by D Jordan Redhawk
Contact me via my website <http://www.djordanredhawk.net/author/contact.php> with critiques, suggestions, or praise
Lainey paced up and down the side of the dog truck. She had checked her sled for the sixth time, satisfied that everything was in place, yet clearly feeling she had forgotten something. Her nerves jangled with the yipping of excited dogs, to include the eight on her team that she had tapped to run the ceremonial start. They were tethered to the sides of the truck, parked on a side street with hundreds of people roaming about.
The atmosphere was one of a circus, with vendors wandering through the crowds, hocking everything from reindeer sausages to t-shirts to fuzzy moose antler head pieces. The people were just as colorful as the well sponsored mushers along the route. Lainey had seen working class joes in conservative winter jackets, people wearing the latest styles of the Alpine ski circuit crowd, and even a few official mountain men and natives with complete leather and fur outfits.
She had to admit it was easy to forget her growing trepidation as her starting time inched closer. Her distractions were not limited to people watching; she had suddenly become an icon and was approached by a number of folks wanting pictures, autographs and to talk dogs. Lainey welcomed the conversations eagerly, glad to get her mind off her nervousness.
Of her original twenty dogs, three more did not make the cut. Helen had doubted Apollo's shoulder strain would be healed well enough for the race, and at the mandatory vet check it became official. Lainey's slacker, Dablo, was also set aside. She could not spare the energy to deal with his negligent pulling. The toughest loss was Bast. He had done well through training, but seemed to have developed a cough. As kennel cough was a major concern, highly contagious and able to decimate entire teams, Bast was removed at the vet check and sent home with Miguel to a warm dog barn and antibiotics. Lainey was glad to see none of the other dogs exhibiting symptoms two days later, and hoped to have caught the illness in time.
Several volunteer handlers idled around the immediate area, those in front already helping the second musher in line keep his dogs from launching onto Fourth Avenue which crossed a half block away.. The animals were jumping, all four feet off the ground, in their enthusiastic desire to get on the trail. Lainey's team was not as boisterous, but she expected that to change once she began hooking them to the gang line.
In response to that thought, she went down the line again, making certain it was laid out neatly and all connections were tight. Only eight of her dogs would be running this morning. The rest would be joining her tomorrow at the real start of the race.
"You did that already," Strauss said, watching her fuss with amusement.
"Shut up," she said , ignoring his laughter. Her insides twisted with disquietude. It almost felt as bad as her short walk up to the stage at the banquet the other night.
Lainey looked up to see a youth on the verge of adolescence holding a camera. Two other kids were with him, all starry eyed as they smiled at her.
"Can we get a picture? Of you and your lead dogs?"
She forced her edginess aside and smiled. "Sure. Come on." Leading the way to Sholo and Trace, she knelt between them, pulling them into a hug. "How's this?"
"Great!" The boy snapped a couple of pictures. "You're Lainey Hughes, the photographer, right?"
"That's me." She stood and brushed the snow from her knees.
He looked at his companions. "I told you!" Unzipping his jacket, he pulled a folded magazine from inside. "Can I get you to autograph one of your pictures?"
"You bet," Lainey said, not as pleased as her tone indicated. Her previous career as a war photographer still brought the occasional nightmares. She really did not wish to be reminded of those years by a grisly photo, not today.
The boy eagerly whipped open the magazine. One of his friends fumbled a pen from a pocket and he handed both to Lainey.
Bracing herself, she looked down at a panoramic shot of the Serengeti covering the full two pages. In the foreground on the right page was a pack of spotted hyena worrying their latest meal, the carcass of an antelope. A pleased smile crossed her face and she asked, "Do you want me to make this out to you?"
"Yes!" He gave his name and she signed the magazine and returned it to him. "Thanks!
Feeling much better, she watched them leave, hovering over the autograph in excitement.
"Guess your reputation precedes you more than you thought," Strauss said.
"I guess so." She grinned at him. "It's kind of nice to be remembered for something other than death and destruction."
