People rarely meet others with an ability to see or accept them exactly as they are. Whether we admit it or not, we inadvertently meet others with judgement or expectations about what they will or will not be. We may look up to others, or we may look down.
Part of the beauty of the U.P., and of the mushers I call friends, is I have never been met with anything but a "come as you are" acceptance. People are real. There is no pretense. This is part of the allure of the Upper Peninsula for me.
Growing up in a family who spent so much time on the water, I looked forward to every weekend on the boat, anticipated it. It seemed I could smell the water in my dreams. Some look forward to a long-awaited, exciting vacation to Disney World or an amusement park; nature was always my amusement park.
This season, and this race - the Jack Pine - meant so much to me this year. Working toward that goal, training my young fur kids, making sacrifices. Even fora 30 mile race, these things are present.
But getting together at races is more than just about racing. It's about seeing old friends, meeting new ones, and celebrating - sort of like a reunion.
Driving over 2,000 miles in four days is exhausting enough. But add to that running a 30 mile dogsled race, staying up chatting with friends, not eating well, sleep deprivation...and saying good bye to five of my beloved Gwennie puppies ...to say I am exhausted is an understatement!
I'll start with the pups. One by one, I loaded them into a small crate in my truck, and Gwennie became increasingly distressed to see them loaded, one by one.
First we arrived at the home of sprint racer, Jane Schramm and her beautiful family.
Jane stands with her son and their two new pups, Annie and Two Star
Jane has been driving dogs a long time, and has a small kennel of thirteen dogs in Indian River, in northern lower Michigan. She also spends her days working in the Cheboygan County Humane Society, so she knows a lot about dogs. She helped me vaccinate all the pups with their first puppy shots, and left me the sweetest gift: a three page note from Annie and Two Star about how happy they will be as real racing sleddogs! Jane also sent me off with a sweet little treat: a five gallon bucket (mushers always need buckets!) chock full of goodies for the trail. What an amazingly generous gift!
Jane's son holds his new puppy, Two Star
Then it was off to Marquette to meet friends Tim and Angie Looney from Iowa, and Kathleen Kimball-Baker from Minnesota.
New sleddog mamas Kathleen Kimball-Baker (left) and Angie Looney (right) get acquainted with their new fur kids, Ginsberg and Maggie, respectively
I held my emotions in check while passing off Gwennie's babies to begin new adventures. Kathleen, however, got emotional on seeing Gins, who she calls her "dream come true."
Kathleen tears up while hugging Gins
On the way down from Marquette, in Manistique along the Lake Michigan shore, it all hit me. My puppies - who I watched take their first breath, eat their first bite of food - were gone. The weekend I had trained for and looked forward to, was over.
In a whirlwind, the weekend, the race, the reunion - it was all over before I knew it. Suddenly I was alone, exhausted, heading southbound on Route 2. The only thing to do was to stop along the way and shoot some photos. Hopefully they express the beauty and peace I see in this landscape.
Jumble ice along Lake Michigan, Manistique, Michigan
More jumble ice
Some are drained by the snow and cold. I leave the Upper Peninsula recharged, focused, and sad to return to Ohio every time.
Lighthouse along Lake Michigan, Manistique, Michigan
With love, from the U.P. winter
Many, many thanks to this guy, my friend Jon Mattsen, who is as real as they come and helped me get to the Jack Pine this season. Jon also won 7th place in the race! Congrats, Jon, and thanks for being there
The story of how I came to receive the red lantern in the Jack Pine, and the significance of the red lantern award, belongs in a post all its own...