Busted Axle Road
Chapter 94

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

In an instant, twenty dog legs were transfored into an instrument of pure rocket power, blasting off up the slight hill. "HAW! HAW! Mike ordered, and Ringo took the team in a broad turn around the house, and out into the driveway. Mike was so excited at the sensation of running on the snow that he forgot to give Ringo the command for the Gee turn onto the road, but for more than a month, every training session had started with a turn up the road to Mark's house, so Ringo made the turn anyway. The dogs were full of energy and excitement, and Mike had the good sense to let them run it out of them, with the expectation that soon they'd settle down into a reasonable trail trot.

No one had been over Busted Axle Road in the early morning snow; the white width of the road was unbroken by tire tracks. The dogs had quit barking and yelping, and had settled down to running, their paws kicking up little fluffs of snow, the quiet "Schussss" of the runners being the only sound that broke the pristine silence. Mike could have ridden on behind the team like that forever, but in less than a minute, it was time to give the "Haw! Haw!" that turned his five dogs into Mark's driveway. It was a tight turn, going hard, and only the pull of David and George, the wheel dogs, helped him make the corner. "Easy! Easy!" he shouted to the team, but they were so full of the moment that they didn't want to stop. Mike caught a glimpse of Jackie's face in the bedroom window as the team shot through the yard and out behind the shop, where Mark ought to be with his team. Fortunately, Mark was just ready to go when Mike and the Beatle Hounds shot by, for the sight of the running team in front of him was more than his dogs could stand; his command of "HIKE" came even as the dogs were running.

The two teams raced down the runway, with Mike's team twenty or thirty yards in front. At the end of the runway, the trail narrowed to a two-rut, with tall grass poking through the snow in the hump between the ruts, and soon, even that came to an end, as the two-rut narrowed to the spur to the North Country Trail. As the trail junction came up, Mike yelled "Gee!" to take the team onto the familiar training trail, new now in its coat of freshly fallen snow. Though the trail was wide enough to run Mark's forty-year-old farm tractor down, and Mike had helped out with trail maintenance over the summer, it was just a little on the narrow side, and now Mike and Mark had to work, to try to keep the sled out of the branches on either side of the trail as the teams raced around the corners, down the little grades and up the small hills.

After a couple of miles, the dogs were beginning to get over the initial burst of energy, and they slowed a little, settling down into a nice trail trot of perhaps eight or ten miles an hour, and though the two men still had to work at steering the sleds, it was a little less frantic. Still, it was another mile or so to an open field before Mike felt confident enough to glance back, to see how close Mark was behind.

Mark and his dogs weren't far behind; perhaps twenty yards or so, close enough to yell back and forth. Mike turned his head to yell over his shoulder, "Is this what it's all about, or what?"

"You got it, Buddy!" he heard Mark yell back.

"You want to lead?"

"Not yet," Mark yelled. "Let's go a while!"

Very quickly, the edge of the woods was upon them, and Mike and Mark had to give their attention back to the sleds, sliding gracefully through the snow, bumping over the rough spots and water bars, dragging in spots where pine trees had captured the wet snow and hung with weighted limbs. It seemed like only a few minutes, but it must have been close to an hour before Mike and his team reached the two-rut that was as far as he and Ringo had come on the trail. From now until they turned around, they'd have to depend on Mark's knowledge and Cumulus' nose to find their way. With a touch of sadness, he called his team to a halt in a wide spot just before the two rut.

"How far do you want to go?" Mark called as he and his team eased past.

"I'd say let's go to Warsaw and settle the bet now," Mike said, "But I don't think the snow will last and I want Tiffany to have a ride."

"Fine," Mark said, turning as he passed. "Let's at least go to Turtle Hill, then have some coffee before we turn around."

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