Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Unlike Mike and Kirsten, who weren’t churchgoers, Mark and Jackie usually went to church on Sunday mornings, although they didn’t let going to church get in the way of a nice day for flying or any other good reason. This Sunday morning was beautiful and with things to be done, it was a good reason to skip church. They were sitting at the kitchen table, nursing cups of coffee and trying to guess whether the day would turn good enough to get the 1-26 glider out when there came a knocking at the back door.
It was Mike. "Come on in," Jackie called. "Have a cup of coffee."
"Thanks," Mike said, coming in and pouring himself a cup. "I’ve been putting up with decaf at home for Kirsten’s sake, but I hope I don’t have to much longer."
"So how’d it go last night?" Mark asked.
"Let’s just say that at the moment, Kirsten isn’t too thrilled with me," Mike said. "I had to clean up two puddles and two piles of dog poop, but this morning George asked for out, so maybe he’s getting the idea already."
"Don’t ask," Mike said. "In this case, I’m willing to bow to Tiffany’s obviously superior judgement."
"She and the dog are getting along all right, huh?"
Mike smiled. "Just before I went to bed, last night, I checked on her. The light in her room wasn’t too good, but I looked from the door, and here were these two little eyes staring back at me, all curled up right next to her. There’s no question who George belongs to. How’d you make out with Midnight and Red?"
"They only barked a few times last night," Mark said. "I think they’re getting used to the place. It was probably a good idea to give them a chance to settle in before we tried to work with them."
"You still want to give it a swing this morning, before it warms up?"
"Yeah, I think so," Mark said. "It looks like it might pop later today, and it’s my turn to take the 1-26 out. I thought maybe we could work the dogs for an hour or two, give them a little one-on-one, and then I could take a tow. Then this evening, we can do it again."
"Good point," Mike said. "I don’t think we want to work them too hard, but we need to keep at it until they get the idea."
"Actually, I suspect it’s going to be the other way around," Mark said. "Remember what Jim said? About the dogs taking off like a scalded cat? I’ll bet they’re going to wear us out."
"Maybe we’d just better start out with two dogs," Mike suggested. "Cumulus and one of the others."
"I think so," Mark said. "Just get them used to pulling in harness. I suppose one of us is going to have to be the lead dog."
"How do you want to do it? Gangline and necklines?" Mike had been reading some of the books on dogsledding Mark had been able to scrounge up, and he’d learned a lot in the last few days.
"Don’t see how we can run with necklines, unless we have a leader, and none of these dogs has shown they can lead," Mark said. "I thought maybe we’d just start out with two harnessed to a gangline, towing a couple of old tires or something. We’ll put a leash on each dog as a neckline, and try to give them the general idea."
"I really ought to go for a run," Jackie laughed. "But, I think I’m just going to have another cup of coffee and sit out on the fence and watch you two. This ought to be good."
It took a while to get everything set up on the runway in back of the shop. Mark had already learned that Cumulus barely noticed the aircraft tire, so he’d replaced it with an old car tire, and it had still barely held him down. Now, he laid out two tires, one behind another, and tied them together, while Mike stretched out the gangline. The evening before, Mark had put together two new harnesses, and he and Mike each harnessed one of the new dogs. "Cumulus has already been through this part of the exercise," Mark reasoned. "Might as well wear Red and Midnight down a little before we try anything serious."
With both dogs on leashes, there wasn’t too much confusion, although both Mike and Mark could see how just one more dog might turn things pretty chaotic. Mike had a leash to Red on the right, and Mark had one on Midnight to the left. "Ready?" Mark asked.
"Let’s do it," Mike agreed.
"OK, boys," Mark said, starting forward easily, "Hike!"
The two dogs started off running as Mike and Mark ran alongside. It was easy to see that they weren’t used to running on a leash; even dragging the two tires it was all Mark and Mike could do to hold them down, and getting down to the end of the runway was an adventure.
"Let’s turn ’em!" Mark yelled.
"OK, boys, haw!" he called, for a left-hand turn – not that the dogs would be expected to know the difference, yet, but it was time to start teaching them. The only problem was that the dogs weren’t the only ones who didn’t know the difference between ‘gee’ and ‘haw’; neither did Mike. While Mark turned off to the left, Mike turned right, taking Red with him.
Red had the advantage of being the bigger dog, and Mark wasn’t paying enough attention. Besides, it happened awfully quickly. One instant, he was starting a broad turn to the left, and the next thing he knew, he was being dragged backward by the leash. His feet came out from under him, and he landed hard on the runway, letting go of the leash. "Sonofabitch," he moaned, the breath knocked out of him. He rolled over, wondering what the hell had happened, and saw Mike trying to bring the dogs to a stop by himself.
