Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"O Mistress mine, where are you roaming?" William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

It is pouring rain as my headlights part the darkness along county road 407, a small paved road that snakes through miles of Jack Pine forests and connects Newberry to Grand Marais, Michigan in the eastern Upper Peninsula. I am still in shorts and a t-shirt from an unseasonably warm Ohio day when I arrive at the cabin, and I curse myself for my lack of forethought. I've already broken one cardinal rule of the great north woods: always be prepared.

I scramble onto the porch of the cabin in a futile attempt to evade the cold rain. The wooden door squeaks open, and I peer inside, flicking on the light switch but nothing happens. The power has been knocked out by the storm. Along with my warm clothes, my headlamp is also lost somewhere inside the labyrinth of boxes in the back of the Uhaul trailer. Along with the rest of my life. Luckily, I find a smaller headlamp in the console of my truck, strap it to my head and dart back onto the porch.

The small cabin smells like a familiar mix of burning wood and propane. It is only one room, 16x20, and made entirely of giant logs pulled from Hiawatha National Forest. The rain falls steadily on the tin roof, making the darkness feel even more lonely. There is a bed, a small wood stove, a simple table and chair set, a stove and fridge and a tiny bathroom. I sit down on the naked mattress, happy to have arrived after the ten hour drive.

This will be my home for the next five months.

I think of my children who are back in Ohio. What is it that makes a person feel at home in such a remote place? What is it that led me here to this tiny cabin near Lake Superior?

The wind picks up outside as the rain falls more intently on the tin roof. I snuggle up with my small spaniel/lab mix, Gracie, and try to sleep, but I am haunted by the things and people I've left behind and those yet to come.

O Mistress mine, where are you roaming?  
O stay and hear! your true-love’s coming  
That can sing both high and low;  
Trip no further, pretty sweeting,  
Journeys end in lovers’ meeting—          
Every wise man’s son doth know.  
What is love? ’tis not hereafter;  
Present mirth hath present laughter;  
What’s to come is still unsure:  
In delay there lies no plenty,—          
Then come kiss me, Sweet-and-twenty,  
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Richter scale of my heart

The Richter scale of my heart is through the roof right now. 

My emotional seismograph reverberates with anxious energy. The last leaves have changed around the Ranch, setting the surrounding hills all aglow, which seems to magnify the intensity of whatever mood the sky happens to be in. Today my mood matches that of the sky: brooding, cloudy.

Leaves dance and spin in a small corner near the old barn, and I can't help but feel akin to that spinning. In the last six weeks, plans have changed so many times, it's left my head spinning.

For once, words fail me, but what I lack the words to express, my body speaks for me loud and clear: my neck is stiff and tense from lack of sleep. I wake in the middle of the night anxious about this move. This is a time of transition, and it's certainly not without its challenges. But finally, on Thursday, I am headed north.

I am heading to a small 16x20 cabin in the great northwoods not far from Muskallonge Lake in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This is not unlike what I do every season. But this time, it is different. This time, I'm not coming back.

I've committed myself to 140 days of solitude in this cabin in the woods.

In preparing to move to this small cabin infor the next six months, I have begun the tedious task of paring down on all of my material possessions. I started in July with clothes - bags and bags of clothes from both my and my kids' closets donated.

Then I started going through drawers and cabinets. I found things I'd held onto for years - silly things I simply held onto under the guise of not being "wasteful": oodles of paper clips, old grade books from my teaching days, incense sticks from my college days, old compilation CDs people made for me, endless drawers of scrap booking and office supplies, coupons I'll never use and old receipts, all dusty and yellowed from time.

Here's the thing about things: they pass through us, coming and going, and ultimately there are very few things in this life that matter.  Even things I thought would never lose their meaning have. 

At this moment in my life, I want to live bare bones, to strip myself of all that's unnecessary.

Because, when all the "stuff" and distractions are stripped away, what you're left with is the undeniable confrontation of coming face-to-face with all of the fears and demons, weaknesses and haunts locked inside your meaty heart.

Like many, I've used things to distract myself: from being honest, from looking at the truth.

