Northern Wilds Magazine
Erin with dogs Cha-cha and Beezus.
This is what it looks like to have mushing mojo. Erin with Cha-cha and Beezus. | JIM STRONER
Dog Blog

Finding My Mushing Mojo

One year ago I was a musher, mother of an 8-month-old, full-time student and part-time nurse. This year I upped the mothering when my now 20-month-old decided to go into the terrible twos early and I started a new and challenging job with a steep learning curve—though I am done with school. On top of that, because we had sooo many puppies last year who are now yearlings and want to run, we have more dogs than ever in training. Somewhere in between the runs to town for daycare, training runs before or after work, passing the kiddo back and forth between Matt and I, and hauling things between the two properties we call home, I lost my mushing mojo. And I am trying hard—really, really hard—to get it back.

I’m not sure when I noticed that I was no longer having fun, but it might have coincided with the drastic increase in training miles starting in November. At the same time, we started running sleds with small teams, which meant, that to train all the dogs, we had to run not only twice as far, but twice as much. In other words, we could run 14 dogs on an ATV, and sometimes we ran two ATVs, but on sleds, we could only run eight dogs. So, to run everybody meant more runs. Then, our best leader Beezus got injured and my retired house dog Sally died. Negativity had taken hold and despite high hopes, I took some of this with me to our first race.

We finished the Gunflint Mail Run, and if you were following the race, you noticed we finished in 11th place out of 14 finishing teams. Without Beezus, there were some leader problems. I spent considerable time trying different dogs, untangling dogs, encouraging dogs and trying to just make something work, but it seemed my team had lost its mojo as well.

Now, right now, I am making a plan for gaining my mojo back, because running the Beargrease without mojo is a race better left not run.

STEP ONE: Simplify. Matt and I were both going to run teams in the Beargrease. Matt signed up for the 120-mile race but decided to withdraw. I need some of his leaders on my team and the logistics of having two teams in separate races was going to undo us. One team equals less stress. Done.

STEP TWO: I am going to make something of running the race with some fantastic mushing women. Over the past few years, I have been fortunate to make good friends in the mushing community and the women that run dog teams are fun people. One, Sally Manikian, who is traveling here from New Hampshire, is a soulmate. We actually attended the same high school, in Massachusetts. We didn’t know each other—we are a few years apart, but a mutual friend told me about her one day—how she is a musher and we would like each other. Then, I opened the alumni newsletter from my high school (yes it was a prestigious prep school that has things like quarterly alumni newsletters) and it profiled this woman from New Hampshire and her dog team. I knew this must be the musher my friend Elissa had been talking about. Now when Sally and I meet up we mostly talk about dogs, but sometimes we compare prep school memories. I have a few things planned for these women along the way to lighten our mood.

STEP THREE: I’m committed to putting together a music mix to keep me pumped.

Music is an important part of staying awake and maintaining an upbeat positive attitude while on the trail—especially during night runs. Last year, some of my best runs during the race coincided with certain songs on my iPod mix, so I need to spice up my library. I lean toward pop music and I have three dogs on the team who are named after songs—Major Tom, Roxanne and Figaro. These will, of course, be on my mix.

STEP FOUR: Don’t leave Beezus behind. Beezus is my mojo. Running with Beezus makes mushing fun. He will be on my team. He has recovered from his injury and we have a plan for getting him to the finish. I am awake at night thinking about the leaders I have and who can get me to the finish line. Nancy is key—but she can’t do it alone. She also wants Beezus at her side.

STEP FIVE: There is only one goal this year, and that is to finish the race. We have had some great placements in the top five in the past. That is not likely to be the case this year. I am okay with that, because, I will have my mushing mojo, my dog Beezus, my friend Sally, my partner and chief handler Matt at all the checkpoints and a team of dogs for whom I am their number one every day. And, just think, it’s a three-day break from the crazy life I chose for myself on the Gunflint Trail. A life we call “living the dream.” All I have to do for three days is breathe in the ice cold air, stay on the runners, keep my hands on the handle bar and let the team run wild.

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