Musher in Training: Part 2Posted: February 3, 2012
Winter in Alaska is an experience, and I have to say, there are days I love it, and then on other days, not so much. Sometimes, you can’t help but think, dang, it really is cold and dark, with emphasis on cold. But today was not one of those days. Today was a perfect. Light, fluffy flakes of snow drifting out of the sky like glitter and smiling, happy sled dogs.
I have been working/volunteering at the dog mushing kennel for almost a month now, crazy. And I am settling into the groove. I love that the dogs, particularly my team, know me. When I walk up in the morning they go nuts: barking, jumping, running in circles. It makes me feel a little like a celebrity, until I remember they put on the same show for food, having the snow cleaned off the top of their house, and really, just about anything that peaks their interest.
But my lead dogs, Nugget and M&M, continue to watch me as I move around the yard. They are vigilant. It is their way of saying, I want to run, today, right now, in case you didn’t already know that. And Batman, the newest addition to my team, gets so excited he jumps straight into the air when I start pulling out my little, green sled. He’s a pain, but he is so cute and enthusiastic, that I don’t even get mad when he won’t sit still while I try and put on his harness. (He once gave someone a black eye when they were trying to put on his harness, because he was jumping around so much.) And the puppies … the puppies start drooling when they see me, because they know two lucky winners will get to go for a walk that day. A puppy romp in the snow.
Maybe it’s weird, but I have started talking about the dogs like I used to talk about the kids in the after school programs that I ran in Pittsburgh, PA. Loveable little personalities. Lucas laughs and smiles and laughs again when I come home from a day with the dogs and tell him that Batman was so eager to pull that he, literally, ran over M&M during our start out of the lot. It was a tangle of ropes and dog legs. Or that now all of the puppies have figured out how to pop out the bowl on the top of their houses, making room for their heads. They are following Tanana’s lead, our little puppy ring leader. With the bowl gone, their heads stick out of the little wooden houses like a submarine scope. It is beyond cute.
I know I shouldn’t say this, but Tanana is my favorite. I should love them all equally, but I don’t. That little girl has got me hooked. See the picture below, how can you not love that face?
Beyond my dog-obsessed love, I also continue to learn new, practical, things. On Wednesday, I learned how to make (out of nylon rope) gang lines and neck lines that connect the dogs to the sleds. I have learned how to extend and shorten the main line on the sled, allowing me to add or take away the number of dogs on my team. And then the basics: I am faster at chores and I know where things are and what needs to be done. It is a good feeling. It feels like I fit.
What I am most excited about, (with the addition of Batman) I now drive a five dog team. I take to the trails by myself, for the most part not getting lost. And as wild and chaotic as the dog lot can be, as soon as we are on the trail it is like a whole new world has just opened up. A quite world of white.
When we are running, the dogs are silent and focused. Little engines. Driving a sled I sometimes feel like I’m in a dream. The world slowly, smoothly, drifting around me. The only reminder of the real world, crisp air on my cheeks. It is the same kind of feeling I get when I am running (when I am in shape and not huffing for air). Or after hiking up a mountain and looking out at the view. The moments when you stop thinking about laundry or shopping lists or what you need to do in five minutes or five hours. I wish I could make my brain quite like this more often. And being pulled on a sled by a team of loveable dogs is certainly an enjoyable way to make the world around me feel so peaceful.
Happy Friday, and I hope your day was as good as mine!
Oh, PS. Tomorrow is the Yukon Quest. A 1,000 mile dog sled race that starts in Fairbanks, Alaska and finishes in Whitehorse, Yukon. Mushers around here say it is often tougher than the Iditarod, because it is run through more rugged terrain and during a colder month. Regardless, I think both are pretty hardcore! You can check out the website here. Hopefully, I will have some pictures to post next week from the race start. I feel a little like a dog sledding cheerleader, but it is pretty awesome, so why not?