The first full day of post- race counseling was very cleansing and I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. So I dragged Bruce to the second day of counseling to get rid of his mushing demons.
“Good Morning folks!” smiled the doctor. The audience today was a tad more lively then the group the previous day and several responded with Good Morning including Bruce. He always did remind me of that kid that sits in the front of the class all bright and cheery. “I am Dr. Panacur…… he is interrupted by raucous laughter. A young musher from the crowd yells, “Is this for real? You’re named after a dewormer! Come on now; is this candid camera?” The crowd laughs nervously as you see them all looking around. The doctor calmly responds with a huge smile, “Yes, this is for real. It is merely a coincidence I am named after a dewormer. However, I rather enjoy this coincidence as my purpose here is to deworm all of you of the negativity that has wormed its way into your souls.” The crowd is laughing hysterically. One musher actually gets up and leaves. I assume he went for the alcohol counseling. He’d been doing it for days and I guess he was still optimistic that it might work.
“Okay, okay. I can understand your doubts, but let’s give this a chance. I think that if you talked to the handlers yesterday, they really benefited from this process. So let’s get started. There is no real structure here. I just want you to stand up and tell us what has stressed you out during the past 8 days. Who wants to get us started?”
Bruce surprisingly steps forward. I cringe. “I am stressed out from being on the road and racing with my spouse for 3 weeks!” He looks at me with a total shit eating grin. Then he whispers under his breath, “You made me come here!” I wanted to hurt him. The doctor asks, “Bruce what was stressful about that situation?”
“Well, where do I begin? Chuckle. Let’s start with getting from point A to point B. After every stage I ask her if she knows how to get to where we have to go and EVERY time she looks at me blankly and tells me she has no fricken clue. Frank tells us that the HANDLER is supposed to read the packet so we know where we have to be!” I cannot keep my mouth shut and interject, “The packet is crap. There are rarely maps to get you to the next location, but you don’t believe me and since you NEVER read the packet, you have no clue.” He laughs, “Okay, so when I ask you to punch in the destination in the GPS why is that a problem?” I give him my best DUH look and say, “The GPS is also crap and then I laugh. In case you forgot, it led us to nowhere on our way here AND the damn thing won’t work when we’re moving AND you can’t sit still for 5 minutes for me to get the thing set.” Bruce shakes his head and turns his back to me and continues, “You just don’t know what you are doing. The reality is that the minute we get in the car she has her head buried in her computer. She knows nothing and is of no assistance to get us to our new location. I go mostly by memory. Then if I miss a road, she’s jumping all over me why I wasn’t paying attention. It’s like crazy Ville in that truck until we get to our destination. To make matters worse, they tell us to be at the meeting by 5:30P and we have a 2-3 hour drive and its 4PM AND the roads suck plus we still have to feed and drop dogs. So after we drive and care for the dogs like a couple of maniacs we get to our destination only to discover none of the officials are there and the meeting was cancelled. I was starting to feel like a gerbil in a cage by mid-week.” I sneer at him, “Yeah, I’d like to put you in a cage for sure.” He grabs me in a head lock jokingly and laughs, “I almost hurt her over these meetings.” I retort, “If you almost hurt me over the meetings, I cannot count how many times I almost hurt you this past week!” The doctor interjects and puts his hand on each of our shoulders. “Folks, it may be a different type of counseling that you require!” Major laughter from the group.
A musher from the back yells, “Don’t stop this is good stuff. Makes my marriage seem like Disneyland! I was so pissed looking for some of my gear this week that I was tossing crap out of the truck and hit my wife with a bottle of algyval. That didn’t go over well.” You could hear the crowd moan as they shared his agony. “No, it’s all cool. She didn’t talk to me all week; I was in heaven!” The group is laughing hysterically. I find myself getting agitated. I want to defend my fellow spouses.
A grizzled guy steps forward, “What about when you come in from the trail and your crew doesn’t have a damn thing ready. You and the dogs are dying of thirst and they haven’t even figured out that you’ve crossed the finish line. You sit there looking hopelessly for anyone to come help you get to a truck that you don’t even know is there. Then you see them come and they are laughing and oblivious to your irritation. I always wonder what in the hell they do all day while I’m out on the trail“. I can’t keep my mouth shut and yell, “Oh, we’re just sitting around playing cards and having our toenails done!” Several of the musher’s look at Bruce with sympathy. Bruce laughs.
