At the beginning of Iron Will (the only mushing movie I can really get behind) Will (good name!) has told his family that he wants- needs- to run the 500 mile dog derby from Winnipeg to St. Paul in order to win enough money to save his farm, and probably most of all to process the recent death of his father. His mentor Ned, who also taught his father to mush and to race, is dubious, but in the middle of the night, he goes up to Will’s room and drags the sleeping teen from bed in his wool onesie and throws him outside into the snow.
“Training begins now,” he says, and closes and locks the door.
Will jumps up and begins yelling and whining that it’s cold, Ned, it’s cold, Mom! Mom it’s cold! And Ned and Mom look at him impassively through the window, wonder if he can do this thing, and then leave him to his own devices.
Will is pissy and grumpy and, as you might have gathered, cold. He goes to the barn where the dogs sleep and curls up with them for warmth.
With all its problems and stereotypes (Ned is the epitome of a wise Native mentor who gets a white kid through a thing) and cheesy dialogue, I really love this movie. Part of what I think it gets right is how much mushing sucks. I wish there was more of a view of the connection with the dogs, but against any other mushing movie, this one, to me, is the closest. Will isn’t necessarily a better musher, per se. He just out-toughs everyone else. At times to the point of stupidity. (Also it doesn’t hurt that his uber-evil nemesis takes out a bunch of the other mushers in an epic downhill mushing battle involving snowhooks and cliffs and whips and sled crashes, and then laughs in the cheesiest real life film moment perhaps ever and also I’m totally here for it and sometimes I stand at the bottom of a hill and laugh like that too.)
Mushing is tough. Mushing very often sucks. And mushing is– all of life.
Will begins his training, gets tougher, and is still nervous and green at the beginning of his race. His mentor tells him all the wise things: Trust yourself. Trust the dogs. When you come to face the thing you fear, let the creator guide you.
However, that part is a ways away for me and the team. And I have no mentor or helper here. In fact, at the moment it’s still just me.
Through a series of surprising / not so surprising events, we’re still without a handler. For the past month I have started to think that this might be a sign. I never, originally, intended to have a handler. My goal was always to have a small enough kennel that I could manage totally alone. Once I was spoiled by working with someone though, I forgot that goal. Or, I began to think that goal was too much. With a full-time job, it’s daunting.
Once handlerless-ness was– at least for the time being– thrust upon me, I started realizing how much various work at the kennel I had been putting off and intending to hand off to a handler. Not being able to is forcing me into a few things that are good. I spend more time with the dogs. That’s never bad. I am doing more of the “dirty work” and “busy work” that I easily would have handed over to someone else. The downside is, of course, a depletion of time and energy– But the truth is, I’m still somewhat young. I am working with my day job to find more time. And I’m working on my self, my meds, and my habits to find more energy. All of this is positive– and maybe I wouldn’t have looked for that if I had had a handler to lean on.
Working harder, getting tougher through the season, going through a rougher gauntlet: all these things, if I can overcome them, will help me for Iditarod. So I’m starting to believe that maybe being without another human helper (at least right now) is a good thing. (Incidentally if you have wanted to mush and think now is the time, you can apply to be a handler: ataokennel.com/apply).
That means getting myself ready. Because the summer has slipped off. Projects have been accomplished, and now the last few are a race against the ground freezing up. Soon the focus will be to Just Mush.
I am scared– I am scared of my own failure. But I am also confident, in my bones, that I can do this. I just have to throw myself out into the snow and let myself know that it’s go time.
Training begins now.
[A big part of getting there, especially as I reduce my day job hours, is raising the funds we need to make the race happen. There are two awesome ways to donate if you can: make a one-time contribution to our Iditarod Fund, or make a small donation each month by joining us on Patreon. And if you can’t contribute, it’s a big help to share our site or invite folks to follow us on social media. Any and all contributions are part of the tapestry of how we make it to Nome. We couldn’t even dream of getting there without you: thank you so much.]