Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Going to the Dawgs...

"Don't bother to be better than your competitors or predecessors. Be better than yourself..."
- Faulkner

The Magic is unfolding within our furry eyes along the shores of Annie lake this enchanting autumnal season. We've been constantly 'tweaking' the dog yard in search of the perfect atmosphere. The beauty of being 'Hugh Neff' is that as a recovering city boy I still have much to learn when it comes to being a long-distance 'professional dog musher'. Lord knows no other person in the history of this sport has had a more dysfunctional career on the trail as yours truly. Heck, I still have lots to learn about the dawgs themselves. A few years back I was lucky enough to sit next to Jeff King on a flight to Kotzebue. When you're conversing with someone as well accomplished as Jeff one learns to hold their tongue and listen up! One phrase he said still resonates in my mind til this very day, "You always need to look at the BIG picture."

If you hope to evolve in this world a major ally will always be your... IMAGINATION. The past few months we've been experimenting with housing our main racing dogs in 6 pens spread throughout the kennel. Other dogmushers have tried this with limited success in the past but our results have been quite positive so far. I must 1st mention that 3/4's of our pooches are neutered or spayed which avoids many unnecessary hormonal headaches. The key-and beauty- of our success is that the pens are not just divided up by racing or retired dogs but by litters. Annie's Army, consisting of eight 3 year old pooches occupies the kennel above our house. Above the dog yard resides Omen and Maestro's offspring, a family of five 4- year old Dawgs and at the back end of the yard Gypsy keeps her 4 brothas in line. We've had various dogs in pens before but to view the 'pack mentality' on a daily basis has been truly heartwarming. Not only do these frisky furballs play together but sleep and dream as well. Instead of telling them how to act all the time, we have become 'front row' fans to the amazing natural relationships they share with one another.

Will this pay off in the long run with victorious race accomplishments? Well, frankly my dear I don't give a ----! There are few mushers that have more competitive natures than yours truly but true champions earn their integrity on how they care for these amazing Dawgs on a day to day basis. This will be my 15th year in the north running pooches. With every sunset and moonrise I realize my goals are not to win this or that race but to evolve into a consummate mushing artist seeking to create a more beautiful picture with the pooches on the trail. True winners succeed not by finishing 1st in some event but by how they live and treat others they meet along the trail of life. Yes, our kennel has done fairly well over the last few years but we are not even close to achieving our potential. Realize this however, winning will never be my #1 goal, I've seen others lose their souls all in the pursuit of a greater legacy. I've never worried too much about how others viewed my eccentric character. As long as the pooches tails are waggin' with tongues lickin' my cheeks I'll be a happy camper.

Adventure is what 1st brought me north, the opportunity to share these tails with all of YOU is a true godsend from above. What we do now, covering 5-6 thousand miles of trail in one season, often took a lifetime just a century ago during the gold rush era. Times are tough throughout the world but hopefully some of our offbeat dogmushing situations may help to enlighten others in some fashion. As always we invite you to join our pack in search of an unending dream known as Mushing Madness. Tamra has done a wonderful job this week updating our website: www.laughingeyeskennel.com Hope you all get a chance to check out some pix of the most gorgeous creatures I've ever had the chance to put a harness on. In dogmushing terms it's all about the ENERGY- Annie's offspring have bucket loads of it. Hopefully this year I'll be a bit more adept at preserving it throughout the racing season.

We welcome Peter Fleck to the team as well. Peter is from England and completed his 1st YukonQuest last year. He's hoping to do some races again, which I'm sure he will do well at!
A Quest volunteer last year, Melanie Fornoff will help handle this year too. The more love and attention the pooches receive the better. Sure, it's great to have a well mannered dogteam but I often wonder if we as mushers could become better human caretakers by paying more attention to what the dogs are telling us? Sometimes the best way to learn is not by 'knowing everything' but realizing how much more there is to the view you see. Patience, Persistence, Perseverance...

We're heading off to a Dogmushing symposium in New Hampshire tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing some beautiful fall colors in the last few states we have yet to visit! Feel free to send us a line if you have any ?'s or if you would like to become a part of the Laughing Eyes Team!
H.H. Neff