May 22, 2015. Starting Line, by Debbie Clarke Moderow08 May 2015, by Dog Journeys in
With those six simple words, my tail-wagging friends and I launch onto the dogsledding trail. The proclamation “go!” means that miles of preparation are complete. The countdown signifies the sweet release from anticipation’s hold. The instant my dog team and I take off, my huskies’ frenetic starting-line barking stops. Voices from the sidelines fade. Even my own interior chatter about remember-this or what-if-that goes silent. With the rush of cool air in my face, the momentum of our adventure begins.
Over the past twenty-five I’ve taken part in dozens of sled dog races. From three-mile sprints to the one thousand mile Iditarod and multiple 100-600 mile events in between, always there is that moment of ceremonial “going.” When there is only the rhythm of paws hitting the snow, the jangle of collars, and the sound of their breathing. Always there is the first turn of the trail, one that steals my breath and excites my lead dogs to accelerate. Their strong tempo is a fact; I have no choice but to ride out the challenge. I clutch the handlebars and lean into the inevitably too-tight curve, into the strong arms of momentum that deliver us toward the light-dappled trail ahead.
Of course things don’t always go as planned. There are, afterall, multiple personalities linked together on the gang line ahead of me. Not to mention the important challenge of clear human-canine communication.. There are trees that get in the way— trail conditions and arctic weather impossible to anticipate. Together my dogs and I have gotten into more than a few messy tangles. Despite extremes of northern storms and arctic terrain, we have always managed to make it home.
In The Animal Dialogues, Craig Childs writes about other species and what they have to offer us. “The life of an animal lies outside of conjecture. It is far beyond the scientific papers and the campfire stories. It is as true as breath. It is as important as the words of children.” I’m the lucky one, who has collaborated over thousands of miles with sled dogs. While we’ve navigated miles of Alaska’s wildness, I’ve glimpsed the essence of their animal hearts—along the way my huskies have lent me insight into what it means to be human.
Today I’m embarking on a new trail: that of a published author. In February 2016 my memoir, Fast Into the Night: A Woman, Her Dogs, and their Journey North on the Iditarod Trail will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I’m thrilled that my book will come into this world, delivered by the fine hands of a professional publisher. I’m honored, in the meantime, to share words on this blog with you, my first readers. The prospect of stepping into the published world feels momentous and a little bit intimidating. Like the feeling I had approaching the starting line for my first Iditarod. There have been years of preparation, schooling, honing my writing craft. Despite having linked up with the publisher of my dreams, I still linger in a murky place between daring and doubt.
Maybe we are all caught in that place for one reason or another. I know I am. My “go for it” voice clamors for a fresh adventure but a more cautious echo suggests restraint. Despite my restless hankering for new views and discoveries, I often hesitate, just before embarking, with a foreboding catch in my throat. Can I hold onto for a long wild ride? Should I really do this? Now or should I wait? In response to that mummer I often detect a stronger whisper: Get on with it. And there’s that wagging tail at my side.
When I graduated from college in 1977, I was asked to submit a quote with my yearbook photo. The words of sculptor Constantin Brancusi seemed appropriate at that time: ”To see far is one thing, going there is another.” At age 22, I sensed the importance of getting beyond the dreaming and stepping out, no matter the risk of failure. Now three decades later, Brancusi’s wisdom rings true. Yes, I believe in the “going.”
With those timeless words in mind, I am launching this website. In my blog I’ll do my best to honor the long journey, both specifically and metaphorically. I’ll write about moving down the wilderness trail with my huskies, offering my best guess as to where those journeys have taken us and what might lie ahead. To travel thousands of wilderness miles with my dogteam has been an honor of my lifetime, a gift I hope to share.
Welcome to my blog. I hope you’ll enjoy the “going.”