“I’m not even going to go there,” says a young man, “my handlers are family and if I go there I might find myself all alone in the future!” The mushers nod in agreement and with empathy. The young man continues, “Personally, what stressed me out was constantly looking over my shoulder. I spent most of this race within minutes of three other mushers and it almost drove me nuts. Am I riding the pad too hard? Too long? Where is #100? I would expect to see him by now. I’d do a turn around and breathe a sigh of relief and the next thing I know some unexpected number would pass me. Crap, I have to get on it. I’m falling behind. Then every time I’d hear a team I’d hold my breath and hope it wasn’t one of the three teams. I became superstitious. If you don’t turn around, it won’t be them, but if you do, you’re screwed. I’d think I’d recognize a musher’s voice and my stomach would drop only to be completely wrong. I was going nuts. I started acting like one of those horny male dogs constantly looking backward for the female in heat. Now I think I have a permanent crick in my neck!”
A gal spoke up, “I wish I had the luxury of standing on my runners and looking backwards. I think the only part of this race I saw was the trail between my runners. I was always bent over pumping or running. I probably have brain damage from lack of oxygen. I’d no sooner make it to the top of some incline and there would be another. I’d watch some of these other teams come sailing by up the hill like they were on the flats. It was so discouraging. I wanted to yell, “BOOOOOO!” when they came by. I actually considered jumping one musher and stealing his ski pole. Next year I’m bringing my own ski pole and I think I’m going to wear oxygen.”
“If you had stolen my ski pole, I might have fallen over! It serves as a cane as well, ya know. By day two of this thing I was so damn sore I could hardly move. You name the joint or tendon and I guarantee it hurts. I can barely lift my ski pole arm to eat. If you had jumped me, I wouldn’t have been able to defend myself. I can only lift the ski pole high enough to use it on the trail! I feel like the runners are indented into the bottom of my feet. My toes are so cramped in the morning I almost have to straighten them out by hand. Ohhhh, don’t mention the hands. Every knuckle throbs. If I hit one more thing on a knuckle, I might just break down and cry. Did I mention my knees? I’m not sure if they are capable of bending. I couldn’t squat behind that sled like some of those young guys if you paid me. Well, let me re-phrase that. I could squat, but I would never get back up. Believe me, I tried it once. Had to wrestle myself upright and then I tipped the damn sled over. Maybe I should consider just staying down, it may improve my times. The other day I watched one musher come by pumping like a mad man and he made it look so easy that I was inspired. I decided to give it a whirl and the snow was so deep that I lost my footing, slammed my knee on the runner, hit my chin on the handle bar and then drug for some time. Thank goodness the team stopped as my gnarled claws were just about to give out. I got myself back in the upright position and looked behind me, which I don’t do often because that requires a twisting motion my back doesn’t do anymore. At any rate, I saved face because no one saw my guffaw.
A young man dressed like a snowboarder steps forward, “I don’t have any problems with pain or working out there… YET …. so those aren’t my issues. What stresses me out are all the things that occur before I ever leave the chute. Like what dogs to take. I barely sleep at night going over different combinations and worrying about which dog should or shouldn’t go. I find myself over analyzing the dog’s moods when I drop them. I’m out there at midnight disrupting their sleep and I panic if they don’t jump out and act all barky barky jumpy jumpy like they are ready to go running. Most don’t so then I try to return to bed and I cannot sleep because I’m worried they won’t want to go in the morning. My handler just tries to keep me away from the dogs at this point. So then I focus my stress on other things like what plastic or wax to run. I ask ten people what they are using. I ask 10 people what the temps will be like. I make a decision and then change my mind. I put a choice on the sleds and then run around trying to check out other musher’s runners. I move their sled. Oh crap, it slides better than mine. I try another. Mine is better. I keep doing this until I’m almost sick to my stomach. Then I start on my gear. Should I wear the parka? What if it is warm and then I sweat. I should wear the light coat. What if it’s windy and cold? I’ll have to stop and dig the parka out and lose time. Should I wear the boots or the running shoes? I can’t run in the boots, but I won’t be able to run without toes either.”
