I recently had a conversation with someone about why it is I do what I do.
"What's your end goal?" he asked, honestly curious about where the hell I hoped to end up on this crazy dog ride.
I assume he expected me to say the Iditarod was my end goal. And while that might be someday, it isn't really a goal for anytime in the near future for a number of reasons.
"But what skills does dog mushing teach?" he asked. "You spend so much money and time and have sacrificed so much to do this. You get up early in the freezing cold, and go outside to deal with chaos. I can think of a million other things I'd rather do on a cold morning. I guess I just don't get it."
And that's just it. Running dogs is one sport where people either get it, or they don't. And when I try to formulate the words for why I do it, I admit I fall short.
So I asked two of my best friends, who also run dogs, why we do what we do. Their answers?
"I do it because I like doing it."
And the other? "No clue."
It really is difficult to formulate words for what this experience means.
Nothing stirs me in such a deep and primal way or brings me joy like being on a sled behind a team of huskies working together. I spend hours and hours with my 12 racing dogs; we run hundreds of miles before our first race.
What do we learn in those many hours? Here's what I've come up with.
Patience. I've written about this before, but hooking up a bunch of high-energy, impressionable dogs who look to you for leadership but also want nothing more than to run takes a lot of patience. They're boneheads. And they do a lot of crap that boneheads do, but in dog ways. Like chewing lines, harnesses, arguing, being distracted. ...which leads to my next point...
Meeting a challenge. It can be super difficult to remain calm and patient in the face of the chaos that running dogs can be. My job is to teach them focus, determination and grit. And my job is to remain calm, look out for them, and maintain my own focus, determination and grit - even when tired, hungry, and cold. ...which leads to my next point...
Dealing with adversity. Most of the time, runs almost always go okay. But quite often, there are unforeseen challenges during training runs and races. A dog gets sick or injured. Your last harness is chewed to shreds. You're down to five dogs in an eight dog race. One of your dogs gets loose during a race...and she's in heat. You're tired, hungry, and cold...
You just never know. One of our jobs as mushers is to be prepared for as many unknown variables as possible. But there's never any way to know every possible scenario that could happen. Mushing teaches coping with adverse conditions.
Discipline. Training hundreds of miles on a dog team between September 1 and January 1 takes a lot of dedication and discipline. There is no time for drama or laziness.
I can't think of any other way I'd love to practice these life skills than while mushing. Some people take martial arts to learn these things. For others, maybe it's distance running.
Whatever you do, do it to the fullest extent and embrace it with all of your heart. To me there's no other way.
Fall training officially has kicked off for me on September 1. But tonight, the temperatures are so mild, I'm thinking we might just have our first hook up this evening. Stay tuned!