The Write-up I’ve Been Putting Off

I’m glad I kept an audible record of my Iditarod. I revisit it maybe once or twice a year, and it seems a million miles away. I’ve been slowly trying to put it up in podcast form, but you maybe already know that. I’m trying to make a record of how long to wait between episodes.

The last recording I made is a couple hours long. It starts before I reach the finish line, while I mushed among birch trees as sundown approached. It was an otherworldly feeling, waiting to see the end of the race. Not believing I’d done it. Feeling like I could keep going and going. Feeling fired up to do it again. I’m talking to the dogs in the recording, chipper and a little out of breath. I put Ophelia up in lead, really for the first time in the race, and she led with her ears perked forward, intense and eager and excited, a focused curiosity like a wolf on the hunt. She was so proud of herself when we finished.

I was proud too. Proud and surprised. Seeing folks at the finish I didn’t expect. Celebrating. Giving the dogs treats, taking their booties off, caring for them the way I had done for 800 miles, in between laughing in surprise. Getting a drug test in a weird trailer. The nicest bathroom I’d used in a while. It’s all on this recording. Listening to the recording is… It brings me back to that feeling, that victory.

The next day, as you also maybe know, I woke up and couldn’t feel either of my arms.

After Iditarod, I was on fire to do it again, do it better, actually get to go to Nome this time.

Months later, training in the fall, there was a day I came in from a run and knew I was done for the season. I couldn’t walk. The pain and numbness that now came anytime I stood, gripped something, balanced on the balls of my feet (the way you have to to drive a sled) was manageable in the summer. Not great, but fine. On this day, I wasn’t even standing– I was mushing on the four wheeler. Somethings I didn’t know where that:

  • I had fractured a small bone in my foot during Iditarod. (When I went in to have this addressed, a few days after the finish, they told me I should pumice my callouses. It took over a year for them to realize that I had a fracture and a neuroma. Insert upside-down smile here.)
  • Neuroma’s of the type I had are acerbated by squeezing the sides of the foot especially.
  • On T, my feet had grown SO MUCH. This was not something I expected. This was not something I had imagined possible. Therefore, this was not something I looked out for at all.

I was wearing size 7 boots, my old reliable boots that I’d had since my first sled dog race in 2001. I’d worn them through Iditarod, two years after starting T. This probably contributed immensely to my foot issue. Wearing them on this day in the fall of 2021, after not having worn them for months, took me down. Those size 7 boots squeezed my foot from all sides and after this run where I wasn’t even standing on my dang foot, I couldn’t walk. I didn’t know what was going on. How was I going to mush?

(By the way, I wear a size 11 boot now. For shoes I wear size 9 mens, but I need the size 11 for boots to have room for socks. That’s so many sizes difference.)

The thing is, the foot part wasn’t even the biggest problem. The biggest problem was the probably-nerve-stuff. The arms and legs, the pain, the numbness; the bladder stuff; and the fact that I was sleeping 20 or more hours a day. I couldn’t stop sleeping. I’d never slept so much. I’d never needed to sleep so much.

Something was wrong, but so far, none of the doctors I’d seen could figure out what.

After a lot of anxiety and self-hatred and despair and some gentle perspective offered by friends and especially by Shawn, I withdrew from the Iditarod. It was a horrible choice. I hated that choice. I determined I’d work on my health and get better and come at it again. I felt like a fool.

I also was being wildly optimistic.

It’s been three years since I ran Iditarod. I have been to so. Many. Doctors. I have garnered exactly 0 results. None. I am still dealing with *waves hands* whatever this is. My arms are going numb as I type this.

People deal with this kind of thing, and much worse, all the time. I don’t want to belabor the point. It sucks.

The worst part, far and away, is that I haven’t been able to mush for these past three years. I’ve done a tiny bit, here and there. I can’t go very far.

When this happened, I assumed this was an injury that could be located and dealt with in some way. Now, who knows?

I’ve come to accept that this may just be what I get for the rest of this life. That’s plenty of people’s worlds. I’ve been much luckier than most, getting to mush at all.

The dogs have gotten to move. Not as much as I’ve wanted and not in the ways I’ve wanted, always. These are incredible athletes and we all know dogs live too damn short for any of us– So I’m watching their prime years go by on the sidelines.

There’s been good things that have come out of it. Maybe if I’d still be heading the charge, Shawn wouldn’t have felt so empowered to pursue their own mushing dream. The fact that they were able to is an incredible victory for the whole kennel. It’s so cool. I wouldn’t want to lose that.

