fast as he entered it. “Wait a minute,” the young Roussel requested, “Aren’t you going to stick around for a coffee?” “Nah,” he replied with that infamous smile of his, “You know how it is. An elf’s work is never done so I got to keep on moving.” Later on, during another drive to the base, the question had been asked and our main character had found out that his friend had viewed this to be a situation where a person needed some help so he took it upon himself to go to the “Woodworking Shop” where he burnt the midnight oil to complete the project so to make things easier for his friend.
The second instance was when after doing extensive research, for at that point ten years, he had come across a letter from a twenty-three-year-old lady who was relating to Dan Gunther’s family what he had done for her while serving in Bosnia. It turns out, that when she was thirteen, they had met while he was patrolling though the ruins of her town. Having had nothing to eat for over a week, she had done just like those many other starving kids were doing and was chasing these UN vehicles, begging for food. Gunther had stopped and after talking to her, he recognised the fact that her and her family seriously needed help. He went to the back of his APC and pulled out a complete “10 serving” box of ration packs and gave it to the little girl. Seeing that this was too heavy for her to carry, he told her to hop in and him and his crew drove straight to her house and delivered the goods. This was a gesture that, according to this grateful woman, had saved the lives of all who lived in that blown out shell of a building, including her sick and weak grandmother of “88” years old. Once every couple of days, this UN soldier would check in on this family and they would become good friends. The news of this good deed would spread throughout his unit lines like wild fire and this example of goodwill would be accentuated as other soldiers did not want to be outdone therefore would follow in Gunther’s footsteps. During his last visit, just before he was going on leave where he was excited because he was to meet his new born baby son for the very first time, he had asked her if he could bring something back for her from Canada. She had something very specific that she wanted and sheepishly did put in the request. True to his word, he returned and gave her that very special gift, a “Back Street Boys” sweatshirt that she would cherish for an eternity. She would finish the letter extending her dearest sympathy and stating the fact that Dan was a “God sent angel” who if it hadn’t been for his intervention, her family would have not survived the Bosnian war.
And that Ladies and Gentleman is who V23 982 819 Corporal Daniel Gunther of the Royal 22ieme Regiment really was. He was the finest example of what Prime Minister Lester Pearson had envisioned when he proposed the modern concept of peacekeeping to the General Assembly of the United Nations, way back then in 1957. He was a well respected leader amongst his peers and the finest example of what the Canadian Army could offer. But most of all, he was more than just another name engraved in a Cenotaph.  He was a true modern day unsung Canadian “War Hero”, an individual who put it all out on the line so that others could live in peace.
 That’s what was running through that fried brain of his, when the musher unexpectedly bumped into Lady’s derriere who had stopped walking. This brought him back to reality only to notice that not only her but the whole team had halted. “What’s up guys? You tired?” he asked. His grey girl barked and ran back to the team. She took her regular position on the gangline and sat there looking towards the horizon. “Now what’s up?” he asked the team. “Do you guys need a break?” From how they were reacting, this didn’t seem to be the case. Just like “Mother Superior” they were all looking in that same direction as if to say, “Hey fool, look over there!” He turned around to see what was so interesting and on top of that mountain, there it was, that beautiful huge rusted metal cross. While he had been lost in his own mind, they had bypassed Ed the Sled’s five mile marker and were now maybe two miles out from Fermont. This brightened his day so he tried to coax the team to move on. “Come on Guys, let’s do this!” he told them, “Let’s put this one to rest once and for all.” They didn’t budge. “Come on Guys, we’re almost done.” Still they didn’t move an inch. Instead, they laid down and “parked it.” “OK, what is it exactly that you want?” He would soon get the answer. Here they were looking back and forth at him and the sled and eureka, he finally clued in. “OK, obviously you guys want to finish this with your heads high, so let’s get her done!”  Throwing caution to the wind, he re-hitched his grey dog in her spot and walked to sled and called it out. “Are you guys READY?” They were and instantly they all stood up to tighten the gangline. “OK then, Uptrail!” The team burst into action and excitedly started trotting at a fast pace. The scene was priceless but most importantly he was super proud of his bunch of misfits and rescues. They had plenty of miles in those old legs of theirs but these old trail hardened veterans would once again show the world that although they had been destined to end up on the manure pile, they would give it their all for a master that treated them with love and compassion. This bond that had been established between them and the musher over those many years was real strong and most real. He had saved their lives and in return and maybe for a last time, they would prove once again that they would never let him down. Yes, it was true that he had rescued them but one needed to remember that they also had rescued him and had become his lifeline over those many years spent together on the trail.
They were now in striking and the closer they got, the more excited the dogs were getting and faster they were moving. He was savoring the moment because for him it was more than crossing that finish line. After what seemed an eternity, he was now actually on the road to recovery, leaving behind those horrific souvenirs that he had accumulated during that previous military life of his.  He had finally realised that living in the past was not where it was at. Rather he needed to look ahead as there where the future lied. It had been one hell of a ride that military career of his but now he needed to make an effort at trying to fit in with the civilian population. There was a wonderful life out there after the military and it was up to him to discover what it was.
Crossing that finish line that day had proven to be one of the hardest race he had participated in. However, the crowd that was cheering him on had made it worth while. But what really struck him right there in his heart were those six “six graders” holding their “Welcome Home Gino” sign. They had been partnered with him by their teacher and he was “their” musher. He didn’t know about this arrangement and sort of felt guilty a bit because they had been waiting for him for so long. You see, from the performance he had put in the first stage of the race, the organizers had expected him to finish in the top five. This was not to be the case as where it was supposed to take maybe five hours to make the return trip, it had taken close to ten. Nonetheless, these good “Fermontoises” had stuck it out and would show him what this true friendly spirit of the Great White North was all about. And that friendliness was truly special indeed. To see all their happy faces smiling while they were petting and embracing the dogs had more than set that record straight. While he kept that tough Mountain Man façade on during all this time, he was crying gallons inside and this waterfall would finally extinguish that angry warrior flame in his guts only to replace it with peace in his heart. After being told that he was scheduled to give a little speech to these students the next morning, he had to back out of that engagement because he was booked on the Ferry that very next Monday afternoon. “Sorry Girls,” he apologised, “I can’t make but here’s the deal. We’ll have a drawing contest and whoever wins, will get a nice prize, compliments of Baisley Lodges.” This seemed to be an acceptable compromise to them so they went forward with this deal and well at the end of the exercise, they were all winners. But then again, of course you knew that this would be the case… = -)


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