Chapter 38 To The Pole p455~462

Hollister yawned and took a sip of hot tea from the
ceramic mug he was holding, breakfast? Hell, it didn’t
matter, it was something hot and it kept him warm and
that was all that mattered at the moment. There were
six others besides Hollister and a total of five sleds.
Mason and Dunn of course, two dog drivers from the ship,
Goodman and Michaels as well as Peter and another
Inuit named Wacha. They would be on the move soon.
They had been traveling for seven days (if one could say
such a thing in constant darkness, but Hollister and the
others had continued to measure time as if there were
day and night, it gave them some form of normalcy in
what might be considered otherwise in their current
circumstances) and still had another three to go before
they reached their first depot. The first depot! Christ
what was Hollister thinking when he volunteered for this
He looked at the figures around him they were all
dressed the same in wolf skin parkas and sealskin
trousers with mukluks on their feet. Every man carried a
pair of beaver fur mittens (attached to a leather cord so
there was less chance of losing them) which were used
when they were moving over the ice, though when
making or breaking camp, the men wore heavy wool
gloves as Hollister did at that moment.
The five sleds were loaded with sleeping bags made
from reindeer hides, canvas tent shelters, snow shoes as
well as three alcohol cooking stoves and heaters and the
fuel for such. They were also carrying dog booties, food,
tea and cocoa, six rifles, three pistols and needed
ammunition. The dogs were barking but they did that all
the time, all forty of them.
Finishing his tea he put his ceramic mug on the sled he
shared with Dunn and after clapping his arms to ensure
some circulation he began to hitch up the eight dogs they
were using, each animal attached to the sled with a
separate tagline. The arrangement was a “fan hitch”
which spread the dogs out in a “fan” formation, giving
the dogs more room to maneuver and distributing their
weight on the ice instead of centering it as it would in a
“gangline” arrangement which was a tighter formation of
two columns of dogs, better suited for trails and forested
areas. As he was finishing up, Mason approached him.
“How are you holding up Jack?”
The newspaperman looked up. “I’m doing fine Captain,
how bout yourself?”
“Quite well, thank you,” replied Mason.
“How far today, Captain?”
Mason shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t know, depends
on the conditions before us. We just have to wait and see
but we will be closer to our goal, that I can tell ya.”
Hollister nodded. Pressure ridges, thin ice, frequent
stops to check position. Leading dogs, pushing and
pulling heavily loaded sleds up and over rough ice, loudly
cursing, their voices carrying in the frigid air. It was the
type of day that no man in his right mind would look
forward to and though Hollister had done some crazy
things in his life, the writer was far from insane. Another
day at the office, he thought and with a sigh, checked the
taglines again.
Peter walked among the sleds smoking a cigarette and
checking the load straps and taglines, sometimes batting
down dog or two. For the life, he still didn’t quite
understand what Dunn and Mason wanted up here even
though they told him what they were looking for.
Hunting whales was easier than doing this. Well, they
had their reasons and he’d just leave it at that. Coming
up to Wacha’s sled he patted his old friend on the arm.
“Doe’s all look well?” he asked.
Wacha nodded, “Things look good.”
“Watch the one called Hollister. His skills have
improved since he started but still…”
Wacha nodded again, “I’ll watch him. How far does
Mason wish to go today?” asked the older Inuit.
Peter shrugged. “Mason knows and when he wants to
stop, he’ll let us know.”
“Tell me again Peter, why do the outsiders wish to go
where here is as good as there?”
Peter grinned, “Whales, my old friend. They believe
there is a place where the whales go to die. It is this
place that they seek.”
“I don’t know why,” said Wacha shaking his head,
“anyone would go this far for a dead fish.”
“They have their reasons Wacha. I trust them and I ask
that you do as well.”
“I will do as you ask Peter even if I do not understand,”
said Wacha, who went back to lashing his sled.
Dick Goodman, former mail carrier and landsman
signed onto the SHY LADY, beat his arms and stomped
his feet. Getting started any cold morning was difficult
as it was, but here…well, it didn’t really matter, at least
he was working again and it was something he knew or
at least thought he did. He had to confess, this was a bit
different than running mail in Canada. His opinions of
those around him weren’t necessarily bad. Goodman
himself had no doubts about his ability to handle a sled,
the captain did well enough and Dunn had no problems
snapping a dog quirt. Peter the half breed was quite the
expert as well as the other native, Wacha then again that
was to be expected. Michaels was good, not as good as
Goodman but still. Hollister was still clumsy which
Goodman found annoying but to his credit he was
learning fast and didn’t wish to be a burden.
