Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Mushing in Ohio: mud and diligence

Training a team of sled dogs is not an easy task. It is often chaotic. It requires dedication and is back-breaking and messy. On a recent training run, I kept smelling dog poop. I suspected it was on one of the dog's harnesses or tug lines - something that happens frequently - but every time I checked when we were stopped, I saw nothing. Imagine my surprise when I realized, on finishing the run, that the glob of doggy doo-doo was in my hair! It had flown off the back tire of the four wheeler and flipped up onto my head!

It requires sacrifice. Inevitably, every year, there are nights when, after a long day at work, the last thing I want to do is trade in my heels for Muck Boots and head out into inclement weather for several hours in the night. But as I pass people snug in their houses watching reruns of Seinfeld for the umteenth time, I look up at the stars overhead, or see a pair of glowing eyes watching me from a thicket of trees, and I know where I am is better and that there's no place I'd rather be.

Training a team of sled dogs in northeast Ohio certainly has its challenges. When other mushers are on sleds, I am still on the four wheeler at Christmastime this year. While there hasn't been any snow in northeast Ohio this winter, there has been no shortage of moisture. Mud has become like my second skin. The dog's harnesses are so muddy when we return from training runs that they can practically stand up on their own. I'm so sick of mud, I could scream.

This season has brought a slew of unforeseen challenges in addition to the normal challenges of training a team in Ohio. For one, in October, when training runs are typically kicking into high gear, I was focused on trying to save Mojo and Feist, my two pups who died of parvo. It was emotionally and financially draining, and my training regimen and pocket book quickly became depleted. It seems I have played catch up in both areas ever since.

Additionally, a year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. Without going into too many boring details, there have been moments this season when I honestly felt my body wasn't going to allow me to do what I needed to do to train up the dogs. I pride myself on having high tolerance for pain, and the ability to function well even with a lack of sleep or in pain and around chaos. But this season, some days have been practically debilitating.

I have done what I could, trying to take things in stride. As John Lennon said, life is what happens when you're busy making other plans. It is a rookie mistake to set out at the beginning of a season thinking race plans are set in stone. Whenever living creatures are involved, there are always unknown variables, and first and foremost, mushers are taught to deal with adversity and always be prepared with Plan B. At one point, I resigned to potentially sit this year out race-wise.

Plans are fluid. Since I started mushing nine years ago, I have always attended the Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Classic. Unfortunately, because life happens, this will be the first year we will not be at that race since I started this sport. I am behind on training miles with where I would normally be at this time of the year, and rather than pushing the dogs, I have chosen to forego this favorite race in favor of a new race happening at the end of  January: The IronLine Sled Dog Race. This will give us more time for training runs and conditioning.

As Christmas Eve rounds the corner and we settle in with family, friends gifts and merriment, it is 55 degrees and raining here in northeast Ohio. More moisture. More mud. Doesn't feel much like Christmas. So I must rely on pictures to help me remember.

Merry Christmas - may the season bring peace and lots of doggy howls (and not doggy doo-doo).