Runner's Moon - Cover

Runner's Moon

©1995, ©2007, ©2010 by Wes Boyd

Chapter 18

"You have a choice," Tiffany said afterward. "We can do that again, and then get some breakfast, or we can do it the other way around."

"Everything being the same, I'd just as soon get some breakfast," Josh said, still aglow. It was better than he'd ever remembered it being with Amy. "I'm famished."

"I've already eaten," she said, "But I could stand to eat again."

"Did you plan on staying together all the time we're in Nome?" he asked.

"We're going to have to," she said. "I turned in the double, and the desk clerk was glad to have it back. When I got my stuff out of there, there were mushers already crashing there. You don't mind, do you?"

"So long as we get some time to catch up on our sleep, no," he said. "We've got what? Three days before the banquet?"

"The night after tomorrow," she said. "We need to check in with race headquarters today and see about getting back to Anchorage. It could be a couple days after that before we can get a plane, so we could have four or five days to kill. I can think of worse ways to kill them."

"Me, too. We need to take a run back out to Safety and pick up the stuff we left behind."

"Maybe tomorrow," she said. "I think the dogs deserve the day off, and I know we do. Do you want to go to breakfast, or what?"

"I'm ready for breakfast," he said, taking her in his arms again. "But I'm ready for something else, too."

A long time later, they finally did get up. Josh had a change of clothes that had been brought in the Cessna, so he didn't have to get back into his grubby clothes he'd worn since McGrath, and it felt good to pull on clean clothes, and watch Tiffany get dressed, too. "I can't believe this," she said. "Nome, Alaska, and we finished the Iditarod, both of us. In a few days, I turn back into a pumpkin, and my main concern will be the American Government class. God, how far away that seems."

"Yeah," Josh said. "Ten days, maybe two weeks, and I'll be making the pit run with the 38s. That's a long damn drive."

Josh had driven up the Alaska Highway back in early January, bringing all of their dogs, and had stayed in the camper on the back of the pickup at Talkeetna for six weeks, running both of the teams in turn, trying to condition them to Alaskan weather, before Tiffany had flown in to join him for the last two weeks. It hadn't been long enough; they needed at least another month of conditioning to Alaskan conditions, preferably somewhere even colder than Talkeetna. That was one thing that had been clear early in the race, something to remember for another time, if another time ever came. In a few days, right after they got back to Anchorage, he'd have to be heading back. It would be a long drive, towing a trailer with 32 dogs in it, dog sleds and gear tied on the top, more gear and dog food in the truck. What with rests and the need to get the dogs out for exercise, it could take every bit of ten days.

At that, it had been an improvement over flying the dogs to Alaska, considering the cost. Neither he nor Tiffany could possibly have afforded to fly the dogs and gear to Alaska, and the long drive had saved thousands of dollars.

"Would you mind if I came with you?" she asked. "You really put yourself out for me by bringing the dogs up and taking them home with you. Maybe I could help with the driving, and exercising the dogs."

"I'd love to have you," he said. "But won't your folks be expecting you to fly back?"

"Yeah," she said. "But if I call them from Anchorage after they're back in Spearfish Lake, there's not a lot they can say."

"Until we get home."

"Don't worry about it. I'll handle them."

"Well," Josh said, lacing up his boots, "Let's get back to Anchorage before we make up our minds."

The dining room downstairs was packed, with people standing around, waiting for tables. "Looks like a long wait," Josh commented, but as it turned out, they only stood there for a moment. A middle-aged woman, with long, braided dark hair spotted them and waved them over to two vacant seats at a table for six.

Josh was pulling back his chair before he realized who the woman was -- Susan Butcher, herself! She hadn't been racing this year, the first time in almost twenty years, having taken time out to try and have a child, but was out on the trail anyway, as a TV reporter for Alaska Television. They'd met her briefly at the pre-race meeting, but really hadn't crossed tracks with her on the trail; she'd just been leaving McGrath when they'd pulled in. "Well, if it isn't the Jenny Easton Productions kids," a man at the table said. "You've had every racer on the trail wondering how you both cornered that particular sponsor."

