On the First Few Runs

When I went into the dogyard to load the dogs, for the first run, they were quiet and calm. It was like they almost didn’t believe it was happening. It was twilight, and we would be running into the night. They had started settling down for the evening, as they had every night for the almost seven months since Can Am ended.

The hookup and run was flawless. By the end of the first mile, they had clicked into place, moving as one and moving well. The yearlings could be spotted, a slight flail of curiousity once in awhile, an irregular gait, moving under the line to lean against the dog next to them.

Now, three weeks into the training season, it all feels so normal and straightforward. Taz and Wembley take naps until it’s time to be hooked in, Ia pops out from under the truck to get her harness and then pops back under, Hyside stands staring straight down the trail, leaning against his chain, waiting for the moment he’ll be released to the front of the team. Ellie is as difficult to harness as ever, as she is far more interested in licking my face and hugging me than in getting her harness on. Hawkeye is as cool, calm and collected as ever. Nibbler is the cheerleader who starts the whining, and them amps up House and Taz, and she kisses Foreman when she runs next to him.  

Then there are the newbies, Foreman who seems to be willing to run anywhere in the team, Inferno who is already moving up towards the front, Paolo who is the most consistent in harness, and Oriana who just wants to go fast fast fast fast. Hilde and Ariel are rising to lead, with Hyside and Bayley and Ia as their capable trainers. House has joined us once again.

As I watch the team move effortlessly together, I can feel the miles and hours and days and experiences of all the years we’ve spent together. For Bayley, this is the fifth time we’ve started a season together, for Taz and Wembley it is the fourth, Ellie and Nibbler the third. The lifetime miles matter, here.

Training the team this year feels different. It feels like I can wrap my arms around our goals and lift them, for I have the support of these incredible souls. They, and we, are a team.

Last year we had some of the poorest snow conditions I’ve seen and the warmest December, but we had one of our best racing years ever. While I still know that anything can happen and this team and I are not invincible, and that race performance does not come without incredible effort, I can tell how good this year will be. I can see the miles adding up, I can see how it will pull together. I do not doubt this, as I have in years past. 

These dogs are professionals. We can only improve. 

As for our race goals, early this season I admitted wanting to run the Beargrease Mid Distance. Those goals have shifted to being the Haliburton World Championships in Ontario, a three day stage race of 50 miles per day. Can Am 250 is still the ultimate end goal, and I’m hoping to make things work for another trip to the UP200. 

Or, the way I look at it, we have a first fun race in January, a big race in March, and in February a race that will keep us engaged and get us out. If we do not make it to the UP200, then the fun will be found in racing the Greenville 70 mile Wilderness Race, and going for long camping runs on the weekend, running through the night as we did last year.  

But before any of that happens, we have many early mornings, late nights, and long runs on the ATV. So much to do.

Dwelling in possibility right now. Planning for the hope of snow.  

Sally Manikian