Friday, March 14, 2014

In Memoriam: Melanie Montague Carpenter

Two journeys have come to an end. The first when the team passed under the burled arch yesterday, and the second occurred last night. Melanie, dear friend of the kennel, passed away after a fierce battle with liver cancer.

It was Snowhook's honor to dedicate our 2014 Iditarod to Melanie, and an even greater honor to call her our friend.
 
 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Hard Fought Finish Line: 10d 21h 18m 24s

"The dogs did exactly as I trained them to run," AJ said shortly before he fell asleep after 10 days, 21 hours, 18 minutes and 24 seconds on the trail, and a 33rd place finish.
 
Yes, the dogs did quite well. They led him through terrain, the likes of which he hopes never to see again. They darted through ferocious winds to deliver him to the next checkpoint. And, in the final seventy-seven mile stretch, caught in a blow hole, AJ trusted the dogs he could no longer see in the whiteout conditions. Out of a band of amazing canine athletes and partners who did he choose to lift above his head to touch paw to burled arch?---The whimsical Louisa Mae. Having led sporadically throughout the season she did not rank among his main leaders going into the race. Yet, this sweet girl led the team for the final 200 miles of the race and across the finish line in a race that will go down in Iditarod history.

Stories are slowly being shared about the difficulty of the race---the details may not come at all---yet each tale is punctuated by the black bruises that span the length of AJ's body. It was a hard fought finish line.

And now, we rest.

***
It was an honor to dedicate our 2014 Iditarod to Melanie.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Waiting in White Mountian

There is no place like Nome especially around the race. The burled arch is erected on Front Street waiting for each team to welcome the finish of a hard fought race. Constant chatter and slinging of stories from the trail are white noise in the Mini-Convention center that serves as the Nome-based headquarters.   
A lot can happen between the seventy-seven mile run between White-Mountain, the checkpoint where teams take a mandatory eight hour layover and the finish line, yet I expect to see the team running up Front Street midday on Thursday. What a race! The team may not have crossed under the burled arch yet, but this race with low snow, a trail that waged war on the mushers, high winds and a high scratch rate is one for the record books.

Is it possible to express my pride in AJ and the dogs that have partnered together in this journey? Hardly. It is the kind of pride that takes my words and fills my heart with burning and my eyes with tears. 

***

Our finish line nears as does Melanie’s. Both are surrounded with love.

Prayer 11

Creator – we thank you for this day, and for the safe travels of all who are far from home. We thank you for the rest they will have, a deep and peaceful rest to sustain them through the rest of their journey.
     Tonight AJ is closer to the finish line. His courage and his honor have held him up during this difficult race. The strong hearts of his dogs have sustained them through the terrible trails. The partnership this team has will bring them across the line together, and their love will be obvious to all.
     Tonight, Melanie is closer to the end of her journey on this earth. Let her heart be at peace, knowing how much she is loved; knowing how many lives she has touched, knowing that she has lived an honorable life.
     Creator – we ask you to lead the team to Nome, bring them through the ice and winds; bring them through the night and the fog. Let the finish line burn bright in their eyes that they may see their goal so close at hand.
     We ask that the team sleep well this night at White Mountain. Let them sleep a deep and restoring sleep as a tribute to all they have done.
     Creator – tomorrow the team will rejoin Rebecca, and all will be a family again. Let us celebrate the joy of a job well done, of reuniting of loved ones, of testing themselves against all odds and finding the courage and the strength to do the impossible. We are grateful to be a part of this family and this adventure. We ask you to wrap AJ and Rebecca and the team in the comfort of our love.
    Creator – we thank you for this day, and for the safe travels of all who are far from home. We thank you for the rest they will have, a deep and peaceful rest to sustain them through the rest of their journey.
    For then they will be home.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Norton Sound: Safety First

I may have been present when many of our pups take their first breath in this world and there when, as dogs, they take their last breath. I may work to socialize rescues and help them find their place in the kennel, yet a different bond exists between AJ and the dogs he takes on the trail. They return home from the race with a secret language that only they speak. This bond, this marriage between musher and mutts, is the reason the dogs will follow AJ’s lead as they cross sea ice, face down the barrel of treacherous terrain, and are slanted by howling winds. This bond---one of trust---is a beautiful thing.
The team is past the Norton Sound a few short hours ago. This is the same stretch of the race in 2012 that they were lost for several hours. On that race, as AJ twisted and turned the team through a maze of jumble ice he was discouraged.  Sitting in front of the team, he thought about his plan.  As he considered their options, they jumped in his lap and in a tangle of dogs and man, they comforted each other. It was then that AJ decided their race was not over, yet. Fortified by their bond, they eventually made their way to Koyuk.  This year, the bond carried the team again.  
Despite a strong arrival into the Shaktoolik checkpoint and the plan to continue onto Koyuk after a short rest, the team waited out a storm that forced surprising scratches of seasoned mushers further up the trail.  Watching the time and distance that he has worked to create diminish, a decision has to be made.  Do you keep your race at the forefront?  Or, do you put safety first?  I know AJ.  To risk the dogs is not his way---Safety.  Almost twenty hours after arriving in Shaktoolik, AJ led a long string of teams across the Sound many of which caught up to him as he waited out the weather.  

