Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

Busted Axle Road
a novel by
Wes Boyd
Copyright ©1993, ©2001, ©2007, ©2013

Chapter 42

It was just getting light when Josh and Mike left Warsaw. The crowd, if anything, was bigger than the night before, lining the streets for a couple of blocks. Unfortunately, the fire department hadn’t laid out a wide enough path for a racing start, that had never quite been anticipated, and only Mike knew the way out of town, so this was a fairly quiet start compared to the one in Spearfish Lake.

The dogs had come back a long way from their run the night before, and Mike felt better for having four hours of good sleep. He still felt a little rocky, but nothing serious, nothing a few more hours of sleep wouldn’t have cured, he thought, but he hadn’t let on to anybody that he’d felt at all bad.

Though it was still cold, the sky was still clear, and the wind of the evening before had died down. Fresh frost sparkled in the morning sunlight, and the dogs’ breaths made clouds of steam as they ran down the street, with Mike and Josh waving to the crowd. In a few minutes, they passed Jim Horton’s house and ran down the road to the two-rut that would take them to the North Country Trail.

Though it was a new experience for Josh to take the dogs this far, it didn’t prove to be anything he couldn’t handle. There were plenty of places where he had to bend the sled around sharp corners, or duck under low-hanging limbs. Other than that, the going was easy; after they’d gone to sleep, Fred Linder and another of the Warsaw firemen had gotten on their snowmobiles, to go ahead of them and break the trail open. Neither Mike nor Josh knew how far they planned on going with the snowmobiles, but there was a possibility that they might go clear to Spearfish Lake, and following the beaten down trail made the going much easier.

At the corner to the spur trail to the campsite, Mike stopped them both so they could give the dogs a snack. While the dogs took their break, drinking and eating and resting and rolling in the snow, Mike and Josh sat on the sleds for the first real chance to talk they’d had since the night before.

"You doing all right?" Mike asked.

"That wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be," Josh said. "There was one limb that I thought was going to knock me off the sled, but it just brushed my parka hood back."

"I was watching," Mike said. "That was a low one, all right."

"Sure was nice of those guys from Warsaw to go ahead of us and break trail," Josh commented.

"Yeah," Mike said. "Mark and I thought of asking them to do it, but decided we’d already asked enough of them."

"That was a heck of a welcome, for two in the morning," Josh said.

"That was absolutely the last thing I expected," Mike said. "I mean, I figured Fred would be at the fire station with the lights on and everything would be deserted. When that guy met us with the fire truck, and told us to follow him, I started wondering what was happening. Then, when we saw the crowd . . . well, I just didn’t believe it. All those people out, just for us."

"They really seemed enthusiastic for being out at that hour of the morning," Josh said.

"Yeah," Mike said. "It gives you something to think about. We don’t want to let the dogs cool off too long, so maybe we’d better get back going again, if you’re ready."

Several hours later, Kirsten met them in her car, down at the 919 road crossing at Turtle Hill. "How’s Mark doing?" Mike asked.

"He and Jackie are at our house, with the kids," Kirsten said. "He had the chills so bad that he couldn’t warm up under a whole pile of blankets, so I told Jackie to bring him up and put him in the hot tub. That got the chills under control, but he’s still running a temperature and feeling lousy."

"All right," Mike said. "It won’t be long now. When you get back, drive over to the festival and tell Ryan we’re two, maybe two-and-a-half hours out. We will be, by the time you get there."

"Jackie told me you had a heck of a crowd when you got to Warsaw," Kirsten said. "I think you’ll have a bigger one when you get to Spearfish Lake."

This stop to rest, water, and snack the dogs was short; in fifteen minutes, they were on their way again.

The trail now was easier; this was on the section that Mark had maintained, and it was wider and with more headroom. There was no more ducking tree limbs or trying to work the sled around low sweeping branches. They were still following snowmobile tracks, and Josh began to suspect that Linder and his friend had in fact gone clear to Spearfish Lake.

But that wasn’t all that Josh was suspecting. He slowly started to realize that Mike had been putting on a brave front for Kirsten, and that he wasn’t feeling good at all. Not fifteen minutes after leaving 919, Josh watched Mike call his dogs to a halt, then go out into the brush to throw up. "You all right?" he asked.

"I’ll make it," Mike said. "I must have a touch of Mark’s flu. I’m just going to take it easy, that’s all."

"You be careful," Josh said.

