Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dog power: thoughts on mushing, and bitter pills

Happy New Year from the Lazy Husky Ranch!

After some set backs that have had me quite depressed this week, I've had some time to reflect. This blog is about so much more than dogs. It's about life, adversity, perserverance. And it's about mushing.

Mushing is something that is in you. You either get it, or you don't; there's no in between. Marriages break up because of those who "get it" and those who "don't." Friendships change, lifestyles change, everything changes because of the passion for this sport. And, if you're reading this, I suspect it's in you too. And there's no changing that. No race can "qualify" that; no person can take that away.

I personally like having a race to train towards. It helps me have a goal and helps to focus my training with the dogs.

But it looks like I may forego all my plans for this season. The reasons for this are several, first and foremost, my health. I have recently realized I not taken the time to process everything that happened in September. I was so anxious to jump into fall training, I stifled or "compartmentalized" the pain and trauma I felt from my hospitalization.

So, at least for the time being, I am canceling plans for racing this season. Races will be there.

Instead, I'm hoping to have lots of sled time with my family. I plan to teach Sophie the fundamentals of dogsledding this winter.

Sophie ice skating on New Year's Eve

And I plan to heal finally from all that happened in September.

It's a bitter pill to swallow, I admit. But I think it's the right pill for now.

Besides....someone has to be here to care for puppies....

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Learn by going where I need to go

It is six degrees out as I type. The snow is piling up outside with no intention of letting up. The house is quiet and in that quiet, a storm brews.

I should be excited. And I am, in a way. But I've had this horrible cough for going on three weeks now, and sometimes right now, it hurts to breathe. So I sit quietly with Gracie lying next to me and Foxy at my feet, thinking. Sometimes, now, I want to just be quiet.

What have I been training for? Several hundred miles logged on the dogs this fall, moving toward a solid goal, only to have everything fall apart at the last moment?

This year has been such a rough year. All I wanted more than anything was to get back on the runners and move forward. But maybe I've moved forward too fast. Because now suddenly these demons are haunting me. Three months of solid antibiotics have weakened me, made me susceptible, led to this awful cough. My body is not what it was. I am atrophied in places that were once strong. And I've been denying this fact.

My intentions were good. I thought picking right up where I left off was the right thing.

But I find myself in these quiet moments remembering the fragility and tenuous hold we have on life. In flashes, now that it's quiet, I remember the helplessness I felt in September, the stream of physicians of various disciplines, the humiliation and frustration and yes, the anger. And I remember the pain. Now that it's quiet, the memories well up inside of me, now that it's quiet, and rushes out in a flood that once was an iceberg. Why? Why did this happen?

I have decided to spend some time processing. Races will be there. I need to embrace this quiet, grieve, feel. And learn by going where I have to go.

Theodore Roethke - "The Waking"

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Happy Birthday Foxy!

I always tell the story, as it was told to me by Scarlet Hall, wife of Yukon Quest musher, Wayne Hall.

On the coldest night of the year in Eagle, Alaska, Foxy and her litter mates were born. It was -50 on December 28, 1995. Fifty degrees below zero.

She is now 14 years old.

Foxy is truly an inspiration. It might be a stretch to say this, but she has keen intuition. She reads people and situations. And she should: she led 950 miles of the Yukon Quest in 2002 for Wayne.

I tell the story often because I find it inspiring. She was made for the cold. With a thick, oily coat, she's in her element in the white stuff.

These days she lays on the sofa at the Lazy Husky Ranch, enjoying a much-deserved retirement. She is our kennel namesake. And she will always be an inspiration, for her keen insight and will.

Happy Birthday, Foxy!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans" - John Lennon

Said another way, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray."

The best laid plans of dogs and a girl too. It's true. But in my life, straying from the plan usually leads to far better places. After all, it's not up to me anyway. Or you either.


Stay tuned to find out more. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

We clean up nicely, doncha think? :-)

Yesterday found me back on the runners. With Joann leading on the snow machine, I drove dogs 22 miles through the beautiful winding trails along the Manistee River. My dogs did awesome and came in with happy tails and smiles in 125 minutes.

After a day of running dogs, Larry, Joann and I peeled off our stinky dog clothes and cleaned up to go out.

Larry and Joann

Joann gives a thumbs up to a night out!