"Amen to that."
"Lainey! Let's get ready!" Thom trotted up with Rye and Irish. "You're up in fifteen minutes."
She hastily glanced up the line, seeing the second musher finish hooking up his dogs. Her heart promptly leapt into her throat and she felt nauseous and jubilant at the same time.
Lainey got her elated dogs in place with some difficulty. Several Iditarod volunteers came forward to keep them from running off without her, and she eventually had everyone ready to go with four minutes to spare. Strauss climbed into the bed of her sled. As her Idita-rider, he would be with her throughout the ceremonial start of the Iditarod until she reached Eagle River. She almost did not recognize her sled as it sported a bright yellow bag with a prominently placed Cognizance logo. She wore a similar colored parka with a badger fur ruff, gifts to her from her official sponsor.
Behind her, another sled had been added and Rye climbed aboard the runners. Thom was going to ride behind Scotch to add more weight since her Idita-rider was a petite elementary school teacher. With all the noise and people, the dogs were more than eager to get going and the extra pounds would keep them from overdoing things or going too fast. Jonas, her wheel dog, was nearly delirious as he bounced like a seventy-five pound puppy. The rest of her team was doing the same.
The dog team in front of her was already being guided to Fourth Avenue and the starting line. A volunteer with a clipboard neared, waving her forward, and she swallowed hard. "Ready! Let's go!" she yelled over the din. With a jerk, her team tried to take off at a full run. The ten or so volunteers pulled and held them back, forcing them to trot toward the beginning of the race.
At the starting line, two other teams awaited the go ahead. the sound of the dogs was drowned out by the cheers of the audience who stood five deep on either side of the street. She waved as the team was stopped, and vaguely noted she was shaking. The volunteers continued holding her team, as the dogs were in no mood to stand around.
Officially, she was the fourth one to head out, but in reality she was third. Number One was an honorary position, the racing bib given to someone who had made an impact on dog racing. As she tried to keep her breakfast down, she watched as the honored musher this year was presented with the gear.
The second musher was introduced and she heard a woman counting down the seconds over large speakers. It was amazing she could hear at all with the cacophony all around her. Then the team took off, the crowd cheering as they went. The volunteers urged her team closer. Glancing behind, she saw another team get into place. Somewhere back there was Scotch, and Lainey had a bone deep yearning to see her.
"Number Four, Lainey Hughes!"
The crowd applauded again and Lainey spun around. Number three was already away. She took a few breaths, trying not to hyperventilate as her team was maneuvered into the starting position.
"You ready for this?" a volunteer asked.
Lainey nodded and surprised herself with a smile. What was it Scotch had said? "Loaded for bear!"
He patted her on the shoulder and stepped back as the final seconds were called out.
"Ready!" Lainey hollered to her team. She heard the signal. "Let's go!"
The ten burly handlers released the dogs and her team shot off down the trail, snapping her head back. As they raced down Fourth Avenue, her only regret was not being able to say good bye to Scotch who had as busy a morning as she.
Strauss whooped in excitement as they barreled down the street, the wind scouring their cheeks. Lainey estimated they were going about twenty miles an hour despite the added sled and men weighing the team down. She was glad for the company - there would be no way she could have maintained control on her own. They whisked past the crowds, and she barely noted the colorful clothing blurring by or the sounds of their cheering.
Up ahead a truck drove across the street. Several workers wearing Iditarod patches dashed into the intersection, shoveling snow into the tire tracks before she arrived. Police officers stopped traffic to give her right of way and Lainey laughed at the absurdity of the situation. Where else but in Alaska would cops stop traffic for a dog sled ? The team ripped by, Rye calling a thanks to the workers.
The trail took a turn, the people lining the street a better marker than any trail ribbon. She called the command and her team went into the turn. A bubble of pride swelled in her heart at their professionalism, and she began to enjoy the ride, her nervousness taking a back seat.