In the next half hour, Josh had to stop the team three times to watch Mike stumble off the trail and throw up again. Moreover, Josh thought that Mike didn’t look too stable on the runners. Each time, he asked Mike how he felt, and finally, Mike said, "I feel like shit, but we’re close to home, now."

"Would you rather I led?" Josh asked. "I know the trail here."

"No, I’d better lead," Mike said, getting back on the runners unstably, and getting the team going again. Josh walked back to his sled, and started to pull the snow hook out, when he saw Mike fall off the sled.

"BEATLE HOUNDS, WHOA!" Josh roared at the top of his lungs, and ran forward, trying to catch the team. Ringo looked back, and circled the team haw, getting to Mike just as Josh did.

Mike lay collapsed in the snow, shivering. "What happened?" he said. "Things went sort of black there."

"You fell off the sled," Josh said, with Ringo and the rest of the Beatle Hounds looking on. "I don’t think you’d better go on."

"I guess you’re right, Josh," Mike said weakly. "Get me in one of the sleds, and double the teams. It’s only a mile or two home."

It was not easy to work Mike into his sled, the nearest, with Ringo looking on with a look of concern, the other dogs standing at his shoulder. The other dogs had tangled their lines a little, and after Josh opened a sleeping bag and threw it over Mike the best he could, he started to rerig the dogs.

It took a little time to untangle the lines, and rerig as a ten-dog team with Cumulus and Ringo in a double lead, and Mike didn’t say anything as Josh went through the process. Josh checked Mike a couple of times; he seemed to be breathing all right, but he was shivering hard and seemed unconscious. With the dogs finally strung out in front of them, Josh tied Mark’s sled to the back of Mike’s with a spare length of tieline, then pulled in the snow hook and stepped on the runners of Mike’s sled.

One last time, Josh leaned over to check on Mike. "Take it easy," Mike whispered.

Only then did Josh realize that Mike wasn’t totally out of it, but Mike didn’t say anything more. There was nothing left to do but get Mike back home, and then maybe to a doctor. "Beatle Hounds, UP!" Josh yelled. "Gravediggers, UP! HIKE!"

*   *   *

Kirsten and Jackie and Tiffany were checking on Mark in the tub room when they heard a pounding at the door. "What the heck?" Kirsten said, getting up and going to the door. "If that’s the guys, they’d have just come on in."

It proved to be Josh. Kirsten looked over his shoulder to see the ten dogs rigged together, the two sleds rigged in tandem, and Mike bundled up in the basket of the front sled. "He’s got the flu too," Josh said. "He fainted out on the trail."

Kirsten didn’t bother with a coat, and neither did Jackie or Tiffany. They rushed outside, along with Josh, to where Mike lay quietly in the sled. "Honey, are you all right?" Kirsten asked.

"Hell no," he mumbled. "I’m sicker than Mark was."

"Come on," she said. "Let’s get you inside."

The four of them helped Mike get up. He could stand, but was unsteady on his feet. Jackie took him by one arm, and Josh took him by the other, and they helped him inside the house and started to undress him. "Don’t take them off," he pleaded, "I’m freezing."

"Shivering from a heck of a fever," Jackie said, feeling Mike’s forehead. "Maybe a little hypothermia, too."

"We know how to fix that," Kirsten said.

"I’d better get back outside," Josh said. "I’ve got ten dogs hanging onto one snow hook out there. Tiffany, come out to help me get the Beatle Hounds picketed, then I’ll run the Gravediggers back up to Mark’s."

Mike was feeling a little better, just knowing he was home and inside, although shivering as the women stripped him naked. "Drop off the one sled, and go ahead and finish with ten dogs," he said. "There’s going to be a crowd there, they need something to see."

"Daddy," Tiffany tried to interrupt.

"I can do that," Josh said. "After that crowd last night, they’ll want to see something."

"Daddy," Tiffany insisted. "If Josh can finish for Mark, let me finish for you."

"I don’t know, Honey," Kirsten said.

"But Mommy," Tiffany said, "It’s not as far as I drove the dogs to school, and Josh will be with me."

"Yeah, but Honey," Mike said. "That crowd at the finish line will make the dogs awful wild."

"They won’t be wild for me," Tiffany insisted. "They’re good dogs."

"What do you think, Mark?" Mike asked.

"So long as somebody’s there to catch them, it probably would be all right. The crowd’ll get a race that way."

"All right, Tiffany," Mike said, over Kirsten’s glare. "Go ahead and finish. Josh, do you know the route down to the lake?"

"Yeah, down the road, right a couple hundred yards, then down the beach road."

