Friday, June 09, 2006

The Ecstasy is WORTH the Agony

Little Delilah - the only girl in Omen's litter:

“Hear me my chiefs! I am tired: my heart is sick. From where the sun stands I will fight no more forever.” -- Chief Joseph (Nez Perce)

Been quite the day, quite the day… Quite the year in fact, but with our Karma who would expect anything less? I’d say next to the time my ma died when I was just a slug caddy carrying golf bags around Westmoreland C. C. back in Chi-town decades ago, that this past season has easily been the most demanding emotionally. Now that’s saying something considering all that we’ve seen over the last ten years of living this nomadic lifestyle of the north. Ya know what though- whining’s for ………….., With all of the nasty crap going on in the world nowadays I’m willing to put up with a little pain if it’s going to allow this unique dream to thrive. It ain’t about winning or losing - I’ve learned that the hard way. It’s about painting the prettiest picture possible. A true dogmusher is more than a competitor - they’re an artist and there can be no finer ‘dance partner’ than those beautiful beasts!!

Many moons ago I realized that some things would need to be sacrificed in order for this ‘mushing soap opera’ to even get off the ground. Anyone that really knows me realizes that my greatest weakness, not just literally but figuratively — is my MOUTH!! For years, it got so bad that there’d be late winter evenings when I’d be wandering around in the woods drinking gallons of water, various asprins and other libations just to make the pain subside. Might have been a bit nippy at thirty or forty below alongside Goldstream’s twisted valley just outside of Fairbanks but at least the crisp air was easier on the teeth compared with the stagnant warm air within the cabin’s walls. Every year or so there’d be a tooth to be pulled - I chalked it up to bad hygiene and an everlasting devotion to Senor Willy Wonka. Not until last year did the true nature of our problem come to surface entirely — thanks to my good friend Dr. Paul Geoffrion.

Paul is a fellow Quest musher who pretty much saved my life. A few summers ago while running pooches in Skagway the pain was once again becoming unbearable. I asked Paul, who is a dentist in Whitehorse, if he’d be willing to take a look ‘between the ears’. Always known it’s a ‘mess’ there though I was a bit surprised what was behind it -- Ever heard of a cyst? Big nasty glob of goo that ain’t very good for you? Well I had one of the biggest he or the dental surgeon had ever seen eating a hole into the upper jaw just below my nose. Sounds nasty huh? Imagine what it felt like. It had been growing probably most of my life according to the kind French doctor. Fortunately surgery before last year’s Quest was able to rectify the situation (as well as probably save my life). Now, one year later that open area of my skull has filled back in which is the good news. The Bad news? Well, now they get to sedate me again as they try to reconfigure my mouth without the worry of ripping it completely off! Along with all that Tamra’s been through these past few weeks one can imagine that we’ll be spending most of our time working around our lakeside hacienda this summer. Why not? It’s where the dogs are - could there be any better company?

Obviously we had a rather difficult season in the ‘race scene’ as well. Not just in the Quest but in all the competitions, our performance could have been improved upon. If you’d have told me ten years ago that within the next decade I’d be competing in dozens of races as well as 9 1,000 milers I probably would have felt ecstatic - yet now I just feel embarrassed. Oh well, at least we’re LIVING. Over the last few years we’ve been acquiring some truly beautiful and gifted dogs from the Erharts up in Tanana as well as Mr. Lance Mackey. In hindsight I took for granted that these gifted pooches athletic ability alone would determine how high up the ladder we would climb. Through experience one learns how powerful the word “Heart” fits into the equation. There were many obstacles to overcome this year; suppose there will always be the ‘unexpected’ along this trail of life to encounter yet it wasn’t just that. Of course the training program could always be adjusted or improved. But when it comes right down to it, constantly running around in circles, whether it be to Skagway or the store, caring for some 50 or so pooches on a daily basis while at the same time converting a third of them from sprint to distance within a few months time was just too much energy for this toothless wonder to handle. Fortunately for us Tamra’s always been there to steady the ship from sailing too far off course. While some enjoy deriding my name, her heart steers us in a better direction. I admire Paul because he’s upfront and honest, “Ya know Hugh I think people like you so that they can laugh at you.” Heck, if this might make them a bit kinder to their fellow neighbors by enjoying a joke at my expense than I’m all for it. Maybe that’s the reason we’re called Laughing Eyes Kennel.

