In Minneapolis, the skies gray over, and the wind blows a little more chill. Greenery still prevails, but I can taste fall; it tastes like a herald to go home.
I’ll miss the apple orchards here, the gradient of changing leaves. All the texturous and nostalgic rites of autumn. But I have something as distinctive to go home to– if not as glamourous.
My autumn will be mud and cold and wet and smell like the strongest smell of dogs you can imagine. It’ll be long, boring hours on a four wheeler, and bare hands so coated in fur you can’t properly wipe your perpetually dripping nose. It’ll be puddles so deep they go over your XtraTuffs, and your fingers and thighs freezing as the air grows colder. Mushing in autumn in Alaska is just– mud. I’m ready. It’s how it begins. It makes the winter, when things freeze up and the snow finally falls– it makes that even better, even crisper, even cleaner. It makes stepping onto the silent runners of a sled that much more peaceful, against the autumnal roar and stink of a machine.
I’ll have a strange adjustment, I think. Although– I’ve made it many times before. A few of my handling gigs, I flew from the humid midwest and dove right into the dirt and the cold. So maybe the adjustment won’t be so unfamiliar. But it will be there.
I’ve been away now almost three weeks. It’s strange to be gone from my pack so long. I miss them, of course. These three weeks have been steeped in heat and humidly. I started our trip wearing Carhartts and wool socks, and now I’ve fully embraced my sandal and shorts attire. I don’t even bring a hoodie with me! It’s wild.
The three weeks have also been discombobulating. We have moved locations, as you do, on repeat. I have continued working as best as I can, but working on a three hour time difference is tricky. I see why I only worked part time while I lived down here. That’s not a great option for me or for the company right now, as I am trying to save for the race season, and the company is short staffed! So I fit in extra work where I can. Tis the song and dance of life!
Meanwhile, though, here in Minneapolis I have finally settled into a kind of routine, and I recognize that transitioning back to Alaska will be tough for me. I’ll be going a relatively sleepless night as I fly from here to home– Then I’ll get a few hours sleep and hook up the team first thing Friday morning. I’m a few days behind on my schedule because I had the opportunity to spend time with some important people down in the midwest. I have worked with teams where we didn’t start training til October– so I’m not very worried as far as the dogs go. But I do have to make some adjustments to my plan. Making adjustments to my plan is probably going to be one of my biggest learning curves this year. Even with just a four dog team last year, it already was! I know I need to be flexible to work with the issues that crop up in life, with dogs, with conditions, and with potential opportunities! That’s never easy for me, but it will be very good for me to practice.
One of my fears in “being flexible” is that in combination with my scatter-brain, sometimes things fall through the cracks. I have several projects I’ve been working on for various folks, and it’s been tough to juggle all of them AND travel, and maintain work, etc. Now I keep having dreams– nightmares!– that I’m back home with Shawn, and I suddenly remember that I haven’t trained the dogs for a couple days! Which is a ridiculous thing because of course I won’t forget that. But I think the discombobulation of travel + the MANY projects I have going on + the need to be flexible is spawning this funny scenario in my mind.
Maybe one more factor in all of this is that here in the humid midwest, surrounded by sun-lit brick and bearded hipsters, I feel as far from mushing and the drive to train as can be. My goal and the journey and determination I need to get there don’t really seem real from here. I’m nervous that I won’t be able to find that drive. I know I will. I have to! But that fear is there. Maybe it comes in part from a summer that felt mostly made up of waiting for fall to arrive. And then it took so long I just got used to summer. I can tell that this is often how my brain works. I adjust to things and then become very surprised when they change. Even if I’ve just been waiting for that change! Oh brain.
Nevertheless, change happens and in Alaska I will be again soon. Ready to focus. Ready to dig in, and do the dance with my dogs that is our coordinated teamwork. Sometimes, our philosophy is just true, whether or not we are prepared. Things always move, change, go. So we go too.