Yesterday, in weather that evolved from snow to sleet to freezing rain to rain, the team and I had one of our best runs all season. It was because of Wembley and House in lead.
The plan for yesterday was simple: a nice 30 mile run, in our normal trail network, but taking new trails and running turns in different directions. I wanted to give Hyside and Bayley and Ia a break, so they would feel fresh for Can Am’s hills, so I decided to put Wembley and House in front. I also wanted to test these two, on their ability to take directional commands on the fly, and to head down unbroken trail. The trail conditions were soft enough that I had control to stop or slow down the team, so I felt this was a good time to try. If they didn’t take the turn right off, I could stop the team and help them figure it out.
Turns out, I never needed to do that. When I would give a command, Wembley would look up and around and dive into the turn. In the first few turns, House didn’t comply fully, but once he realized he would be making more and different decisions, he started paying more attention. They worked fluidly together, focused.
Wembley rose to lead two years ago, when I saw how driven and athletic she was in the team. She led a few spring runs, and then in the fall started her full training as a leader, learning speed from Grenade and learning drive from Bryn and learning commands from Bayley. She led the entirety of the Can Am 250, including a few stints in single lead. She then went on, two weeks later, to lead the team in a series of super fast runs in the Stage Race to second place. House is Wembley’s half-brother, serious and earnest and a pet dog during the rest of the year. He started in lead this fall, and showed drive and a desire to please. There is something about House, maybe his earnestness and willingness to be told what to do, that Wembley plays off of. There is something about Wembley, about her random fears, that House pulls her through. There is something between the two of them that makes them a good pair.
As we turned onto a new trail, an ungroomed ATV trail, the team slowed down as we broke trail for a few miles. Soft snow will bring a team into good alignment, as they bunch together into the trough left by the trail breaking dogs ahead of them. They looked good as they pulled steadily ahead. The trail had twists and hills and bridges, all things that make Wembley excited to see what’s up ahead, and charge forward into each new thing. There was an electricity in the air.
On that ungroomed section, new to me and to them, I felt the beauty of winter. I felt the capability of the team to explore and run smoothly, I felt the quiet of the trees, I felt the deepness of the snow. I, also, felt the fragility of this experience, knowing that rain would eliminate the trails.
We ran the 30 miles at a faster pace than I wanted to, even in the sticky snow and with a heavy sled. In training for Can Am next weekend, I wanted to go slower and ease them down. But it’s hard to slow down Wembley when she’s on fire.
When we reached the truck, everything was iced. The sled was iced, the lines were iced, and the front of my jacket and hood and helmet were iced. But the dogs were happy, tail wagging and wet, and they all dove into their food bowls. At the front of the line, were Wembley, goofily and excitedly rubbing her face into the snow, and House, standing seriously and patiently waiting for the moment when I would let him into the backseat.
It was one of those runs when the bond grows closer, when I appreciate so deeply the individual souls of these dogs. And give great thanks.
Wembley and House spent the night inside, of course. House socked out on a dog bed, Wembley alert for what’s next. Sounds about right.