Progress across the sea-ice had been slow for the snowmobiles. They had picked their way though the jumbled blocks and jagged teeth of ice, forced upwards by the pressure of the surrounding shelf, thawed, weathered, and refrozen, time after time. They had manhandled the machines over blockages, experienced moments of terror, hours of tedium punctuated intermittently and increasingly annoyingly by, “Take the next turn left,” from Ginsbergbear’s i-phone satnav app.
And, “Recalculating,” when they didn’t.
“It will work better when we are on land.” announced Ginsbergbear, without undue concern.
Travelling some way into the mouth of a wide, frozen river they eventually found a steep and tortuous route up onto the snow plateau that covered the land. They sat on their machines astonished. As far as they could see the snow spread before them, flat and featureless as the top of a Christmas cake, decorated with the occasional spire, pylon or rocky outcrop pushing above the carpet of snow and ice. They should make good time over this terrain.
Boz eased the throttle open on his snowmobile and moved off. From behind there was a, “Waheee!” and Strawberry wheelied his Corgi into a madcap dash, overtook Bozzy’s combo and accelerating ahead, disappeared.
“Did you see that?” shouted Phoebles.
Boz stopped, drove slowly forwards and stopped again. The trio dismounted and walked cautiously towards the black hole that marked the spot where Strawberry and Bert Wold had last been seen. They peered over the edge.
Someway down, the upturned Brockhouse Corgi was jammed between the walls of a seemingly bottomless crevasse. A large orange fur coat lay spread-eagled across the machine and from beneath the collar a pair of wide eyes, black with terror, peered back at them.
“He’s gone.” a thin voice quivered, “It just kept falling, the sledge, supplies, Ber… The atlas has gone, everything’s gone… and I don’t feel very safe.”
“Hang on!” shouted Phoebles.
“That’s what I’ve been doing.”
“We need a volunteer to go down to him.” said Boz. He and Phoebles glared at Ginsbergbear. Ginsbergbear glared back.
“Me… do I look like a volunteer?”
“You must be the lightest – you’re stuffed with horsehair. And the vet says me and Boz are erring on the pudgy side.” explained Phoebles. “No time to waste, I’ll find a rope.” He produced a stout length of manila from the back of the sledge and a bowline was tied around the bear’s middle. The other end was secured by a round turn and two half hitches to the frame of the skidoo, a means of attachment highly recommended in Phoebles’ well thumbed copy of A Boy’s Bumper Book of Knots.
“Prepare to be lowered.” Boz mounted the quietly idling Corgi and as Ginsbergbear hesitated on the edge of the chasm Phoebles gave him a gentle shove. It was as close to abseiling as dangling at the end of a rope with all limbs thrashing wildly can be.
When he alighted on the upturned machine, close to Strawberry, there was a scraping noise and several chunks of ice detached from the crevasse walls.
“Don’t hang about. Tie the rope round the two of you and wave when you’re ready.”
On Ginsbergbear’s signal Phoebles shouted, “Go!” to Boz and the Brockhouse Corgi began to inch forwards.
By the time the pair eventually popped over the edge of the hole and flopped onto terra firma it was hard to judge who was the most traumatised. Hot, sweet tea was quickly brewed up and Strawberry wrapped in spare blankets and woollens. He was worryingly subdued.
“I’d quite like to get away from here as quickly as possible.” he shivered.
“OK, well press on till dusk before we make camp.” declared Boz, “Shame about Bert… and the atlas. Still, that’s life.”
They re-stowed the gear on the sledge, mounted their one remaining rig and set off once more, somewhat cautiously.
Next morning Boz put his head out of the tent and noticed something dark protruding above the drifts out to the west of their bivouac. After a breakfast of sardines on toast they steered towards it. An hour or so later, as they drew close to the object they could see that it was the tilted bust of a gigantic metal man with something like the wing of an aircraft projecting from its shoulder.
“At the next roundabout, take the third exit,” barked the GPS.
Ginsbergbear studied the little map on his i-Phone screen, “I think it wants us to follow the Great North Road.”
“And where exactly is that?” asked Phoebles.
“Somewhere below us.” suggested Boz, checking his Dan Dare compass and turning the skidoo northwards.