It took a moment for Tiffany and Josh to recognize the tall, thin man with the thin, sandy hair. In cold weather gear, the only way they'd seen him before, he looked like a bear. It was Rick Swenson, Susan Butcher's arch-rival.

"But I thought..." Tiffany said.

"That Rick and I are deadly enemies?" Susan smiled. "We are, out on the trail, but we bury the hatchet for Iditarod Week in Nome."

"Once in a while at other times, too," Swenson smiled. "I gave Susan away at her wedding. Married life didn't slow her down any, though. Seriously, how did you corner that sponsor?"

"To tell the truth, she cornered us," Josh said. "See, she lives in the town where we come from, and we'd been doing our best to raise money, but we were way short. I was just about ready to give up, and pass what I'd raised along to Tiffany, when she called us over to her house and gave us each a fat check."

"I've known Jenny all my life," Tiffany added. "She was my babysitter, when I was real little and she was still in school."

"Is all the publicity that you're still in school the truth?" Swenson asked.

"I'll be back in class as soon as I get home," Tiffany admitted. "I graduate in June."

"You two ran a heck of a race for the first time out," Susan said. "I was twentieth, the first time I ran it, and it was a lot smaller race, then. That was quite a finish you two provided yesterday. I was watching. You both had strong teams for the finish of the Iditarod."

"I think we could have paced ourselves a little better, and finished higher," Josh said. "But, our first year out, we didn't really know what to expect."

"Are we going to be seeing you next year?" Swenson asked.

"I don't know," Josh said. "As far as I'm concerned, I did what I set out to do, which was to finish in the top half. It's so damn expensive..."

"I don't know yet, either," Tiffany said. "I worked toward this for years, and now that it's over, I need to collect my thoughts. Maybe by next summer, I'll have a better idea."

"It'd be a shame to let the experience go to waste," Susan said. "You did very well for rookies, especially for being from down below. I knew there was some mushing down in your neck of the woods, but we don't often see racers from there."

"Well, you're the one responsible for our being here," Josh said. "In fact, you're probably as much to blame as anyone for the mushing we have at home."

"How's that?"

"You remember that TV show, 'Race Across Alaska, ' that was done about you about nine years ago?" Tiffany said. "I saw that, and I knew that what I wanted to do in life was this race. That show got my dad and Josh's brother-in-law interested in mushing."

"Was that the two couples that were following you in a Cessna 185?" Susan asked. "I talked to them yesterday."

"I'm glad they got the chance to meet you," Tiffany said. She briefly told the story of how the two had started with dogs from the pound, and with the help of a retired musher from Warsaw, the only person they could find that had experience mushing, had built them into two strong five-dog teams, and how she and Josh had raced the end of the first Pound Puppies race.

Josh picked up the story. "Until the first Pound Puppies race, none of us knew that there were any other mushers in the state. Well, after the race, we got invited to the state championships. It turned out that there were a grand total of six other teams in the state. The race proved to be on a snow-covered golf course, and all the trophies in the race must have come to a total of thirty bucks. Well, Tiffany's dad won the five-dog sprint, and my brother-in-law, Mark, came in third. After that was over with, we shuffled the teams around. I took seven of the dogs, and won the seven-dog sprint, and Tiffany won the three-dog class with the other three."

"You were ten years old?" Swenson frowned at Tiffany. "Didn't they have you in a junior race?"

"I've never run a race as a Junior, and never run a woman's race," Tiffany said proudly. "Even back then, I raced as an adult. They didn't even have junior races till I was fourteen, the last year I was eligible for them, and I was defending champion in several of the open classes, so they had to let me run them. I ran my first hundred mile enduro at twelve, and won it with my own team. Dad was third."

"Susan," Swenson said wonderingly. "The young'uns are out to get us." He turned to Josh and Tiffany. "You know, dog mushing was almost a lost art in Alaska until Joe Reddington started the Iditarod, and now it's come way back, but sometimes it's hard to realize just how far it's spread."

"It's taken hold at home," Josh said. "In fact, that was the turnaround down there. The next year, the state championships were held at Spearfish Lake. We had almost double the number of teams, and half of them were from Spearfish County."

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