What­ever It Takes

When you're rac­ing 700 kilo­me­ters through the jun­gles and moun­tains of South Amer­ica, the last thing you need is a stray dog tag­ging along. But that's ex­actly what hap­pened to Mikael Lindnord, cap­tain of a Swedish ad­ven­ture rac­ing team, when he threw a sc

Modern Dog - - CONTENTS - BY MIKAEL LINDNORD

When rac­ing 700 kilo­me­ters through the jun­gles and moun­tains of South Amer­ica, the last thing you want is a stray dog along. But that’s ex­actly what hap­pened to a Swedish ad­ven­ture rac­ing team, and it changed lives.

“You can’t bring the dog.”

Even though it was dark, I could see that the race or­ga­nizer was look­ing me hard in the eye as he said it. Though I’d known deep down for the last hour that he was go­ing to say this, still as I looked back at him my mind was in tur­moil.

Part of me wanted to scream: “He’s not ‘the dog,’ he’s Arthur. He needs me, I’m his only hope.” Another part of me, look­ing around at the con­cerned ex­pres­sions on every­one’s faces, knew that it was crazy, in­sane, mad, to be think­ing about a stray dog when there was so much at stake for us.

We were headed for at least four­teen hours of kayak­ing, of­ten through dif­fi­cult wa­ters. Si­mon had only just re­cov­ered from se­vere de­hy­dra­tion. We would need all our re­sources to pull our­selves through this next stage. The last thing we should ham­per our­selves with was a wounded, sick, and ex­hausted dog. Kayak­ing would be tough enough with all the changes of tide and the sand­banks block­ing our routes.

I looked at Karen, who looked like what she was: one of the tough­est ath­letes in the world. She looked ut­terly fo­cused on the gear for this next stage of the race. It was hard to re­mem­ber that this was the same per­son who gave her share of our last bag of food to a hun­gry dog in the jun­gle.

Staffan, too, was eye­ing up his kit, al­ready—I knew—men­tally in the boat and plan­ning his routes down the rapids. Si­mon, tough­ing it out, and ob­vi­ously de­ter­mined to get back in the race, just looked at me, wait­ing for my de­ci­sion.

And then I looked down. The ter­ri­ble wound in the mid­dle of Arthur’s back seemed if any­thing to have got darker and big­ger. Caked in mud and trem­bling

slightly, Arthur was in a bad way. But his gaze was firm and strong as he looked up at me un­wa­ver­ingly and trust­ingly.

We were now a long, long way from where we had first met him. Wher­ever home was, even if he had had one, he prob­a­bly wouldn’t have the strength to get back to it now. It was as if Arthur had put ev­ery­thing on one ticket. Me.

I seemed to be look­ing at him for­ever. I must have for­got­ten to blink, be­cause I could feel a prick­ing in my eyes. I knew for cer­tain that it was dan­ger­ous as well as dam­ag­ing to us to con­sider tak­ing him any fur­ther. Miles and miles back we had tried to tell him to go home for his own good. But Arthur had stead­fastly ig­nored all our ges­tic­u­la­tions and en­cour­age­ments. What­ever hap­pened, he was de­ter­mined to come with us.

I bent down to him and put my hand on his head. “What shall we do, my friend?” I said to him un­der my breath. “What shall we do?”

Arthur started to whim­per, just a lit­tle whim­per to start with, and then when I couldn’t say any­thing more, he started to give a lit­tle whine in be­tween the whim­pers. I put my head nearer to his and said again, “What shall we do? I don’t know, I don’t know.”

I felt sick, as if I were con­tem­plat­ing the great­est be­trayal of my life. I looked at the oth­ers and the race or­ga­niz­ers.

I swal­lowed hard and stood up. “I un­der­stand,” I said. “Of course. I un­der­stand. He’ll find his way back some­how. He will. Dogs are clever like that, aren’t they?” I looked around at the star­ing faces, desperate for re­as­sur­ance. One by one they nod­ded, but none of them quite met my eye.

“We must go,” said Staffan. “The tide’s right, and we can have a good start if we get go­ing straight away.”

We gath­ered up our pad­dles and our packs and started to walk to­wards the bridge where the kayaks were wait­ing for us. … I didn’t look at any­body. I didn’t say any­thing. There wasn’t any­thing to say. I walked with the oth­ers to the boats, hardly aware of putting one foot in front of the other. I knew Arthur was fol­low­ing us, but I couldn’t look back. I kept telling my­self he’d re­al­ize what was hap­pen­ing, and that he’d have to stay be­hind. It was hope­less. I’d never see him again. …

One by one we got into the kayaks. … Si­mon was in front and get­ting ready to pad­dle as we pushed off. By now there were lots more peo­ple on the bridge and on the bank. We could hear a mur­mur of voices as we bal­anced our­selves in the kayak. I told my­self not to look back. There was no point. Must not look back.

As I gave a strong pull on the pad­dle, I felt a hard knot in my stom­ach. I could hardly see the wa­ter be­side me; I could hardly see any­thing.

Then I heard a splash. There was a gasp from the crowd stand­ing on the bridge. I could hear more mur­mur­ings.… Still I pulled hard on the pad­dle, keep­ing time with Si­mon in front of me.

We were start­ing to lose ground to the oth­ers in front. I knew we weren’t go­ing nearly as quickly as we should be and that we would lose yet more valu­able time if we didn’t in­crease our pace. But still, even as I pushed hard against the re­sis­tance of the wa­ter, ev­ery inch of me was lis­ten­ing for what was hap­pen­ing be­hind.

There was another splash. I looked round. Arthur, his big head only just above the wa­ter­line, was only a few feet be­hind us, pad­dling as fast as he could. I knew the wa­ter was nearly freez­ing, and I knew from see­ing him in the river the day be­fore that Arthur wasn’t a good swim­mer. But still, he was now only a cou­ple of feet be­hind the boat.

When I pulled once more on my

pad­dle, our boat drew away again, fur­ther ahead of Arthur. As I looked back at him he seemed to put in another fe­ro­cious ef­fort to speed up.

Karen and Staffan’s boat was now much fur­ther ahead.

I gave another pull on the pad­dle and we made up a bit more ground on them. I turned back to see that Arthur had fallen fur­ther be­hind. His paws were mov­ing more slowly now, and his head was a lit­tle deeper in the wa­ter. But as the wa­ter churned about us, I could see that still he was look­ing at me with an un­wa­ver­ing stare.

I found my­self talk­ing to my­self, in the way that I usu­ally only do if I’m in real dan­ger. This is it, I told my­self, this is it. If you do this, it’s for good. No mat­ter how dam­aged he is, how sick, he will be yours and your re­spon­si­bil­ity. You can’t ever push him away from you. You must love him. You and he will be to­gether for­ever if you do this. It’s for good.

“Stop, Si­mon,” I said. Si­mon stopped and looked round.

We slowed down. Once Arthur could see that he was get­ting nearer, he seemed to find strength from some­where and, with a supreme ef­fort, got to the side of the boat.

Putting my pad­dle down, I leaned over and put my hands into the wa­ter and around Arthur. With a huge ef­fort, nearly un­bal­anc­ing the boat as I did so, I pulled him up into the boat.

I knew Arthur was fol­low­ing us, but I couldn’t look back. I kept telling my­self he’d re­al­ize what was hap­pen­ing, and that he’d have to stay be­hind.

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