Read Andreo's Race Online

Authors: Pam Withers

Andreo's Race

Copyright © 2015 by Pam Withers

Published in Canada by Tundra Books, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, One Toronto Street, Suite 300, Toronto, Ontario M5C 2V6

Published in the United States by Tundra Books of Northern New York, P.O. Box 1030, Plattsburgh, New York 12901

Library of Congress Control Number: 2014934267

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the publisher—or, in case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency—is an infringement of the copyright law.

LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA CATALOGUING IN PUBLICATION

Withers, Pam, author
Andreo's race / written by Pam Withers.

ISBN 978-1-77049-766-5 (pbk.).—ISBN 978-1-77049-767-2 (epub)

I. Title.

PS8595.I8453A65 2015      jC813′.6               C2014-900837-6
                                                                      C2014-900838-4

Edited by Sue Tate
Designed by Rachel Cooper
www.tundrabooks.com

v3.1

For my father, Richard Miller, with love

CHAPTER ONE

You need the lungs and leg muscles of a giant to pump your mountain bike up a steep, twisting trail in the Canadian Rockies. Especially in pitch darkness, and even if you're drafting your hard-sweating friend Raul Jones.

It doesn't help that we've had no sleep for forty hours and the blisters on our feet are weeping yellow pus under their mummy wraps of duct tape. It doesn't help that we have another sixteen-plus kilometers (ten miles) to go. And that's assuming we're not already lost on this mountain pass. It does help that the first hints of dawn are beginning to backlight the wind-tossed trees around us.

“You still awake, Andreo?” Raul's voice bellows.

“I'm awake,” I shout, blinking heavy eyelids to convince myself it's true. “I'll lead when we reach the top of this hill.”

“Not.” His voice drifts back to me.

In rhythm with my own haggard breathing, I work the pedals and focus on the reflective stripes of Raul's yellow
bike jacket. Like glowworms, they draw me slowly up to the crest, then wrinkle and shrink as my friend raises an arm in a victory punch and speeds downhill.

I suck from my hydration pack's mouth tube and lean into my handlebars. My aching knees amp up their piston work to reach the top. Then, praying it's our last hill, I shift my weight back and lift my numb butt off the saddle, more than ready to enlist gravity for a while.

Wind numbs my ears, and my body vibrates with the effort of swerving around rocks as my bike hurtles into daybreak. After half an hour of keeping every body part flexed for shock absorption, I find myself staring wide-eyed at my friend. He's being swallowed by a blanket of fog so thick and low over the valley ahead that it feels entirely possible we're entering a zone of suffocation. It resembles a giant lake heaped with fluffy snowdrifts, but in my exhaustion, I imagine that a feathery mattress awaits, eager to embrace me, bike and all.

Instead of feathers, a cool wetness slaps my face, and visibility drops to—
Screech!
I narrowly avoid skidding into Raul. He's standing beside his bike on the side of the trail, squeezing a pack of power gel between his chapped lips.

“This fog's bad,
mon
.”

“Wrong,” I reassure him. “It'll mess up the others. Not us. That's a good thing.”

Raul makes a face at me. “Yeah, but we lose this trail
and we're toast. I say let's pull over. We've earned a little break. Maybe it'll thin out.”

“We rest, we lose. The compass and map say we're okay. Besides, the last checkpoint should be bottom of this valley, beside the lake.”

“Last checkpoint,” Raul echoes, brightening. “Manned by lots of cute
chicas
, I hope.” He re-straddles his bike and turns up his music. Bob Marley leaks from his earbuds through his now-bobbing dreadlocks. I grin. Sometimes I wonder if Raul thinks he's black rather than brown.

“Raul, we'll be through there so fast, we won't know if they're chicks or dudes,” I say, pulling up beside him. “Remember, fog's good. Dad says I have a sixth sense when it comes to navigation. A homing instinct.”

Raul removes one earbud. “Homing instinct? He means you're a pigeon-brain. But lead on, fog-man.” He lifts his bony butt back onto his bike saddle and we're off.

Down into the valley we careen, wisps of fog brushing our necks. An eerie cry rises from nearby peaks. Wolves. I shudder without lifting my eyes from the trail. Most other creatures up here must be getting ready to hibernate, especially after this October cold snap. I sigh. A long winter's nap is what I need right now. I shake my head to keep myself alert.