Eventually the crowds thinned. Lainey saw a trail marker, knowing from the stories she had heard that this was a tough turn. "Gee!" Like a well oiled machine, the team began turn. Before she realized it, Sholo and Trace found a trail off the road and took it instead of completing the turn. Off the trail they went, down the side and onto the new path.
"Crap!" she cursed. "Whoa! Sholo, Trace, whoa!"
Still eager, the dogs were reluctant to stop. The trail dipped into a patch of alder trees as both she and Rye applied the brakes to halt the team. Using a nearby tree to attach a snub line, she set her snow hook and jumped off the sled.
Despite knowing a delay now meant absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of the race, Lainey could not help but feel the tingle of irritation along the back of her neck. She could almost sense the teams passing by her position as she stopped to deal with this snag. The dogs were oblivious, wagging their tails and grinning at her as she went to the front of the line, and it took some effort to not take her annoyance out on them.
She gave each a pat and a good word, feeling the pressure mounting on her shoulders as she imagined being out her so long that Scotch, in forty-eighth place, would soon go by. When she reached her lead dogs, she gave them heaps of praise and grabbed their collars. She physically pulled the dogs around, Rye and Strauss standing nearby. Now that the race was on, they were forbidden to help lest they disqualify her. Rye kept a close watch, though, ready to jump on his sled brake if necessary.
When they were turned around and her passengers in their proper places, she pulled the snub line and gave the command to go. As they pulled back onto the street, she watched a musher go by and grumbled to herself. "Haw!" The dogs smoothly followed instruction. A few fans peppering the area had seen her snafu and applauded as she got back on the right path. She blushed furiously, but forced herself to wave anyway.
Lainey breathed a sigh of relief now that they were back on the trail. Her team poured on the speed, still frisky, and she caught up to the musher wearing bib number eleven. Damn. Seven teams had passed while she was taking a powder.
This part of the race was ceremonial. The real race began the next day in Wasilla. No matter how fast she arrived at Eagle River, she would still be third out of the chute tomorrow. Still, her dogs wanted to burn off energy, and doing so now would be beneficial. They would settle down for the official restart and be easier to handle.
"Passing!" she called, warning the man she was coming up on his side. As her team began to overtake his, three of her dogs began barking at the competition. She grinned, having heard from other mushers that this was called trash talking. Her dogs yelled happily as they passed, probably making comments about the parentage and skills of their rivals. Montana and Chibee were the worst, watching the opposing team as they easily passed, smiling and shining as they went. The surprising one was Himitsu, a three year old male with yellow brown fur. He was always so polite and quiet, that his sudden voice was unexpected.
Lainey waved to number eleven as they passed, her trash talkers jostling each other and sneaking looks backwards. They acted exactly like teenaged boys having just pulled off a prank against the high school principal. She laughed with them, fully relaxing for the first time in days. Her team eased into a steady pace, ears pricking back to hear her chuckles.
All along the path people gathered, standing in front of their homes to cheer the mushers on. She followed a power line, seeing the next musher ahead. With little provocation, her dogs picked up speed. As they neared, she saw a group clustered on the side of the trail handing something to the musher.
"What are they doing?" Strauss yelled, looking up at her from the sled bed.
"No idea," she said.
The crowd held a few signs - 'Go Iditarod Mushers!' - and began calling encouragement as she closed with them. One woman reached out with something in her hand. Lainey automatically stretched out, and took what was given. She grinned at the large homemade muffin she now held and turned to wave her thanks before putting it into her snack bag.
Her three recalcitrants began bellowing insults again, and Lainey returned to warn musher number ten that she was passing. If her team could maintain this enthusiasm for the next two weeks, she would be well set for the race. Granted, the chances of that were slight, even with the high level of care the dogs would receive, but it would make for a great article if the rookie came in second or third.
The path passed a park and followed bicycle trails for a bit. They skirted the Campbell Airstrip, and Lainey saw a group of race officials ahead.
"This is where you get off," she said to Strauss.
"All right," he responded. "I'll see you at Eagle River. I may fly with Don along the race, but if I don't I'll definitely be in Nome when you get there."
