One year ago, to the day, after a mere three hour drive from Tok and a quick rumble over pot-hole-filled Chena Hotsprings Road, we pulled into the driveway of the very first official Home of ATAO.
It feels– Preposterous that it has been only a year. And also, it feels so much longer.
How would we know, then, pulling in on that hot clear day, everything that would happen?
On the narrow front porch, a jar of Peonies greeted us. Welcome to your new adventure! Shawn’s parents had arranged this, using a combination of Google Maps, phone calls, and general detective work. It was a perfect homecoming.
We checked out the digs. The empty dog lot (the previous tenant, a good friend of mine, is also a musher). The furnished but empty house. It’s funny to look back at the videos now. In a year we (I?) collected a lot of stuff, and a lot of memories.
The very first thing we did that day was Go Get Hooch. Hooch had been staying with Judy (our neighbor and Hooch’s first human!) while we prepared to move. Then in pretty short order, we got back on the road and traveled south to my parents’, to go get a shed full of stuff (mine), a bunch of mushing gear (donated by the Darnells), some parental hang out time, and… Puppies!
We had already arranged getting the Star Wars Pups (we didn’t know their names yet) from Martin Buser’s Happy Kennel– We just didn’t realize it would be so soon! The pups had developed well and were ready to move to their new home at ATAO. We got to pick three girls from the litter, and got a bonus runt (R2!) in the bargain. The puppies snuggled up in a sky kennel together and we made the trek back to Fairbanks. On the way, the pups got to stop and do a little freeplay– ATAO Kennel’s very first official free play.
It was all a perfect beginning to ATAO. I focused and obsessed over the minor next step, next step details, but now and then I’d pull back and boggle that we were here and doing it… That it was all real! Over and over a new milestone would make me believe, this time, that it was real, that I had *really* begun my kennel.
Over the next few months, ATAO:
- Gained all of our fifteen friends, including Bonnie, Annie, Nala, Jesse, Sundance, Cassidy, Egret, Furiosa, and Mad Max.
- Free played a lot
- Gathered a bunch of mushing stuff, talked to some classrooms, and traveled a lot!
- Built platforms and other things, thanks to a lot of help from our visiting best bud Arthur
- Ran the first race of ATAO- a 5k, featuring Jesse and Shawn
- Got a new job (Shawn did!)
- Got a four wheeler
- Mushed in the fall
- Practiced camping
- Got super excited when snow fell
- Continued to free play
- Got to know our neighbors
- Saw the Northern Lights
- Mushed 4-6 dogs like we were training for Iditarod
- Remembered to chill out about training so hard
- Tried to take care of myself
- Ran our first official ATAO Sled Dog Race– The TR50
- Had a tooth removed
- Taught the Star Wars Puppies to mush
- Bought a truck!
- Got engaged!
- Taught the Outlaw Pups to mush
- Mourned the end of winter
- Enjoyed spring a little
- Continued free playing
- Waited for winter to come
I am probably forgetting other big mile markers for us along the way… But needless to say, it’s been a wild ride of a year. We also have some pretty exciting mile markers coming up. I am so excited for this yearling year of mushing, I’m jittering out of my socks. There’s a lot ahead of us.
For now, I am so grateful to be here. This is where we’re meant to be; where I’m meant to be. This is family.
On my back left shoulder, I have a tattoo that says, UBI SUNT.
It’s latin; a poetic trope from Beowulf times, when european people lived in clans, and sometimes by war or disease, you lost your whole clan. You couldn’t be accepted into a new clan; you were doomed, forever, to wander the earth and mourn, and wonder– UBI SUNT: “Where are they?” Where is my family. Where is my home.
That phrase has been so integral to me, I had to put it on my skin. It is the question I have been asking for years.
Now I am beginning to know the answer. The answer that is not just words, but a reality.
They are here. I am here. We are home.