Busted Axle Road
Chapter 127

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

"All right Tiffany, you're up," Mike said outside a few minutes later. "I figure we can run Ringo and George, and Cumulus if it's all right with Mark."

Tiffany shook her head. "No, Daddy. I'd really rather run Ringo with David, and King, if it's all right with Mr. Gravengood."

"David and King?" Mike frowned. "Those are about the two dumbest dogs we've got."

"Yes, Daddy. But they're also the fastest. I'd really rather take George in the lead. He's faster, but he's not proven as a leader yet."

"How do you know they're the fastest?" Mark asked.

"Can't you see it when they run?" Tiffany asked. "They're always working harder than the other dogs, trying to run faster. And, Ringo is faster than Cumulus, at least for a short distance."

"All right," Mike said. "If that's the way you want it, that's what you get."

They harnessed up the dogs, and walked the team over to the starting line. Greg had his three Siberians in the start chute when they got there; he was soon off and running with them. They moved Tiffany and the three dogs into the starting gate. "You ready, honey?" Vicky called from her table at the start line.

"Yes, Mrs. Mears," Tiffany said politely

"OK, I'll count down from five, and you can go. Ready ... five ... four...

"UP! Tiffany yelled in a voice that had something of the crack of a whip in it. Mark, who was holding onto King, got the impression of a ten-year-old girl drill sergeant.

" ... two ... one ... MUSH!"

Mark and Mike dropped their hold on the two dogs. "HIKE! HIKE! HIKE!" Tiffany yelled. The dogs dug in and came off the starting line hard, as hard as Mark and Mike had ever seen, and Tiffany kicked behind the sled, trying to help take off some of the load. Mike began to wonder if he'd done the right thing in turning her loose. It seemed like things were moving much more quickly than before. Maybe it was just a father watching ... but no, it wasn't just a father watching; as they watched the team run hard around the course, closing on Mears all the way.

They caught him at the final turn. From a hundred yards away, they could hear Tiffany yell "HAW! HAW!" and take the team off the broken trail, to pass Mears on the inside through the deeper snow. As soon as she was past, she swung the dogs back into the cleared path, and kept yelling, "HIKE! HIKE! at the top of her lungs, until they flashed across the finish line, a good ten seconds ahead of Mears. Once past the finish line, Tiffany yelled "EASY!," then, "COME GEE" and turned the team back to stop near the starting line, pointing the other way. She set the snow hook, and got off the sled.

"Tiffany?", Mears said with a smile from the back of his sled. "Has anyone ever told you how you're supposed to pass on a trail?"

"No, Mr. Mears," she said.

"If that ever happens again," he said. "You're supposed to yell 'Trail' real loud, and the team ahead has to get off the trail. I'm sorry I got in your way."

"That's all right, Mr. Mears," she said. "I hope I did all right."

"Well, if there's any question about qualifying for the final, you can take another run," he said, then glanced over at the board, where the times were being posted. "But, I don't think there's going to be any question."

Tiffany's time was a 2:57, compared to over five minutes for Mears.

Mark let out a whistle. "Hell, that's ten seconds better than our best time with five dogs."

"Uh, Greg," Mike said. "I think we sorta screwed up a little. When Tiffany raced last weekend, we had a hundred pounds of ballast in her sled to even things out. I think maybe we should have done it again."

Mears shook his head. "It's not going to matter that much. It might add a few seconds to her time, but nobody would still get near it."

Mears took a pass to stop and watch Tiffany's second run a little later. In fact, so did everyone else. With a clear course in front of her, and no ballast in the sled, Tiffany was able to shave her time down to a 2:52.

"That's a little scary, you know," Mears said to Mike and Mark after her time was posted.

"What do you mean?"

Mears smiled. "Don't you see it? Most of the time, she's just your normal ten year old, a little shy, and more polite than most kids. Put her on that sled, and set the timer running, and she turns as serious as a heart attack."

"I've seen that," Mark said. "I always thought she was concentrating because she had her hands full."

"She does," Greg said. "She's working as hard as she can to get everything possible out of the run. I want to tell you, that kid can go far."

While they were waiting for the rest of the qualification runs to be made, Mark asked Tiffany, "If you were going to run five dogs, which ones would you take?"

"Well, for out here, I'd want George, and Midnight, along with the ones I have," she said. "But, for a race like you ran last weekend, I'd really rather have Cumulus than Ringo, and Shadow instead of David, and I think John, instead of King."

"Why those dogs?" Mark wanted to know.

"Well, both King and David want to run fast, but they want to run too fast, and can wear themselves out," she said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Cumulus is a little better at following commands, I think."

Mark shook his head. Once she had pointed it out, he knew she was right; he'd seen it, but never realized it until she brought it to his attention.

"Which dogs do you think I should take for the seven dog race?" Josh asked.

"The five fast ones, like I just said. I know you've got to take two more, and Shadow and Paul would do the least damage," she smiled.

"That's what I figured," Josh said. "But I'm just going to run the ones that you didn't. That should be enough to win it without blowing everybody away too badly."

Tiffany's 5:34 in the final was over a minute faster than the next team. It wasn't the fastest trip around the course that afternoon; though; Josh managed to crank out a 5:32, about thirty seconds faster than Woody's team, which had the help of an extra couple of dogs from another team.

After the seven-dog was over with, Greg called the mushers together. "All right," he said. "I brought four trophies with me, and we've got one last chance to keep them all from going to Spearfish Lake. Let's do a wive's race. One lap, three dogs, winner take all." He looked at Tiffany and smiled. "You don't qualify, kid. You're not a wife."

It was a challenge that couldn't be bypassed. Jackie had been on the back of a sled perhaps half a dozen times, and they harnessed up Cumulus and Red and Midnight, which while not Mark's fastest dogs, were the best trained to control.

"You want to run, Kirsten?" Mike asked as Jackie made her start.

Kirsten looked doubtful. "I've never even driven the damn dogsled," she said.

"You've ridden a couple of times," Mike said. "And you know how it's done."

"Oh, all right," she said. "Somebody's got to look like an idiot."

Quickly Mike and Tiffany hooked up Ringo, John and Paul to the sled, and got it to the starting line before she could change her mind. Before the start, Tiffany had a serious discussion with the dogs, telling them not to do anything too crazy with her mother.

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