Thursday, I retreat to the woods for a sabbatical from ... almost everything. I hope to finish my first book in that time, and emerge from the woods changed. 

This is a time of enormous growth, and with that growth has come pain. But, Socrates said, "the unexamined life is not worth living."

Have you examined your life today?

Thursday, October 11, 2012


This summer has brought a lot of changes to the kennel. I had to look hard at my goals for what I wanted to accomplish this season as well as make some tough decisions about some great dogs. Some of my dogs were better suited to recreational mushing homes, and others better suited to distance mushing homes.

What's the difference?

Well, first of all, recreational mushing dogs can be any dog breed. Some people mush with Golden Retrievers, Labs, or any kind of dog who has a propensity for pulling and loves to run. 

When it comes to competitive races, however, there are several types of races that mushers compete in. Sprint races, which are the shortest distances, are run with super fast dogs who are often crossed with hounds, like greyhounds. These dogs sometimes reach incredible speeds of 20 miles an hour or more, and run full-throttle for distances that are usually a mile per dog. For example, a four dog sprint team would run four miles. Open class unlimited sprint racers can run any number of dogs, however. The dogs that run these types of races tend to be shorter coated and sleek, leggy, fast machines. A popular sprint race in Alaska is the Fur Rondy.

The super endurance, distance races, like the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest, go over 1,000 miles. The dogs that tend to run these marathons typically have a dense coat and are heartier and muscled-up compared to the sprint dogs.

The kinds of races I ran last season and plan to run this season (and into the foreseeable future) are called mid-distance races. Like the name suggests, these races are in between sprints and distance races. The races I compete in are between 90 and 150 miles, and the dogs, like the race, are a blend of the best of both the sleek, fast sprint dogs and the woolly, muscled-up distance dogs. They tend to have finer bones than those who run ultra marathons, but are still beefy enough to break trail.

It might be worth noting that in mid-distance and distance races, mushers camp out with their dogs at certain mileages. A fourth type of race is the Stage race.  In these races, dogs and mushers rest at certain mileage points, just like in mid-distance and distance races, but mushers aren't required to "camp out" with their teams; they can check into their favorite hotel and snooze in a cozy bed. A well-known stage race is the International Pedigree Stage Stop.

Part of my paring down this summer was out of necessity due to life changes. But these changes gave me an opportunity to really study all of the dogs to discern who was the best fit for my race goals.

In the end, I was left with what I think will give me the best shot at stepping up my goals this season and being competitive.

I parted with seven beloved pack members since the end of July. But they all went to awesome homes - and several are now full-time house dogs, which makes me happy.

This also left me with only seven race dogs.

So...soon three new dogs will join Team Diamond Dogs. I can't wait to introduce them! Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

"A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving." Lao Tzu

I am a good traveler. I sometimes joke that I missed my calling as a long-distance truck driver, I'm such a good traveler. I enjoy new places, living out of a backpack, following my wanderlust.

What I've not been so good at, I admit, is making plans. Plans (to me) are tentative ideas. Fluid, not fixed. Translucent. My more rigid friends may find it frustrating to attempt to travel or make plans with me.

Schedules are also slippery.

Much to the chagrin of my family and friends, I am almost always late for everything. While traveling, I often pull alongside of some small, single lane highway (what my friend Sherry has nicknamed "blue highways" - those thin, blue ribbons of highways that snake in switchbacks along the pages of standard maps) wandering along the roadside to shoot photos of some haphazard beauty that caught my eye. Like this one, at Spirit Lake, Wisconsin.

Spirit Lake

I traveled recently to Wausau, Wisconsin for a job interview. There is nothing more beautiful than the Midwest in the height of fall.

All the pretty horses
It should be no surprise, then, given my proclivity for digression, that it's barely October, and my great plans for the season have already changed.

It seems this way every season. Mushers have great plans. This will be the year! But as all things with animals and people, plans change. Best to remain fluid and flexible.

So I've decided not to publish any kind of season goals until I'm further into training and can better gauge the dogs' training. We are signed up for the Beargrease Mid-Distance race in Duluth, MN, but that is also subject to change.

Stay tuned and keep rollin' with the changes!