But a big thing that happened this year was that I also started hitting the threshold of what I could do on a more basic level. Doing chores for thirty dogs would take me hours on hours. I’m so grateful that Shawn, Sarah, and Jen were able to mush them– They’d not get what they needed otherwise. But I was starting to let the dogs down on the most basic of levels, in my opinion. I could tell that I was hanging on by my nails just to get them fed. And I don’t want to do any of that by half-measures. I want to give the dogs what they need in the best way I can.

So this winter, after much discussion, we made the decision to find new trails for some of the dogs.

The idea makes me feel literally ill. I hate it. I don’t want to lose a single one of my pack. And, I also know they deserve more. This coming year, they won’t be able to mush as much due to some other circumstances, and I can’t hold them all back this way.

Around the time we made this choice, we ended up touching base with a couple who happen to be looking to start their own small kennel. Kenna had worked with the dogs on the glacier this past summer, and I’d been really impressed with her. She and her boyfriend Aiden want to start a small recreational team in McCarthy, a somewhat rural town south east of us, near Glennallen. They’d both lived in and fallen in love with McCarthy. This past year, they worked as handlers for a fairbanks team, and did their first races. It was serendipitous to find out what they were looking for right when we made this decision. Good fate.

Instead of having to split up the team, most of the dogs we’re re-homing will be going together to join Kenna and Aiden on their journey. We will be default dog-sitters for them and will be in close touch. It’s the absolute best-case scenario for a situation I hoped wouldn’t have to happen.

Kenna and Aiden will be taking their small team in the fall. Before that, they’re taking 10 of the dogs to the glacier, to see how they all fit together and make sure this will be a good dynamic for them all. 5 other dogs will be going to the “ground operation” in Skagway, where they’ll be tourist ambassadors. The other dogs will be staying at home with us for the summer, playing in our upgraded play-pens and running on our (soon to be constructed!) dog wheels.

I’ve reached out to all of our amazing dog sponsors to let them know, and I’ll be connecting them (and any of you who are interested!) with Kenna and Aiden to make sure you can keep up on the dogs.

The final decision about which dogs are going with Kenna and Aiden will be 100% made in the fall, so this list is subject to change, but for now, the prospective team that will help teach How to Start a Kennel will be:

  • Aurora
  • Belle
  • Egret
  • Elmer
  • HeMan
  • Jovi
  • Marnie
  • Mungry
  • Poptart

I know it’s probably hard to believe some of these names. But who do you chose to let go of? How? Mungry is the first puppy I ever whelped. Aurora and Belle are… God. Poptart? Yeah.

There are reasons for each dog. Aurora and Belle will be incredible leaders and leader-trainers for Kenna and Aiden. Poptart, who is historically scared of men, especially tall men, LOVES Aiden. I’ve never seen him open up to a cis dude like he has with Aiden. And a lot of the other dogs– It’s dictated by who gets along with Huck. Which is a silly reason, it feels like sometimes, but it’s also real.

A positive thing I’m hoping for, with a smaller kennel, is that I’ll be able to keep more of the team inside more. They may be mushing with Sarah some next year, but a lot depends, of course. I mean, maybe I’ll be miraculously better, and I’ll be on the runners again. Who knows?

I hate making this choice. And I’ve been putting off telling you all about it, so hard, because the truth is, I’m heartbroken. If I think about it, I’ll just… Stop operating. I don’t know.

I also know y’all know this is the best choice for the pups and support that. And I’m so grateful for you all being here with us even when I have been pretty reserved these last few years. It’s not been an easy time… Not the victory lap I imagined.

I don’t know exactly what happens next. There will still be dogs (there are always dogs). We’ll still share updates, absolutely. You’re still part of our family, as much as you want to be. It may not be as glorious or exciting as training for Iditarod, but my impression is, y’all don’t care about that as much as you do just about the dogs. And for the dogs, life still is great. Which, I couldn’t ask for more than that.

I’ll be constructing an updated Buddy pick to be released soon.

We’re working on the final round of trading cards for everyone and those will go out to Buddies. That’s a huge project so thanks for your grace as we work on it.

We’ll keep you posted on all the goings-on as the satellite team gets ready to officially move to McCarthy.

Thank you all so much for your support and your patience and your care. It makes a tough decision a lot more possible and a lot more manageable knowing the kind of folks we have at our backs.

It feels like an impossible idea right now, but nevertheless– Onward. There is still more trail to see. Maybe just a little bit different. Let’s do it.

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