Mike was doing a pretty good job with Red, what with a choker chain on the neckline, but Midnight had other ideas, and was going hard. Mike dove for the free leash that Mark had dropped, all the while trying to hold Red down – but missed the leash. The gangline tripping him didn’t help, and Mike wound up taking a belly flop onto the leading tire. "Whoa, you sonofabitch, whoa!" Mike yelled, still trying to grab for the leash dangling from Midnight.
In the fracas, the dogs had managed to get turned around and were heading back down the runway toward Jackie, with Mike trying to stop them. Finally, as they neared the house, Jackie saw what was happening, and ran out toward the runaway dogs. She curled around and grabbed the free leash, and between them, she and Mike were able to bring the team to a stop. Far down the runway, they could see Mark pick himself up. Jackie and Mike were able to get Midnight onto a chain, and while Mike chained up Red, she got in the truck and went down the runway for Mark.
"I don’t know that we’ve got a team," Mike said when the two got back, "but these damn dogs can pull!"
"Uh, Mike," Mark said. "One thing. ‘Haw’ is left, not right."
"I think I can remember that. You OK?"
"I think so," Mark said. "But I think I’m going to want a soak in your hot tub tonight."
"No problem," Mike said. "But somehow, we’ve got to teach these damn dogs what ‘whoa’ means."
"I’ve got an idea about that," Mark said. "It’s going to take me a while to make it work. Why don’t you take those dogs, one at a time, and go up and down the runway a little. Work on ‘gee’ and ‘haw’ and ‘whoa’, while I get it set up."
"All right," Mike said.
"Just remember. Haw, left, gee, right."
"Haw left, gee right. I think I’ve got it."
Mike wasn’t a runner, but he was in pretty good shape. Still, one dog, then the other, tired him out, and Jackie volunteered to give him a break for a while. While Mike tried to catch his breath, he wandered into the shop to see what Mark was up to. He found Mark at the workbench, putting a tube back into a small, fat tire; a four-wheel ATV sat in the middle of the shop floor. "All the tires were down," Mark said, "but this is the only one that had a hole in it."
"Where did you get that?"
"Traded it out of a guy for an old Apple II and a couple of disk drives," Mark said. "It doesn’t run; the engine’s blown. I thought maybe I could fix it, but I’ve never bothered to try. I don’t really like the damn things, anyway. The brakes work, and that’s the important part."
"Might work," Mike said. "I’d better get back out there and relieve Jackie."
Not long after, Mark and Jackie rolled the ATV out of the shop. Mike was running Red, and it seemed as if the dog was getting the idea. Mike let him have a stop at the water bowl, while Mark hooked the gangline to the ATV.
"Let’s try it again," Mark said. "Like we did the first time. Jackie, you ride the ATV, and try to keep them held down."
They got the dogs back onto the gangline, one on either side, and each took a leash. With the ATV on tow, they took off down the runway, and halfway down, Mark yelled, "Let’s try a turn again."
"All right, HAW!" he yelled.
This time the dogs turned hard to the left, despite Mike’s effort to keep things going easy. He was the one jerked flat this time; Jackie swerved to the right, to keep from running over him, the gangline going over the top of him. She managed to keep the machine upright on the turn back to the left, squeezing hard on the brakes, while Mark yelled "whoa!" Some distance away, they managed to bring the two dogs to a stop. Mark turned back toward Mike, who picked himself up slowly. "You OK, Mike?" he yelled.
"I think so," Mike yelled back. "But if I said that was about enough of that leash shit, would you believe me?"
"I think so," Mark agreed. "But you’re right, those dogs can pull."
They walked slowly back to the ATV, where Jackie sat with a death grip on the brake; not really needed, since Red was taking a crap, and Midnight was busy scratching himself. "What are you going to try now?" she asked.
"Actually, I’m half tempted to try Cumulus in lead, instead of us," Mark said. "I think they’ve got the idea, but it’s going to take a while to work out the differences."
"Well, I’m not going to be the one riding this thing," she said. "You guys are the dog drivers."
"Let’s use the leashes to get them back up to the barn," Mike suggested. "Slowly. Like, at a walk."
Nobody raised any argument, except for Red and Midnight, who were still ready for a run, but with some difficulty, the three were able to get the two dogs up to the house. While Jackie held the brakes on the ATV, Mark harnessed Cumulus into the lead with an extra section on the gangline, while Mike fastened the other two dogs to the gangline with a neckline. "All right, who’s going to be the pigeon?" Jackie said.
"Actually, I’m half tempted to say the ‘H’ word and let you be," Mark smiled. "You’re the only one these dogs haven’t laid out yet."
"Like hell you will," she said.
"It’s your ATV," Mike offered.
"Oh, hell," Mark said. "Hold the brakes while Jackie gets off and I get on."
"Well, here goes nothing," Mark said, once he was firmly in the seat. "Mike, if you’d point Cumulus down the runway."
