I ran my first dog team completely by myself the other week. I have this habit of asking really really stupid questions when Mike catches me off guard with something. So when he asked me if I could take the dogs around the neighborhood for the tour, I was all “You mean, like, outside?” But what a grand feeling; you, the dogs, the trail, nothing else. It’s these points of communion that are normally the highlight of my days. When Mike does runs for tours we normally station a handler at the far end of the kennel to run alongside the team as they reenter the yard, just to make sure nothing goes wrong. Thomas does it mostly, but occasionally it’s me. I get this absurd mix of fear and awe and my stomach nearly drops out when they come barreling around the corner, full-bore, slinging spit, snarling (the kind of fury Mike likes in his dogs; tail-tuckers “never get you anywhere”). And I know the dogs don’t give a pile of poop that I’m there but for me it’s special. I don’t see them from the front on runs. All I see are butts and tails and ears but when I sync up with them on the ground, stretching to catch up, you get a whiff of that energy. We were on a run the other day, when Mike switched Ozzie and Twain in lead. When I asked why, he said, ‘cause I like it.’ He’s told me quite a few times that I think too much (ha!), so I didn’t press. Then he volunteered, ‘those guys have probably 50,000 miles on them.’ It took a minute to sink in. That is a lot of miles. Yeah. It took me 3500 miles to get from GA to Oregon. Ozzie and Twain have run the equivalent of that distance 14 times. That night and the following one I sat up in bed before falling asleep wondering what it’s like to go 50,000 miles with a dog. Respect for the sport. Respect for the dogmanship. Mostly, mad Rispek for the dogs.
Things haven’t slowed down around here. It’s been a mental strain trying to rewire my brain to think like a dog. College trained me to have tunnel vision. To focus on a book or a paper for six hours at a time in the library without being distracted by my phone, the dude with a pile of the loudest possible snack items in the worlds history and the girl taking absolutely ridiculous selfies #studytime #somebodysaveme #grindingformygrades. Now it’s the opposite. You need to see and hear everything around you going on. And the most difficult thing for me, you have to externalize it. In a crisis, you’ve got to be looking at the dog. Not at your feet. Not sitting there with your mouth open trying to figure out how in the hell it came to be that Wingman is in Gunnel’s circle and Gremlin’s backwards on the wrong side of the line and Bruiser and Jigsaw aren’t hooked down anymore and I still have three more dogs to go on the line even though Anvil just snagged the seam of my jeans and ripped them clear down from my hip to my ankle. Somehow, you’re supposed to be able to think clearly in those moments. I can’t think clearly in the grocery store when I haven’t eaten in two hours, how am I supposed to make a composed decision when there are seventy dogs barking at me (plus Mike) and three seconds to fix things before it all hits the fan? But alas, we manage.
So where am I going with this? Basically, I’ve just been beating around the bush telling you guys I’m staying up here for the winter (I can hear the shrieks all the way from Georgia). Mike asked me to stick it out. When I asked what I’d be doing, “Dogs, running dogs, everywhere, probably even a race or two.” I’ll be the first to say he’s putting an awful lot of stock in someone who’s never stepped foot on a sled. But you can’t dangle that bone (pun intended) in front of me and expect me to not snap it up. When I called my mom and told her Mike’s offer, she said she saw it coming. That she couldn’t tell me no. She asked if this would benefit my career and of course the answer as it always has been, was no, not directly. But truth be told, there’s a lot of things I’ve learned in the dog yard that have made me a better person in life. Or so I hope. So I tried really hard to pretend to look for other jobs, but in the end I went with my gut and accepted. Cause that’s what I’ve been going on for a while, my gut. If I didn’t have some fru-fru, hippy-dippy, Peter Pan never-growing-up complex I wouldn’t be here in Alaska to begin with. There’s not one bit of logic that explains why I’m here and yet why am I so content? “There’s something in the back of my head that says you’re halfway into this, and if you don’t stay you’ll never know what the end is really like.” And that’s why I love my momma, y’all.