We got all the dogs cared for and bedded down. We ate supper and turned in for a little shuteye. Since we were still in the truck I was using the cab as my portable office as well as my sleeping quarters, leaving the crew a little extra room in our shelter. At camp is usually where I do my best thinking so I like to stay up a bit after our arrival jotting down observations of our days activities, and working and reworking what we call the playbook which is a list basically of which dog is going to run where in the team. Before I turned in, I had noticed that it had started to snow again, and decided that our layover needed to be shortened in order to ensure we would be able to actually make it home.
I slept for an hour, and when I got up it had stopped snowing and there wasn't really any additional accumulation. I was a little relieved and felt confident that we would have another great run. We fed the dogs breakfast, packed up our stuff and prepared to leave.
Now in order for us to leave camp with the truck, I need to do a little three point turn to get us heading in the right direction. it's really no big deal, there is a small clearing which I use to back into, and I've done this same three point turn in this exact spot a hundred times. But today, on the luckiest day of my life, I missed the clearing slightly and slid just a bit sideways. Apparently the snow cover allowed me to float up and over a stump as I backed up. Unfortunately while backing up, the truck compressed the snow which no longer would float me back off of the stump. So there we were, 60 miles from home with a rope come-a-long an axe and one rather large truck whose transmission and drive shaft where now perched atop a two foot diameter stump.
Chop, chop, chop, crank, chop, chop crank, crank, crank, chop... For six hours. I'm hoping you get the picture. Now for those of you who do not believe that Mother Nature has an interesting sense of humor, after the first hour of chopping and cranking it started to snow lightly. After our second hour of chopping and cranking it started to snow heavily. Three hours of chopping and cranking and the snow was really starting to come down. Yup, I was starting to get a little worried, but as long as the wind didn't kick up I was sure we would still be able to get home.
The Alaska Range is notorious for strong winds, and there are many stretches of the Denali highway where the wind can magically take six inches of snow and pile it all up in one spot creating an impassible drift. Four hours into chopping and cranking, and a slight breeze started to bend the spruce tops, five hours into chopping and cranking and the wind was whistling. Finally, we got the truck freed after six hours of chopping and cranking, but now the wind was down right howling.
We hurried to get the dogs hooked up and off we went. The dogs apparently enjoyed their extra sleep and were easily plowing through drift after drift, the truck on the other hand was bogging down a little deeper with each. But, we were making good progress and the wind had died down and there was even a hint of blue in the sky which told me the snow would soon be letting up as well.
We made it a total of ten miles from camp when we hit an enormous drift which sent the rear end of the truck sideways off of the shoulder of the road. We started digging out the wheels, all the while trying to calm the dogs down who were really confused as to why we were stopped so long. Once I was confident that with the dogs help we should be able to get the truck back up onto the road, I walked up the line asking the dogs if they were ready. They responded with a resounding, "yup, we're ready," I hopped into the truck yelled out the window you boys ready, and they responded again enthusiastically. Alright then, they lurched, the truck began to creep forward, I let up the clutch, and just when I thought we were out of the ditch, "SNAP."
The nano second it took for the gangline to break seemed to happen in ultra slow motion, I swear I could see each individual fiber let go and I sharply remember having the urge to reach out and grab it as it was happening, but I couldn't. Not that it would have helped any. Once that last strand of rope let go there was an audible pop, the truck slipped back, and everything went from ultra slow speed to the speed of light instantly, as thirty nine dogs tore down the highway as if they had just been shot out of cannon.
My heart stopped beating.
But wait. "THUMP" Did they? "THUMP" They couldn't have. "THUMP... THUMP," But it really looks like they did. "THUMP... THUMP" If they did, I don't believe it. "THUMP... THUMP" They stopped. "THUMP" They stopped. "Thump" THEY STOPPED! THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMPITY THUMP. THEY STOPPED!!!
Because they just stopped.
That is why this day was the luckiest day of my life.
P.S. All thirty nine dogs are one hundred percent safe and sound. Albeit they were awfully confused as to why we wanted to load them in the truck after only a ten mile run. As for the three of us, other then being really tired that evening, we're already back at it.
Until the next time I hope you're enjoying your dog or dogs as much as I am mine, Mike