Mexican food and margaritas at La Senorita hit the spot, then it was off to see Joann and Larry's friend's band play at the Otsego Lodge.

It turned out there were snowboard, ski and snow machine competitions going on all weekend long at the lodge. I snuck outside to watch skiers ride "kinked rails" on the slopes.

And laughed at the name of this slope....

I had to take a picture of this!

By 9 o'clock, however, we were all yawning. So we went home and did what mushers do on a Saturday night: made tug lines and neck lines!

Joann made an entire new gangline for the A team

I am heading back down to Ohio early Monday morning, and I hear there is barely a dusting of snow at home. I leave, as always, with a heavy heart. But I'll be back in just a few short weeks!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Crisp morning and fushia sunset in the tundra

"Silence is a source of great strength.” Lao Tzu

The Mackinaw Bridge that connects lower Michigan to the Upper Peninsula

The snow squeaks under my boots as I head outside. The sun is bright. It is six degrees at the 45th parallel: the half way point between the equator and the North Pole. The Toyota creaks and groans as I drive up Coyote Run. I am heading to Mackinaw City to pick up Sophie's Christmas present: her very own dog sled.

My friends, Karla and Dan, at Trails End Kennel responded to an S.O.S. that I was looking for a dogsled for Sophie for Christmas. I am very thankful.

On the way there, Big Brown sleeps in the cab of the truck with me. She's pretty spoiled, my sweet BB - "BB gun" as my kids affectionately call her.

After a quick chat with Dan, we're on our way back down to the 45th parallel.

How we roll: my dog box, which I built by myself, can hold six to eight dogs. Sleds, which weigh practically nothing, sit on top.

And I get ready to find my "sled legs" once again.

I don't know about other mushers, but I always get butterflies in my stomach before the first go of the season on the runners. And I've heard horror stories about running out of Joann's driveway. The sharp 90 degree left onto a plowed road with a hot team of dogs can be deadly.

The butterflies leap into my throat.

Larry goes out before me with a team of 10.

As I head out, two of the five females I have hooked up start to fight. One is BB. She's fighting with her litter mate, Rags. Forgotten are the days of sharing a womb; now the girls are blood thirsty. I stop and Joann helps to get the two separated.


Then I'm at the corner and I make the turn. I make the turn! Only, something happens. I'm going fast slightly downhill on a plowed road. My drag mat flaps around haphazardly, and when I step foot on it, I hit a bump in the road simultaneously and...just that quick, I'm over. And over. Until I'm dragged upside down, runners in the sky, down the road.

I lost my team one time, in 2006. I have never let go again. I will never let go. This is the first rule (really probably the only rule) in mushing: NEVER let go. Ever. No matter what.

Luckily my agility comes right back to me and I stop the team and right the sled as quickly as it happens. I chuckle to myself picturing sled runners in the sky!

The rest of the 15 mile run is absolutely breathtaking and pristine. The dogs make good time on sections of trail that are still rough going from all the newly fallen snow. The sunset puts on quite a show.

As we run, I think about last September - that it's only been three and a half months since I fought for life. I very seriously thought after my hospitalization I would not be here, today, doing the thing I love most in the world. And here I am.

I return in the dark without a headlamp, it's that clear and beautiful. I feel alive again. The hours of training have paid off with the dogs. They run flawlessly, effortlessly through the tundra.

As I prepare dinner for the dogs, Gwennie gives me a kiss. Larry made the best spaghetti dinner and we wolf down the carbs like the dogs wolf down their kibble. After dinner, Ana poses with her best buddy, Jake, in front of the Fortier's Christmas tree so I can snap some shots of her.

A five-year-old Ana and her Border Collie, Jake

Merry Christmas. What I want for Christmas is the peace I feel when I'm on the runners, at all times. I savor that peace, when everything is blanketed in white and the only sound is the sound of the dogs' breath and the quiet jingling of their collars.