When, not if. Lainey laughed. "I'd love the company." She called the dogs to a halt. They obeyed the command, their initial gusto mellowed with the miles they had run.
Strauss climbed out of the sled and took her hands. "Thanks for the ride. It was exhilarating."
"Anytime," she said. Then she left off the brake and ordered the dogs onward, only Rye on his sled trailing behind her.
The rest of the trip was calm and easy. Her team did not overtake any others, but she no longer minded the delay of their early detour. Eventually she came to a long hill, the trail thronged with cheering people. The VFW was ahead, and it looked like another circus in the making. It was only past noon, and she looked forward to an afternoon of celebrating with the Fullers. The true start of the Iditarod was the following day, and from then on, she would be alone with her dogs on the last great race.
If Lainey thought she would be leaving civilization after the restart of the race, she was immediately disabused of the notion. The crowds were still in evidence in Wasilla and Scotch had told her that they would be on the trail all the way to Knik and beyond. According to Howry, who was keeping his ear to the ground as a good newsman should, there were anywhere from fifteen to seventeen thousand Iditarod fans crowding the narrow chute out of town alone. This time Lainey was through the worst of her attack of nerves. She ignored what she could, concentrating on her dogs and focusing on the fans who showed up looking for photos and autographs. When things got too claustrophobic, she distracted herself further with the memory of Scotch's good bye kiss this morning. The veteran musher had pulled all the stops out, a harbinger of the passion to come when they both arrived in Nome, and Lainey licked her lips at the recollection. As it had been the day before, several handlers were needed to keep her dogs in line. They yelped and shouted in excitement, all sixteen of them ready to run. It seemed that the twenty mile run the day before had done little to dampen their enthusiasm.
A checker came to her sled and she opened the bright yellow bag to show her mandatory gear. Not only were the usual items in place, but there was a packet of mail and promotional material she was required to deliver to Nome. If she lost any of it, she would be disqualified from the race. Other than the necessary items, she had little else. She and Scotch had sent their primary racing sleds to Knik with the dog trucks. There they would transfer their belongings before heading out into the wilderness. Those were more rugged and packed to the ribs with everything they would need.
"Everything's there," the checker said. She made a mark on her clipboard. "Have a good race."
"Thanks!" Lainey said, and the checker went down the line to the next musher.
She turned to see Howry approaching, a wide grin on his face.
"Ready to go?" he asked, giving her a hug.
"You know it," she said, waving at the antics of her team.
He held out an envelope. "Scotch wanted me to give this to you. She said not to read it until you reach the end of your rope."
The urge to rip it open right there was powerful, but Lainey restrained herself. She saw Scotch's neat handwriting on the front and smiled softly. "Thanks," she said as she tucked it securely in her personal bag.
Howry shuffled his feet and she gave him a quizzical look.
"Ben's been hinting around, asking me questions about you two. What do you want me to tell him?"
Lainey sighed, knowing the topic would be inevitable after the musher banquet. "Go ahead and tell him the truth. It's not like he hasn't figured it out by now. He just wants verification."
"You sure?" he asked, brow furrowed. He knew Strauss only on a professional level, and appeared worried he might make things more difficult for Lainey.
"I'm sure. He's my AA sponsor and my friend. He might not like that I led him on in the beginning, but he'll get used to the idea."
Howry blew out a breath. "If you say so."
She grinned and gave him another hug. "I say so."
A loudspeaker announced the upcoming official start of the race, and Lainey pulled away from the embrace.
"I think that's me."
He laughed. "I'd say so. We're going to take your sled to Knik and then fly to Finger Lake, so we'll see you there."
"Ben, too?" Lainey saw a volunteer trotting toward her.
"Yeah, Ben, too."
"I'll see you then," she said, as she stepped onto the runners of her sled. Her last sight of him was his wave as the handlers guided the dogs to their position.
