Thursday, March 1, 2012

"Man, I ain't changed, but I know I ain't the same." Jacob Dylan

It's official: I removed the dog boxes (portable dog houses that fit on the back of my truck where the dogs ride) from The Black Mamba (my truck) today, calling an official end to my season. Incidentally, this weekend most of my friends are traveling to races that traditionally mark the end of the season as well: the Iditarod, and, closer to home, the Copper Dog 150.

Signs of spring are already emerging here at the Ranch - and our winter was hardly a winter to begin with. 

While I am saddened to see this hallmark season pass, I am so proud of my dogs and what we've accomplished together. I have spent more time with my dogs this season than at any other point in our lives.

We've covered hundreds of miles and hours alone on trails in the glorious fall of the Upper Peninsula and here in Ohio together. My team had merely 750 miles on them when we hit the Midnight Run trail, and that number pales in comparison to the miles other teams had on them for that same race, not to mention the thousands of miles logged on a longer distance team.

Given the number of hours dogs spend with their mushers every season, is it any wonder the bond between us is one of the strongest between animals and humans? 

My yearling, Miles, at the Chatham checkpoint during the Midnight Run

I took a nap yesterday - a glorious treat - and while napping, I dreamed of running dogs. It was a straight forward dream (no hidden Freudian meanings to decipher) of simply being on my four wheeler with the dogs lined out running as we have done for so many hours this season. I awoke from the dream when I got off the four wheeler and started moving dogs around on the line.

I suspect a person has to spend a lot of time doing something before it becomes infiltrated into a person's psyche enough to dream about it.

I know how to read all the little nuances in my dogs. I know the look Yeti has when he is about to stop my entire team to take a dump. I know when I call a command, Ruffian will answer me with a commanding bark of her own, as if she is telling the whole team they had better listen, or else! I know every 30 seconds or so, Gwennie will look over at her son, Kerouac, and they will smile at each other while running in tandem as if to say, "isn't this great?!" I know to put a cable neckline on Aspen. :)

Some of my dogs are small (Gwennie weighs 35 lbs; Big Brown about the same); some of the dogs are larger (Yeti is 66 lbs, and Freya is close behind weighing in at about 58 lbs), yet, we move as a unit, one flowing, cohesive flow of energy all working toward the same goal. Sometimes, the dogs look like horses on a merry-go-round, bobbing and flying through the air with such grace and beauty, they almost bring tears to my eyes.

I have not changed this season, but this season has changed me. The dogs have changed me. The trail has changed me. And I can't go back. These hours spent moving forward with my dogs have melded us and shaped me.

To all of my friends embarking on their final hurray, I am thinking of you and your doggies. Good luck, and ....

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