“No Time to Lose”
The short dog sled ride the gang had taken, from the Shirley Ann to the cabin, was exciting but not even close to what they were about to experience. The dogs must have sensed that the gang was inexperienced and hardly ready for the full power of a well-trained dog team. But Cheryl was about to unleash them, whether the boys were ready or not.
Once clear of the trees, Cheryl yelled, “Hang on boys, I’m going to let the dogs loose.” She repeated it, “really, hang on.” Ben gripped the handlebar and made sure his feet were planted on the footboards. Will and Jold held tight to the rails on each side of the sled and squeezed their legs together around the person in front of them just like Cheryl had instructed.
In the open tundra she gave the strangest command. It sounded like someone kissing. The dogs immediately accelerated to full speed, nearly jerking the sled out from under Ben. He managed to hang on and yell “awesome” at the same time. The power and speed of the dogs was like nothing they would have ever imagined.
Jold knew that Bandit could run full out for about a mile before slowing to a walk. He leaned forward and asked Cheryl, “how long can the dogs keep this up?”
“I’m not sure, but they have been bred to run and they’re going to run,” she said. “Mike’s in real trouble, we have no time to lose so we can’t spare the dogs.”
Everything went well for the several hours. Although they were working hard, the dogs barely slowed. Cheryl continually yelled commands, guiding the dogs through the rugged tundra. “Gee” for right turns and “Haw” for left. The blue sky had given way to thick overcast skies. The snow-covered ground and the white sky began to blend into one, making it difficult for Cheryl to read the humps and bumps of the terrain. Without warning, the left rail of the sled hit a boulder hidden just under the surface of the snow. The sled lurched to the left causing it to roll to the right landing on its side. The force of the impact launched everyone sitting in the sled into the air and sliding across the snow. Ben hung on to the handlebar with all his might, refusing to let go while he and the sled were dragged by the dogs. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, stop,” he yelled out of desperation. Little did he know, that was a command that the dogs understood. They obeyed.
He picked himself up and ran back to the others. “Is anyone hurt?” he asked. Mike was laying on his side, groaning. Cheryl was hunched over him doing her best to ease the pain. Willy and Jold were both okay. They were already gathering up the gear that had been scattered in the crash.
Cheryl looked to Ben. “Help me get Mike to the sled, we have to keep going.”
The sled had dragged Ben about 100 feet before it came to a stop. They would have to carry Mike. Willy spread the bearskin blanket on the snow. Then they all helped roll Mike onto it. It would work like a stretcher. Ben and Jold took hold of one side of the skin. Cheryl and Willy grabbed the other. They stood up together and carried Mike to the sled.
Cheryl inspected the sled, then sighed. “We have a problem guys, the stanchions connecting to the runner on the left side are broken. I think it will still support Mike’s weight, but the rest of us will have to walk.”
“How far to the village?” asked Jold.
“I think we’re about halfway, so I’m guessing another ten miles.”
“Let’s get goin’ then,” said Ben as he rolled the sled upright.
They lifted Mike and laid him on the sled, then wrapped him with blankets. It leaned left but was holding together.
Cheryl grabbed hold of the handlebar. She didn’t want to risk damaging the sled more, so she walked between the runners rather than standing on the footboards. She gave the command and the dogs began pulling. “Whoa,” she would say to slow the dogs if they pulled faster than she could walk.
Ben, Willy and Jold walked in single file behind the sled. The dogs and the sled cut a trail that made walking much easier.
Jold asked the obvious question. “Are we going to make it to town before dark?”
“I don’t think so,” said Cheryl. “We can’t travel at night on the tundra, so we’ll have to find shelter and make camp.”
After two hours of walking a tree line came into view. “We’ll camp in those trees,” said Cheryl. She directed the dogs to make a slight right turn by saying, “Gee.” When they reached the tree line, she yelled, “Whoa,” then stepped on the foot brake. It dug deep in the snow making the sled almost impossible to pull. She unhitched the dogs; that was their signal to lay down and rest.
All four of them took their positions, then lifted Mike out of the sled and carried him to the base of a tall pine tree. Even though the temperature was now below freezing, Mike was burning up. It was an indication that infection was taking hold. Cheryl looked at his leg; the broken bone had poked through the skin. “This must have happened in the crash,” she said.
Ben knelt beside Cheryl. “I promise, we’ll get you to the village.”
“I know you will,” she answered.
Willy had an axe strapped to his backpack. “I’ll chop up some firewood,” said Willy. Jold cleared the snow from a space close the tree, a kind of fire pit. Fifteen minutes later, they had a blazing fire. Food would not be a problem. All three boys had energy bars in their packs. They offered one to Cheryl.
“What are these?” she asked.
Willy spoke up. “It’s a new way of packaging food. It’s nuts, fruit and chocolate in a bar. Cool huh?”
She ripped it open and took a bite. “It’s good, thanks.” She bit off another small piece and placed it against Mike’s lips. “Open your mouth, honey; you need to eat this.” He hardly had the strength to chew but with a sip of water, he was able to swallow.
“We need to try and set Mike’s leg. He can’t travel like this. Think one of you can help me?” asked Cheryl.
“Yeah, we’ll all help,” said Ben.
“Okay, Jold, you and Willy hold Mike from under his arms. Ben, you’re going to have to pull on the broken leg. When it straightens out, I’ll try and put a splint on it. No matter what happens, don’t let go of his shoulders and don’t stop pulling till I say, okay?”
No one answered, they just nodded their heads.
“Okay, on the count of three, pull. One, two, threeeee, pull.”
Mike screamed but they kept pulling.
“I can feel his leg moving,” said Ben.
“I think the bone is back in place, stop pulling,” yelled Cheryl. Then she placed two sticks, one on each side of his leg and wrapped it tight with her neck scarf. “The bone isn’t showing anymore, I think we got it.” She kissed Mike’s cheek, then looked up. “Thank you, boys, you’re all so very brave, I know God sent you to help me.”
“You’re welcome,” said Jold. “Yeah, anything we can do to help,” said Willy. “We’re with ya,” said Ben. Somehow, they all knew this was the reason the Shirley Ann had brought them to Alaska.
There would be no sleep, especially with the unmistakable sound of howling wolves. The dogs were their best protection. Every time a wolf howled, they perked up and growled. Ben sat down and leaned against the tree with the rifle in his lap. Cheryl laid down next to Mike with her pistol at the ready. This was no place to be unprepared, dogs or not. Willy and Jold scooted close to the fire. At least everyone would be warm on this freezing wintry night.
As soon as there was enough daylight to see, they hooked up the dogs and loaded Mike on the sled. When the dogs started pulling, the left front of the sled dug into the snow. “Whoa,” said Cheryl. She looked at the sled. The curved tip of the left runner that caused the sled to ride on top of the snow was broken off. “This can’t be repaired,” she said.
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