On Finding Ease in Risk

I opened my arms to the blowing cold, the blue light that comes before dark, and the open sky and declared aloud ‘Winter is freedom.’

It had been a good run.

By now, the team and I have traveled nearly 1,200 miles together since October 1st.  So many runs, so many harnesses, so many trails. So many days, mornings, and nights spent in the woods. Yet, a good run has adventure, finding ease in risk.

I had just run 35 miles of the 50 mile loop for the Mahoosuc 100 race trail. We started on a plowed road, and then dove into the woods down a long narrow wooded trail that paralleled the road and bottomed out in a wide section of open water that plunged the sled and almost knocked me off. From the start, we traveled on and off the plowed road, never quite making it fully across as the trail dictated. There were a lot of unknowns. But with confident and responsible Hyside in lead, and knowing fully where I was because we had trained there by ATV so many times, I had faith.

It was lightly snowing the whole time. It was 10 dog team of reliable dogs, leaving behind the ever-tangled Gunnar, the strong Thai with a cut toe, and the young and yipping Nibbler who is coming into heat. It was Hyside and Wembley, Maihi and Ellie, Bayley and Hawkeye, Ariel and Ia, and Taz and House.

My eyes felt more open on that run. It was because we had traveled from a new direction on new trail. I could see more possibility, more adventures. I felt the openness of new beginnings. The ability to conquer challenge, as we took turns, climbed hills, and crossed open water. I watched the snow fall, creating the shaded levels of trees along the ridgelines. We saw only five snowmobiles. I kicked behind the sled, the team hauling fast up hills.

It was beautiful, and so wild.

At the end, I let dogs loose around the truck. Hyside, Taz, Maihi, House, Bayley. They roamed, but stayed close, my teammates, and friends.

I fed them, I cared for them, I removed the ice from paws and checked for cuts. I leaned in to hug and thank each one of them, something passing from my chest to theirs. Ia had ice on her ears, Ellie wrapped her paws around my shoulders, and the tall Hawkeye folded himself into my lap. A promise was made among us all, and to each other.

The wind picked up as I was packing up the truck, loading up the gear after the dogs were already in their warm straw-lined boxes. My pants were iced over from water crossings. I could tell it was growing cold, as my fingers froze to snaps, as I loosened iced-over straps, and as I put on a warmer jacket.

I felt powerful, strong and a little more wild. I felt like I held a secret experience, something held only by me, shared in silence with the dog team. I was filled with the beauty of all things new.

Some of the best runs are the most challenging ones. They are more confirming. They weave the team together, they pull me in. I stayed in the dogyard in the darkness after I fed them, and held young Oriana and conveyed to her the same promise I made to the others: that we will have good adventures, that we will run and explore and be alone in the wilderness, that there will be joy in the world. And, importantly, that I will always care for her. 

The evidence of a good run was found the next day in a chapped and dry face, in tingling taut muscles, and a state of slight dehydration. Three of the dog team slept around the woodstove in the morning, Maihi, House and Bayley. When I went out to feed in the morning, they were satisfied. 

I leave you with this:

 “Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.”

-John O’Donohue, a Blessing for New Beginnings.


Sally Manikian