Busted Axle Road
Chapter 105

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

It was midafternoon in Spearfish Lake when Jennifer and Blake were opening their Christmas presents in California. Mike was sitting in the office, almost alone in the building. Nothing was going on, and most of the staff was out doing their last minute pre-Christmas things, whatever they were.

The weeks just past had been hectic ones, and they always were for pulling the Christmas issue together, but now that the issue was out, there wasn't much to do. The next week's paper, right after Christmas, was always one of the smallest of the year, and they'd already gotten a good start on it, seeing as how it'd be another one-day paper, so even that wasn't going to be too bad.

Right now, it was rather boring. Mike had been reduced to cleaning off his desk for the sake of something to do, and he'd accumulated a full wastebasket when the phone rang.

It proved to be Mark. "Had a relay go out south of town a little ways," he said. "Shouldn't be any big problem to fix, but it's a hell of a long way off the road, so I'm going to take the dogs. You want to come along?"

"Can't," Mike said. "There's no one left to stay here. If you want, you can take my dogs with you. I don't know when I'm going to get a chance to get out and give them some exercise."

"I'll see if I can find Josh," Mark said. "If I can't, maybe I'll just hook up all ten dogs. Getting back to that relay is going to be a little hard, and it'll be easier to break trail with more dogs."

"I doubt that you're going to find Josh," Mike said. "He and Danny Evachevski were in here a couple of hours ago, and they said something about going down to Albany River."

"All right," Mark said. "I'll stop by the house, and pick up your dogs."

"Have a good time," Mike said sadly. It would be a good afternoon to run the dogs, he thought as he hung up the phone. Well, maybe he could get out for a while tomorrow afternoon. If not then, maybe Monday. It would be fun to try running the ten dogs in front of a sled; they hadn't tried it yet.

Mark shared much the same thought, and he was calling from home. By now, harnessing up his team and getting them ready to go didn't take long; he had it down to a science. He took a spare relay, a tool box, and a short extension ladder, and put it onto the sled. The ladder stuck out a ways in front of the sled, and he had to add an extra section to the gangline so it wouldn't interfere with the wheel dogs.

Harnessing the extra dogs to the gangline turned out to be more fun. As it turned out, Tiffany came out and helped him, or it could have been a real mess. He harnessed Ringo into double lead with Cumulus, and fairly soon, he was heading out of Mikes yard, behind ten dogs.

Running with ten dogs proved to be as much an adventure as he'd expected. His own team hadn't gotten over the mad rushes as yet, and the Beatle Hounds were full of them, and the first mile or so was a little wild before the team settled down. The only problem was that there was no good backwoods trail down through town to where the relay was out, and Mark had to rely on running down snowcovered treelawns and snowmobile tracks, and it took some threading around. He could never have made the complicated route without two good command leaders on point. He felt that Ringo was still a little tentative and unsure, but with Cumulus next to him, it was as good a pair as anyone could ask for.

Once they got through the worst of town, Mark drove the team across the school grounds and across the football field, then found a snowmobile trail that more or less followed the phone line. The snowmobiles had done a good job of breaking trail, so it wasn't as big a deal as he'd thought to get to the relay box. He tied the sled to the phone pole, then put out a snow hook in front of Cumulus and Ringo, to help them keep the team stretched out, to avoid fights and tangled lines. If it turned out to be a fairly big job, he could picket the dogs, but he might get lucky.

Fixing the relay turned out to be a fairly simple job, for which he was thankful, since it was snowing harder now, and the wind was picking up a bit. "Well, dogs," he said to the combined teams as he put his tools away, "Now Gramma can have her Christmas phone call with the kiddies."

The sky was gray and overcast, and it was going to be getting dark early, so he thought he ought to be heading for home as he tied the ladder back onto the sled. What's more, he didn't feel like putting up with having to thread down side streets again. While the lead dogs had done a good job, it wouldn't take much for them to get messed up. There was a better way, even though it was longer. If he continued south a little bit, he'd come to the gravel road that a lot of people used as a short cut to get out of town and onto the the state road to the south. Probably it wouldn't have been plowed very good, and it was only a mile or so to the lakeshore. He could come up the lakeshore, and then cut cross lots to Busted Axle Road. It would probably be all right, so long as he didn't run into any traffic.

As it turned out, there wasn't much traffic going down the gravel road, just one car, slipping and sliding through the drifts. It seemed that most people had avoided the short cut in the snow. With the wider road, he gave the dogs their head, and they rapidly ran down the road.

Just short of the place where he planned to leave the road and run on the ice of the lake, he came across a car, with its nose in a deep snowdrift. The car's blinker lights were on, and there was someone standing outside, waving their arms. "Whoa!" he yelled to the team.

Obediently, the dogs stopped. Mark hopped off the sled, and put the snow hook into a nearby snowbank. "Got troubles?" he asked.

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