Mike took Cumulus by the collar, and slowly turned the three-dog team around to the left, saying, "Come haw, come haw" – another command they’d have to learn, to turn around. In a few seconds, he had the team pointed more or less in the right direction.
"Well, here goes nothing," Mark said. "Jackie, the life insurance policies are in the safe deposit box. OK, boys . . . HIKE!"
It wouldn’t be quite correct to say the dogs took off like they were shot from guns, but the acceleration put Mark in mind of the opening seconds of a glider launch. He was jerked back in the seat of the ATV, and only a death grip on the handlebars kept him from falling off. After the initial burst of acceleration died out, Mark looked down at the speedometer; the dogs were pulling hard, going about fifteen miles an hour, which was pretty fast, when you stopped and thought about it – a lot faster than he could run. "Whoa!" he yelled, in an effort to slow them down, but it didn’t make any appreciable difference. "Damn it, I said ‘whoa’!" he yelled, and then remembered the brakes. Halfway down the runway, more with the brakes than with the command, he managed to slow the dogs down enough to try a turn. Amazingly enough, the haw turn went fairly well, since Cumulus didn’t cut too sharply. As the edge of the runway approached, all Mark had to do was give another little ‘haw’ and Cumulus had them pointed back toward the house.
Might as well let them run for a bit, Mark thought. That’s what they really want to do, anyway. He let up on the brakes and let the dogs run. They shot back up the runway, with Mark doing nothing but steer the ATV, raced between the house and the shop and out to the road. "Come gee!" Mark yelled, "Come gee," trying to get the team turned around, but even Cumulus hadn’t gotten the "Come" command down yet, and the "gee" was all he picked up on. The next thing Mark knew, the dogs were racing down the gravel road, the ATV bumping along behind, while Mark mostly tried to hang on.
Kirsten knew, of course, what Mike was doing up at Mark and Jackie’s, and so did Tiffany. Tiffany wanted to see, but Kirsten thought it was probably better not to have the little girl interfering. But, after a while, she’d decided that the walk would be nice, and that would give Tiffany a chance to walk with George. Henry came along with them, and they were walking up the road when the three dogs towing Mark and the ATV fairly burst over the top of the hill, with Mark yelling "whoa! God damn it, whoa!" and not getting any response. They scuttled past in a cloud of dust, with Tiffany jumping up and down with glee, and George straining at the leash to go join the other dogs. Tiffany was able to keep the puppy under control and gave it a good talking to, as Mark raced down the hill and past Kirsten and Mike’s driveway. From up the hill, they could hear Mark yelling, "Haw! Cumulus, you son of a bitch, haw!" as he tried to get Cumulus to make the turnaround in Mike’s yard.
A few seconds later, Mark’s pickup, with Jackie driving, came screeching to a stop in a cloud of dust. "Missed your driveway," Jackie yelled. "He’s going to need help to turn ’em around, if he can get them stopped by the time he gets out to the state road!"
"We’ll be back!" Mike yelled, from the back of the pickup where he was riding, as Jackie took off in a cloud of dust.
"Mommy, did you see the dogs?" Tiffany asked as the pickup roared off. "Weren’t they great?"
Mark was getting close to the state road, with the ATV fishtailing from the locked up tires, before he got the rig slowed down, his heart pounding, the sweat rolling off him. He’d been caught in a thunderstorm in a glider towplane once, and this easily had to be the wildest, most uncontrolled ride he’d had in the many years since. He was squeezing hard on the brakes, trying to catch his breath, when he realized that Jackie and Mike were with him. "Figured you’d need help turning around," Mike said, going up and grabbing Cumulus by the collar. "Come haw," he told the dog quietly. Cumulus wagged his tail, and gently led the other dogs in a tight left turn.
"Thanks," Mark said. "I think we’ve learned one thing."
"When these dogs get together, they go nuts."
"It’s not like Jim didn’t warn us," Mike said, holding on to Cumulus.
"Yeah," Mark agreed, getting his breath back, now. "I’m just glad we didn’t try it with ten dogs."
"Why don’t you ride this thing back?" Mark suggested. If you can’t get ’em to turn into the driveway, just let ’em run. It’s a couple miles up to where the bridge is out, and the river might cool ’em off. We’ll pick up Kirsten and the kids along the way, and follow along."
There was no graceful way for Mike to back out. While Mark held onto the brakes, Mike climbed into the seat. He got settled in, let go of the brakes, and yelled, "OK, guys, HIKE!" and was off in a cloud of dust.
"I think I’ve learned something, too," Jackie commented as the team and the ATV shot down the road.
"When you men get together, you go nuts."
Mark nodded, a bit ruefully. "I’m beginning to think that Jim was right."
"You gotta be nuts to be a dog musher."