This post was converted from a thread posted on Twitter. You can follow us there @ataokennel
So, this weekend kind of sucked. Mostly just because of my brain being my brain. Anxiety! Depression! Did I mention anxiety! Anyway such is life. Last night, I was finally able to get myself out the door and on the runners.
Probably some people think- wow mushing must be so great for your brain issues! And in some ways it can be. But the truth is, it’s also the root of much of my anxiety. The “getting started” part. The pressure, the terror, of letting my team down.
I accomplished some scat outside of actual mushing this weekend, which was needed and good. I completely reconfigured my gangline to operate more efficiently. That project took about 16 hrs when I was expecting maybe… 3? And that threw me off.
It’s a chicken and egg thing. I’m afraid I’ll let the team down by not training enough which makes me incredibly anxious to get going on a run which makes it more likely I won’t train enough which makes me anxious I’ll let the team down by not training enough which makes it likel–
Come to think of it, that’s a perfect metaphor for anxiety.
When I’m in high anxiety mode (anytime before mushing pretty much), any slight deviation or surprise super throws me off and then I spiral. It doesn’t help that I recognize this pattern. Come on brain! I see what you’re up to! Oh… okay… yep… we’re doing this anyway I guess
But this thread is not supposed to be about anxiety, it’s supposed to be about how I ended up on my face dragging down a road for about two miles, hanging desperately onto my dog team and losing feeling in various parts of my body.
So what happened? Well, after getting to Sunday without yet mushing, and ending up in the fetal position for much of Sunday, I finally got my darn boots on and got out the door.
It’s shameful to admit how hard this all is for me. Especially because my community here is made up of folks who step out the door and mush every day. Folks outside of mushing say: wow I could never even do that at all! But I am among mushers and they all ARE doing it, and more.
Anyway fun times. So. The run. As dark on Sunday fell, we took off. A strong team of 12. I left my highest milers back because 15 dogs made me nervous- and that was probably wise. We clipped along at a healthy pace.
The moon was out in force; the snow glinted such a bright silver you didn’t need a headlamp. The dogs seem to love to run in the moonlight. It was hard to hold them back to a reasonable speed.About 6 miles from home, we turned a sharp corner. I saw a headlamp ahead of me but couldn’t react quickly enough. As we turned the corner so did another team, heading towards us. Emmy and Aurora were in lead.
I got the briefest look at the mushers, and wanted to stop and check with them to make sure everyone was okay on their team. But first I had to get my hook shaped team back into a forward-arrow shape. I told Emmy and Aurora and the rest of them “all right, all right! Let’s go!”
My dogs popped out to the right in some surprise. The front four or five dogs stopped in confusion and the rest of the team moved forward, making the line of dogs form a hook shape pointing towards the other team, which had stopped. There was a second team stopped on their heals.
Emmy faithfully swerved right (to the outside of the curve), but Aurora balked and then dove left to try to go around the oncoming dogs that way. Well, that didn’t work well. Our two teams forcefully *crashed* into each other. Luckily we didn’t tangle much.
They straightened out and we went past team two and I threw my snow hook in the ground. My front dogs were tangled up and I wanted to check they were okay. I could see the two teams, now behind me, doing the same.
We were on a service / logging road which had been recently plowed. There was a hard-packed inch or so of snow on the ground, and my hook did dig in- but as I grappled with a tangled line, there was the subtle but distinctive pop and the dogs started moving around me.
– Then I went down. Somehow the dogs hard wrapped around my legs. I tried to run with them for a second but I was tangled in tug lines. They swept me off my feet… and we were moving.
All of my terrors flashed before my eyes. The sled moving at me way too fast. On this hard packed road the dogs could fly. My biggest fear- losing the team- seemed to play out in fast motion in the split seconds as the sled was still coming towards me. I reached for the sled and– I had two choices. I could let go of the gangline and slip under. I’d be run over by the dogs and HOPE to catch the sled.
I knew there was no way.
So I went with the only reasonable- if not sane- choice.
I grabbed onto whatever I could if the gangline and hung on.
I could try to get UP and beside the team and catch the sled per normal- but that was incredibly unrealistic. By the time I got up the dogs would be gone.
The dogs were flying. 15 miles an hour probably doesn’t seem like much, but when you are being dragged forcefully down the road, it’s enough. I yelled WHOA WHOA at them, and tried to dig my feet in. At first I was able to drag on my butt, feet first, leaning back against a line.
They would stop every so often, breathing hard and happily. There were dogs around me. I was trying desperately to not pull them down or hurt them. Simultaneously trying to not lose them and also not injure anyone. When the team stopped, I’d try to stand.
But the second they felt a shift on the line they’d take off again.
My arms started to become jelly. Have you ever gone climbing? Done it for a while afternoon and your fingers start to lose grip? That was me.
I got to the point where when the dogs stopped I could barely move really, much less try to take an effective step. But I managed some movements. Almost got up once- and this was how the worst part happened.
There were long moments where I was just dragging, unable to stop, almost calmly trying to evaluate what I could do. The power of the dogs was frightening. I was clinging to the back of a wild beast.
Somehow in almost getting up I twisted and the gangling twisted around my waist like a noose. I fell as the dogs surged joyfully onward- and then they were pulling and the noose was cinching.
I went through a strange series of reactions to this as the line swiftly tightened. First I laughed at myself somewhere in the back of my brain- this whole thing was ridiculous. Then- or at the same time- I felt a wave of horror wash over me.
If you work with lines or ropes at all- like on a boat or with other animals- you know that getting your body parts caught in a closing line is *bad.* Really bad. Lose-your-digits-bad. But this wasn’t my finger. It was my EFFING WAIST.
