To recap, we had a hair-raising day, our second day sledding for the 2000-2001 season. Here in Tennessee we don’t get a lot of snow, so we have carts. We also have rowdy hooligans who forget their training from one year to the next and have to be re-taught. At the same time we added 4 puppies to the 2 teams. And a driver who forgets things like using “smaller” teams to start out with.
At the end of Part one, we had just survived the launch (down the steep graveled driveway) of Team 2 when I, with a complete lack of forethought yelled:
(Which as we all know, is a turn command.)
“Haw” means “Go left” and my dogs have goofed up every turn thus far this year. Until now. We are traveling at just under Mach 1, down the shoulder of a 4-lane highway that T- DOT (Tennessee – Department of Transportation) inconveniently put right in front of my house. It was fun while they were building it. For two years I had nice, wide, graded dirt trails with no other traffic on them — 7 miles of these. Heaven for sleddogs. Then some idiot decided to finish them off and put car and truck traffic on them.
So my dogs know to travel on the left hand side of any road — the shoulder, against traffic, so “I” can see the “tourists” coming (and slowing down and mouthing “wow” as they pass). We usually only travel the shoulders until we get down the road enough to cut across to either what’s left of the old roadbeds (asphalt taken up and re-grassed) or all the way across the railroad tracks to Old Dixie Highway (the original road from Chattanooga, TN, in the south to Lexington, KY, in the far north). The grassed roadbeds are the best, but there aren’t many of them. And Dixie is a 11-mile loop trail — very nice for dogs who can’t get the hang of Gee-backs (come back to me on the right side) and Haw-backs (come back to me on the left side) unless there are rabbits involved.
Stage set? So I yelled in affect, “Go Left!” And they did. Only, in the pre-flight meeting, I forgot to tell the dogs that 3-wheeled dog carts were not really designed to go over the giant ragged boulders that T-DOT thinks is a good idea to line ditches with. The dogs made it safely over — they have jet propulsion and jumped over — two-by-two in unison. It makes a momma proud to see her “kids” working together that way. Especially since this is the Puppy Team or Team 2.
Mark & John in lead (they are NOT yet
leaders, but experienced Swing Dogs)
Echo & Bess (3 runs each at the end of last season)
Tom & Singer (10mo Malamute puppy rookies)
So Mark and John sailed over. Echo and Bess are hyperactive kangaroos in harness so that was no problem. The Mal babies were in effect flung over by momentum. And then there was me.
Somehow, there was a combination of events that just… happened, with no guidance from Mission Control.
1) The front wheel found the one semi-flat path through the boulders.
2) The dogs surged up the side of the ditch and YANKED the back wheels over.
3) I stayed on.
I’d love to say is was my superior steering experience. That I saw the situation, evaluated it, and decided on a plan. That I used my intellect and gut instinct to get us through this crisis. But you wouldn’t believe me, would you?
That was 2 near disasters in 200 yards. But we were alive! We were unscathed. We were heading right for a telephone pole!
And we hit the telephone pole. Not square on. Just the left rear wheel guard. The dogs missed it cleanly. I got the t-bar cranked over. But I could see it happening anyway. I knew that all kidding aside, this was going to hurt.
I was flung forward and hit the ground and… it didn’t hurt. I was OK. It was a hay field. Soft grass, and I am both padded naturally and padded thanks to my Mad Maxine imitation. Whew, what a relief.
And then the cart hit me.
Remember I was flung forward. The cart, struck on the left rear wheel guard, was knocked sideways and jolted the dogs right. So they bounced against the shock line in the gang line and it straightened them all out to the right and they dug in like good sleddogs and kept going. I was fine laying on the ground until Tom and Singer went by at a run and behind them…
The cart bumped over me. That hurt. Not serious, ER-hurt, just bruised and groaning hurt. Two wheels over my legs, the third one missed me. The first time.
See these idiot dogs realized they were free!!!!!! And they took off. But Mark is in lead and Mark is an obedience dog. And I croaked out, “Mark, COME!” And gasped for air and forgot to get UP.
The cart wheels really didn’t hurt much. Pneumatic tires going fast, nearly airborne anyway. And I was in a little hollow (impact crater). But when the dogs came back and STOOD on me and asked if I was OK with their little pile-driver feet beating a tattoo on my chest and belly — that hurt, OK. No joke, that really hurt. The warm tongues in the ears didn’t make me feel any better about it.
But being a dog-lover (there are exceptional days but generally I’m a dog-lover), I grabbed my leaders’ neckline and hauled myself upright. And stared in horror at the tangle of tug and ganglines. How the heck did they get THAT tangled while running in an empty hayfield? (OK, empty except for one lone damned telephone pole?)
Got them untangled. Tied the cart to the telephone pole. Stretched them all out. Probed bruises and found them minor. Found nothing broken. Was impressed all over again with the design tolerances of my 20-year-old, Frank Hall dog cart. And D-cided that I was going to show these puppies what a normal run looked like — even if we only made it 100 more yards.
