On every single dog: End of season wrap-up
On when there are too many ‘what-if’s: Can Am 250 2019
This time of year I wonder: what does it mean to train a dog team? What is the feeling to put a dog in harness, attach them to a line, and then connect that line to a sled and we travel the wilderness together? The five months of summer, of the non-training season, pass all too quickly.
I wrote the below wrap-up, a logging and status-report of every single dog, to send to the sponsors and supporters of the team, writing it back in April but only just mailing them out this month. As I put the envelopes together, running my fingers over these words, it made me love these dogs even more, made me hug them tighter when I was in the dog yard and laugh with them when we are hiking on the trail. In mushing, and in working with animals in general, we talk about shared bonds. Reading through these narratives, I see not only these facts and stories, I see the blinding love and energy I share with each and every dog. These dogs are more than the workers, the athletes. We are a team.
On How a Race Ends Early, and why that’s ok: Our first Beargrease Marathon
It depends on how much of a gambler you are,’ Al Borak had said to me, in discussing whether we should stay in the 250 or drop to the 100, given this shift in leadership. I knew we would have a solid 100. To stay in the 250 was going to ask a lot of those young leaders. And ask a lot of me, in a way I did not expect.
So, I stayed in the 250. I took the gamble. I rolled the dice. I committed to the unknown, choosing the active embrace of that wide expanse instead of a contraction of fear. I made this decision, with likely a lot less awareness of how serious a gamble it was.
On the Balance of Confidence: What hope looks like in January
To retell the story is to resist the bone-aching narrative aligning to one unhelpful place, one tinted view shed. It cracks open the world, releasing the good: the wild love of these dogs, the aliveness of bitter cold and crystalline snow, the caught breath of crossing new mountains and lakes, and the company of other dog teams. It gives us the grace of recalling the multifaceted and glorious prismatic world of what traveling with a dog team is and should be: the wild places of winter, remeasuring time and space with the rhythm of paws and the squeak of snow under the runners, and the rare opportunity to be among mushers and volunteers who are all here for the same reasons, in celebration.
On why it's called 'Training'
Experience is not a slow accumulation of brazen confidence, at least not for me. It is a cycle, of things falling apart and then coming back together, falling apart and then coming back together. I have come to find that I can both be undone and together at the same time, the things that are together giving the solid ground to face what has come undone. It is really hard when the balance of confidence tips, sometimes, towards being undone. It is especially true when facing a new challenge, the first new race I’ve entered in three years.
On the Seeds of Teamwork
Every time we stopped, the dogs grew more frenetic, the pitch and tenor of their screams accelerated. They didn’t like stopping, especially so much in the first mile. They had had a few days off and were super-charged. As I chopped and moved the trees, heavy and iced into the ground, it wasn’t the barking that bothered me but concern that Hilde or Nibbler would stop barking and start chewing. While I had brought my axe, as always, I didn’t have a rope to tie the ATV off to, so I worried also about the brakes giving way. When the dogs occasionally grew silent, I expected to see loose dogs running at me. I pushed those thoughts aside and focused on chopping trees efficiently and clearing a path.
Earlier in the month, I watched the team and couldn’t tell what was going on. The rhythm and flow seemed off, there was no snapped-in-line-symmetry looking down the line. Everyone was happy, but I couldn’t tell if they, if we, were becoming a team.
That is already changing. The intuition that had me unclip everyone at the end of the run came from the gut feeling, from the knowledge, that the teamwork was forming. The identity was coming into being. The shared sense of purpose, the electricity that runs from my hands along the lines of the team, those are some of the reasons I train a dog team. The first step is teamwork. The next step is resilience.