Since I'm still a little 'out of commission' I thought I'd share with you (with permission) a piece that my dear friend Kathy Carmichael wrote. I hope you all enjoy.
And for the record - barring anything unforeseen, Bang will be heading to Nome with me this year.
Going out with a Bang
I can still smell the liniment we would rub on the dogs as they would rest after a hard run. I can close my eyes and hear the crunch of snow under heavy arctic boots, the clink of snaps on collars and gang lines, the thud of the snow hook as it is stomped into the ice bringing the sled to a stop in the early morning hours of crisp winter darkness. I can feel the exhilaration of watching my team come in for a well deserved break after many miles of running. Then, a quiet moment as all other sounds are replaced with the soft and reassuring rhythms of dogs breathing. Heavy pants of exhaustion laced with a sheer joy that poetically join us all together, dogs and humans, in this timeless tradition of dog mushing.
It’s been almost a year since I’ve even been to a dogsled race, and almost two years since I supported my own team from the sidelines as a handler, enduring the endless months of days and nights training before and during racing season. And now, after spending the better part of my entire adult life involved in the sport of mushing and never making it up to Alaska to experience Iditarod, I find myself preparing for the trip of a lifetime at a time when this chapter of my life is closing to make room for the next. It is a pivotal trip filled with so many emotions, triumph, sorrow, pride, and hope. And, at the center of it all is this amazing dog, Bang.
I remember bringing Bang home from her breeders, Mark & Karen Ramstead, in Alberta Canada. It was never easy to pry any puppy from their yard, but as always, a little begging and shameless groveling eventually opened up a few options. She, like all her littermates, was perfectly white all over with cute little patches of light gray on her ears and back, perfect little black button nose and a dusting of buff color all over her ears and face to make her extra squeezably cute. Bang grew up to be more than just a great snuggle partner. Terribly affectionate, always the good girl, quiet and obedient, and endlessly happy, she changed everything about how I would look at a sleddog in the kennel. At a very young age, she was placed in lead and she simply knew exactly what to do, never a single doubt in her mind. Her first really challenging race, when the rest of the team was clearly suffering from the difficult conditions of trail and weather, she showed no signs of weakness – whatsoever! I remember the moment very clearly when it all made sense to me. This dog, from head to toe, brains to brawn, was the sum total of multiple decades, generations and generations of dogs who do this one thing to complete perfection.
But, Bang was not my dog, and I was not her driver. It was not me who spent the time on the trail with the team and it was not me who placed all my trust in this little powerhouse of a puff ball. It was my husband who put that time and effort into making Bang the dog she is today, on her way to the starting line at Iditarod. And yet, much to my sorrow, he will not be joining me on this trip.
Like most couples involved in mushing, we adopted the lifestyle of mushing. It is an expensive lifestyle full of sacrifice, stress, tremendous highs, and even more tumultuous lows. But, when you learn how to do it RIGHT, you become spoiled for anything less than the full spectrum of the lifestyle. When you spend years figuring how the yard should be built, what kind of equipment works best, who to go to for the best dogs, which foods to feed, which races are the most enjoyable, and which ATV’s can be rigged with a hot switch, it’s like surrounding yourself with the best musicians at the best soundstage in the world, just waiting for you to tell them when to start playing beautiful music!
And then, there are the dogs. They will inspire awe in even the most hardened of hearts, and you’ll meet a few of those hearts at a race! The many years spent watching and growing with these dogs leave you with the utmost respect of what they were put on this earth to do. And, if you’re paying attention, you will discover that they deserve nothing less than doing it RIGHT, all or nothing.
Lifestyles and dogs are easy. Relationships are complicated. And, life has a funny way of reminding you of what is important. Having witnessed breakups of mushing couples over the years, I was no stranger to the inevitable heartbreak of the canine children who don’t get child support or visitation rights. If you can imagine the iconic Hollywood version of the divorced couple’s argument ‘Who Gets the Dog?’ –now multiply that by 30, 40, or 50 dogs. The logistics are exhausting, the decisions are impossible, and the emotions are indescribable. But there for both of us, always happy, and always perfect in every way was Bang.
There is something so peaceful about peering into the eyes of a dog. Before I parted with her last year, I spent many hours with Bang in that familiar position, holding her head in my hands and looking for answers. I don’t think that either my husband or I really knew this at the time, but bottled up in that little puff ball were all of our sacrifices and years of dedication, time, respect, and joy for this sport. And now, as she has made the journey to the starting line at Iditarod, both of us can delight in a dream coming true, even if it wasn’t exactly as we had planned.
It is a strange feeling to be so far removed and yet so connected to something so big as Iditarod. For me, my husband, and Bang, this is the crossroads of a long journey, one destination Nome, and the other unknown. So, with quiet tragedy and silent triumph, I will be at the starting line for both my husband and I, sending Bang and our past life’s pursuits down that famous trail, so that we may all begin new pursuits of a different kind. Once a musher, always a musher. My thanks to Bang for reminding me.