Now It’s Real

It’s snowing again here in Two Rivers! Locals can be frequently heard complaining about the amount of shoveling they’ve had to do this winter… But I’m not complaining! It’s pretty awesome to have such an amazing first official winter under ATAO’s belt.

As teams cross the finish line in Iditarod, I’ve spent time reflecting on the crazy roller coaster ride of a journey to where we are today, and what lies ahead of us. It’s hard to believe that I am here living my dream of a kennel! I’m sure I’ll feel even more amazed when we are finally at the Iditarod start line, but this, now, is really the dream, and it’s happening. I keep telling Shawn… “Now it’s real!”

Fun run on spring trails

I’ve talked a lot about how much of a learning curve this year has been. In some ways, that curve has been what I expected, but in other ways it’s totally surprised me. Most of all has been the complete shock of having to wrap my head around “having fun.” It’s hilarious to me that this is such a hard concept to get. I don’t pretend that I’ve made leaps and bounds in this regard, but I do think I’ve made progress, and I really value the spirit of lightheardedness I’ve been able to gain throughout this winter. It’s been good for me and I’m sure it’s been great for the dogs. We strive to have fun, and I think we succeed! Life is good at ATAO!

Looking back at how we’ve gotten here, I’m overwhelmed. I was rewatching our journey to move up here and remembering that there were “Founding Members” who supported this idea before there were puppy pictures, or snow on the ground, or anything that added up to a kennel! I’m so lucky to have you guys behind me. Last March as Iditarod was wrapping up, and I was dreaming of North and the snow, I still don’t think I imagined I’d be up here with a whole team around me. To think I didn’t realize the loves of my life were all conspiring to come together for late night howls and lunchtime silliness, for beautiful mushes and undignified couch surfing. How could I know that my pack was forming, bit by bit, across Alaska and waiting for me?

And now it’s here! Now there are these dogs, these friends, this little family of mine. I’m over the moon in love with them. I’m sorry, it’s only gonna get mushier and mushier from here on out. That’s why it’s called mushing! Get it?

Not only dogs, but sleds, and harnesses, and a truck (named Todd!), and cook pots, and puppy pens, and dog houses, and a freezer, and a bunch of meat, and bags and bags of dog food… I have never been so happy to spend my money on such fleeting things (or should I say, things that so quickly turn into dog poop). This is where I’m meant to be. I can’t believe I’m finally here.

Meanwhile, you’ll hear mushers talk about how they spend most of a racing plotting about their next race. Every run you do, you learn something and figure out a better way to do it next time (or so you think). Constantly striving for “even better next time” is one of the reasons I love mushing.

Rey puts the “Fun” in Fundamentals!

Now I’m starting to think about our upcoming years with a lot of growing excitement. Next year with a team of 12, we’ll be able to do some initial races and get down to the business of the long game that is Iditarod. I want to run Iditarod with dogs who are somewhat seasoned, who feel like my crew. I want to wait til the majority of the dogs– the Star Wars pups and the “Babies”– are 3 years old. So that means I am aiming for Iditarod in 2021. 2021 will be a Northern Route race. North is good. 21 is a great number, being 3X7, and also 2+1=3. (Did someone say I have weird number neuroses??) It will also be 20 years (hard to believe, god) since my very first race, the Jr. Iditarod in 2001. Anyway it sounds like it’s all destined to be! So that’s the goal.

Next year, we’ll keep our focus on fun, mixed with some hard work… That adds up to: “FUNDAMENTALS.” So that means lots of quality training, tons of camping to get the team to be professional at resting in checkpoints, basics like hill work and back to back runs, and lots of other training that will help the dogs succeed in the next few years. Next year is not a competitive year! (Not that we’ll ever be like really *competitive*, but we will have some “personal record” goals in races as we build!) Next year is all about showing the dogs what they are capable of, having fun, and successfully conquering some obstacles (aka races). I’m looking forward to it. Since I haven’t trained a yearling team since I was 15, this will be yet another learning curve for me! It will help me refocus on the fundamentals as well.

Puppies are fun, cute, etc etc, but they aren’t dogs, and if I’m honest, I’m pretty excited these guys are growing up and now we can really adventure together. Spring is in the air, temps are climbing, and the sun is shining bright– But my mind is already plotting ahead for the beginning of training next fall. I can’t wait.


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