Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Surviving the Journey

" Life's hidden treasures can always be found in the EYE of the Storm" -John Muir
Happy Holidays to All!
Barely made it back to the casa here at 6 this morning. Our truck was having fuel line issues and we had to get a tow truck just outside of Whitehorse. Boris, our handler, came out with another vehicle to haul all the pooches back home. Half of these dogs were 'rookies' a few days ago as we set off on our journey to Paxson to participate in the 'Gin-Gin'. Though the race is primarily set up to showcase the women of our sport, numerous other mushers share the trail. Not in search of 'winning' a few hundred bucks but introducing their younger pooches to the racing environment as well as inhaling the breathtaking views along the Denali Hwy. This area of Alaska has some gorgeous scenery that I was looking forward to experiencing for the 1st time.
Races such as this are a bit more mellow allowing us the chance to spend time with good friends without all the tension associated with larger mushing events.
Mother Nature had other ideas up her sleeve however this time around. Ten miles down the 200 mile trail, teams were forced to travel thru a 'gauntlet' of 40-50mph winds on an ice encrusted road with barely any snow on it at all. As we came into the picture numerous squads were floundering down in the valley alongside the road trying to reorganize their jumbled up teams. One lady was calmly walking down the road, mentioning that her team must have gone just up ahead a bit. One fella was actually holding down two teams while the other musher straightened out another squad. All of these scenarios were playing out simultaneously in the midst of a massive wind storm. Think about it! My immediate reaction was to stop, survey the situation and seek the safest route thru this canine course of craziness. I would end up being drug twice after the winds flipped the sled off the side of the road. Lance spent nearly a half hour sorting out his situation down in the gully. No one really made it thru this 7 mile obstacle course without a story to tell. I just wish my friend Jon Van Zyle could make a portrait of it- a video would have been even better. Fortunately no one, especially the dogs, was seriously hurt. Unfortunately a few rookie teams didn't make it thru and turned around. The funniest part was when the National guard fellas showed up to lend a hand and ended up getting most of their snowmachines stuck. Alot easier to get a team moving again than a cold piece of metal.
Our handler from Finland ,Juho, was participating in his 1st mid-distance event with 2 veteran and 8 rookie pooches. Though Juho finished as the "Red Lantern" I could not have been more proud for he finished with every dog he started with- in decent shape. This was quite an accomplishment considering temps. hovered in the minus 50's at times on the rivers. I was fortunate to finish with all my dogs as well. Having two jackets helped protect them against the fierce winds, I wore four or five layers around my head as well. This season I have yet to carry a pooch in my sledbag, part of this is do to training at a slower speed. Mostly though I have to admit that with age my desire for speed, to be some 'great' race champ is diminishing. I'm just seeking to be a true 'Son of the North'- as I've stated before my overall goal is to complete at least 50 thousand mile races in my life-the Lord willing. An even greater goal is to finish at least one major race with every pooch we start with. This can be a daunting task considering all of the obstacles presented on a daily basis. I had a chat with Quest Veteran Dan Kaduce at McLaren Lodge during one of our layovers. The "Spirit" of mushing, Redington's Dream, has been dwindling in recent years. With so many striving to achieve personal greatness and monetary wealth the focus on what the purpose of our lifestyle is has been diluded. Having been 'around the block' for a few years now I've learned to have a greater appreciation for moments in time: The wagging of my leaders' tails, Walter's goofy smile- a puppy's transformation into a prime athlete.
And Nature? What is there not to appreciate? The Great Almighty has created some divine space up here in the Alaska Range. It's no wonder that men like Jeff King, John Schandelmeir and Sebastian Schnuelle train here on a regular basis. If you travel around these twisty, windy parts you'll end up with one heck of an outfit. As we descended down into Paxson with just a few miles left of this harrowing saga the early morning sunrise erupted into a pinkish hue blanketing all of the surrounding mountains. It was at this very moment I realized why we mushers put ourselves thru so much each year. Not to earn a buck or see our faces in the paper but to honor this gift called life. For many of us this isn't just some sport to be viewed on the Discovery chanel- this is our religion; a way to honor the Almighty One for bestowing so much beauty within our eyes reach. And the Dogs? Without them we'd all be spiritually worthless. For they bring out the beauty within each one of us humans by how we care for them. It will be nice if one day the mushing world returns to admiring one another's beautiful Dawgs and not seeking to villify each other's personal weaknesses. This chaotic world is challenging enough for all of us. I do have a personal request, please remember the number one rule of participating in races: NO Whining. If you don't LOVE what you are doing-- enjoy another view of life. For the rest of us? We'll be smiling all the way to the top of the next mountain's peak! Peace to you, Hugh
p.s.: A special thanks to John S. and Theresa Daily for their help coordinating the race, this was a "Dream" for Juho-muchas gracias! And a special thanks to Tamra- for putting up with me. Love you honey.


At 6:22 PM , Blogger Evan said...

Hi Hugh and Tamra,

My husband and I used to live on Annie Lk Rd. We moved shortly after you arrived. I love following your blog.

I just wanted to comment on the 'spirit' of mushing. I am so happy to hear there are still folks out there with that attitude. We feel so much pressure to be competetive in our sport when really all we want to do is live, be together and grow as individuals and as a family.

Thank you for putting into words how we've been feeling. You really touched me.

Jennifer Lowe.
Ontario (Yukoner at heart).


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home