Friday, February 15, 2008

UP 200 - current temperature: -15

Sophie in downtown Marquette after the start of the U.P. 200. It was -15 degrees.

Lake Michigan on route 2, just over the Mackinac Bridge. I asked Sophie while we drove if we'd see some polar bears walking across this frozen lake.

My favorite picture from the U.P. 200. Yes, there is a small child being pulled in this tiny covered sled. Winter is celebrated, and is a way of life. You can't see it here, but on the back of the sled is the infamous bumper sticker from these parts that says, "Say 'ya' to the U.P., eh!"

Turn your computer screen (or your head) to watch this video of Tim Hunt, bib 20, coming down the hill at the start of the U.P. 200. We got there just after our friends from Nature's Kennel came down the hill. Sorry, Ed! Congrats on your win! And good luck in the Iditarod!

February 16, 2008

Outside, snow is piled half way up the sliding glass doors. Sophie and I lie in sleeping bags next to the wood burning stove at the Shaw kennel after a long day of chasing dog teams around the U.P. at races.

This region is more beautiful and stunning in winter than in summer. Lake Superior looks like polar bears could shuffle across it. Last night at the start of the U.P. 200, the temperature was -15.

Long shadows fall over fields of white. Tundra glistens blue sky bright. Winter is a quiet solitude, giving the illusion of purity with pristine hills. Ice along Lake Superior forms changling sculptures, wind scooping out dugouts, carving out peep holes.

Being here simplifies me, helps ground me and remember who and what is real. At the awards banquet after the Jack Pine 30 this afternoon, the room was full of mushers and their handlers, family and friends with their winter bibs and anoraks. Not a stitch of make up could be seen in the room and heads of hair were either tangled or stuck in odd positions from being stuffed inside fur-lined bomber hats to combat the arctic temperatures outside. Many weathered hands chugged beer and hugged friends in celebration.

Emerging from a corporate-trained, well-groomed and manicured world, I at first worried about my hat head, remarking that I badly needed a brush. But Jan quickly reminded me of where I was: not a beauty pageant, but an awards banquet with a room full of mushers.

“Mushers don’t worry about that kind of thing,” she said. What matters more is the grooming of a trail.

Watching the teams fly along M-553, I couldn’t help but reflect on why I wasn’t there and all that went wrong this season. It wasn’t my year, that’s for sure. But nothing stirs my heart like the deep snow, arctic temperatures and running dogs; I don’t think anything ever will.

It's a culture of perseverance and endurance that I love: today, while teams of dogs were coming in and packing up from the Jack Pine, a mother strolled by with a baby in a toboggan sled, bundled up like a little mummy, only little eyes peeking out. Winter is a way of life, and life does not stop here because it’s -15 degrees outside. Life and winter are celebrated.

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