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Friday, January 21, 2011

Montana January 2010 Part 4

We took the turn. I had been warned to get as low as possible. Had it been summer, I would have had to wash the grass stains out of the seat of my pants. I had squatted low over the track, which would be useless until we cleared the turn, and leaned all my weight to the outside runner in order to throw/steer the sled out away from the corner. The corner is a hard right hand turn at the bottom of a long hill that allows the dogs to build up speed. As the leaders take the turn, they cut it short and become the pivot point that slings the back of the team and the sled, with or without a driver, like a sling shot around the turn. On a 12 dog team there is about 60 feet from the leaders to the back of the sled. There is a sign that marks the road which is approaching up the hill and forks into a Y. I had just come down the upper right hand branch, gone around the point and was heading up the left hand branch when I saw John waiting patiently. He flashed a smile and a thumbs up then took off; no doubt relieved that he did not have to catch my team or sled as it roared by.

The rest of the trip took us through some remote areas of beautiful mountains, forests and some sheer drop offs if you got too close to the edge. Near the top of the pass we turned around in what Doug called the helicopter pad. If it was a landing zone, it was big enough to land and park three helicopters. The snowmobiles had been up here and had a field day running up the pass and taking a jump from the road to the pad. John had already taken the turn and was approaching me, heading back to the ranch as I got to the area. I did not see his trail as we turned in and my leaders cut the turn short dragging the back half of the team, the sled and me into the deep snow beside the trail. The last six dogs were up to their bellies with their feet uselessly flailing in the deep snow. I got off the runners to turn the sled and immediately went down through the harder top crust into the soft snow below. The snow was up to my chest and my feet were still not touching anything solid. It was like quicksand sucking my boots off and beckoning me to stay through the spring thaw in June or July. I would have no part of that! The dogs, the sled, me and all my
equipment would leave this mountain. It would not win. I climbed, clawed and pulled myself out of the snow and back onto the runners. We were too heavy for the leaders to pull. I had to inch us closer to the road. As more dogs made it to the road, they were able to pull us. I turned the sled over on its side and lay across it to keep the dogs from jerking it away from me. That is what had happened last year. When I fell off the sled, it had stayed upright on its runners and the dogs had no trouble leaving me behind. Doug had fashioned a safety loop on the handlebar that I put my left hand through so that if I fell off, I would pull the sled over on its side. The drag would cause the dogs to stop long enough for me to get up, right the sled and get back on. As the last dogs cleared the deep snow, the safety loop was getting tighter and tighter around my left wrist. Back on the road and heading home, I checked he time on my watch. The mountain had won; they almost always do. It had claimed it’s prize, my watch and with it, my wedding ring. I had been wearing the ring on the watch band to keep it from getting lost. I had lost so much weight that it slipped off my finger easily and frequently at the wrong times. Until now, the watch band had been the safest place to keep it.

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