Ze Kat in Da Hat's B-day Wishes...
"The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house All that cold, cold, wet day."
It's amazing what ya pick up as a kid, small things that last forever. There's one phrase that stands out from my childhood more than any other, "Excuses are for losers." Our coach at St. A's was speaking to a church crowd at my buddy's funeral. Micheal B. was never given much of a chance to live a long life but he made the best of the days that he had on this earth. He didn't whine about his problems, or his neighbor's faults or how he deserved more, more, more...
He just lived life with a smile on his face and positive energy in his heart. Today I celebrate surviving another year inside the madhouse of my very own memories. This journey has been amazing, harrowing, disastrous, heavenly, humbling... Growing up in Evanston, Il. was many, many moons ago- far from the vast, mysterious rugged world of the North, of Alaska and the Yukon.
It wasn't the easiest childhood but we sure had tons of fun, when we were allowed to. My dad had this habit of doing yard/house work on holidays, guess it's always good to put in a decent day's labor if ya hope to ever celebrate properly. Til this very morning, I seek to be productive on a daily basis. Not because I want to have a 'job' but working feels great most of the time, so much so, that it feels like play. Caring for dozens of beautiful beasts may be a bit strenuous on the legs, back and forearms. Lugging two 5 gallon buckets full of food, water or poop several times each day may be a bit monotonous at times yet there's a beauty one senses in tending to their garden of 'fiesty furballs'. All it takes is a lick on the cheek... or listening to the sounds of excessive burping after the pooches have had a nice home cooked meal of Arctic char mixed with Redpaw's fine kibble. The chorus of howling 20 minutes later echoes off the mountains just across Annie lake. Life is good, a new moment has been born... Dawgs just want to Play...
"Get off the road!" Any kid who was involved with Troop #31, our boy scout troop at St. A's, would know where those words came from... my father's mouth. It would usually be yelled at us as we walked single file back to our campsite which was a mile or so away. It was pitch dark out, we were at summer camp Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan up in northern Wisconsin. Mike, Steve, Tim, myself and others were known as 'grubby scouts'- much like the kids in the movie "Stand by Me". Yeah, we had flashlights but were always told to turn them off, til this day I always prefer to run with a dog team in the dark of the night. (as long as I am already familiar with the trail) There's a certain coziness to it, being one with Nature.
I had to laugh a few years ago when I was given a 2 hour penalty for being 'on' the road coming into Central. My pa had just died the previous year, just a week before the Quest was to begin. I might have 'lost' that race by 4 minutes but Annie and the rest of the crew will always be champs to me. Not for what we have achieved over any lil' old 1,000 miles of competition but the experiences we have enjoyed over a lifetime. My dad is still probably chuckling to himself, 'I told you to stay off the road son.'
"I know dad, I know..."
Next year's Yukon Quest will be the 20th 1,000 mile race Laughing Eyes kennel has participated in since the year 2000. That year Aliy Zirkle won the race, her smile and positive attitude have been great for the world of Dogmushing. That 1st year Aliy came up to me at a tent we were sharing with Jack Berry while resting at Angel Creek. "So who are you?, she inquired. Ya know what? I still am asking that very ? til this very day. I ain't exactly normal, I think we've all figured that one out by now. "Winning" isn't my goal in life either. If you are one of those folks who wants to cheer only for the champ, I suggest you look in a different direction. It really hurt to be called a 'cheater' that year during the Quest. When we're out there training or racing all I am ever focused on is being a Dogman; seeking to honor the ways of old. Only a fool would think otherwise- how else does one explain how a simple-minded, somewhat shy cityboy has evolved into this crazy wilderness character now owned by the Spirit of the Greatland?
How many times do you feed your dogs each day? A few years ago I asked this ? to my friend John while visiting his place up in Kotzebue. "Whenever they need it Hugh, the more time you spend in the dogyard the better, right?" 2011 Iditarod Champion John Baker has shared many thoughts with me over the years. His Uncle Louie, cousins Darrin, Robert and Joe Garnie are amazing eskimos, gifted mushers as well. Often our conversations come from observation, listening, watching, seeking to learn. Sometimes in life it may be smart to speak up but in the wilderness keeping quiet has its advantages. Lord knows I can be as flamboyant as the best of them but those who really know me realize that I'm a hermit at Heart.
From the moment I returned from our spring school tour in early June I have met with but a handful of humans. Dawgs are my life, my love, my world...
"People think I'm famous and rich, if they only knew I was just cheap and lazy." Growing up what guy never fantasized about being an actor, the next Clint Eastwood or Bill Murray? Then ya think to yourself why not just be the real deal? Me.
I love Alaska, I love dogs... we're heading north... and what an epic journey it has been. Most folks probably would have retired after all that we have been through. Me? Well, we've just begun... The last few weeks I've been reading a book about my dog mushing hero. The novel is called 'Champion of Alaskan Huskies'- Joe Redington certainly was in so many ways. Not by his race successes but by his manhood as a true Alaskan, by what he accomplished on a yearly basis through determination, grit and desire. Joe didn't start racing til he was 56 and participated for decades in the sport- Now there's a goal to chase after.
I might still shop at Salvation Army and thrift stores, more out of habit than anything, but our Dawgs will always be fed and cared for to the highest degree. They are the real Champions after all. Living within one's means is a must in this desperate day and age. I have to snicker a bit at all of the folks who are signing up to participate in the Yukon Quest and Iditarod this year. I hope they realize what it takes. Sure, our kennel has done it for the last seven years in a row but one's commitment to living a Dream doesn't guarantee success. Miracle sponsors to pay the bills are not an everyday occurrence after all. Often in life in order to succeed one must give of themselves to a higher degree.
Learning to love and care for your body nurtures a person's spirit and mind as well. Each spring when I return from a month on the road, having performed at dozens of schools you can imagine I'm a bit pooped out. The sad reality is how out of shape my body usually is from weeks of living on the 'american fast food diet'. After attending the Iditarod's picnic at the end of june as well as enjoying our lovely Millenium meal w/ my buddy Ray Redington and his wife, I weighed 186 pounds. Fortunately for me I have all summer to get back in shape. Every year my #1 Hugh rule is that by my birthday I have to weigh 167 pds. -which pays homage to the year I was born. That's the beauty of living in the woods, surrounded by some of Mother Nature's finest specimens- one must thrive to survive. Each day is a blessing to behold, cherish and most importantly take advantage of- whether it be rain or shine, sun or snow... or even 50 below!
The journey continues, new trails await to be explored just up ahead... the seemingly silent dogteams flow onward over the endless miles of snow as lil' school children are put to bed. Better get back out to the dogyard, time to scoop some more scooby doo-doo... I still have a pound or two to lose. How about you???
Now I ain't no pretty boy... and I 'm certainly not a saint, just a product of this universe that never really understood the word... Can't.
Listen, Learn, Live... HHN