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.

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