The start was very similar to the day before. A large, prismatic crowd gathered along the barriers on either side of the trail, many calling her name and holding signs of encouragement. Her dogs, sixteen strong now, were just as lively. Her wild man, Jonas, hardly touched the ground as he reared up off all four paws. Even Bonaparte, regal snout in the air, wagged his tail and trotted with a swagger at all the attention.
Lainey watched the two teams in front of her take off, each time feeling an impatience to get out on the trail as she was forced to wait. Her team echoed her sentiment, voicing their disapproval with yips and howls. Then she heard her name and number and was ushered into position. When the announcer called "Go!" she did not even command the dogs. Trace and Sholo shot down the chute, glad to be free as they raced away.
Once past the designated chute, Lainey pulled onto a snow covered highway. The way was smooth and easy, her dogs speeding along. She knew they would not keep this pace, but at least it would hold her competition at bay for the moment. Lainey fully expected Scotch to catch and pass her before the day was through.
Along the way, fans idled along the path. Several had fires or grills going and Lainey smelled burgers and steaks cooking as she went past. She had never thought to see hard core enthusiasts sitting on the side of a road with plastic lawn chairs, not with ten foot snow drifts only a little further beyond them. The whole scene was surreal as she waved to those calling to her. It reminded her of parades she had seen in the bigger cities, where the locals camped out on the sidewalks the night before to ensure a decent view of passing floats.
Up ahead, the road lifted, and she saw a yellow railroad crossing sign. A few volunteers loitered about the tracks with shovels, ready to pack snow between the rails should a train cut through the race. She grinned at the weirdness and kept on going.
The crowd never thinned as the miles went by. Lainey's team slowed to a more normal pace, and she relaxed into the now familiar sensation of mushing. She watched the dogs run, checking them for odd gaits indicating potential injury. Doing so was second nature for her, but this trail was an easy one and none of the dogs appeared to be nursing a shoulder or paw.
As it came closer to noon, it warmed up. With some care, she pulled her parka off, leaning over the handles to tuck it into the sled bag. Now she wore bib overalls and several layers of shirts and sweaters.
Lainey craned her neck to see a team coming up behind her. As much as it galled her, she didn't attempt to speed up. While her heart, and that of her dogs, was set on the term 'race' the reality was the Iditarod was an endurance test. If she pushed her team to their limits now, they would scratch halfway through the course.
"Whoa," she said, as the musher began to overtake her. "Trace, Sholo, gee. Whoa."
The dogs pulled to the side of the road, and she set her snow hook. Now was as good a time as any to snack them. Her three trash talkers cussed out the passing team, but they were trained well enough to remain where they were rather than take chase.
Lainey grabbed a bag of frozen fish from her bag and went up the line, encouraging and praising each dog as she fed them. They reciprocated with licks and wags, letting her know they were ready for anything.
"Looking good!" a man said from the sidelines where he sat in an old rocking chair, nursing a cup of coffee. His family sat around him in beach chairs, echoing his sentiment, though none came forward to interfere.
"Thanks." Lainey smiled. Another team passed her as she double checked the gang line on her way back to the sled, and Chibee barked at them, shaking himself indignantly as they went on. She gave him a good scratching and finished her quick inspection.
The man raised his travel cup in salute. "To Nome or bust!"
Lainey laughed, stepping onto the runners and retrieving her snow hook. "To Nome," she repeated. To the dogs she called, "Ready? Let's go!"
It was not much longer before she reached Knik. The checkpoint was near the lake, and surrounded by a couple thousand fans. Barbecues and icy picnics seemed the order of the day, and voices rose in welcome as Lainey's team neared. The exuberant nature of the crowd reminded her of tailgate parties at the Superbowl.
She directed the team to the official checkpoint where she stopped. Her time in was noted, and she opened her sled bag to show her mandatory items. "How long you staying?" the checker asked.
Lainey saw Howry and Strauss waving at her near the checkers' station. "Just long enough to swap sleds," she said.
"Remember to check out when you go."
"I will." Lainey trotted to the front of the line and led her leaders toward her friends, not trusting them to voice commands when they were still so excited to be on the road.
