It’s taken almost two decades to get this project underway, but as of last Monday, I signed the lease on the cabin I will be renting. In September, I’ll be getting puppies. All in all… I’m finally starting my kennel.
This is a huge (and terrifying) step for me. After the bottom fell out of my relationship and my mental health, I didn’t know if I’d ever get back on my feet again. I didn’t think I’d be able to head in any discernible direction– Much less towards finally accomplishing my dream.
After a much-needed recoup period in Minneapolis (let’s call it a 24 hour layover in race of life), I’m ready. And I’m ready to do so the way that works for me: from the ground up, raising pups, getting to bond with them, and calling my own shots. I’m finally taking the leap from the nest of handling. Don’t get me wrong. I learned a lot and was super lucky to get to work with all the folks I did. But the time has come for me to do this on my own. And I’ve never been more excited.
This is ATAO Kennel. We’re taking things slow. This year will be our “puppy year”, just me and the rest of the team raising a small group of pups (you’ll get to meet them later this fall) and getting to know our new digs in Fairbanks. My brave partner Shawn (who has never lived in Alaska! But loves lichen) and I are moving up in July to an awesome little cabin in Two Rivers, the heart of mushing country.
Next year will be all about training in yearlings (and maybe having another group of pups). It’ll be mushing at its finest: just enjoying the country, doing a lot of camping to get the dogs (and myself) used to a routine. We might do a couple short races like one of the local Two Rivers races.
Year three will be about finishing up qualifiers (technically I’ve done more than enough, but might as well get them all stacked together– plus I want to do them with my team).
Year four will likely be an easy “puppy” Iditarod, where we see the trail but travel easy & happy.
Year five will either be another Iditarod, or the Yukon Quest, or maybe both!
Plans can change, but signing my name to the lease on the cabin in Two Rivers, I’m definitely going to be in mushing country this year, and I’m definitely going to have sled dogs. So, the way things tend to add up… I’m pretty likely to be mushing dogs soon!
I can’t describe the tangle of emotions I feel about this. Terror! Excitement. Rightness. Peace, weirdly. And adrenaline. All of the things.
But most of all? The thing I feel is hope.
I wrote a lot about my personal battle with depression on my blog ATAO Adventure. After one post, a few people reached out, and one of them, a good friend told me: “The thing I figured out is that my happy place is dogs.” That rang really, really true. And despite the anxiety and fear I may have (just like anytime you’re facing a new or difficult trail), the sense of coming home, of being in the exact right place more than makes up for it. I’m ready. Let’s do this.
Want to follow along with this crazy adventure, or support the kennel? There are three things you can do: