Friday, February 10, 2012


Making Tracks
(Lake Marsh, Yukon Territory, Canada)
It's February 6, 2012 and I am sitting in the great room of the Inn on the Lake (Yukon Territory, Canada) looking out at the snow falling gently down with the potential for seeing really active northern lights fading with each passing moment.  Nancy B (aka the B) is contentedly smash booking at the dining room table and the other inhabitants of the lodge are in their rooms.  The ladies from Guatemala have gone off for a dog sled adventure – inspired by my noting that they will let you ride in the sled if that is what you request.

We did see the Aurora Borealis spread quietly across the night sky on the first night we were here.  Up at 4:00 am, we pulled on our heavy winter clothes and dashed out the front door.  There is something splendid about a swath of green in the night sky as the almost full moon glows brightly behind and the stars twinkle overhead.  It reminded me of the full moon walk along the boardwalks and paths to Iguazu Falls in Argentina.  It’s a special moment albeit sans the bells and whistles of a truly active Aurora.  You have choices in life on trips like this.  You can worry and fret that you’re not seeing that 10 (on a scale of 1 to 10) Aurora or you can take a deep breath and enjoy the beauty that the night hands you.  I am content.

On Sunday, we went dog sledding with Alayuk Adventures – led by the able Julien with Gil bringing up the rear and Beatrice holding down the home front.   I have new respect for the mushers who take on the challenge of the Yukon Quest – a journey of 1,000 miles that runs between Fairbanks and Whitehorse every winter.  This year they took off from Fairbanks on February 4th and are expected to land in Whitehorse round about Valentine’s Day.  They will pass through eleven checkpoints and are required to rest for 36 hours in Dawson City.  Marcelle, who owns Alayuk, is competing in the Quest.  At 56, she sits about mid-way between the B and me.  She and her 14 dogs have trained for a year and, at this writing, she sits in 7th place. 
The B Driving Her Team
(Yukon Territory, Canada)
Our little quest was quite a bit shorter and I will state up front that I did not complete it.  Balancing when standing still has never been my forte and on a moving sled – while, let’s just say it’s a recipe for disaster or a lot of snow angels on the side of the trail.   The B did spectacularly – falling off only twice and then getting the hang of when to brake and when to let the dogs run.  There is a picture of her here flying along with her four-dog team. 

I on the other hand never quite mastered the art of slowing the dogs down and curves were my undoing as I braked when I should have let the dogs run and didn’t brake when I should have slowed them down.  How I wished I had spent more time doing the tree pose in yoga – particularly when face planting in the snow.  The times I was up and running were truly glorious.  The gentle sound of the sled rails whishing through the snow and the dogs clearly excited and happy to be out running the trails instead of sitting at home. 

Having said that, there are advantages to riding bundled up inside of a sled as became clear once I had settled into Julien’s sled.  As he mushes his team off to a start, I am free to take in the snow covered trees as they fly by our swiftly moving sled instead of concentrating on keeping my balance (or not!) as my team flies to keep up with the others.  Life is good from this vantage point.

Nancy Squared (Yukon Territory, Canada)
I see the car pulling into the driveway and I know that I may be on the cusp of a run on a morning where the trees are aglitter in frost and the sun is shining brightly.  I bark and prance about my small kennel – pick me I call.  Pick me.  There is nothing better than being among the first dogs chosen to run the course.  I watch closely and note that there are only two would-be mushers today – only time will tell if they will be able to stay on the sled and I’ll be able to run free.

They head into the cabin to do whatever humans do and we all quiet down – no sense in wasting our energy barking and dancing when there is no audience to hear and see us.  After what seems like an eternity, they re-emerge outfitted in heavy red coats, big mittens, and gigantic boots.  One sports a fur cap and the other some creature that I don’t think really exists on the face of this earth.  They look like they might be ok and so I bark and I dance in the hope that they will pick me.   I want to run fast with my pack mates and pretend for just a moment that I’m running  a long race in pursuit of glory. 

Aah, there they come towards me but it’s just for a photo opportunity.  I oblige and hop up on the roof of my kennel and pose.  Preening for the camera between the two bundled up humans who are going to learn how to mush today.  I remember when I was young and learning how to work together with my musher and my pack mates to pull a sled and how hard that seemed to channel my energy into that activity when I’d much prefer to chase my tail and roll in the snow.  Now, I live for the trail and for the run.  Pick me I yelp and so they do.

Soon we are off and running until the first of five falls.  We stop as the humans regroup and reset onto their sleds.  We are chewing at the bit to borrow a phrase from the horsing world – mercifully our harnesses fit comfortably around our chests and our mouths are unfettered so we can howl and bark as we wait to get going again.  Restless to run.  And we’re off.  Oh joy, we are running as a pack in perfect unison.  Our human cargo appears to have gotten the hang of things.  This is going to be a good long run.  And then the other one falls.   We are so excited that we keep going right on past the fallen musher – until our own human finally catches the brake and brings us to a halt.  We bark, we surge, we can barely tolerate this stopping as the humans reset.  Again.

Finally, the brake releases and off we go --- the joy of running free.  What’s this, the sled feels lighter again.  Could it be that our human who we thought had gotten the hang of things has fallen again?   We continue to race on until we run up against the sled ahead which has come to a stop while these pesky humans rest.  Again.

We repeat this scenario two more times – trying to adjust our excitement to be running free to the expertise of the human cargo we carry.  This is hard work though – we were born with a boundless appetite to run through the silent forest with no sound other than our own barks, the quiet commands of an experienced musher, and the swoosh of the sled rails against the snow.  Oh no, our human is down for the third and what proves to be the final time.   She converses with Gil and with Julien and before we know it, we are mixed into Julien’s team.  Oh drat, that damn pesky princess of a dog is behind me.  I’ll need to keep an eye on her and send a bark or two her way.  

What a difference it is to run as a part of Julien’s team.  We are now 9 dogs and we are running smoothly through the snow.  Oh drat, we are upon the turn that signals that it is time to go home.  We stop and wait as Gil runs ahead on a noisy sled with no dogs and makes us a path to turn around in.  We fight that turn – the snow is deep and it’s hard for us to make our way through it --- we much prefer the packed snow of the trail.  Julien hops off his sled and leads us firmly onto the trail and then we are off and running.  We pause just a few times for the other team to catch up – this human has gotten the hang of driving the sled and there are no more falls to mar our day. 

We run quietly – our earlier excitement has disappeared as we settle into the smooth rhythm of a morning run through the snow.  I am looking forward to the end of this run and a well-earned meal, perhaps a bit of a nap.  This was a good morning to be out and about – if I’m lucky, I’ll get to run again with this afternoon’s humans.  If not, there is siren call of a nap in the kennel where I will dream of running fast and strong with my pack-mates, with my friends.   Dream of running the Yukon Quest – 1,000 kilometers of open trail and a musher who doesn’t fall down.

Other Notes
view from Alayuk (Yukon Territory, Canada)
The folks at Alayuk live the musher’s life – occupying a small cabin nestled near Annie Lake.  A giant wood stove heats the place and assorted equipment adorns the weathered logs outside the front door.  If you go, don’t miss the tiny sketch of Gil adorning the cabin’s walls and don’t forget to ask what’s up with the Quest and whether anyone plans to take it on that year.  This year (2012) was Marcel’s third quest – with the advent of google earth and GPS, all of the teams now carry beacons and we could track her progress from the warmth of the Inn.  In the summer, Alayuk leads long meandering canoe trips on the Yukon River – trips where you can follow the path of the gold rush and sleep under the stars.

1 comment:

  1. loved reading this post, thanks for sharing, what an experience! Andrea