Prayer 10

Creator – we thank you for this day, and for the freedom we have to travel about in your world. We see not only the land of our family, but we travel to distant places to be with friends, to learn new ways, to open our eyes to the beauty all around us.
Tonight, many of this family are traveling. We ask you to watch over all of them, keep them safe and guide them to their destinations.
We ask you to protect AJ and his dogs as they travel through storms and icy paths. Give them vision to find their way, give them endurance to continue their journey. We ask you to keep the finish line in AJ’s heart, let him know that each step brings him closer to the one he loves.
As Rebecca is traveling to Nome tonight, we ask you to watch over her, and keep her safe. Please lift her in your caring arms, heal her from ills, and giver her restoring rest. We ask you to give her serenity while she waits for the one she loves to come to her.
As Staff, Dawson and Barb make their way east, we ask you to keep them safe and make their journey one of lightness and laughter and friendship. We thank you giving these friends bound this time together to celebrate life.
As Melanie makes her way towards her path, we ask you to be with her and all her family. Creator, please give them all courage, and peace. We thank you for giving us this time with Melanie, for she has made such a difference in so many lives. As we think of her friendship and caring, we ask you to carry her gently, until it is time for her to come to you.
Some of our travels may not be across the roads; we may be traveling in our own journey of learning how to best live this life you have given us. We ask you to be our guide, to help us live in a way that is honorable, caring and generous. We ask you to show us the way to live a life that is pleasing to your pattern.
Creator – we thank you for this day, and for the freedom we have to travel about in your world. We see not only the land of our family, but we travel to distant places to be with friends, to learn new ways, to open our eyes to the beauty all around us.

Shacked up in Shaktoolik

Mother Nature is a leading lady on the Iditarod stage that should be given her due credit. Thanks to little to no snow, pre-race reports of poor trail conditions did not stop at the Steps, the Gorge and the Burn in the first third of the race.  Lack of snow on the coast was reported in the weeks leading to the starting line.  The overland trails may offer bumps without cushion and be more dust that snow.  And, trails on the ice will likely be glare ice which provides little to now traction. Combine the ice skating rink with the high winds that are now howling and it can be easy to lose the trail. To provide the team as much opportunity for traction in the sea ice sections including the upcoming Norton Sound, AJ will likely remove the booties from the dogs’ paws and rely heavily on the studs in the bottom of his borrowed boots.

While I draft this post at shortly after midnight, the team has yet to leave Shaktoolik and begin their run toward Koyuk.  It is likely that when the team does leave the checkpoint, they will have company of other teams that appear to be waiting out the weather.  There is safety in numbers.
Keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times---it’s going to be a wild one.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Prayer 9

Creator – we thank you for all the gifts you bring to us every day of our lives. We breathe in the sweet air; our feet feel the sacred earth below us. The rivers and the rains bring life giving waters; the plants make our lives sweet. How lucky we are to share this earth with all of your children. We thank you for this gift.
     Creator – tonight AJ will make his way across the frozen sea. His sled will glide over the home of our family of the water. Mighty Whales will sing beneath his feet. Graceful Seals will hear the runners over the ice. Playful Otters will watch as he passes by. Tonight we ask those water ones to be with AJ and lend him their strengths
We ask for endurance of a long journey, just as the Whales ones travel from one end of the earth to the other, we ask them to lend AJ that ability to continue, even when the journey seems too long. We also ask for the guidance of the Whale in direction that AJ’s path may never go wrong. And we ask for the songs, the wonderful songs of the Whales to guide him on.
     From the Seal people, we ask for the lightness and agility of their kind. Let there be a grace in the running tonight, a grace that speeds AJ and the team effortlessly across the ice. Let their legs move in harmony, in a dance together under the Northern Lights.
And we ask for joy. We ask the Otter people to fill AJ’s heart, to fill the hearts of the team with joy. Let their run be as laughter in the forest, let each step be happiness surrounded by the light of stars, the song of running paws and the freedom of their spirits.
     Creator – we ask these things for this honorable man. AJ has pledged his race to Melanie, for she is a good and kind woman who has faced her journey bravely. Let him draw from her courage, let him learn from her determination, and let him feel the love and support that we all feel for him.
     As AJ turns his journey toward home, we ask to also guide Melanie on her journey to her destination. Each day she is less of this earth than she is of your sky. Creator, we ask you to open the sky for her, and show her the path of freedom and joy. Let her have the wings of the sky creatures that she may travel on, and never look back to the bonds of earth.
     Creator – we thank you for all the gifts you bring to us every day of our lives. We breathe in the sweet air; our feet feel the sacred earth below us. The rivers and the rains bring life giving waters; the plants make our lives sweet. How lucky we are to share this earth with all of your children. We thank you for this gift.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Middle Miles & Sweet Tooth Spirits