May you know peace. May you know how to get back up on the runners. May you know the butterfly excitement of the first run of the season. May you know the unconditional kisses of best friends. May you know peace.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Heading North

At the time of this writing, I am heading Northwest to Michigan to run dogs on the three foot of snow my friends Larry and Joann Fortier have in Gaylord, Michigan. Stay tuned for pictures and scenes from behind a team of dog butts, because being behind a buncha dog behinds is better than being behind anything else!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Slogging through mud on a rainy night

Chalking up more miles on the clankity cart in the cold, wet night

I cannot wait to run the dogs on snow. They are such good dogs and are doing super despite added mileage. We've had a couple tests lately. Saturday, there were, for some unknown reason, several people out at the trails where we train. They were milling around, and as we went by, they "ooo"ed and "ah"ed at us. The dogs didn't flinch. They just kept right on chuggin'.

We pass one lone house on our training run route. Sure enough, on the same day, a huge chocolate lab came bounding toward the team from that one lone house. Perplexed, the dogs couldn't resist a look and slow a bit.

I called, "Ahead!" and they kept moving...but dang it, wouldn't you know that hulking chocolate lab caught up to the team! This stopped them, the urge to investigate this intruder too tempting.

"Sorry," his owner called and came running up from the lone house. After a few interested sniffs and tail wags, I called the team up and we were on our way.

"Alright guys, let's go!" Wind kicked up. Drizzling rain and mud splashed in my face. Big Brown shook in her harness.

Tonight, Sophie went with me. We rigged her bike up to the back of my training cart with a few carabiners and a heavy duty rope, and away we went!

I have logged so many hours with my guys this fall, I finally know what it's like to make something you love a job. Most days I am excited to run dogs; some days, not so much. Like today. It was raining a steady drizzle all day. It was cold. The beautiful ice pockets in the trail had melted into muddy puddles of murky muck. And, try as I might to avoid those puddles, finishing tonight's training run found me covered with sandy mud from head to toe.

I finally know what it feels like to know my dogs through and through. And though I will never think I know my dogs' every move before they make it, I feel pretty comfortable saying I know my guys really well. I've watched them grow this fall from totally green, inexperienced and gawky yearlings (Ruffian and Big Brown) to graceful, beautiful athletes.

27 days until our first race. I can't wait to see them blossom in the glistening snow that is their birthright.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cold, dog training, the mayor, and the blimp!

It seems like all of the U.S. got dumped on with snow in the last week, except here. Friends in Michigan got 30 inches. Even places that never get much snow, like Iowa, received record amounts. But here, I'm still running miles on the clankity cart!

A slight dusting of snow is all we received of the big storm that swept across the western U.S.

The dogs are roaring to go, and we're eating up miles, though I can't wait until those miles are via dogsled.

The last few days have been extraordinary: clear and cold, with blue skies in the day and starry nights.

Cold temps are all we received of the storms that swept across the U.S.

By the lake where I train, it has been especially cold, with wind chills of about negative 5 degrees.

The frigid temps made me break out the trans-Alaskan anorak!

Stay tuned, however, because next weekend, I will head north in search of snow!


In other news, I shot Leadership Akron's holiday party this week and got to chat with Akron's mayor, Don Plusquelic.

Mayor Don Plusquelic (center) chats with members of Leadership Akron

Over 9,000 pounds of food was donated at the event for the Greater Akron Foodbank! It's so wonderful to see the generosity of neighbors during a time of hardship for so many.

A salmon spread at Leadership Akron's holiday party was the subject of much discussion!

And now for the really big news! Chris and I have been working with a wonderful group of actors and film makers in Akron. Chris put his writing talents to work and teamed up with his long-time friend and actor/cinematographer, Chris (Blue) Green and actor/director, Todd Volkmer (affectionately known as simply Todd V.) to make a "mocumentary" film of the history of Akron. The film was submitted to the Akron Art Museum's "New History of Akron" contest...and we found out Thursday night during the showing that it not only won first place, it also won the "audience choice award." It was a proud moment for everyone!

If you would like to see the five minute mocumentary entitled BLIMP: Our Blemished Past click the link below.

In all, it was a good week!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Rollin, rollin, rollin, keep those doggies rollin

A dog bootie after a 15 mile run

Training is in full swing, and the dogs and I are getting pretty tired of cart training. So this morning, when we woke to 27 degrees and snow, we were all very happy!

Move 'em out! We're hitting high velocity speeds on our training runs

I train at a state park with a large lake, so it's always chilly, and there's usually snow this time of year.

The lake where I train

Unfortunately, it'll be some time before I can run on sleds here in Ohio. But this coming weekend, I'm heading north where I'll be on the runners at last!

