Story begins in the voice of Patrick Warburton. You know, the M&M Buzz Lightyear guy.
"Hey, everyone. Thanks for showing up early for this meeting. We have an important task ahead of us. Practicing our ability to connect with one another will be crucial to making it outta here alive. We have one shot and gotta work together on this."
Maksim addressed six other members of the team, hoping to test their focus and resolve before hitting the trail.
Everyone gathered close.
"This morning I'd like us to start with an exercise to strengthen our mental abilities."
The team nodded in approval of the idea.
"If everyone could pick a partner, then we'll get started."
Snow always seemed to build up when no one was watching. Last night, the snow fell considerably.
Assembling into groups of two, team members trenched their way to meet their partners in preparation for Maksim's direction.
Locating a lost item in the snow was challenging enough in itself. The cold air made tracking much more difficult; having a teammate as a guide was a welcome addition to this exercise.
Blazer, Nikita, and Spirit turned away from the testing grounds to face the cabin. Maksim tossed three squeaky toys into the distance, one for each team to locate.
Maksim let out three woofs followed with a shout "Sled Team, Search!"
The dogs who watched where the squeakies landed, barked directions and approvals for their teammates attempting to locate toys sinking into the fresh snow.
A task that would take hours for a human to complete was accomplished in less than 5 minutes by all of the sled team members.
Squeaky toys successfully placed at Maksim's feet, he raised a paw in surrender as he was once again astonished with the abilities of the entire sled team. Although they could quickly locate squeakies in troubled conditions, no one had expressed knowledge of their sled driver's plight. While in the cabin, Maksim sensed trouble inside their sled driver. She had suffered an injury last week, and now there was the scent of some kind of internal injury. Only Maksim had smelled the injury and knew they needed to be quick about finding help.
Maksim directed the team to load the sled with necessary items. Around the side of the cabin were ropes and harnesses, a pick axe and shovel, and a small wooden box with cooking supplies for the sled driver.
Inside the cabin, Maksim sat next to the sled driver's cot as she rested. He knew they needed to get on the trail soon. The question now was, how would he convince her to get out of bed? It was a challenge that dogs faced all over the world. No matter where you live, humans are so difficult for an animal to train. Being the most senior in the pack, Maksim made an executive decision - he would break code, just this once.
Placing a paw on her arm, Maksim whispered, "Kelli, I need you to wake up! Kelli."
Was she dreaming? Kelli had been living alone in the woods for months. Hearing her name spoken was a little surprising.
"Kelli, I know you might be a little shocked right now, but I need you to listen to me. Your injuries from last week are not improving. We need to get you to help!"
Knowing Maksim was right, this was no time to figure out how he was talking. Her body weakened; she knew it was now or never.
Dressed for a trip through the tundra, Kelli made her way to the readied sled. Making herself secure, she was prepared to trust Maksim. He would guide the team while she rested.
The team was assembled as follows -
Having a steady disposition and ability to turn on a dime, Spirit and Nikita were placed in Wheel position, just in front of the sled.
Blazer and Dash were quite the powerhouse dogs. They were stationed in the middle of the line up.
On the front harness would be Maksim and Nova, providing additional support for power as well as guidance for the team in line behind them.
Then, there was Raven. Coming from a noble lineage, she was born to be a skilled tracker. A rare find in the tundra, with fur as dark as night, she would be free of a harness to run ahead of the team, deciding on the best path for success.
Starting off slowly, the team found a nice pace to begin, making sure their sled driver was resting and secure for their journey.
Raven ran ahead, cresting a snowy mountain and dropping off into the distance. Soon enough she circled back, Maksim and Nova directing the team on the decided path.
Once they crested the hill, Raven took the team at an angle down the mountainside, where they would eventually meet the edge of the forest. The snow depth reduced with the decline in elevation.
Needing to take a break to rebuild strength, Maksim guided the team to a halt.
Frozen moose cutlets were provided for the sled team. Raven quickly finished her meal then set out through the forest to study the next leg of the trip.
Kelli took a few bites of jerky and sipped some bone broth. The team was antsy, ready to bolt out of there once the cutlets were gone. The problem with sled dogs is that they love the work so much, needed breaks are not the first thing on their minds. Using Kelli's condition as a good excuse and needing further direction, everyone rested and waited on Raven to guide their journey.
"Maksim, come quick!" An urgent request was whispered from the trees. Maksim saw Raven in the shadows and made his way to her.
"A man with an air sled..."
"You mean airplane?"
"Yes, one of those, is in a clearing, just beyond the forest. It looks like he's preparing for a journey!"
Joy filled Maksim at the sound of this news. He rushed back to tell the others. Everyone quickly got in position while Maksim attended to their sled driver.
"Maksim, are you ok?" Kelli asked as she was adjusting her position for the trip.
He gently licked her cheek then fell in line. Again, he let out three woofs followed with a shout "Sled Team, Forward!"
Thanks to Raven plotting the path and agile skills of the team, they quickly navigated the treed region. Finally arriving at the clearing, they found the man with the air sled.
When seven dogs are rushing towards you and barking like mad, it's a little unnerving. Successfully getting the man's attention, he stopped his preflight check activities to see what the commotion was all about. A sled team with no musher? he thought to himself. Then he realized the musher was on the sled, and it was obvious, she was in need of help.
"Can you take me to a hospital?" Kelli slowly managed to get the words out.
The man helped her into the airplane.
Kelli looked at Maksim. He pawed the air to let her know he would be here for her.
"I'll be back, Maksie!", she shouted.
The airplane had lift off. The sled team was filled with hope as they returned home to the cabin.
Days had gone by. The team passed the time with silly games, play fighting, and more advanced squeaky toys drills.
A few times a day, Raven would search the region for signs of their sled driver. Then one day, there was obnoxious barking off in the distance. A team was pulling a sled, with two people riding along - one was Kelli.
Raven howled until the other dogs realized the direction to travel. Once she knew they were tracking, she ran the path back to the cabin, with the sled team, their driver, and Kelli, following behind.
There was a celebration at the cabin when their sled driver arrived. Kelli was pummeled by kisses and whimpers and gentle paws, the love only dogs can give when you've been away for any length of time and have returned home.
Kelli pet Maksim on the head, and with genuine wonder, asked, "How did you do it? How did you know I needed help, and, well, you told me?!?"
Panting and smiling, Maksim spun in a circle. Seeing a toy close by, he picked up the squeaky and placed it in her lap.
Maksim let out three woofs followed with a howl. The sled team replied, and in unison, they howled a song, for their sled driver was now home.