Friday 1-25-13 Pushing A Rope to The Finish Line

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Friday I woke up and quickly decided I was going to problem solve the cliff challenge by “rough locking” my runner by wrapping a neckline around it. It’s the same idea as putting chains on a car tire… it grabs slick things and gives some steering ability. By wrapping the uphill runner only, it helps keep the sled turned towards that direction, thereby preventing it from sliding over the edge, or so I hoped! I got to the race site earlier to watch some of the 100 miler teams finish but missed the first two. While we were standing around waiting for the next team, Steve starts talking about how Jackie’s sled had actually gone over the cliff and it took one other musher and himself to help get it back up onto the trail. Well, if I wasn’t freaked out about the cliff beforehand, I certainly was after hearing that story! LOL! I didn’t care how slow the neck line on my runner made me go… I just hoped to live! LOL! I fought back fear and focused on other things, including how “relaxed” my dogs looked…or were they tired? Hmmm…. I’d soon see! While waiting to go off (our start time was supposed to be early afternoon, about an hour earlier than yesterday’s start because we were the only class going out today) the race officials told us we would be a bit delayed because of the two 100 miler mushers still on the trail, and they didn’t want us to have head on passes with them at the above described scary spot! We would end up leaving about the same time as the previous day and would be assured of meeting the last 100 miler on the trail, so we were prepared for that. Then they said that it was possible that I would still be on the trail when the winner of the 200 mile class came down because they had had to shorten that course by 50 miles due to poor trail conditions. This would be Laura, if all went smoothly in the next couple of hours for her. I froze and panic came back when I realized I would have to have smooth passes with Laura or I might mess up her race! EEEK! No pressure there!!! I didn’t let my panic last long and instead saw the Lord’s humor in this… me racing alongside Laura, albeit in different classes… what an honor! We really were running with the big dogs! So I got ready to take off and decided that today when Cicely gives out I would immediately put her in the bag, and worked on providing a place to quickly and safely place her so I could do this switch much quicker than yesterday’s run. I was ready to go for day two… 5-4-3-2-1… we were off again! I noticed right from the start that we didn’t have the “Umph” that we did yesterday and as we approached the hills, I watched my team just stop. Really? We’re not even a mile out yet! So, I start helping even more than I did yesterday, even though my muscles are pretty tired already. We’re slowly making our way up the hills at the start and I see a photographer at the top of the hill (who ended up getting a really cool picture of my team) and shouted out to him, “Great! You’re going to photograph us walking up this hill!”… but when my team saw him, they actually started pulling and speeding up to the top of the hill and I was very relieved. Once we left the photographer, there was nothing else to chase or get their attention and they all immediately started goofing off and not pulling. I made 4 leader changes in the first 30 minutes, looking on helplessly at no one stepping up to lead this team! I may have to be up front myself today! I truly felt like I was “pushing a rope”, a description mushers often use to explain how much dogs like to pull. It didn’t feel that way today. I did my best to keep calm and just kept trying different things, stopping way more frequently than I had hoped, and finally things started clicking a little bit better. At least I didn’t have to keep switching dogs around in the team. Cicely had taken her place in the bag and actually laid down and went to sleep for the majority of the run. She really was tired out from yesterday. I had to be careful to not “sour her” to the sport by asking too much. I do hope that she continues to love running and will build up her strength and endurance to enable her to stay in the team for the future. I know it is going to help her blossom as much as it has Lance. I already see her confidence growing. So, as we’re moving up the trail again, the snow machine support crew tells me I’ll be running into the 200 mile class soon, which I really appreciated because I knew it was probably Laura and I wanted to be ready for a clean pass, or to jump off and get my team out of her way if needed. I keep looking over my shoulder to make sure she doesn’t sneak up on me and driving my team. We’re in the loop now and it’s just beautiful. The trail is quite narrow though and it’s more a snow machine trail than a groomed one, so I have to pay attention. We’re cresting up this slight hill when I see Laura, and she’s about 15’ in front of me! She’s not coming from behind as I had thought, but her class is doing this loop in the opposite direction and we’re about to have a head on pass at one of the narrowest spot in the trail! By the time I processed what was happening, it was over… and it had been a clean pass. Tana toyed with the idea of visiting her team but they were all business and didn’t get distracted by my “party girl”. I was so thankful and very proud of my team! That was the second good head on pass we had had in the race, and I knew we only had one more pass left. Again, about an hour down the trail, the snow machine support crew came alongside to tell me the 200 miler class was 15 minutes behind them. It was dark now and I checked my watch and began periodically looking across the valleys and behind me down the trail for any sign of Laura’s headlamp. Finally I saw it across the valley coming down one of the gradual hills. I took out my iPod so I could be sure and hear her coming up behind us. We were Gee’d over to the right when she caught up to us and I kept my team slow so we didn’t impede her