This crazy get up is a necessity, embarrassing as it is!

Today the dogs and I did 15 miles. They were sure tuckered out afterward.

My sweetie, Big Brown, sleeping like a baby in the warm truck. Spoiled!

It's almost exactly one month before my first race: a pro class, 8-dog, 42-miler. Sophie will also be competing in her first race too: a 2-3 dog, 4 mile junior race. The Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Race is a wonderful set of races for both the novice and pro alike. And I finally have awesome dogs to run the beautiful trails of the Big Two Hearted River with.

Stay tuned: winter has just begun!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Random photos

Ah, the "holi-daze." A time to gather with friends and family. Celebrations, parties, get togethers.

I was fortunate to spend this Thanksgiving with good friends from days past.

Mark and Kim

Snapping photos of friends snapping photos

Dan and Kim

And fortunate enough to have a few drinks with them. And bold enough to take some photos of random people dancing at the bar we were at.
These are some images from that night.

"Playing with light"



Dog training is in full swing now and the dogs are amped. I'm beginning to feel like my old self again now that I have my cart all repaired and am back on the trails with the doggies.

That's all for now! Been too busy running dogs to write much lately!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Across the miles: friends in far away places

We live in an amazing time.

I've been down lately. It seems like life has presented 101 obstacles to my dog training: sudden flat tires on the training rig; weather; my health. And, after a not-so-great report card about my health today (more on that later), I was feeling pretty down.

I'm ashamed to admit, this week, I've been struggling to give thanks. Feeling pretty negative, I turned to a friend who lives 3632.88 miles away from me, almost quite literally halfway around the globe in Chatanika, Alaska.

Meet Jodi Bailey. I've written about her before.

Jodi and her dog, Jake, after winning the Gin-Gin 200 Sled Dog Race

I first met Jodi via the Internet, on Myspace. You can view her Myspace page here

At first, our conversations were mostly about dogs. Gradually, Jodi and I shared more and more. We began to realize we had many, many things in common.

I happen to love camels and once held the dubious title of "camel handler" at a local zoo. Imagine my surprise when Jodi posted this picture of herself on an Internet social networking site:

A small photo, I realize, but if you can't see it, it is a picture of Jodi receiving kisses from a camel

Not only does Jodi run dogs, she also runs, bikes, loves Bob Dylan, works in a University and claims the Grateful Dead is the "soundtrack to a large part of her life."

She says she runs by herself when the weather is too warm to run dogs. And run she does: she completed her first marathon in '08

It was during my hospital stay last summer that Jodi and I really started becoming close. She reached out to me during a time of darkness and isolation.

Tonight, when I was down, she reached out to me again. From almost 4,000 miles away.

Isn't it funny how the world works, bringing two people who would be very unlikely to find each other together from across the globe?

I was struggling with finding something to be thankful for on this night when I felt so frustrated and alone. But the universe intervened in an email, out of the blue, from Jodi.

It also intervened as I tucked my two kiddos in bed. I was scribbling negative vibes into a notebook, and stumbled on a happy little drawing done by my five year old.

It reminded me to be thankful for my two girls.

It's funny how the world works, isn't it? It keeps us in check, reminds us to not just survive, but live, to not just look, but see.

As Jodi said tonight, "yup sometimes things just, well, click."

Indeed. As the Buddha said, “When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky” Thank you, Jodi.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"When all is said and done, the weather and love are the two elements about which one can never be sure."

What's up with the weather?

It's really put a damper on my training.

Generally, most mushers don't recommend running dogs in temps above 50 degrees and above 50% humidity. Because Alaskan huskies, like other northern breeds, are double coated, they thrive in frigid temperatures, and warmer temperatures can hinder them physically.

A sled dog sleeping at a checkpoint during a frigid January afternoon at the Seney 300 Iditarod qualifier

The weather for the last 10 days here in NE Ohio has been great if you're into kayaking during Indian Summer, but not so much if you're a dog musher hell bent on fall miles.

An Indian summer kayaking trip

I am no where near where I wanted to be as far as training. I should have several hundred miles on my team at this point, and I'm barely over 100 miles.

So I've been running at night to run in the cooler temperatures. I have rigged up my training rig with lights and have a super bright headlamp. But I'm still freaked out when I head out with my team in the black night in the woods.

