Steady As She Goes

For the past, I dunno, decade I’ve been on the move. Little moves—from one college to another. Then, from college apartment to a house in north Jersey for a few months. When I’m unhappy, I tend to find a quick way out. I’ve latched onto the coattails of others on the move. I spent some time in upstate NY—two hours from home. Then the big leap across the country, five hours by plane, 40 by car. Again, I wasn’t happy, so I didn't stay for long.

Each move brought me a step closer to things I’d been dreaming about for a long time. My own dog, then several more. A spot to have a garden. Mountains and forests. Close to friends, boyfriends, and family. None of them really hit every checkbox. They always left me wishing for something. Even before dog sledding was my motivation, I was picturing a little homestead surrounded by woods.

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After years of living under other people’s roofs (parent's, boyfriends', landlords'), I have found my place. Looking out into my backyard, tucked within acres of woods, I finally feel like I can exhale. That’s not to say this place is perfect. It’s a long drive back to New Jersey to see friends and family. Making friends here is a challenge, but there’s a few mushers around. Dating seems bleak, but I have zero interest in that pursuit for now. I’m trying to focus on myself and doing exactly what I want to do, but the holiday season does make it a little extra lonely.

Doing things solo isn’t new for me, but being a homeowner in a challenging place is. Like I said in my last post, I’ve had family and friends come together to help me out a ton. At the end of the day, it’s still just me and the dogs, doing the best we can.

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Our mushing season is pretty far behind where we usually are for this time of year. We’ve done a lot of runs at the new property, but all of them have been short. I’ve got some additional gear on the way, including a tow sled, which I hope will make trail breaking around my land a bit easier. The plan is to drag the sled behind us, carrying something heavy to help flatten out the snow in our wake. I’m also packing my axe (and saving up for a battery-powered chainsaw) so I can clear some small trees that keep getting in our way. Anything I cut will get loaded into the sled and brought back for firewood, so it’s serving dual purposes.

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My goal this season was to run longer distances at a time and to camp. I still think we’ll make good progress. Part of that training will involve stopping on the sled, anchoring down with snow hooks, and instilling patience. Wood gathering and trail clearing will be a learning aid for this. Hauling wood and breaking trail will build muscle—for me and the dogs. Even if all we do is mush around my property and stop midway for lunch, I’ll be happy. The first step in this whole endeavor is shifting their mindset from sprint racing’s GO FAST GO to slow and steady. I need total trust and control with these dogs, especially when I’m out here alone.

I often feel like I’m on a time crunch. Every season that passes is another season closer to my older dogs retirement, whenever that ends up being. While I do plan to get more dogs, I don’t have the resources to have dozens—nor do I want to. My bond with these dogs goes beyond hitching them to a sled. They’re my companions and bed-warmers. I am in awe of mushers pursuing long distance races and the highly competitive sprint teams with wicked fast dogs. Neither really draws me in, though.

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The more I mush, the more I lean towards something different. I’ve mentioned the goal of expeditions. That’s still something I plan to do. I’ve always loved camping—what better way to experience it than by dog team? But there’s something else lurking in the back of my mind. Clearly, I want to share mushing. Some of my favorite memories have been hauling friends and family members by sled or cart. And why else would I keep this blog, host a Patreon, manage websites for two mushing clubs, start a Musher Slack, and maintain a Facebook group with 1,300+ members? Oh and attempt to write a book?

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I’ve witnessed a lot of negative press for mushing. Trails have been closed off to dog teams throughout the northeast. Florida is banning greyhound racing and many wonder if sled dog racing is next. I’m not saying I want to be the poster chick of the sport, but I want to tell people about it and why I love it and why it makes these dogs so happy. I want to take people for rides and on camping trips with me. I want them to see these dogs working together and working with me. I want them to hear the shrieks of excitement at hookup and the group howl together before bed. Races are full of excitement and energy—everyone should see one if they can swing it. But there’s something more intimate about just a regular ol’ run with the dogs out on the trail. And that’s what I want to capture and share.

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