Busted Axle Road
Chapter 12

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

Mark Gravengood got home early Tuesday evening. The lights were still on out in the shop, so it was pretty clear that Jackie was out there, working on a sign.

It proved to be the case. The computerized vinyl cutter was singing as he walked in the door. "What's the situation on supper?" he asked.

"At least an hour," his tall, brunette wife said. "Unless you want to make it yourself. Clark Plywood has been dinking around on this sign for their show booth for two months, and now they want it yesterday."

"Doesn't surprise me," Mark said. "Anything for me?"

"You want to call Frank Matson. He's getting some kind of goofy intercept when he boots up his 8086. Something to do with the CONFIG.SYS file."

"Probably nothing major," Mark said thoughtfully. "Home computer, or at the bank?"

"Home computer, he wants you to call him this evening," Jackie said.

"Well, nuts," Mark said. "If I go over to Point Drive and screw around for an hour, it'll be too dark to take a run. I'll call him after supper."

"I ought to go with you," Jackie commented, "But I've got to get this sign done and over to the Clark office, so they can take it to Camden."

"Well, all right," Mark said. "I'll see you in an hour or so." He went into the house, took off the phone company uniform, and pulled on his sweats. It was kind of muddy to be running up the trail, but it was muddy going up the road, too.

Mark was not a fanatic jogger, one that had to get his miles in, no matter what the weather. Neither was Jackie, for that matter; in fact, both disliked it, but saw it as a necessary evil, at best. Perhaps five years before, on a trail work trip, they had come to realize that they weren't in the shape that they once were.

It hadn't taken much to see what the problem was. Mark's work was pretty sedentary, mostly with a test kit or a soldering iron. With the exception of backpacking and trail work, his avocations were pretty sedentary, too. He loved amateur astronomy; he'd been a pilot for many years, but that was a sit down thing that only rarely brought the heart rate up, although when it did it was a corker. Since home computers had started to make their appearance in Spearfish Lake, he had been recognized as the local resident expert, even though he saw his sales and service business mostly as a hobby, too. Jackie's sign business, along with flying and astronomy and a little bit of computers, too, didn't exactly qualify as a high-exercise lifestyle. It was obvious that they needed to make a conscious effort to keep in shape, and jogging seemed to be the most time-efficient way of doing it, if not the most enjoyable.

Mark went out onto the porch of the old stone farmhouse he and Jackie had rebuilt, and did a little stretching before he lazily started down the airstrip in back of the barn, heading in the direction of the trail. There was one thing to be said for jogging slowly, mindlessly through the woods: it gave him a chance to think.

The conversation about dog sled racing at the Spearfish Lake Cafe the week before had kept coming back to him. The thought of running a dog team appealed to him. Why it should be that, he wasn't sure, but one thing had been clear: it was time for something new, and it certainly was a candidate.

He assessed the airstrip as he jogged down the length of it. It was firming up nicely, and given a couple of warm, windy days, it could be used again. They tried to avoid putting ruts in it during spring breakup, but that was pretty much over, now. He'd taken the skis off Rocinante over the weekend, and put the wheels back on; it wouldn't be much longer, now.

At the far end of the airstrip, he turned onto the trail. There weren't even a lot of challenges left there, he thought.

Back when he and Jackie had been on their "honeymoon" -- it had lasted eight months and ended, rather than started, with their getting married -- they had spent a week doing trail maintenance on the Appalachian Trail. The crew leader had been an interesting old guy from Michigan named Vince, and they'd had a good time. If Vince had seemed old to them back in 1971, then he'd seemed positively the ancient of days when he'd knocked on their door ten years later. It had been mutual surprise all around that they remembered each other, and it opened the door for what Vince had really wanted: there was a new trail being constructed between New York and North Dakota, called the North Country Trail, and Mark and Jackie's farm occupied a critical half-mile separating two sections of state forest land. Not only had Vince walked away with permission for the trail to cross Mark and Jackie's property, he'd gotten their agreement to maintain and build a seven-mile segment of it.

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