Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sophie's First Dog Run

Sophie on her first dogsled ride with Cedar and Foxy at the Shaw kennel.

A little faster now: Sophie cooks on the trail with Jack and Helga at the Shaw kennel.

This video was shot from the back of a snowmachine, so it's a little bumpy. Sophie did great! Jan Shaw says I could take lessons on dog mushing from her! :-)

Sophie’s First Run

The phone rings at the Shaw’s all day. The calls are from other kennels wanting to chat about the U.P. 200 – the U.P.’s most popular sleddog race. Bob brings print-outs of the latest race standings to the kitchen regularly. Twenty-seven teams started out, and only sixteen finished. Ed Stielstra won first place in the 240-mile sleddog marathon. We’re shocked when, at 3 o’clock, Rodney Whaley, hasn’t finished the race. A rookie from Tennessee working under the direction of Al Hardman, Rodney needs this finish as a qualifier for Iditarod, which he is registered to start in just two weeks. We’re all talking dogs, and the phone hasn’t likely seen this much traffic at the Shaw’s in awhile.

In these circles, if the focus isn’t on dogs, it’s on the weather. What’s the temperature outside, how much snow, what kind of snow? Wet snow? Hard-packed snow? Snow falls steadily for hours outside, and Bob remarks with a hint of sarcasm, “well, the good news is it’s still snowing!”
Jan has a homemade barometer next to the sink in the kitchen; it’s filled with liquid, and when the liquid rises to the top of the spout, a storm is coming. No need to rely on the television or radio, and this weatherman predicts weather patterns with more clarity and accuracy.

There is a thermometer and a bird feeder just outside the window over the sink in the kitchen too, and Bob can tell the names of any of the little birds who hang out there. Today, a nuthatch rested on Sophie’s open palm while she stood next to the birdfeeder.

In short, the lives of those who live in the north revolve around nature. Being here, I feel at home. The drama of home slips away from me again now that I’m back here. Tomorrow, sadly, I return. The winter’s adventures are likely over. Plans have run amok.

But before we leave, we spend the whole day Sunday running teams. And the most exciting thing is today is the day of Sophie’s first run.

She stands on the sled runners of the Hall sled, and she looks as though she’s doing a half split just to get her legs to reach. At 53 pounds, Sophie can’t hook up as many dogs as she’d like. We start with two good leaders: my Foxy, who just turned 12 and Cedar, who is one of the Shaw's “old timers” at 11 years old. They are both reliable and strong. Many Alaskan Huskies live to be 15 years or more. Cedar is thrilled for the chance to hook up, but Foxy isn’t so thrilled. Reluctantly, she goes along with it, though, and before I know it, Sophie is whizzing past following Jan’s lead by snow machine.

As I stand waiting drinking Diet Coke, a heavy wet snow begins falling. My eyes fade from focusing on the snow to focusing on the forest surrounding me, and there isn’t a sound, except the faint sound of snow machines way off in the distance. I think about this winter and my plans, and where I went wrong again. Had I focused on my own mushing and not on others, I might have been successful this winter.

Before I have a chance to brood too much, Sophie is heading up the driveway, having successfully run her first small dog team.

By the end of the day, we’ve hooked up seven teams in the kennel, and have run every dog in the yard except for the puppy team, which is still recovering from yesterday’s Jack Pine 30. Sophie has run three pairs of dogs, and rode in the basket with me and a six dog team. Jan is convinced Sophie will be a musher!

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