Belle was running right next to me. She clearly thought I was weird but also kept glancing over and down at me as though to say, “isn’t this fun? We’re going so fast!” And “don’t worry, newbie, you’ll get the hang of it soon!”
My brain flashed to me being slowly sliced or squished in two. Cut in half by my beloved dogs. A bad red-shirt death in a B movie. All of this seemed so funny! And the noose tightened and I realized FUCK I think I could really be killed here.
I do not want to die like this, I thought (cliches are great in an emergency). Somehow the indignity seemed- way too much. Or- the ridiculousness. I refused.
I looked belle right in the eye as I realized I was in a dangerous position. She smiled back with pure dog exuberance.
Somehow in some strange mighty burst of strength I stopped the team for a mere second, which was enough time for me to squirm and roll out of the tangle of the line- and then we were moving again. My grip power was all but gone, so I twisted my hand around the mainline.
I was still stuck, still corked, still dragging down the road at high speed. Behind me I could see the sled, merrily upright, and the snow hook, dragging on its back.
This was infuriating. The hook is the anchor. It’s a really old one from my youth- and it’s poorly designed. A good hook has a round back, so if something like this happens, it rolls and ends up hooks-down and hopefully grabs snow and stops a wayward team.
I wear headphones when I mush- the kind with a remote. I can buzz Siri and ask her to do scat. On one stop i managed to click the button long enough for her to beep in my ear. I told her to call a handler who lived nearby. I imagined what I’d say.
There’s a company in Palmer who makes the absolutely best snowhooks. They are hand forged, light, sharp, and smart. They grab anything and they ROLL god darn it. I looked at my stupid worthless hook just feet up, useless back there. IM GETTING A NEW HOOK FUCK THIS.
“Oh hey” [rumbling, dragging noises] “so I’m in a weird predicament… I’ve fallen in the gangline and can’t get up. Can you help?”
But Siri said, “sorry, I can’t find a connection. You’ll have to try again later.”
Cork you too, Siri.
Somehow, at some point, I started moving backwards along the gangline. I don’t recall if it was between stops or as we went- but I realized, finally, I was by the sled. Like, it was almost running me over. Okay. Okay. The team took a quick stop. WTF to do.
If I stood and tried to grab the sled I’d have ONE shot. The chances were bad. My arms were toast. I was beat the eff up. Letting go wasn’t an option. But I could reach the lines ON the sled now- so in the brief interlude, I reached back and wrapped my left arm in a line.
And they took off again and I shot backwards and my arm caught in the line and held. I could feel, now, that my leg had also caught- in the tines the of snow hook. The claws dug into my hamstring, but that was a far lower priority. I had to get all the way back to the runners.
Bit by painful bit I worked my way back to the runners and the handlebar. And finally, I lunged upward and wrapped my arm around the bar and the team surged forward again. I was kneeling now, not even on the runners, just the drag mat. I forced my legs up and finally— I stood.
I have never been so happy and grateful to put my foot onto the brake. One simple motion and the team halted. So easy. So easy. I leaned against the handlebar, one arm hooked through it, gasping and trying to collect myself.
My two outer layers of pants had been pulled down to my knees. My clothes were full of snow. Miraculously, it seemed I hadn’t lost anything. My knife and my phone were still in their pockets. I felt incongruously happy to know my pocket system was sound.
For a few long gasping minutes I was in pure despair. What the eff was I doing. What madness is it to connect yourself to TWELVE strong dogs and then just… what? Pray?? I wanted to go home.
The dogs didn’t want to stop. They never do. There were some line issues to fix. Nala had come completely out of her harness and collar and was running around “naked.” There were some minor tangles.
I found a place to set the hooks- really set them. I stomped them both in and wondered if they would pop again. And I imagined clinging to the gangline again and braced myself to do it if I needed to. I fixed Nala, fixed the tangles. Fixed my pants enough. Got on the sled.
But we had done just the start of what was supposed to be a long run. After a long weekend of accomplishing- nothing, really.
I collected myself more and more, and by the time the turn off to home came up, we passed it.
Sometimes “Onward” is not some gentle, inspirational moment. Sometimes “Onward” is the curse you scream into the impossible night, against your impossible brain and self. Sometimes “Onward” is, itself, impossible.
But you do it anyway. As little or much as you can. You cling to the mother corking line that is dragging you bodily down the trail. You grab breath and reprieve in the moments you can. And you say, “Cork you, I’m not going out this way. And I’m not letting go of the team.”
So god darn it, cork it all, cork everything- ONWARD. ONWARD. Cork you, anxiety. Cork you never-ending trail. We are going to Keep. Going. You may have control of my brain and body, you may drag me along, I don’t care. I am *still* going onward. Try to stop me.
Really glad you’re alive and literally still in one piece.
Hi Will, poor you! What an exciting and well-written story (as usual!). I won’t recount all the line accidents and tragedies I’ve heard about. You hear of, and see, far too many in a lifetime of fishing. You were really lucky and we’re happy it turned out well in the end. Here’s perhaps a dumb idea from a non-musher, but just in case it might, by some stretch of the imagination, work, I throw it out there at the risk of my making a fool of myself: What if the lead dog carried a long line on her harness that would drag along between the team, so that if you were in another similar situation you could grab hold of that and it would turn her and finally the whole team around and you’d end up in front of them. Would it get tangled around their legs and endanger them, or would it just drag harmlessly between the two rows of dogs? Just a thought. Thanks for a really good yarn; sorry it came at such a danger to yourself. Get a better snow hook!