I’ve been holding off posting because I am afraid to jinx myself! This past month, I was able to shake hands on an exciting deal– A big ole diesel used F350 that has done its duty as a dog truck and will– fingers crossed– get me to Iditarod and the Quest in the next few years.
Owning a diesel is a big commitment. You know you will be putting a lot of money in at the mechanic shop, and you definitely have to learn some tricks to make the darn thing start (as I found out right away in the -30 weather here). But there are some benefits to diesel as well: cost of diesel can sometimes be less, and a big ole diesel can do a lot of work. Plus I don’t know, other benefits too. I’m not really a truck person. What I am is an I-need-to-get-these-dogs-to-the-start-line person, and this truck will be part of how I do it.
I haven’t yet named ye olde truck yet. It’s a big ole green flatbed. Any thoughts? Comment here with a suggestion of a name for the new ATAO truck… If I pick your name I’ll send you an ATAO swag bag!
I was able to go down to Big Lake this past weekend to add the final touch: a dog box, donated from Daryl and Pam Darnell. The really cool thing about this box is that it’s the dog box Daryl and I built when I was running dogs in High School. Seeing my little dog truck (okay not so little, it’s giant) gives me all the warm fuzzies… As I told Shawn, “NOW IT’S REAL!” There’s a bit of work to do to get the box fastened down to the flat bed, but then I’ll be traveling in dog mushing style!
Meanwhile, the snow has just been coming on down here in Fairbanks. I can’t remember the last time I’ve enjoyed winter with this much snow! I wish I was training for Iditarod this year because training conditions are superb here, and I know with changing weather that might not always be the case. But, I try to remind myself that I get to actually enjoy some great conditions *just for fun* and that’s pretty cool too.
All of the dogs are doing great and growing fast! In about 10 days, the “baby” puppies will be moving to their own houses and– Getting to try out mushing for the very first time! That means the whole crew will be ready to do some fantastic springtime mushing, which is super exciting.
Along with snow is a lot of glorious (and confusing?) sunshine! Daylight is adding back up. When I have handled in the past, I have almost always ended my season by this time of year. Iditarod start usually marked the transition back to Minneapolis or other summertime endeavors. I have never myself gotten to enjoy actual springtime mushing, which is a favorite time of year for many mushers. I’m looking forward to short camping runs, and beautiful snowy daylight!
I also can’t believe the love I am feeling for my little team. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, because it’s a big theme for me this year: I’m very used to bonding with a team of dogs and then having to leave them at the end of my tenure. This will be the first time ever I don’t have to leave my team. I think my heart is finally starting to realize that and easing up a little on letting me feel that bond. And I can’t tell you how great my dogs are. It’s so ridiculous, but it genuinely feels like falling in love. THESE ARE THE BEST DOGS EVER. How did I end up with the best dogs ever? Pure serendipity! It just happens to be so!
The puppies especially are growing more into their personalities. The Star Wars pups, who were a more aloof group of pups from the start, are becoming affectionate and self confident. They are also beautiful dogs, long limbed and well muscled. They love to run! Shocking. They look beautiful in harness, and are having a blast on our tiny training runs. Because they are very young and their bones are not yet fully formed, we only take very short runs, 5 miles max, with lots of breaks and positive reinforcement. They are also growing every day! They are almost as big as Annie now, who is very small. I think they will be tall dogs, and certainly the most striking of the kennel.
On the less striking end– at least in this awkward adolescent stage– are the baby puppies, who are not babies any more. These guys are growing fast, but also have a thick layer of winter fat to their names. Furiosa and Mad Max look slightly ridiculous next to the sleek, smooth Star Wars pups. Sundance and Cassidy are cute as buttons, and look like their father Moulin, who is in Martin Buser’s Iditarod team as we speak! They are all developing their own personalities. Furiosa is by far the most ridiculous of them all, but maybe one of my favorites because of that. Max is curious and fierce and smart and independent. He is also very “forward oriented” on walks (when I walk them on leashes), which means he’ll probably take to running in harness very quickly. Sundance, like Ophelia, is very stick oriented; Cassidy is sassy and smart.
My adult dogs are all bonding together as a little team. The Core Four seem unstoppable to me! Ophelia, Nala, and Annie are learning quickly as leaders. It’s so interesting to see them figuring things out. I am used to training leaders like I did earlier in the season, with one veteran leader next to a newbie. But with the retirement of the old ladies, these guys are on a different type of learning curve, and they are crushing it. Okay, sometimes we have some mistakes. But all in all, the dogs are so smart, so driven. They are ready and thrumming at every turn, taking commands with joy and ease. I feel bonded to my front runners in a way I have only felt with Hooch. Egret, my dedicated team dog, is full of happiness and energy, and pulls with steady dedication and a wide smile. There is something in taking this team out that feels like singing in concert: we are a team, we are a pack. We work together towards a common, joyous purpose. Mushing in this way is nirvana, it’s communion with the earth.
And finally, my two old ladies. I have bonded with these old girls in a way that is just pure happiness. I sing to them every day. Bonnie loves when I dance: she will wave her front paws at me in what I consider dancing back. They are sweet, perfect ladies and I love them.
All of the work and money and energy that this takes are fully and utterly worth the feeling I have. The sense of belonging and love between me and the dogs. I have had a lot of reservation about letting myself feel that, because there’s always the fear of losing it. The memory of leaving those teams I bonded with during every handling season. The real heartbreak of that. But I don’t have to have that heartbreak: my little team and I are in it for the long haul. We have years of love and miles of trail. I am so lucky to be here.
So we dance the dance and sing the song of pack. We look across the species line and smile to each other and say: