Confessions of a Musher

I thought I’d take you on a quick little journey into the mind of a musher. It will be kept short and sweet because this is no place for a sane person. If you are sane and reading this, I am not responsible for the after effects of this short visit; consider yourself warned.

No one calls mushers crazy more often than mushers and that’s because we all know how truly serious this statement is. I’m not talking about the obvious crazy like dog numbers, scooping endless amounts of poo, the hard work or the complete obsession with the sport that overrides any other aspect in life. Those things are why non-mushers call us crazy. I’m talking about that crazy that exists deep in the recesses of our brain and only becomes exposed just prior to race day. Yeah, that crazy. Here is my confession.

I have discovered that once you become involved in competitive racing there is a certain nuttiness that develops. It’s why most handlers refer to mushers as, “Wacked”. You start to develop habits and form theories and then convince yourself that these things will somehow impact the outcome of the race. I’m not talking about carrying a lucky rabbit’s foot or wearing that special pair of underwear. It’s deeper than that. These things are just shy of obsessive compulsive disorders or mild psychosis. This year I am experiencing it for the first time and, frankly, I’m scaring the crap out of myself. First, I must share a little background that has led me to where I am right now mentally because there’s a reason for everything and this is my reason.

We have had the most hellacious training season ever. In the past, we would start training 30 dogs and we would have 30 dogs to pick from before the race. Well, then someone told us we weren’t pushing them hard enough. So this year we pushed. Ironically and completely unrelated to the more intense training, we have had to deal with more freak accidents and injuries one could imagine. It started with a porcupine encounter that involved 4 dogs and later resulted in two surgeries to remove quills. One dog fell out of training. Then a main team leader developed a mysterious wrist problem, which required a specialist. One month later she was diagnosed with a possible auto-immune disorder and fell out of training. Two dogs down (one a leader). We’ve by now developed a heightened fear of porkies and hallucinate seeing them around every corner. Despite the paranoia we run into another one, which got two more leaders. Fortunately, they got through it without issues, but the thing about porcupine encounters is that they can still show up months later; hence more paranoia. Then a dog had a freak stumble while pooping and broke his toe and it wasn’t just any old toe. It was a weight bearing toe on the rear foot. This required a plate and screws, many months of re-hab, a follow-up surgery later this spring to remove plate, more rehab and we hope he will be ready for Fall 2010 training. There goes another main team dog and potential leader; 3 down (two leaders). By this point, every stumble causes a spontaneous outburst, “Ohhhh” then the gasp and I’m barely breathing for the rest of the run. Is there a Guinness Record for longest time spent running dogs while holding breath? Then one of our main driving leaders tripped in an animal hole and after a 1 ½ months of re-hab is out of the game; 4 down (3 leaders). Then the worst of every mushers fear happened when our other main driving leader died suddenly from a freak heart attack while loading her in the truck to go racing; 5 down (4 leaders). It is unfortunate, but I’m finding it impossible to enjoy running dogs by this point and fear I might need therapy when this is all over. I suddenly understand how a coach must feel just before the Super bowl or the Stanley Cup and key players are getting sidelined left and right. It will drive you NUTS!

So here we are at the race we’ve been working towards all year with a situation that we didn’t foresee a year ago. 7 main team dogs that were here last year are not here. 5 of them were leaders and 2 of those were our best driving leaders. In other words, 44% of this team is new to the race and will be what we call an “unknown factor”. However, we came here to race and we will throw everything we have at the competition; whatever that may wind up being.

Due to the drama of the previous 4 months, the pre-race paranoia has reached heightened levels to put it mildly. I have become convinced we are cursed. One of us has pissed off somebody and they have the voo doo doll out. The question is; “How do we make it stop?” Yesterday, we ran dogs and I was so nervous I was almost puking before we left. Can you believe this? I’m not even racing; I am just going on a training run. However, we learned on our first run that spare dog #17, can no longer be spare dog #17 due to an old injury rearing its ugly head. So we have exactly 16 dogs, which is what you need to race. 16; that’s it…no more, just 16. I won’t share the argument that hubby and wife had because one of us chose to take only 17 when the other wanted to bring 18! Okay, so now you see the situation. No more dogs can get hurt and we have a couple training runs left. 900 things are going through my mind and I am driving my husband nuts. His manly mind doesn’t work exactly the same way and he calmly focuses on the ONE thing that goes through his mind, which generally has nothing to do with paranoia, while I’m left to deal with the other 899 things. I am sick to my stomach or is that the Red Bulls burning a hole in it? Not sure…don’t care…give me another…. maybe it should have alcohol this time.

I almost consider not taking the dogs out for fear something will happen on my watch. Let Bruce carry the burden. I man up though and take my eight. During the run I can barely enjoy it as I watch every dog like a hawk or maybe it was like an owl as my head was spinning 360 degrees at the slightest odd movement. I let them open up downhill just enough to stretch out and then I’m all over that pad controlling the speed. I’m freaking over the dogs that are trying to scoop snow as they trip and stumble all over. Don’t they know they can hurt themselves doing that crap and don’t they know I’m having a freaking heart attack back here watching it?!?!? During all this I’m trying to project an image of happy calm for my dog’s benefit. It’s similar to the person that smiles at you and mutters, “Jerk” under their breath. I’m sure they are not buying it.

My mind is currently operating at 90 miles per hour. Driving in the truck has me applying the imaginary brake more often than usual as I worry about an accident. We’ve got a couple dogs that have eye goobers and I’m convinced it’s the dog FLU. Oh nooooo, funny looking stool; is it a bug? Crap that dog hit his back jumping in the truck; is he walking funny? Nails have to be cut…..DON’T do it; you could cut a quick. That dog looks too skinny; it’s not eating…what’s wrong with her? A dog barfed…twice…is he not able to acclimate to altitude? Holy crap, she’s in heat; QUICK move all the females to the other end of the truck so they all don’t go in. Don’t let the boys smell her, they will lose their minds. Should we run them an extra day to acclimate; they are huffing more than I remember. Should we not run at all? Should we… shouldn’t we…I’m practically immobilized with paranoia.

 I am not sleeping at night because every time I nod off some crazy vision shakes me wide awake. In dreamland it is anything but dreamy. The nightmare is an entire team in heat. It is being led by one yearling that has never led before because all the others are injured or horny. My husband has binged for two weeks from stress and tops the scale at 250 lbs and is having a hard time breathing in the altitude and, of course, it is snowing like hell and there is no trail. Who in the hell can sleep under those conditions?

The marriage is taking a beating. I am all over the husband trying to ensure he is not slacking…nag, nag, nag. Put that doughnut down dammit, we can’t afford the extra pound doughboy. No, I didn’t really call him doughboy…well, maybe I did…don’t remember…if I did, it was said with love and concern. I bet he can’t wait to get on the runners. I can’t wait to get him on the runners because I am FREAKING OUT! I cannot wait for the vet check so they can assure me that the dogs are healthy and not running with broken feet, sprained limbs or any deathly illnesses I’ve come to imagine.

Okay, so now you’ve had a peek and now I fear that someone will be waiting for me with a little white jacket with straps at the vet check. Just know that I won’t go willingly. Oh and I know, that I’m not the only one that should have a jacket waiting 😉 So let’s get ready to raceeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!

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