Though it had been explained to him before they had
started out, Goodman didn’t quite understand why they
were going to where they were and the truth was he
didn’t really care. He wasn’t a whaleman and finding a
whale’s graveyard to him was about as exciting as a
sleepy town meeting in July.
As for the work, it weren’t bad. Mason and Dunn could
be pricks but he’d worked for such before. When it came
down to it, he supposed it was his definition of success.
He wanted to finish this and go home. Penny was
waiting for him and he’d been saving his money. If all
went well, they could be married when he returned and
he’d be able to accept that clerk’s position. It wasn’t
much but it was a start and it sure as hell beat freezing
his ass off in some God damned wilderness. He could get
married, wear a white starched collar and live a
respectable life. He’d never have to worry about stupid
fucking dogs or trail food ever again. To him that was
success. Goodman sighed and wiped some snot from his
nose and spat some tobacco juice into a small pile of
white snow. When one looked up, all a person could see
was high jagged ice, slopping and uneven. What a mess
all this was! Hell of a lot different than running the mail.
Michaels came up to him, his foggy white breath made
him resemble a dragon of sorts when he breathed.
“Morning Goodman!” said the other dog driver in his
usual good humor. “Ready for a long haul?”
Goodman nodded, only he wished it was the other way
for more reasons than just getting married and having a
good job. He shared a tent with Michaels who really
wasn’t a bad fellow but he seemed to talk continuously
and damn if the man didn’t stink up the place with his
farts. That in itself made the open air, as cold as it was,
much more appealing.
“Yeah Mike,” he said using the man’s nickname, “ready
to go as ever. Hey did ya check Mr. Hollister’s sled?”
“Yeah, everything looked ok, and that Peter fellow
looked at it too.”
“Well, the captain and Mr. Dunn want us to watch him,
though I don’t know why. If you ask me he shouldn’t even
be on this trip and besides he shares a sled with Dunn, it
should be his responsibility,” said Goodman with some
“I don’t mind,” said Michaels, “he’s an alright guy.”
“Yeah, well,” said Goodman. “I just think its bullshit we
get singled out to have to watch him. I mean what about
them Eskimos, huh? They should be the ones doing most
of the work if ya ask me, including watching Mr.
Important Big City Newsman over there. But that Dunn,
he’s all chummy with’ em, that’s why we got the extra
The other man shrugged his shoulders. “They ain’t bad
fellows I don’t mind them so much.”
Goodman just shook his head a little hurt that
Michaels didn’t wholeheartedly agree with him and
walked to his sled, “Yeah, whatever you say Mike.”
Michaels shrugged his shoulders and walked to his
sled as well. He wouldn’t let Goodman’s foul mood ruin
his good one. Michaels was excited, he always was in the
morning. He was very caught up in the adventure of the
unknown, wondering what they would find up ahead,
what was over the next ridge. The spirit of adventure
was very alive in this man. He knew what he wanted in
life, to go to new places and see new things. He felt
himself a wandering spirit and had desire to stop. He
tapped each of his barking dogs on the head as was his
habit, time to start another day.
Dunn checked their position on the chart and made
some notations. They weren’t moving as fast as he would
have liked. The pressure ridges had become higher and
more difficult to travel over since they had last come
through here. He was also worried about the depots they
had set up, with the ridges getting higher he wondered if
their supplies would still be there. In order to keep
everything dry as possible they had placed everything on
pallets secured to empty wooden barrels, so if it became
warmer and the ice melted they wouldn’t lose their
valuable foodstuffs to the sea. Of course that didn’t mean
a hungry Polar bear couldn’t devour what they had left.
Dunn crossed his fingers.
Mason walked up to the second mate. “How do things
look Isaac?”
Dunn sighed. “We’ve got to move faster, Captain.”
Mason nodded, “Yeah, I’ve noticed the pressure ridges
are higher.”
“At this rate I don’t know sir, we’ve really got to start
pushing things.”
“Noted, Isaac, now let’s get going. We ain’t gonna get
there by standing here and talking about it,” said Mason.
“Aye, aye sir.”
When all was ready, the crack of several dog quirts
could be heard and seven men and their dogs continued
on their travel to the distant horizon.