progress in any way. She stayed behind for a little bit even though we were going slow, and I heard her say something, but couldn’t make out the words. I hollered back, “Do you want us to stop?” and she said yes. She has a leader that isn’t comfortable passing teams in the dark because she can’t tell what the musher is on the sled, so she was pulling backwards in the team. We stopped and I kept my eye targeted on Tkope, who was off to the left from the line as he typically is, and made sure he didn’t move. I was ready to run up and grab him if he decided to be silly and move towards her team. He was a perfect gentleman and just stood still while they passed. I was once again so PROUD of my team! We had really worked hard on polite passing this season and it just paid off! We hadn’t embarrassed ourselves in the race! Woo Hoo! Soon after Laura’s second pass we came upon the scary cliff and I stopped probably a mile too early to put the neckline on the runner, to try it before we needed it and check if it was even going to do anything. It actually was quite nice, not slowing us down much, and the ride was a whole lot more comfortable than last night’s. There was only one time I slid dangerously close to the edge and the rest of the time I was “man-handling” my sled and was bound and determined to not let it get too close! The dogs even Haw’d over when given the command tonight. We obviously need to work more on that. I walked Galena and Tana on leash just before the race and we zig zagged down the parking lot practicing Gee Over and Haw Over, so I think by the time we got on the trail Galena had a better understanding of what in the world I wanted her to do. Whew! We survived the cliff again! While I was listening to my iPod again and we approached the scary part of the trail, the most appropriate song came on titled “Mountains” by Lonestar. Some of the lyrics go like this: “There are times in life when you gotta crawl, Lose your grip, trip and fall When you can’t lean on no one else, That’s when you find yourself I’ve been around and I’ve noticed that Walk-in’s easy when the road is flat Them danged ‘ole hills will get you every time. Yeah, the good Lord gave us mountains so we could learn how to climb” I had to laugh as I once again saw the Lord’s Hand and felt His Presence with us that very moment! We made it to the finish line and completed our 62 mile race, making it today in 5 hours and 20 minutes, a good bit faster than yesterday’s run. We had completed our goal and made some improvements during the race, and I couldn’t be happier with my team! We ran into the chute with all 6 dogs in harness, running fast, and when volunteers scrambled to grab the leaders I told him we could make it on our own, and they expertly took me to the truck without assistance! GOOD DOGS! Later I realized I was supposed to stop in the chute for a bag check, but we were excited to get to the truck! After the race I was chatting with Carol, Laura’s mom who the Lord always seems to use to touch my heart, and dwelling on the fact that my team is different than every other team, and it’s really silly to compare the speed and drive of my dogs with their dogs. I really thought that with the right training, any dogs can run far and run fast down trails, but I see now that that isn’t the case. We all have limits, and no amount of will power or training is going to alter them. My dogs are from totally different backgrounds, 5 of the 6 being from rescued situations with improper health care, socialization and questionable genetics. Two were from a puppy mill, two were picked up on the side of highways and one was from an abusive home. Only one of my dogs had racing lines behind her, and she is mine because she prefers to enjoy herself on the trail than to work as hard as her famous Daddy, Herman. “Life is too short to be too serious”, I heard Tana say once, and she much enjoys a good roll in the snow, even if it’s in the middle of some silly race that only humans care about! LOL! Genetics do play a huge part in mushing, which I knew, but stubbornly refused to totally admit until this race. My dogs are not inferior to racing Siberians or Alaskans, but they are not gifted in the same ways. They are “differently abled”! I did realize that what hurts is when other people look at my team as a “pretty team” that goes too slow, without crediting my dogs with all they have overcome in their lives to get to where they are now. It has also been very difficult for me to train them up from scratch (with the exception of Miss Tana), especially learning as I went. We have accomplished a great deal FOR US, and I am very PROUD of my little team. To feel inferior or embarrassed to be in the same company with mushers and their dynamo teams that I respect so much is actually being disrespectful to my own team. I am learning to be more and more comfortable with who we are. They may not have generations of specialized breeding to give them more speed and more drive and to make them the best sled dog specimens that can go faster than others, but my dogs have a myriad of wonderful attributes that are equally important and special. They have worked hard to overcome the fear and neglect their lives started out being filled with, and they are learning more about how to trust humans, even those they haven’t met before. The best thing about running this team is watching them enjoy themselves when they’re heading down the trails! They are fulfilled, and mushing is therapeutic for them especially in building self-confidence and becoming less stressed in life, as it is for me too, I suppose! It is their outlet in learning to be “normal” and in learning to enjoy life to the fullest! Look at little Cicely for example- she gave all she had on that trail (working twice as hard as her teammates to keep up with her little legs) and just ran out of steam. What more could any dog give than their all? By doing the best that she could, she has shown herself to be equal to the very best sled dog out there, and has certainly earned the right to be respected. When