Last night, Shawn and I went to dinner with my dad and a friend of his in town. It was wonderful! We got home latish, though, which was well enough because temps were great when I hooked up the team. It was my first official day to switch from early morning runs to night runs. The switch comes because although temps are even better in the morning, there’s no snow on the ground, which means the mud is hard and frozen and pointy and sharp; too sharp for the dogs’ feet, early in the morning. At night, the ground has warmed and is softer, even as the thermometer starts to drop with the dark.
Switching last night and starting the switch off with a fairly late run was daunting. The enthusiasm I started the season with has waned: now hooking up the team is a bit of a push. Once we’re actually mushing, I am happy– But convincing twelve excited dogs to get dressed and get in a line is a job, especially when doing it alone. I told myself, once again, just do it! And the slow harnessing and hook up of the dogs happened, slowly but surely, and then we were mushing.
I brought myself a Sprite for a treat. Just something to have to allay the boredom and reward the harnessing process. Mushing is not all glory. In fact it’s mostly not glory, it’s mostly a lot of mud and poop and boredom.
The boredom, right now, is in that we don’t have access to a ton of trails, so we are running the same 10 miles on repeat each night. The dogs don’t seem to mind. Most of them, young, don’t realize there’s a whole world– thousands and thousands of miles– of trails at our fingertips, if it will just freeze and snow. They will learn and next year, after they’ve seen more country, this time will probably be more boring for them. For now, they shake with excitement when it’s time to go for a run. They want to go again and again. In fact– sled dogs are just like this. You can even run the same stupid mile over and over and they will ask to go again. But– there is a difference in their enthusiasm *on* the trail when they get to see something new.
And I’m a wimpy human, so I get bored easily. I usually listen to podcasts, but last night I opted for music. I put my downloaded music library on shuffle and let the iPod Gods rule the night. It’s a strange mix of Broadway and Folk and Soundtrack. All very epic. Fitting.
The stars were out in force, so bright you could see the hard line of the Milky Way diagonal across the darkness. I turned my headlamp off now and then to just watch the sky. In Fairbanks, there are no mountains, only hills– But I think the sky is our magnificent landscape. There was no aurora last night, and no moon. It was only the stars and me, and the dark, and the dogs.
The dogs were steady. It was an unremarkable run, which is perfect. As we get into the flow of things, as the dogs get better and better, each run, ideally, seems like the next. Trot trot trotting. Their enthusiasm is good but not over-explosive. They have all learned to pace. They have a strong and rhythmic trot, a mile-eating trot. When they go up hills they dig in. They are incredible dogs. I can’t tell if I’m just biased, but they seem so strong and so amazing. And they are young still– So young! Their potential is shocking to me. I am awed by them– and I love them.
Each run, unremarkable or not, is a bonding experience, for all of us. I don’t want to miss a run. Though the work of hooking up is tedious, and though the trails are boring, I am so glad I am here for every step they take. For fifteen years I have yearned to bond, totally bond with a team. While I have had hesitation to let myself love them, one on one, in this team dynamic, there is no hope to hold back. I form up with them, I am honored to be part of their group. I am the foolish steward of their athleticism. I am the waterboy. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
We got back from the run a little before midnight. I unhooked the dogs, tended their feet, scooped, fed, watered. Praised and thanked them for their work. Prepped food for the next day. I came into the house around 1:00 this morning, and I fell asleep around 2:00. I got up at 6:00, and despite such short sleep, I feel energized today. It was a good run, yes, but it was also a night run. And for me– and the dogs especially– night runs are some kind of fuel, some kind of correctness. I loved the early morning meeting of the dawn, and I wanted to soak up as much daylight as I could before we entered into this time. But now we are night-runners, and somehow, it fits us all.
Tonight is another round, another meeting of the dogs and the stars and the dark. We’re ready to head to the night.