It’s that time of year again. Half the people I know are making Oscar party plans and the other half are still muttering about the Superbowl.

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 6.03.57 PM

A screengrab from the Yukon Quest Live Tracker, which I’ve been clicking obsessively for the past nine and a half days (though I’ve been using a much more zoomed in version to follow each dog team individually).

Me? I’m lamenting the fact that the Yukon Quest website doesn’t have a live video feed of the finish (which should be occurring in the next six hours or so, by the way). I’m also talking peoples’ ears off about key details like the fact that Allen Moore still had 14 dogs after crossing the midway point at Dawson City (the mushers start with 14 dogs but any dogs that become ill or injured or appear dehydrated are removed from the race and left at checkpoints with veterinarians). I know that Allen left Scout in Circle, and that he left Chemo and Outlaw in Two Rivers in preparation for his final 73-mile push to the finish line. I also know all the dogs are safe and happy; SP Kennel takes care of its dogs first and foremost and that’s why I’m a fan.

I should be working on my novel right now. I owe myself 1,000 words every day rain or shine (and it’s the Central Coast so I guess it’s always shine), whether I have a headache or feel just peachy, whether there are other projects to attend to (and there always are). But instead I’m compulsively refreshing the tracker on the Yukon Quest website and muttering under my breath. “Go Allen. Go Quito.” My boyfriend doesn’t even find this strange anymore. He knows Allen is Allen Moore of SP Kennel and that Quito is SP Kennel’s lead dog and rockstar. She pulled Allen to two back to back Yukon Quest victories in 2013 and 2014 and then turned around three weeks later and pulled Allen’s wife and kennel partner Aliy Zirkle to a second place finish in the Iditarod. I am in awe of Quito, in awe of all the dogs that run 1,000 miles in 50 below temperatures (which the race was for almost the entire first half) and yip and howl to get back on the trail the moment their human puts on the breaks.

I’ve been in love with dog mushing for two years now, since my mom and I visited Alaska to watch the start of the Iditarod and then fly to Fairbanks for a two-day dog mushing adventure driving our own sleds into the wilderness and camping overnight before returning. It was one of the most intense, emotional, beautiful experiences of my life. I’ve always been an animal person but there’s something about that mutual dependence that quickly breeds affection and respect between you and the dogs. Turning the dogs over to their owner for the drive home was like having part of a limb suddenly ripped off. How would I move so fluidly and joyfully in the snow without them? The truth is I can’t and it’s made me think a lot about my life (namely where I live it and whether I have regular access to dog mushing, which I currently don’t).

So I’m watching Allen on this tracker as he slowly covers these final miles nine days and seven hours since he began this experience. Which really means nine days and seven hours since he’s really slept, nine days and seven hours since he’s had any companionship but that of his team (Quito, Scout, Chica, Izzy, Sissy, Schmoe, Mac, Waylon, Chemo, Outlaw, Scooter, Nacho, Willie, and Clyde) or any food besides hastily grabbed meals on the trail or during the few mandatory stops at checkpoints. The dogs, on the other hand, receive exemplary care including veterinary checks at each checkpoint, massages, regular meals, and snacks. Allen’s currently going back and forth with musher Brent Sass of the kennel Wild and Free for the lead. For the first 900 miles or so Brent led. I don’t know how he did it, but he pulled into Dawson with a several hour lead over Allen and he maintained it. This would be his first Yukon Quest win and I wouldn’t begrudge it if it happened, even if I am rooting for SP Kennel. The thing is, Quito’s going to be nine in June (June 12 to be precise and I know this because SP Kennel maintains and excellent blog and website full of details about each of their races and dogs). Quito’s had a long and brilliant racing career. She’s completed six Iditarods and four Yukon Quests and countless shorter but no less challenging races besides. There aren’t that many nine year old dogs running the Yukon Quest and Aliy and Allen have a kennel full of talented young dogs eager to take over (many of them Quito’s own progeny). If this is Quito’s last year of racing, I want her to take it all–the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod.

I can’t explain why this is such an emotional event for me. I suspect it’s a little bit my love for animals and the fact that these ones show so much heart. But I think it goes beyond that. By the time I discovered dog mushing I was grappling with a degree of fear that the world had become civilized and tame, that the only adventures left out there were the fictional ones I would watch from my couch. I know now that this isn’t the case, only I don’t need to run the Yukon Quest to have an adventure. All I need is a team of dogs and a sled and some snow and it will happen no matter the location, no matter the circumstances. I need to find a way to make it happen. But in the meantime I’m going to keep updating the tracker, groaning as Brent Sass overtakes Allen and then cheering as Allen overtakes Brent Sass. The race is that close. And whoever wins, I’ll remain utterly enthralled with the sport.


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