I find myself in recent years, peering at my life from afar–chopping blocks of meat for the dogs, huddled over the steering wheel of the ATV, rain pelting my face, mud-encrusted from head to toe. What a strange existence, riding around on an ATV for miles and hours with nothing more to think about than life’s hills and valleys.
Before this life as a dog musher who spends countless hours in grimy clothes, hefting around buckets of kibble and later dog poop, chasing puppies and scratching dog necks, there were other lives–a waitress at a sushi bar, a folk singer with coffee house gigs, a vegetable farmer, an MFA student and then teacher of writing. I’ve had a lot of jobs–medical office cleaner, editor, sea kayak tour guide, and bartender. I’ve babysat, milked cows, and even done cement work on a Buddhist monk’s barn foundation. I have been a lifeguard and a camp counselor. None of these jobs includes the three positions I hold now: musher, mother and nurse.
I have a habit of jumping into things. Never one to start with an internship, I have simply learned by “training on the job.” Of course, becoming a nurse did necessitate some schooling and a few tests first. Becoming a musher necessitates nothing more than acquiring dogs, harnesses and gangline and figuring out how to make the dogs go forward. Lucky for us, the dogs almost always go forward on their own. These days we usually have the forward part under control, but how to get them to go forward just a little faster is the question burning in our competitive minds.
Today, as I write this on November 14, a snowstorm has descended upon us. I sit in scrubs contemplating the work ahead of grooming trails, packing all this snow into something hard enough to support dog paws and sled runners. I dare to say out loud to my fellow nurses that perhaps we are getting too much. They just look at me like maybe there is something very wrong here. This is a musher talking?
Winter is long in Cook County. We move snow until there is nowhere left to put it, but we have to keep finding places. Add this to my list of past and current professions–snow mover. Six months of ice and snow start now. School is cancelled for Tuesday. Kids all over the county rejoice in their fortune. Tomorrow the social media feeds will be ripe with photos of our accumulation.
Race rosters are filling up. The Beargrease has 20 mushers signed up to run the marathon and even more for the mid-distance. The Mail Run up the Gunflint Trail has a good roster of teams in both the 12-dog and 8-dog classes. My husband Matt will run the Beargrease Marathon this year and we will both run teams in the Mail Run. I plan to have another try at the UP200 in mid-February.
Currently we have a deeper pool of experienced dogs than we have had in a really long time, maybe ever. Hopefully we can keep them all trained up to the mileage required to run the longer races.
Two days from now, after the snowfall stops, the trail is groomed, and we have set up the sleds, I am going to find myself in a quiet woods, no hum of the ATV motor, just the swish of dog paws on snow. The various lives I have lived, jobs I have worked, experiences that have made me will be with me behind that team of dogs. The dogs and I will be running in the moment, ducking under snow filled tree branches, finding our footing, following the path ahead. Another winter is upon us. It is the very best time of year. We can hardly wait.