Howry waved her ahead and she saw her sled waiting to one side. Strauss had a camera about his neck, and waggled it at her. "Since Don's covering Scotch, I figured I'd help you with your article."
She grinned, stopping the dogs in front of her replacement sled. "Good! I expect I'll get some photos once things settle down, but right now it's just too hectic." Lainey sped up the line. At the sled, she disconnected the gang line and shock cord, transferring her team to the new sled. With swift motions, she moved her gear over and double checked that everything she needed for the next fifty plus miles was in place. She removed her racing bib, packing it with the promotional package she carried; she would not need to wear it again until she left Safety for Nome.
The trail would leave civilization from here on out. In preparation, she stuffed dog booties in her pockets and went back up the line. She thoroughly examined each dog, checking paws for damage and replacing lost booties on each, and gave them a bite of moose liver.
"Time to go," she said.
"Good luck," Howry said, and Ben nodded agreement.
Lainey waved and hopped onto the sled runners. Pulling the snow hook, she paused only long enough to officially check out of Knik, having only been there for twelve minutes.
The trail climbed into a forested area, and trees soon hid the festive atmosphere at the lake. Her tension eased at the solitude, only now aware of how edgy the crowds had made her. She laughed aloud, the dogs' ears flicking back to listen to her. Of course she had been worried. Nothing like the rookie eating snow on the national news, huh? She had already left the trail so readily the day before. Lainey hoped her team would vindicate themselves from that little wrong turn by keeping the trail for the next thousand miles.
Winding through trees, dropping onto frozen marshland and ponds, it was smooth sailing for her. Several other teams passed, but she consoled herself with the possibility that they would burn themselves out and she would see them again as they ate her powder. Her dogs bad mouthed the passing teams, receiving like sentiments from their competition.
Lainey dropped down onto the Susitna River. Here she saw the occasional marks of dog teams that had pulled aside. Taking their cue, she did the same. As soon as they stopped, her dogs enjoyed a brisk roll in the snow, snapping up mouthfuls to cool themselves down.
"Snack time, guys," she said, shaking the bag of fish. "We'll have supper in a couple of hours." She made a cursory inspection as she went, small talking the dogs who were eager to show their appreciation for the break and her kind words. Many had lost their booties on the trail, and she replaced those that needed them.
The sun was beginning to set, and Lainey took the opportunity to get out her head lamp. She checked the batteries and bulb before fitting it over her musher cap, then made certain extra batteries were handy. It was starting to cool down, as well, so she put her parka back on. When all was ready, she called, "Okay, kids. Let's go."
As they continued on, she took the opportunity to have a snack break of her own. She pulled a small thermos of Gatorade from her personal bag, eagerly downing the lukewarm contents. Trail mix and Scotch's special recipe for pemmican filled her stomach. The food disappeared quickly and she was amazed at how hungry she had been, despite the knowledge that she had been on the sled through lunch.
They wove along the trail, first on the river, then climbing into forest, dropping along a swamp, and back to the river. Three more mushers passed before the trail got too narrow to allow for it. When they broke through the trees, she saw the upcoming checkpoint and grinned. Her dogs increased their pace as they neared, and she slid into Yentna, laughing.
"Four fifty-eight PM," the checker said as he handed her the clipboard.
Lainey signed in, noting she had fallen to eleventh place. "Any news on Scotch Fuller?" she asked.
"Not on me. You'll have to check up at the tent. How long you staying?"
"About six hours." She leaned over her handlebars to open the sled bag for the gear check.
"Everything's good." He initialed next to her signature. "Head on over there. The vet's need to do their check."
Lainey urged her dogs toward the tent. A woman waved her toward a pair of veterinarians waiting for her.
"How're they doing?" one asked, looking over the team as they came to a halt.
"Very good. I haven't noticed any limps or problems. They've mostly been wearing booties through the new snow." She handed him her vet book, a small notebook with all the paperwork on each of her dogs.
