This November was tough on my mental health, and it’s also forced me to look at myself and my kennel setup in a whole new light. I have given lip service to the truth that if I don’t take care of myself, I can’t take care of my dogs. That idea is all well and good in theory, but it cannot live in theory any more. It needs to live squarely in practice. The reality is, self-care is a muscle I have not exercised well. So, I have an uphill journey for that one.
Circumstances of my own mental health and various other factors have constantly checked some of my pride and some of my larger ambitions. I entered into this kennel like I enter into most things– Like a bulldog determined to drag a giant boulder up a hill. One of the biggest lessons this year so far has been to assess what I really am capable of doing, and to not promise more. To, in other words, not bite off more than I can chew.
One of the ways this manifested was a slightly hairbrained scheme to do sled dog tours 3 days a week with a local tour company, while working for my real job 4 days a week– in other words, working 7 days a week. Now I know I *can* do that. I know it’s possible. But as the start date of tours loomed nearer and my anxiety spiked higher, I had to take a true look at what that would mean. Yes, good exercise for my dogs 3 days a week. But a lot less time with puppies. A much, much crabbier me. And, when my mental health sunsetted with the actual sun, I realized I had to swallow my pride of knowing I *could* do that, and withdraw from the tour operation. I am so grateful I made that choice. Despite missing out on good money, I know my mental health is much better than it might have been.
In another way, my pride is coming checked again with a race this weekend. The Alpine Excursion was set to be my first ever ATAO race– I signed up for it back in October, I think. I was super stoked about the informal model, and the tasty lodge food promised for the layover, and the great training in store on the Denali Highway. Even though I only have a six dog team, it was doable. And I took pride that I could train a little six dog team to do a little race like this.
Unfortunately, when you only have six dogs, if there is even only one soreness or injury, you have lost over 15% of your team. In prepping for the race, I did two back to back runs on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning– And after the run Wednesday, Hooch’s chronic shoulder injury flared back up.
This is something I’ve been working on all fall. She’s had this soreness ever since 2016. It may have originated from the Copper Basin I ran that year, or it may have come before that. I know for sure it’s been something that pops up every so often in the last year and a half. It especially comes up after she does free play with the puppies, and like a dummy, I took her out with them and me on a walk through the woods recently– Which, while fun for everyone, is more tricky to navigate and could easily cause her to tweak the muscle that’s bothering her.
In any case, that soreness is back. I do a lot of massage with her and I can get her back into ship-shape in about 4-5 days, a week to be comfortable. If the need were dire we could probably run by the weekend. But, the run will be 130 miles total (the race is 65 miles and ends at the Alpine lodge, but you have to mush those same 65 miles back to get back to civilization). My plan was to go slow and split the run into several camps– great practice for my young dogs. And again, totally doable. I was really looking forward to the trip! But, it’s not worth pushing Hooch. Her getting her shoulder so hurt that she can’t run or enjoy her puppy time at all is just a deal breaker.
I’ve been offered dogs from other kennels, which is nice of folks, but the point isn’t to do the race, at all. The point is to spend time with my group. Period. I don’t want extra dogs. I have worked with “other dogs” my whole life: I want my little family and if one of us can’t do it, then we’ll bide our time, get that shoulder feeling good on a more reasonable schedule, and aim for our first official race to be the Solstice 50, here in Two Rivers on the 23rd.
There’s good and bad to withdrawing from a race. The bad is, we miss out on the experience. But of course the bigger blow to me is to my pride– I said I could do it and now I have to back up and take stock. I think that might be good for me. I don’t like it. But it’s real.
The other good, besides my ego check, is that I also get to spend extra time working with the Star Wars pups this weekend, as they learn the ropes of mushing. I’ll also continue building up the training with my other adult team members, and let Hooch take some well earned rest and get a lot of TLC.
Sometimes Onward doesn’t always look like getting the boulder up the hill at any cost. Sometimes Onward is taking a minute to think about how I’m getting the boulder up there. Don’t get me wrong. That boulder is getting up that hill. We just might employ some patience and intelligence to do it.
I’m not super at that. But it’s all part of the learning experience.