you consider it on a human level, Team Wulik is like an everyday person running the Boston Marathon. They’re never going to beat a Kenyan with a much different genetics, body type, metabolism and life of training, but the fact that they’re out there competing and working to finish the race (perhaps working even harder than someone naturally gifted to run) is something to be respected on a whole other level. It’s normal to cheer for the fastest, for the winners, but mushing teaches us to appreciate all who are making their best efforts, and because of that, I appreciate my little team, and I’m proud of where we are today. That’s one more great thing about mushing… there are many different levels you can participate in and still be in the sport! There are also a wide range of goals we can work towards through racing, even for those of us who don’t have the fastest dogs. There are many more goals than just going faster than other teams (or than we ran it last time) or winning. We can work towards the goals of taking better and better care of our dogs, of improving their training so they are a joy for other teams to meet on the trail, and of assuring that they are having an overall happy experience on the trail while they learn to work harder and more consistently, with improved strength and endurance. We can work on our own self-control and calmness in interacting with them positively, even when everything is going wrong or we may be afraid of what we’re seeing on the trail. Working with a team of rescue dogs has its own challenges and is certainly the hard way of approaching this sport, but sometimes doing something the hard way is the most rewarding! We can have a goal of totally changing their lives by allowing them to run in a team, building their confidence, giving them an outlet for their often high levels of stress, and allowing them to have fun. They certainly have earned it! I would hope that there are more people out there who are willing to put together a team of rescue dogs to run for fun, and to see what they’re capable of! They just might surprise you, and someone else! Not only dogs come with different abilities and limits and challenges, so do the mushers, and for me, it’s taken a lot longer to get here than some other mushers. It has taken me almost 50 years to be able to do this sport! It may take me longer to coordinate or strengthen my body or to overcome fears and stresses, or grasp and remember concepts with my poor memory, but I can’t change who I am and have to simply work within my own limits. In fact, I met a brand new musher who has only been on a sled three times who ran the 100 mile race here! It shocked me! I could never in a million years have dreamt of doing such a courageous thing when I started out, but I am slowly building courage and confidence and my ability to take chances. I don’t have to be embarrassed that I’m not like that musher; we are different people who are gifted differently to do different things in life, even if we are in the same sport. I know I regularly make hundreds of mistakes and will continue to do so throughout my life; I’m taking many steps backwards in the process too, but that is part of learning to be patient instead of a perfectionist. I’m trying to learn the lessons the Lord is teaching me; What more can I ask of myself? It’s a waste of time to compare myself with others. I’m not them, I will never be gifted like they are, and that’s just fine. I’ve been gifted in other ways and called and prepared for different things… not lesser things, just different things. I may decide some day in the future that I am comfortable going much faster than I am now and want to run a bigger, more powerful team, but if not, it’s all good! I can only compare me with me… I can only compare my team with my team. When I start trying to be someone else or judge my team in the same way I would a professional team (or one with very “differently-abled” dogs), I’m setting myself up for disappointment and my joy is robbed! This is a lesson I’m sad to say I’m just beginning to grasp, but as I do so, I’m becoming less critical and more humble, not to mention more joyful! On the way to the first day of the race, I heard a radio report about a student with Down Syndrome who scored a touchdown in a high school game. The announcers were even getting choked up calling the game when it happened. It’s not who is the most perfect athlete or human specimen of physical or intellectual abilities, but it’s what they DO within their individual abilities and limitations and challenges that is MOST IMPRESSIVE. That high school touchdown was every bit as impressive as John Elway winning a Super Bowl game. It’s those who step out of their comfort zone and natural abilities and push themselves to accomplish not what others do, but all that they themselves can do, that inspires me. That is what “losing” races is teaching me! Were I to do what I typically have done and sit out because I didn’t think I was as good as someone else, I would have missed these amazing adventures and the opportunities to learn to be a “better me”- someone who isn’t afraid to fail (a totally foreign concept to me before mushing)… …someone who, even though I’m scared stiff, will actually try something new anyway… …someone who has the internal/spiritual control over my emotions and is able to be stable, joyful, and peaceful in the midst of all… …someone who is sensitive to others’ needs (instead of 100% focused on myself which comes far too easily for me)… …someone not afraid to live a life of adventure… …someone patient with others and my dogs (again, not by natural ability)… I’ve heard it said a hundred times that it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s the fact that you ran. I know that just putting myself in the situation to be stretched, molded, made uncomfortable, challenged, intimidated, scared and exhausted has been a wonderful way to learn some very powerful lessons… and I’m ready to learn some more! This is LIFE!   BRING IT ON!!!

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