Tell ya what though seeking to improve is one thing no one should ever give up on. Our motto for this summer is “Don’t Leave The Dogyard”. Not only because there’s plenty of work in putting new siding on the cabin as well as putting a new addition on but a chance to develop a DEEPER bond with our beloved pooches. Know what the toughest aspect was with regards to racing this season? Missing the ‘Magnificent Seven.’ Rich Doran gave these furry guys and gals their nickname — these original kennel Dawgs earned it considering they pulled me on a sled the whole 1000 miles during our 1st Quest experience back in 2000. These were the pups that I grew up and learned ‘the ropes’ with; sharing thousands of endless miles together whether it be on the race trail or just goofing off on the trails surrounding Minto, Tanana, Nenana, Coldfoot and other peaks and valleys throughout Alaska and the Yukon. Most of these kids are now ten years or older thus it was time to give them that much deserved break, besides there are forty other balls of fur running around in circles, lunging into the air, demanding their turn to play on the “Big Rollercoaster”. Not having Junie or Marcellus up there in lead, or Gracie and Shyela ready to fill in up front when necessary with Malaki, Makaj and Unkie-Baby pulling more than their fair share of the weight while positioned just in front the sled, has been hard to get used to. Can’t count how many times uncontrollable tears have welled up in my eyes as I watched from behind the sled, these blessed creatures performing as they do best- running on down the trail in search of being ‘Wild and Free’.

It would be foolish and neglectful to have so many dogs without setting up a decent environment for them to reside in. Especially during the warmer summer months when they tend to still have lots of energy but the temperature dictates that they should only be run during certain times of the day when the sun’s heat is less of a burden. Working for Robert Murphy’s “Alaska Excursions” was a great experience the last two year’s down in Dyea just outside of Skagway. It was fun sharing stories and experiences with people coming off of the cruise ships from all over the globe. This year however, we’re trying a different route. Younger pooches are still trained via the 4-wheeler or in front of our Honda Accord a few times a week, usually during the cooler evening temps. We’ll take them on a short three mile loop through the woods then over next to the lake so they can catch some waves while cooling down as well. Most of our 30 racing pooches take turns as we load 6-8 of them into the Accord for a short 3 mile ride over to the Wheaton River. Once there we open the door- and WALA- you have a pack of flying animals cruising in front of you on the road which parallels the river- quite the view, quite the view. (we always try to do this during the heat of the day when there’s less varmints as well as humans roaming about. The free running as well the occasional mountain walks or swim seems to perk up their spirit on a different level compared to lugging a 4-wheeler around all the time. As for “The Magnificent 7”? Presently we’re busy building these ‘puzzle pieces of my mushing soul’ their very own dogbarn with adjoining fenced in playground alongside the Lake. Most mushers would be wary of having so many pooches in one spot together, these ain’t your typical Paris Hilton house pets after all. With the history these elder aged kids have shared there’s little worry for skirmishes breaking out though one best be cautious at feeding time.

Seems like this time of year always brings out the jerk in me. Most folks blame it on a disorder associated with the rapid advancement of sunlight within such a short time period - though for me it’s just the Mushing Blues as I realize how long it’ll be until we’re once again able to saddle up the sled – when next shall the snow blow? After this last year a bit of a restbit is just what the Dr. ordered! (Especially after this morning over at Dr. Crowley’s office.) Fortunately there’s still some ‘fun in the sun’ for us up here on Annie’s Lake to enjoy whether it be our neighbors: the Eagles, who usually rouse the yard awake in the cool morning hours as they squack away gliding in search of fish food, across from us is a beaver den, amazing little critters - those bucktooth bandits. Pull out the binoculars, glance out our livingroom window and you're likely to see at least half a dozen sheep grazing along the mountainside. For some this might sound a bit dangerous after all there’s griz and wolves around as well. (Not to mention the bats that are sneaking back into our roof) Despite the occasional pain or hardship it tends to feel like Heaven. Depends on how a person’s willing to see things and whether you’re gonna even try to make this unique earthly existence of ours better.

As always we’d love to have any of you up for a visit sometime - there’s a spare cabin just waiting to be admired — and a view to behold like no other. Just make sure ya LUV them DAWGS!! Thanks for listening, hope you learned something not just about our world but yours as well…

Hugh, Tamra and The Laughing Eyes Kennel Crew


At 9:23 AM , Blogger Melanie Istel said...

HI Hugh, Tamra and doggies . I really enjoy the great view over Annie Lake on your picture. Have a great summer! Greetings from Germany Melanie


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