On Finish Lines, by Debbie Clarke Moderow. January 27, 201627 Jan 2016, by Dog Journeys in
“I see a finish line!” I call to my dogs, every time we near the end of a race. At the sound of those words, my huskies charge ahead. Brie, often in lead, accelerates. Sharp Cheddar barks. Truffle and Taki take a nip at each other. The mood on the line is contagious—no matter how challenging the run, my dogs always bound across finish lines as if it’s been easy. They know they’ve gone the distance.
You don’t have to run sled dogs to take notice of your own finish lines. Completing a significant work project, reaching the end of a footrace. Playing the last note in a piano recital. Graduating from school. Recovering from a setback enough so you can complete a difficult task.
“Woot!” we cheer to ourselves—and to each other. “I did it!” “You did it!” “Together we got there!” It might have been tough, but to notice crossing a particular threshold is to savor the moment of accomplishment.
Today, as I sit at my writing desk, I see a finish line. One short week from now, my memoir will be on bookstore shelves. I’ve been working toward this time since 2005, when my dogs and I reached the burled arch in Nome. I never dreamt it would take so long to write and publish my story.
In a recent interview, I was asked, “Which was more of a challenge, running Iditarod or publishing Fast Into the Night? I’m not certain how to answer that question, but the similarities are many.
Here are some facts:
—Today I’m incredibly sleep-deprived—almost as much as I was nearing the burled arch in Nome. Well okay, that is an exagerration. I’m not exactly that kind of tired. But the past few weeks have required an unexpected and intense focus. There are interviews at all hours of the day, and book tour presentations to prepare. Updates for the website; a series of newsletters to compose. I’m doing my best to gracefully promote my book—yet self-promotion does not come easily to me.
My mantra on the Bering Sea coast toward the end of Iditarod still applies: “Stay focused, Debbie. Keep it simple. One checkpoint at a time.”
—Both running Iditarod and publishing Fast Into the Night are marathon undertakings. When I look back at the extended effort towards this “pub date,” I have to ask myself: “Was it necessary to write a memoir before attempting a few essays?” In the same vein I questioned my sanity while attempting to complete my second Iditarod, “Why on earth did I sign up for this 1000 mile epic, instead of a few 200 or 300 mile events?” The fact is, I’ve always been drawn to big goals.
Eleanor Roosevelt’s words have always impressed me: “You must do the things you think you cannot do.”
Under the burled arch in Nome
—Completing the book, as well as the race, required a returning to “school.” By the time I entered my second Iditarod, I had intensified my efforts. That season alone we’d completed 3000 training miles, including the tough Copper Basin 300. I’d doubled my own training along with my dogs’. In a similar manner five years after beginning to write Fast Into the Night, I literally returned to school. My MFA studies in Creative Writing at Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University made all the difference.
—Despite my independent personality—just ask my family about that one—both my journey to Nome and writing my memoir benefitted from sustained support of family, mentors, and friends. From mushing, writing, and publishing veterans—to Andy, Hannah, and Mark acting as my dog handlers, editors, and cheerleaders—the collaborators in both journeys were many.
Just as I thanked Mark at the finish banquet in Nome for making Iditarod a reality, now I’ve dedicated Fast Into the Night to him. I am married to one incredibly tolerant, good-natured, and willing man!
—The epigraph for my memoir is the same quote I chose for my graduating yearbook from Princeton. Artist Constantin Brancusi wrote: “To see far is one thing, going there is another.” Wouldn’t you think I could come up with something new for the book?
—Both the memoir and the race are all about the dogs. That much is simple. Juliet and Sydney’s ashes now rest alongside my writing table. Those two girls led us under the arch in Nome; they are with me as I write these words.
The twenty six huskies outside my window are barking right now. Tired of this upcoming “pub date,” they are getting louder and louder. They’re reminding me that it’s time to head out on the trail.
Juliet and Sydney at the finish in Nome