"Right," Mike said, naked now. The women helped him climb over the rim of the hot tub. "God, that feels good," he said.

Mark was feeling a little better now. He’d gotten over his earlier chill and had gone through a fever phase that made him want to go outside in the snow, and was just now getting through another chill phase. "You two run together until you get down on the lake. Then, if you want to, give ’em a race. Josh, you look out for Tiffany. Kirsten, somebody’s got to stay here, so you take the video camera and go to the finish line and help catch the dogs."

"I can’t catch the dogs very well if I’ve got the video camera," she said. "And there’ll be two teams."

"Fred Linder ought to be there," Mike said. "I think he ran his snowmobile all the way down there to catch the finish. Find him and have him help. Maybe you can find someone else, too."

"I could go," Jackie offered. "I know the dogs better."

"Yeah," Mike said. "But I want to see how this comes out. If I can’t be there, at least there’ll be the video."

"If it’s going to be a race," Jackie commented, "Then Tiffany has the advantage. She’s a lot lighter than Josh."

"That’s right," Mike said weakly. "There’s a couple of fifty-pound bags of dog food in the barn. Throw them into Tiffany’s sled for ballast. That ought to even things up about as close as we can."

"Tiffany, go get dressed warm," Josh said. "I’ll go out and start breaking the teams down again."

*   *   *

Half an hour later, Ryan Clark’s voice boomed through the loudspeaker to the crowd out on the lake. Not all of them were there for the dog race, of course, as the food tent and the beer tent and the ice fishing and the snowmobile racing were also attractions. "We’ve just been given an update on the great dog race," Clark said. "You all know that Mark Gravengood took sick up in Warsaw last night, and one of our football stars, Josh Archer, agreed to finish the race for him. I’ve just been told that Mike McMahon also took sick with the flu on the way back this morning, and his ten-year-old daughter, Tiffany, the one who drives the dog team to school, is going to finish for him. Folks, it’s not the race that we expected, it’s now a whole new race! They ought to be here in about the next ten minutes."

People began drifting out of the food tent and out to the twin rows of snow fencing that stretched out on the ice covering the lake. Far in the distance, they could see two black dots on the ice, running side by side.

Since Tiffany had been over the trail twice before, and Josh never, she led the way out onto the lake and held the Beatle Hounds down a little so Josh could draw alongside. "Do you want to just finish, or do you want to race?" Josh yelled across the gap.

"Let’s race!" she cried, thrilled with the moment.

"All right," Josh yelled. "I’ll count down, and then we’ll both speed them up."

"Ready," she yelled back."

"All right," Josh yelled. "Five! Four! Three! Two! One! HIKE! HIKE! HIKE! HIKE!"

HIKE! HIKE! HIKE! HIKE!" Tiffany yelled to her team. "Beatle Hounds, GO! HIKE!"

The two dog teams broke out of their trail trot and began to really run. It wasn’t as hard as they had run leaving Spearfish Lake the evening before; they’d put a hundred miles under their paws in twenty hours, broken by a few stops and the five-hour layover in Warsaw. But, they were going pretty good, as fast as Tiffany had ever gone with them, as fast as Josh had ever gone with them, for that matter. Ten tails wagged in the air, sensing the finish line, and forty legs pounded forty paws at the snow-covered ice.

In the first couple of hundred yards, Josh’s team gained about a dog length on Tiffany’s, but then the Beatle Hounds got the idea that it was all right to race with Tiffany behind them, and slowly they began to close the gap. The snow fence that marked the avenue to the finish line drew closer by the instant.

Side by side, the two teams raced down the narrow lane between the snow fencing, neck and neck, the crowd yelling "GO! GO!" at the top of their lungs. Kirsten couldn’t help herself. "COME ON, TIFFANY!" she yelled, keeping the video camera on the dogs.

"It’s going to be close," Clark said over the loudspeaker. "It looks like there’s only about a dog head difference, and the first dog nose to cross the finish line wins!"

"HIKE! HIKE! HIKE! HIKE!" Tiffany yelled at the top of her lungs. "Come on dogs, GO! HIKE!"

Right along side of her, only feet away, Josh was yelling at the top of his lungs, too. "HIKE! HIKE! HIKE! HIKE!" he yelled. "Come on, Gravediggers!"

They raced down the narrowing chute, crowds on either side, shouting at their dogs at the top of their lungs, side by side, neck by neck, nose by nose, as the white banner marking the finish line flashed overhead.

<< Back to Last Chapter
Forward to Next Chapter >>

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.