Unlike most of the competitors in this teens-only, two-day adventure race, I've been training for this kind of event all my life. Comes with having a mother who's a former canoe racer and personal trainer, and a dad who
spends every moment he's not working at his construction firm tearing around the world, competing in adventure races. Adventure races, as I'm always explaining to my eleventh-grade classmates at Canmore High, are basically multisport races in the wilderness lasting anywhere from a day or two to more than a week. It's a kind of insanity that only fitness crazies with an overload of testosterone and a need to “test their limits” go in for. Fitness freaks who also happen to have a fat wallet, since the big adventure races—not wimpy little two-day kid versions like this one—cost plenty.

That's my folks: rich, adventurous fitness fanatics. I go along with it 'cause I'm good at the navigation bit. And to fit in with my family, however hopeless
that
is. Raul does it to get away from his drunken parents.

“Yes! The lake!” I shout even before I see it. The thicker air means water is nearby, and for just a microsecond, the fog delivers the faint sound of human conversation.
Use all your senses
, Dad always says.

We ride at speed right up to some stacked crates and two folding chairs that serve as the checkpoint. Two girl volunteers from our high school smile and rise to stamp the team passport I hold out.

“Anyone ahead of us?” Raul asks the prettier of the two, even though he knows it's against the rules for them to tell.

“My lips are sealed,” she replies.

“Your lips are way too pretty to be sealed. But we'll
continue this conversation later.” He grins as he sprints his bike toward the mist-enshrouded beach. I follow.

“Mother!” I drop my bike and rush toward her slender, broad-shouldered form beside the lineup of canoes at the water's edge. She's wearing several fleece jackets and a lavender ski cap, black Lycra tights and brand-new, hightech running shoes. She's not a race official here or anything, just our self-appointed trainer and fan. “Wasn't sure you'd be here.”

“You've made good time,” she says, studying her chronograph racing watch. “I knew you wouldn't get lost in the fog.” She reaches out as if to pat my shoulder, but fails to actually touch it. Other mothers would give their son a hug, but my mother isn't the hugging kind. Not with this son, anyway. “Hurry now, boys,” she urges, nodding at Raul.

Raul and I drop our packs into the nearest canoe and grab the life jackets lying inside. “Who's ahead of us?” I ask.

“Two teams,” she says gravely, leaning forward to buckle my life jacket like I'm still a kid, not a sixteen-year-old. “But you're on their tail. Remember to stroke close to the canoe, let the boat glide—no lurching—and use your abdominal muscles.… ”

“We know all that.” Raul leaps into the bow and picks up the paddle lying there. “Let's go already, Team Inca.”

A shadow flickers across my mother's face. She doesn't like our team name, and for a split second, I regret not
vetoing Raul's suggestion.
But she'll overlook our name when we win
, I reason.

“See you at the finish!” she shouts. “There's a surprise waiting there!”

“Food, I hope,” Raul says.

“David?” I contemplate, stabbing the water, then pulling with long, clean strokes.


Nah
, your brother's too busy at that new private school of his,” Raul says.

If there's little love lost between David and me, there's a whole lot less between David and my sharp-tongued, rough-edged buddy Raul, I muse. But now's not the time to distract ourselves from hauling ass.

Bob Marley's crackly voice drifts sternward as our paddles slice through thinning mist and gray lake water.

“Fog-brain, know where we're going?” Raul asks.

“Like a laser beam.”

“But Team Torpedoes is to our right, veering east.”

I squint as far as the vapor will let me and detect the outline of another canoe. “That's their problem. Trust me.”

Stroke
,
stroke
,
stroke
. What's left of my shoulder muscles burns cruelly; my eyelids can't stay propped open much longer. Twenty minutes later, we come up on what must be the lead team's canoe. Splashes tell me that the Adventure Aces are not paddling smoothly and evenly, but hey, they didn't grow up with a mother-coach. We move into position to ride their wake. They swivel around to glare at us and unwisely pour on speed.

Fifteen minutes of piggybacking on their efforts and my nostrils smell mud and vegetation, which means we're approaching land. “Move it,” I direct Raul, and we dig in to pass the would-be winners, who lack the juice now to prevent our taking the lead. Even before our canoe slides onto shore, we strip off our life jackets, let our paddles clatter to the floor and re-shoulder our packs. A startled volunteer steps forward to secure the boat.

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