The race has many miles. There are the beginning miles that hold newness and the excitement of another adventure, and the last miles that offer a glimpse of the finish line. And, then there are the middle miles. These middle miles can be difficult. They may not have the rollercoaster ride of the Happy River Steps or the bone jarring bumps of the Burn, but this section of trail has its own hazard of dismay. With the starting line far behind and the finish line not close enough, discouragement can become a companion while traveling the middle miles on the Yukon River. The team is at the last checkpoint before exiting the Yukon River and heading for the coast where the team will leave the middle miles behind.
Once the team leaves Nulato, it will be a fairly short run to Kaltag, but a much longer run onto Unalakleet. We can expect AJ to camp the team between Kaltag and Unalakleet, the first checkpoint on the coast. He will likely stop at new Old Woman cabin, a safety cabin on the trail that offers respite from the run. However, old Old Woman cabin is not so welcoming. Before he reaches the new cabin, the team will pass by the run down remains of old Old Woman cabin. With the clean quarters of the new cabin not much further down the trail, why may AJ stop at the shanty? Call it race strategy. Custom holds that passersby, in this case mushers, should leave an offering at old Old Woman cabin or her spirit will bring you bad luck on the rest of your journey. A bit of candy left on the woodstove should satisfy her sweet tooth.

***

Melanie was on the mind of our musher as he reflects on his run from the Steps through the Gorge and onto the Burn. If you have the Insider, you can see an interview with AJ where he speaks of our dear friend.

Melanie---You are loved. Never forget it.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Prayer 7

Creator – as evening comes, we thank you for the day that has passed. We look to the sky to see the night to come, for we know that no matter where we have been today, we will travel on under your stars.
     There are times when we feel the trail is too hard; that we have felt only the bumps and bruises. Let us not forget the wonders that we also have seen. For no matter how difficult the past has been, there have been moments of pure joy, of unbearable happiness, of contentment with the beauty all around us.
     Creator – on the night, AJ is far from home. He is far from the beginning of the race, but cannot see the end. His heart may be heavy with weariness and concern. We ask you to lift him up, lift his heart, lift his eyes to the beauty around him, and give him courage and hope. He has bourn the trials of a terrible trail. He has suffered the separation from not only his beautiful Bella, but also of two of his faithful dogs. He is tired, bruised and battered, but he is strong. We ask you to hold him, heal his aches, and show him a trail ahead that is well lighted by our love and support. Let the miles fly by under the feet of the dogs, let the trail be fast, let the race be glorious.
     Creator – on this night, Melanie is also on her path. She is far from the beginning of her life, but we would have wished that the end would still be far away. Her heart may be heavy with weariness and concern. We ask you to lift her up, lift her eyes to the beauty of the path before her. She has bourn many trials in this life, and yet life is so sweet. She is tired, bruised and battered, but she is strong. We ask you to hold her, sooth her pain and fear, and show her a path ahead that is well lighted by our love and support. Let her dance among the galaxies without fear or misgivings. Let the miles fly by, let her path be smooth, let her dance be glorious.
     We ask you to watch over all of us as we learn to forgive the trail behind us, and to optimistically seek the path that is in front of our feet. Let us go forward, always looking for the beauty, but never forgetting the wisdom we have gathered from the past.
We ask you to watch over Truman as he steps forward in his battle. We ask you to watch over Jim, and not let his trials of the past keep him from enjoying the future. We ask you to gently cradle the sweet puppies and breathe good health into them, so that one day they may run with AJ and remind him to look forward to the beauty around the next corner.
     Creator – as evening comes, we thank you for the day that has passed. We look to the sky to see the night to come, for we know that no matter where we have been today, with the strength and love of this family, we will travel on under your stars.