Straightened out the whole mess. Unhooked Tom and Singer’s (Mala-babies) tuglines, left the neck lines hooked. Grabbed the gangline with my gloved hands (see, I really do learn from my mistakes) right in front of Echo and Bess and behind my leaders. And got the whole group across the highway and onto the re-claimed now-grassed old highway. It’s kind of bumpy and will be harder work for the little demons, I mean darlings. And I even got the mala-kids hooked back in and got on the cart and released the brake and said, “Mark, let’s Go.” And we did. And it was hard work. It was also muddy. ;<
(Remember to pack a pair of safety goggles in backpack next time.)
But I was so happy to be going in one horizontal direction in harmony with the team and the cart and actually riding on the back and holding on the way I’ve seen pictures in books, that what harm would a little mud do?
Now here’s the serious part. Our John is an identical twin. We lost Robin 2 years ago in an accident on this road involving a train. Right after the point where we go through the tunnel, this is where it happened. John was inconsolable two years ago. He was the more dependent of the twins and he took it very very hard. He’s been on this road before and he’s been on this road with trains before. And he’s been fine. But somehow our timing was off and we were UNDER the railroad in the one-lane car tunnel when the train came over. I was a little worried about spooking the dogs. It never occurred to me that John would panic, bolt out of the tunnel and then collapse in a shivering, mewling pile in the weeds beside the road.
I’ve chided people for personifying their dogs, giving them more credit towards “human-ness” than a creature deserves. I adore my dogs, respect their intelligence, never put anything past them. But really, they are “only” dogs. And knowing this, believing this, I bailed off the back of that cart at a dead run and scooped up my poor baby and sat in the weeds with him in my lap while he shivered and trembled and buried his head in my stomach.
The other dogs sat close in around him like consoling relatives, pressing in with their bodies and nuzzling us both while we sat there and rocked until I felt his heartbeat settle down. Loud-mouthed, pain-in-the-butt John and I sat there in the muck. I didn’t fuss over him, I just held on tight. It was the strangest thing they’ve ever pulled on me. And I didn’t let him go until he gave that horrid, open-mouthed screach-bark that meant he was feeling fine and embarrassed by mom’s attention.
But feeling fine or not, afterwards, John laid down in lead and refused to stand. So I switched him and Echo. Echo and Mark in lead. John with gentle Bess at Swing. The Malababies bringing up the rear. With the lines stretched tight, John went along with the crowd. And after we ran a rabbit for a couple of hundred yards down the road, even John’s tugline was tight again.
Things were so fine that at one point my strangely quiet and obedient team did a Turn-Gee without trouble — except for John got twisted so his harness tugline was under his chin and Bess nosed under the gangline and they straightened out — which I KNOW is not possible on this plane of existence, but perhaps in this Twilite-Zone dimension of obedient sleddogs all things are possible.
But all of this may leave you wondering about the Pizza Bone Conference.
I, of course, had forgotten one important detail of this whole glorious day. The dogs weren’t worried about it anymore, because they had taken care of that little bit of revenge before we even got out of the driveway. Figured it out yet?
Remember Tom and Singer loose in the basement for 15 unsupervised minutes? Never leave two Mala-babies unsupervised in a basement. A little wanton destruction goes a long way when you start by pulling the cold water hose out of the back of the washing machine. Why did they do this? Why the heck are you asking me?
But make sure you continue the wanton destruction by jumping up on the folding table and knocking everything clean onto the floor.
And don’t forget to go to the area mom stacks her dogfood bags and rip a corner out of every single bag. Since you don’t like any of the food you’re opening, keep opening until you’ve gotten drifts of dog food on the floor.
Terrorize the cat while you’re at it.
Climb over the piles of boxes set aside for the rescue yard sale coming up. Knock most of them over, spilling things everywhere.
Mark the sheetrock — both of you.
And knock down a 5# tub of garlic brewer’s yeast from a 6′ tall shelf, than carry it to the mess of water and clothes and dogfood and scatter the contents.
And then, this is the most important part. You get immunity for all of this PLUS the hell you put mom through on the first 200 yards of the run, if you will do what you did for the last 2 miles of the trip.
They ran in perfect contentedness for 2 miles. They Woah-ed when told to. They Stretched Out when told to. They Stood Stay-ed when told to. They Gee-Backed, they Haw-backed, they Let’s Go-ed, they E-Z-ed, they Hup-hup-ed (faster) when told to. They stood tired and tongue-hanging and grinning when told to. And they MISSED the tires I used for anchors on the day before and left at the top of the driveway. They pulled the cart UP the hill at the end of the run. They gave me great big kisses. They stood calmly at the garage door while I unhooked the first two and noticed… and noticed… water coming out from under the basement door.
Happy Garlic-flavored Trails!
(Next time give them the pizza bones.)