On the Road Again #11

Rookie by Jason Barron

Part 4

I topped a low-rise, then dropped into a shallow draw sheltered from the wind by surrounding hillocks and a thick growth of moose brush and alder. Joe was pulled over to the side and had his cooler and dishes out. The snow to either side of the trail was clear of loose snow, crusty and polished smooth by the elements. I directed Beebee and Pilot in at a right angle from Joe’s sled and went up the draw for about thirty feet before dropping the hook. As I got my cooler and pans out of the bag I happened to glance at my watch and was amazed to find that almost eight hours had passed since leaving Ophir. I tried to process this as I went up to my leaders, sinking through the crust up to my knees, and simply could not. My mind was too dull with exhaustion to figure out how eight hours could have drained away without having hardly noticed the passage of time. I doled out the bloody soup and watched dismally as my guys curled up and ignored it completely, just tucked their noses under their tales and went straight to sleep.

I repacked my sled, tried to drink from my water bottle and found that it was frozen solid. I chucked it back in the bag in disgust, surely it had been too warm to actually freeze! Joe was sitting on his sled bag and smoking another of those hideous little cigars, so I bummed one and lit up. Soon my mind was floating in a fuzzy nicotine high and any problems I might have had were reduced to curious abstractions. We decided that we would give our dogs an hour to catch a nap, then get moving again. Joe told me that we had just completed the easy half of the run and that things were likely to get harder before we reached the checkpoint, but he figured that this push would take us out of the forties where we had been traveling and propel us right into the top twenty if not higher. Sounded super to me. A 17 hour run that everybody else was breaking in half with six hours of quality rest.

Head spinning, I trudged back to my sled, crawled up onto the bag and immediately passed out.

And that’s when I was attacked. I snapped awake, dizzy and confused, to the sound of my teams panicked barking, wild baying that made it clear that something on par with an enraged Grizzly bear had come ravening out of the waste to eat all of us alive. Something was crashing towards us through the crusty snow and grunting with a low and fully terrifying growl that was both hoarse and ‘lungy’.

And as I shot up and off of my sled bag, wildly clutching for the .44 Magnum buried in the nose with my sleeping bag, I realized that I had absolutely no idea of who or where I was. My mind was so shocked, so sodden with fatigue that the surface of my brain had become a perfectly smooth blank.

The poor dogs were frantic to get away from this approaching menace, yanking on their necklines and dragging the front of the sled around. I banged at the switch that would ignite my headlamp, and instead of coming on, the bulb flared and burnt out, plunging me into utter darkness. The crunching, growling creature was upon us.

Suddenly a headlamp beam shot out, illuminating me and my team.

It was Joe. He was bent over at the waist and lurching around in the crusty snow, hands on his knees and desperately trying to clear his throat. Reality came crashing back to me.

‘Those f@$^*&g cigars are killing me!’ he gasped when he had finally managed to clear the phlegm from his respiratory system. Sasquatch revealed…..

We got both teams up just a little over an hour after arriving, and continued on deeper into the heart of the night. It was many long hours before we got to where we going, and even then the adventure was just beginning.

Thanks for tuning in–more to follow….


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