“Shoot, I worry about nothing until I leave the chute. I can blame the handling team if any of that crap goes wrong. Once I leave though, it’s all on me”, piped up a guy in a very dirty, worn one piece suit. “I only own one outfit so that is a non-issue for me. I don’t bring dogs that can’t run every day and I only brought one color of plastic so those are all non-issues. However, when I leave I start freakin. As the dogs warm up, I imagine I’m seeing bobs and bobbles and goofed up gaits. I’m freakin that my everyday dogs aren’t everyday dogs. Then if I see a real issue, I torment myself with the do I bag him or not dilemma. One minute the bobble is there. Don’t bag him. Then the bobble returns. Bag him. Do it now. No, wait a few maybe he’ll work it out. Nope, still there. Meanwhile a freaking half hour has gone by and the dog is still hobbling along. Finally, I make the call and bag him. Then I start stressing about the time I’m losing. Then if my dogs are running fine, I start to stress about the trail. There were a couple on this race that had me near delirious. How the hell do you race when you don’t even know if you are on the trail? All I could do was stand on the pad to keep them from tangling and pray that they were on the trail because I could barely see the wheel dogs let alone the leaders or trail markers. I was hoping they didn’t run over the edge of a cliff. I kept thinking I was in the Iditarod and realized I NEVER want to be in the Iditarod. I don’t train for this crap. I don’t even know what the hell to do when the snow is up to your waist and the dogs are swimming in circles tying themselves in a knot. That crap freaks me out. Mushing with no visibility is not my deal either. I don’t run at night because I cannot see and frankly I didn’t see the difference between being in a ground blizzard and running at night. Every time it cleared I felt like I had been in a time machine and had landed in new unknown territory. Just as I would get used to it the time machine would swoop me back up and I’d ride in the white fog until it delivered me somewhere new. If I didn’t have gloves on, I would have chewed off all my nails. It was too tense for me, way too tense.
A rather depressed looking musher slowly steps forward, “None of this bothers me. I can handle it all with grace. What I cannot handle is losing.” His head hangs down and he doesn’t make eye contact with the other mushers. “I feel like the whole world is watching me mess up. I had my sights on a much higher placement and SWOOSH just like that it slips between my fingers. Some good runs were just teasers to set me up for the BIG stinking FALL!” His voice is monotone except for the rise on key words. “I’m tired of people telling me I should be proud of my placement or proud of just finishing. “F” that! I’ll be proud when I get the placement I’m seeking. I’m not here to just be mediocre. What are folks thinking when they think you should be satisfied with mediocre? Are they happy with mediocre? WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYY do they keep telling me to be happy?” He looks at the 2nd place team and yells, “Are you flippen happy because you were 2nd best? Noooooooo, you’re not happy. You’re pissed. You came here to win. You came here to kick some butt. You are NOT HAPPY AND NEITHER AM I!!! I’m so done with being mediocre. I want to feel JOY. JOY like the winner is feeling.” The group looks over at the winner who is beaming from ear to ear and truly looks joyful. Suddenly the mood in the room changes and you can see the other mushers nodding in agreement. Then someone yells, “YEAH, I want JOY too!” “I’m not mediocre. I want to win!” “GIMMEE SOME FREAKIN JOY!” A musher runs to the front of the room, “Gimme me a J, Gimme an O, Gimmee a Y! What does it spell?” The crowd screams, “JOY!” “Are you happy being mediocre?” “NOOOOOOO,” screams the crowd. Then a group starts pounding their fists on the table and yelling. Boom Boom Boom “WE WANT TO WIN, WE WANT TO WIN, WE WANT TO WIN!” Then a table is flipped. Someone pulls the fire alarm and total chaos ensues as cups, chairs and anything not nailed down starts flying around the room. Everyone is screaming, “WE WANT TO WIN, WE WANT TO WIN……
The sirens can be heard approaching. Several police officers in SWAT gear run into the room to regain order.
As the mushers leave you can hear them saying, “That was awesome, man!” “I feel great.” “That was the best I’ve ever felt after a race.”