“We Can Make It”
Ben looked at the broken runner. “I’ve got an idea.” He unzipped his backpack and pulled out a tightly wound ten-foot nylon cord that was rated for 250 pounds. He tied one end to the side rail behind the broken stanchion. Then he made a loop on the other end with a slip knot. That allowed him to position the loop below shoulder height. He had to bend his knees to put the loop over his shoulder. When he stood up it lifted the runner a few inches off the show. “Not so heavy,” he mumbled to himself.
“We’ll have to walk, but I think this will work if we can keep the dogs from running.”
Cheryl was amazed at Ben’s ingenuity. “It’s going to be a long way to walk with that weight on your shoulder.”
“Yeah, but Jold, Willy and I can switch out doing the heavy lifting. I know we can make it.”
“Okay then, let’s go,” Cheryl commanded the dogs. They started pulling. “Easy, easy,” she said, they wanted to run. The sled was much easier to pull when they ran. It almost floated over the snow at faster speeds. Pulling at this slower pace was much harder on these powerful dogs and a challenge for Cheryl to hold them back.
The snow was up to a dog’s belly, making the slow pull even more difficult. Walking was no treat either. Thirty minutes into the walk, Ben was feeling the pain. The rope felt like it was cutting into the shoulder, his thighs were burning, and his breathing was labored. “Time to switch out Jold,” he hollered. “Whoa,” Cheryl called to the dogs.
Jold did not hesitate. He moved into position and squatted down so Ben could loop the rope over his shoulder. Jold, who hated anything that required physical effort, put his shoulder into it. This was serious and he knew it. He grunted as he stood up.
“I got this,” he said, as he struggled with the weight “Well, what are we waiting on?”
“Let’s go,” said Cheryl.
Jold lasted only twenty minutes before he was ready to switch. It was Willy’s turn now. By the time Willy was read to switch, they had walked for just over an hour. “How much further?” asked Willy.
“We still have six or seven miles to go,” answered Cheryl.
Willy looked at his watch, “still not working.” He guessed at the time and made the mental calculations. “At this pace we won’t get to the village until nightfall.”
“That’s not the worst of it,” said Cheryl. “In a couple of miles, we have to cross a river. If it’s not frozen,” she hesitated as a single tear ran down her cheek, fear gripping her. “I’m not sure how we can get Mike and the sled across.” Mike’s condition was getting worse, he was delirious, repeating the same phrase over and over. “Get away, get away,” he kept saying as he flailed his arms in the air.
Ben stepped to the front of the sled and again looped the rope over his sore right shoulder. “Let’s go,” he said with determination, “we’ll figure something out.” “Yeah, let’s get moving,” said Jold. Willy grabbed the heaviest backpack from the sled and strapped it on, probably weighed about fifty pounds. “That should help a little.” Jold followed his lead. Together, they pushed ahead, there was no quit in any of these boys.
They could hear it before they could see it. As Cheryl feared, it wasn’t frozen. The hopeful look 0n her face changed to that of desperation as the dogs came to a stop at the river’s edge. “I don’t know how we can get across,” she said.
Willy spoke up, “If we unhook the dogs, can they swim across?”
“I think so,” said Cheryl.
“How deep is the water?” Willy asked.
“Probably a foot or two this time of year.”
“Okay then, we’ll unhook the dogs and each of us can take a corner of the sled. I think we can keep the sled above the water and Mike will stay dry.”
Cheryl nodded her head in agreement.
Ben and Jold were already unhooking the dogs from their harnesses. “This will take more than one trip,” said Ben. “Let’s strap on the back packs and carry whatever else we can. We need to make the sled as light as possible.”
Loaded up, they stepped into the rushing water. They locked arms, something they had learned while scouting. It made walking in fast moving water easier and safer. Three or four steps in and it was already above their knees. At the halfway point Jold gasped as the ice-cold water reached his belly. A few more steps and they were to the other side. They dropped the packs and headed back for Cheryl and Mike.
“That is crazy cold,” said Willy. “I can’t even feel my toes,” said Jold. “Let’s keep moving,” said Ben.
Reaching the sled, Ben grabbed hold of the left front stanchion. Willy took the one on the right, Jold took the back-left side and Cheryl the right. “Ready? Lift,” said Ben.
It worked; they were able to lift the sled even with a 180-pound helpless man aboard. Into the river they went, it was as though they had supernatural strength, maybe they did. Holding the sled on four corners created a lot of stability allowing them to cross quickly. Cheryl called for the dogs. They swam across easily, seemed like they enjoyed the swim.
Mike was warm and dry. The four of them were soaking wet from the waist down. “We got to get a fire going,” said Ben with a quivering voice as his body shivered. They all gathered the oldest driest driftwood they could find. Thankfully, they had their fire starters. Within minutes a fire was warming their shaking bodies. They continued throwing more and more wood on what was quickly growing into a blazing bonfire.
“Okay everyone, take your shoes, socks and trousers off,” said Cheryl. I know it’s embarrassing but we have to get our clothes dry or we’ll freeze.” They looked at each other with grins on their faces, then stripped down. They hung their sock and jeans on sticks next to the fire. Their wet boots were freezing without socks. It was plenty warm close to the fire and only took about thirty minutes for their clothes to dry.
“Wow, that feels s0 good,” said Jold as he slipped into his toasty warm jeans. Sitting on rocks, they pulled their boots off and put their warm socks back on. Then they each hung their boots upside down on sticks they jammed into the ground next to the fire. They couldn’t take time to dry them completely but at least they would continue their march with warm feet.
“We need to get moving,” said Cheryl.
The boys grabbed their boots and helped her hitch the dogs back in their place on the towline. Ben was first to carry the load; he slipped the rope over his already sore shoulder. “Let’s go,” said Cheryl. The dogs dug in and tugged hard. They were on the move once again.
Willy was right, it was nearly sunset when they rounded the last bend in the trail. There it was, they had reached the village. Feelings of relief rushed over the boys. Cheryl burst into tears.
Before they came to a stop the villagers were already on their way to greet them. Visitors were scarce and always welcome. After learning of Mike’s condition from Cheryl, six of the men lifted him using the bear skin blanket and rushed for the clinic. Cheryl was right behind them.
They villagers motioned for the boys to follow them to one of their cabins. Inside they had them sit on the floor, no chairs in this cabin. They were Eskimos but most of them spoke a little English, at least enough to communicate. “You look hungry,” one of them said. He was obviously the oldest and likely an elder.
“For sure,” said Jold. The elder took that as a yes. Then they served them seal meat, whale blubber and some strange looking potatoes. It was a taste none of the boys had experienced but they were hungry and ate everything they were served.
“Thank you for the food,” said Ben. “Yeah, thanks,” said Willy and Jold almost in unison. The elder smiled then sat down next to Ben. “Your friend, he be good. We have doctor.”
Ben nodded his head, he was thankful that Mike would be okay, but his thoughts were no longer on Mike, he was worried about Tali and Kate back at the cabin.
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