The Hill

It’s the night before the first run of the season. Or, more appropriately, it’s the morning already, I’m just hoping to put at least one more hour of sleep between me and the alarm. But I can’t sleep. I’m turning things over in my head. It’s a moment of transition now. In more ways than one. And especially, for me right now, transition from the checkpoint-rest of summer to the back-on-the-trail momentum of mushing season. That’s a hard transition. To go from the warmth and bodily ease of a rest and to get yourself moving again. Frankly (no matter how many times I’ve done this before), I’m as terrified as I am excited.

Last year I was kind of thrilled to find myself excited at the start of the year. My mental health shenanigans drape my favorite thing in the world with ripe anxiety and rank depression. What was sustaining, rots. Or, my fear is that it will rot. That my spiraling fear of failure will pull me out of the joy and into the morass, and take mushing with it.

I am still excited, too, be assured. This team has heart and guts and potential, I think. I mean I know the first two, and I can’t tell if I believe the third thing because I love them so much or because it’s true. I’m going with truth (and sitting happily in my love for these dogs).

The dogs are excited. Thrumming with eagerness to stretch their legs the way they love best. Their energy during free play feels oddly pent up. As though they are saying, “This is fun, but it’s not long enough a trail, not new enough scents.” Chasing a ball is a distraction, a stop gap til they can settle into harness and go.

This year we’re doing the Quest 300. For the past 7 races, I’ve done the same trails on repeat- the Copper Basin and the Northern Lights 300. Mostly because of timing and the logistics of the races. They’re good races (or were- the NL is no more).

Running a new trail feels mostly scary, if I’m honest. Most of all because this race is known for being tough. It’s cold- really cold- and there are some infamous hills. The ones that get all the recognition are called Rosebud and Eagle Summit. You’ll hear a lot of Quest stories about those hills.

Hills have been one of my team’s strongest suits. Even though last year the tallest hill we ever trained on was probably less than 1,000 feet, our methods were sound and we conquered the hilly course of the Basin with ease. The team never hesitated. That’s a big part of our training, and I’m proud of how it carried through on the race.

But Rosebud- the first one we’ll climb- it’s known for chewing up dog teams and spitting them out on the other side. On one hand, I feel I should *know* we can do it, it’ll be fine. And on the other hand, Rosebud is a representation to me of the potential for failure. If I don’t train the team right, if I don’t give them the miles and get the work under all of our belts; if I don’t train myself and my body, which I intended to this summer and never did; if I let the checkpoint lure me to stay longer than I should; if I succumb to the sickly-sweet lies of depression and anxiety— if I cannot accomplish these things, I fear our climb on Rosebud. I fear I’ll let the team down because of my own weaknesses.

I know that’s not a healthy fear, necessarily— I know a lot of that is my anxiety talking. And let me be clear that for anyone else I’d say: that’s putting a lot of pressure on yourself. But we’re hypocrites when it comes to ourselves. And for me, I have these dogs that I’m accountable for. That I owe my best to.

So. I’m scared.

But that’s how it goes when you get back on the sled, when you hit the trail again. When you choose to reach for the next checkpoint. When you strive for the finish.

The dogs are funny. They don’t do worry like us. How can you worry when you’re purely of the Now?

Right now the dogs would say easily: we’re sleeping, and it’s good. In an hour they’ll say: the harnesses are here! The roaring machine is here! It’s time for us to run— and that is good.

And if I were listening to the dog of myself, that’s the part I’d feel. The short anticipation of how the team feels connected to me. The fall smells of mushing. The easy rhythm we fall into.

For just the next hour, I’ll think on that.

And because I’m human, my mind will be on Rosebud too.

But I’ll use that hill. I’ll climb it in my mind and I’ll envision our success as we’re at the top of the world. I’ll remember the things I have to do to get there and I’ll hold those things lightly. Not a cudgel to use against myself, but a call. A call of affirmation. The team has potential, but I have potential too. Together we as a unit have a lot in us. A lot we can do.

And it’s just 45 minutes now til we begin the year. Like a good musher, I’m going to nap hard for the last ticking minutes of summer. Then we have mushing to do.


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