Not a lot else to report. Just fighting the weather...which is futile!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Roller Derby Girls

When the day should come that I venture from my first love of mushing, it will be to this:

Meet the faces of roller derby.

They are mothers, daughters, nurses, secretaries, teachers...

but when they gear up for a "bout" - a match - they transform into fiercely focused forces to be reckoned with.

I had the priveledge of getting "up close and personal" with some roller derby girls this past weekend. The follow video is a tribute to them. Click below to watch. Wow.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A recent photo of my father and his new baby: Zach, pictured here at six weeks

Last week, I was at my parents' house one late, raining evening. My dad walked down a dimly lit hallway, and, pausing at the corner, he looked up at me suddenly and said, "Thanks, Shanny pie."

I winced in the darkened living room at the embarrassing nick name.

"For what?" I replied. "I didn't do anything."

"Just think about it," he said, and walked down the hallway into the dark.

* * * * *

I received a message today from my mother around 3 p.m. that simply said to call, that she needed me.

The phone rang precisely half a ring before she picked up.

"Yea?" she said, knowing from the caller id it was me.

My recent birthday was the impetus that prompted my father to finally seek help. My mom asked him over cake how old I was, and he was shocked that he couldn't remember.

"Is Shanny pie one year older or younger than Colleen?" he asked sheepishly.

I am nine years younger than my older sister, Colleen.

It was then that my dad finally agreed to the CAT scan. That scan was yesterday, and the results revealed what we already knew: moderate Alzheimer's.

I was first to suspect it, about two years ago, mostly because of the odd almost Zen-like things my dad would say out of the blue. For a long time my family tried to ignore some of the wacky things he would say. At Easter last year, he brought dinner to a screeching halt when he announced that he would soon take out an ad in the newspaper - complete with his phone number - offering his knowledge to the public, because he knows everything. And he was quite serious.

Sometimes, if listened to with an openness, however, the things he says can seem so poignant. He'll stare off with his thoughtful gray-green eyes and say, "Life is precious. Today is the day the Lord hath made. Be glad and rejoice in it."

My dad has always been a God-fearing man; he will never forget many lines of the Bible and recites them with ease.

But he forgets what year it is, medication, what he ate for lunch.

Since my birthday, my dad reminds me every time I see him how much he loves me.

"I may not remember a lot of things, but I'll always remember my Shanny pie," he'll say. And it chokes me up every time.

What are we if not our minds? What are we when that which we are begins to shrivel and deteriorate?

In people with Alzheimer's, portions of the brain that deal with new memories, planning, and thinking - the cortex - literally shrivel and shrink. Memories fade. Daily activities, planning, simple math becomes impossible. A friend of mine whose dad has Alzheimer's and was a lifelong smoker one day forgot what a cigarette was.

For more information about Alzheimer's and how it effects the brain, click here

Today my mom told me that she was up all night with my father last night because he was hallucinating that he was falling into a black hole. So real were the images, he was terrified and refused to be left alone.

I had to wince, again, at the irony. I can't help but think he is not hallucinating at all. What isn't falling into a black hole, but Alzheimer's?

A friend also wrote of her mother's journey with Alzheimer's recently. You can read her story here.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Congratulations Melanie and Mike!

It's a Halloween Wedding Celebration!

Meet Mel.

The quintessential Melanie expression

In April of 2001, shortly after I started working at Akron Children's Hospital, Melanie started working in the same department. I watched her filling out paperwork in the administrative office outside of my office. Her long, black skirt draped over the chair and her brown hair fell over her blue, button-down collared Oxford shirt. Somehow, I was drawn to her. Little did I know, she would become one of my better friends in my adult lifetime. Her sarcastic, dry sense of humor saved me during those first days working in an office with all women.

So, I was not surprised when Mel had a party for her September nuptials on Halloween. She and her new husband, Mike, eloped to Hilton Head (smart). But they wanted to celebrate their wedding with their families present too.

Two Wednesdays

Other members of the Adams Family

I was pleasantly surprised when Melanie asked me to photograph the celebration. These are some pictures from the Halloween Wedding Celebration!

Mike and Melanie were supposed to dress as grapes (hence the purple balloons), but this didn't last long!

Here's to many happy years ahead! Congratulations Melanie and Mike Vesner!