"Great." The two proceeded to give each of her dogs an exam, prodding wrists and shoulders, removing booties to check paws.
"Everything checks out," the other said. He wrote something in her notebook and handed it back. "If you're staying, park over there. We've got straw, but you'll have to get water from a hole in the river."
Lainey spent the next half hour doing a full inspection of her dogs herself, bedding them down in straw, and covering a couple of with blankets. As soon as they were resting, she retrieved a rolled up child's sled from her bag and went to the river to get water.
The hole was jagged with chucks of ice floating in the water. Lainey carefully used the bucket dangling from a tripod over the hole to fill her pots. There was no concern for falling through as the sides indicated a good two feet of ice beneath the foot of snow on the river. She did not want to splash herself, however, and took extra care to keep dry.
Lainey lugged her water back to her dogs, her sled receiving an envious look from a fellow rookie from Minnesota who carried his pots by hand. She gave a silent thanks to Scotch and her detailed notebook, a carbon copy of it nestled in Lainey's bib overall pocket. Lainey had the benefit of experienced coaching to rely upon.
Back at the sled, she set up her two cookers and began boiling water. Some mushers only carried one, not wanting the extra weight. But Scotch was of the opinion that weight ultimately counted for nothing if you were not able to take care of your dogs. By using two cookers, Lainey cut her cooking time in half, would be able to eat with her dogs, and get through her checkpoint chores faster, thereby allowing her more time to rest. The dogs were the athletes, the ones who were well cared for through the race. The mushers, on the other hand, rarely slept more than a couple of hours in a day as they worked to keep their teams happy and healthy.
She dumped a measure of meat and fat into one pot, and tossed a boil bag of meatloaf and fried potatoes in the other. While she waited for the food, she dug out her notebook and skimmed through the information.
According to Scotch's notes, Lainey was a bit slower than Scotch's previous runs to Yentna. That was to be expected, really, since Lainey's team was officially second string. A lot of her dogs had been on the Iditarod trail with her, but as Scotch was attempting to maintain a professional racing team, she had gotten the better dogs in the kennel.
Lainey noted the travel times between Yentna and Finger Lake, her next scheduled downtime, committing it to memory before turning pages. A shiver crawled up her spine as she saw the words 'Heavy moose population' in capital letters. She did not want a repeat of what had happened in November. Her eyes flicked past the warning and she read up on what to expect on the trail.
When dinner was finished, she added dry chow to the mixture and went up the line, dropping plastic food dishes and filling them. Her team roused from their nap to eagerly lap up the offering. Lainey returned to the cookers, plucked her dinner from the second pot, and added the boiling water to the leftovers in the dog pot. Again she went up the line, giving the dogs a meaty watering, talking to them, and treating them to rough affection as she went.
With a sigh, she found clean snow nearby, not wanting to trek all the way back to the hole in the river. She piled it onto her small sled and started another pot of water for the dogs. Only then did she sit in the bed of her sled and eat her meatloaf, washing it down with the last of her Gatorade. Lainey checked her watch, seeing it had been an hour since her arrival. Scotch would no doubt be there soon. As much as she wanted to enjoy a nap like her team, she still had a couple of things to do. She forced herself to her feet, pleasantly full and warm from her meal, and retrieved the now empty dog bowls. Another bag of meat and quarter pound of fat went into dog cooker, and she started another pot of water on hers. When both were ready, she took the finished products and poured them into two coolers on the sled. To one she added the dry chow and vitamin supplements, a meal ready for a pit stop on the road. In the other, she deposited five of her juice packets, now frozen from the cold. When she got out on the trail, they'd be thawed enough for her to hydrate herself.
Chores finally finished, she debated where to sleep. Her dogs were curled up together, still on their tug lines, though she had released the neck lines from their harnesses to make them comfortable. Taking a cue from them, she settled into her sled bag once more. Scotch would arrive soon. Lainey would just wait here for her to arrive.
She never knew exactly when she fell asleep.
Return to the Academy