Dog Mushing Will Break Your Heart

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If your only interaction with a person is through social media, there’s a good chance you’re not getting the full story.

Instagram is criticized as being a false representation of peoples’ actual lives, and a breeding ground for envy. Think about it—the main feature of the app allows you to apply filters and modify reality to look better. It’s an accessible version of Photoshop (or Lightroom) for the novice photographer, or, well, just about everyone these days.

I get annoyed when I see the #vanlife posts with perfectly designed van interiors, lined with succulents and knickknacks. I know from experience that each and every item shakes and jiggles and falls when you’re in a van that actually moves. Van-lifers also pass off these amazing tailgate views of National Parks as “just woke up from van-camping” shots, while just outside the frame are tourbuses, restrooms, and parking lots. Oh, and you can't actually park in that spot overnight.

I try to be authentic when writing this blog, but I’ve been leaving out some of the rougher parts. This lifestyle doesn’t come easily. It requires almost all of your time, physical strength, piles of money, and sacrifice. 

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No one wants to live on a rural chunk of land, tucked away in a forest, far from the conveniences of even a small city. No one wants to dig out from snowstorm after snowstorm. No one wants to deal with negative 20°F windchills. No one wants to wake up hours before dawn to train dogs. This life means solitude.

I recently read Thru-hiking Will Break Your Heart by Carrot Quinn and I can relate. It's about the Pacific Crest Trail that runs from Mexico all the way to Canada. Over on the east coast, my friend Brett recently hiked the Appalachian Trail. As we speak, my friend Maxine is making her way north on the AT. A common trend in thru-hikers is a feeling of disconnect after the trail ends and trouble acclimating back home. Once you get a taste of that primal, wild life—how do you go back? 

I’ve always been inspired by thru-hikers, but it’s not the path for me. Instead, I’ve realized my adventure will be with the dogs (duh). I’ll grow the team and increase their endurance. We’ll go for longer runs, over greater distances. I'll plan an expedition by dogsled and spend the days running and the nights camping. We’ll endure whatever Mother Nature throws at us and rely solely on the contents of the sled to make it through. (I’ve started a Patreon that will document this more, but, I’ll still write about it here.)

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I’ve come to terms with wanting and needing to do this. Still, I’m taking a leap into unknown territory. I’ve held onto the “recreational” musher label for almost a decade. I’ve exhausted myself trying to live a double life. I've stuffed half a dozen sled dogs into suburban households where I could still see friends, be near family, and have relationships. For four years, I juggled a job in New York City while still mushing. I’ve tried (and often failed) to maintain a social life—going to bars at night and prying myself out of bed before dawn to run dogs.

I thought California would be the answer. The mountains held promises of snow and low temperatures, even in the peak of summer. I’d have some friends and co-workers within a few hours—but with plenty of wilderness to explore.

Three months in, I have to admit I’m unhappy here. There are trails right outside my door, but they’re far from secluded. The neighborhood is tightly packed with retirees, dogs, and tourists. Trying to mush when there’s tiny or loose dogs on the trail is a nightmare and we’ve already had our share of bad experiences. 

Even if the trails were empty, they’re rocky and dangerous. The dogs have been able to maneuver them, but my gear has suffered. The terrain rattles me to my core and makes my joints ache. My wool sweater gave me rug burn on my wrists from the vibration. (Who knew that could happen?) There's also the potential for rattlesnakes, cougars, and fires as the weather warms up.

My mushing adventures won’t expand here—they simply can't. While it’s no worse than the suburbs of New Jersey, I am ready for something far better. I’m nearing my 31st year on this planet. I just got a raise at my fully remote job. I have a solid savings account and my credit score is killer. It’s now or never.

The future is uncertain and I'll be embarking alone, but I've got to see where this adventure takes me.

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