This dog was waiting to run a thousand miles.
While other dogs were barking, a couple howling, many eating slurried concoctions of boiled meat and high test kibble, and some being stowed back in their snug kennels for a quick nap, this beautiful blonde dog was harnessed and waiting for the start of the 2014 Iditarod.
I know. I was there. I took this picture, admiring this dog’s posture and patience, the elegance of waiting to do an extraordinary thing.
This was the first time I’ve been to the Iditarod. And it happened only on a whim. Long a fan of dog sled racing in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP 200), going to the Iditarod seemed farfetched until an email from Road Scholar popped up one day advertising the ‘Iditarod Experience.’
Not stopping to think 30 seconds about it, I signed on. Meeting mushers, attending educational lectures, taking a seat at the Mushers Banquet, seeing the ceremonial start in Anchorage and the restart in Willow, being very much where the dogs are when they’re picketed around their owners’ trucks and then harnessed in pairs on the tow line, talking about dog sled racing all day and night, immersed in a whole culture where Iditarod champions are rock stars, a dozen Robin Younts, each with a story worthy of a movie, names like Lance Mackey, Mitch Seaver, and Jeff King now part of my vocabulary, this was a smart, wonderful move to click on the Register Now button.
Still, it was hard for me. Road Scholar is all about group travel. You know, travelling with other people in a group. As in going places together, eating together, and, most of all, talking to each other. On the one hand, I loved the inside edge we got because our group leaders from Denali Education Center were so incredibly knowledgeable and connected, one a recreational musher, the other the owner of retired sled dogs, both educators immersed in Alaska history. It would take years for us to gather up the knowledge that they brought to us every day, nugget after nugget.
But moving in a group wore me out. Not the meals or the lectures or the chats with mushers. It was the bus.
Being on the bus took me back to Hastings when my mother would wrap a nickel in a handkerchief and send me off to get on the bus to go swimming at Gun Lake. The ride to the lake took all the choruses of Found a Peanut which I never sang, my antisocial self forming up even at age 5. I’d look out the window, not hating being there but not loving it either. It was what one did in Hastings as a kid, go to Gun Lake to swim. I had to be on the bus until it was time to get off. That was the deal.
When someone on our bus started signing You Are My Sunshine the other day, it was Found a Peanut all over again. In that moment, I yearned for my car, sitting in it, steering it, stopping it, getting out of it. The singing made my eyes cross.
Why can’t I be a merrier person, I thought to myself. Why is no one else feeling that they are being held captive and that they have to endure a ride on a bus where someone is singing a happy song? I draw on all the research on introverts to defend myself; we’re smarter in the end because we don’t waste all our energy on being sociable or singing.
The endless ride on the bus, however, turned out to be a small price to pay to see this dog waiting to run a thousand miles.
And watch 69 dog sled teams come down the chute at Willow two days ago.
It was extraordinary. Absolutely extraordinary.
So now I check in on racers’ progress every few hours on my phone. Who stopped for how long at which checkpoints. Who is having trouble, dropped a dog, who is doing well. The race will go on for 9-10 days. Long after I go home and go back to work, these teams will be racing across the Alaskan wilderness, a thousand miles from Anchorage to Nome.
It’s so amazing, I’d even ride a bus to Nome to watch the finish. If there was a bus or a road to Nome.