Classic: Worst 30 Minutes of My Entire Life
Later, after they had watered the dogs, my humiliation changed to relief. Time and again someone came over, clapped me on the shoulder. “You finished, that’s the main thing,” they said. I perked up. My time was 35 minutes and seven seconds. I felt better knowing one team was out nearly an hour.
Later, in the dark, in the cold, I found Ivan and Kathy tending their dogs. Ivan’s tattered gloves were off, one dog had wet in the stall, two others, Sobi and Cleo, both leaders, had started fighting and Ivan had separated them.
He knew their muscles would be sore and was dropping aspirins in their feeding dishes before scooping their homemade dog food — chicken breast bones ground up with chicken fat. It smelled like dried blood.
I thought of something he had told me the night before. He was racing once in Vermont over a course laid out across a field. Barbed wire had been hidden by the snow and nobody knew it. Another racer had gone over the wire, hooked it with his brake, and lifted it up enough to catch Ivan as he passed close behind. He wouldn’t let go of the sled and as the dogs lunged the wire ripped through his jacket. cutting his stomach open. Nevertheless, he had finished the race.
“Ivan,” I asked, “why do you do this?”
“We were just talking about that,” he said. “You know somebody said a few years ago we were just chasing a fantasy. Mine is to have a sponsor someday, to be able to retire into sled-dog racing. Who knows,” he shrugged, “maybe
someday people will get bored with golf, maybe this will take off one day.”
He told me of friends who had lost their houses and their families to pursue sled-dog racing in Alaska; of a nonstop l,200-mile drive, 20mph for 40 hours, bringing the dogs from a race in Wisconsin; of 200-mile drives to find enough snow for 30-minute training runs; of the meager winnings and the tremendous expenses. He explained it simply. “A lot of people in our sport are obsessed,” he said.
Saturday night we sat in the bar of the inn, and every so often a driver would go outside to check the dogs and when the door opened you could hear the dogs yelping as they dropped to the ground from their boxes.
Ivan came in on one occasion from dropping his dogs (letting them out of their boxes). “It’s really wild out; it’ll be awfully bad tomorrow. And they’ll be sore — and they may decide this isn’t any fun. So the real test may come tomorrow.”
I yawned and stood up. “Well, folks,” I said cheerfully, “I can go to bed knowing as bad as it was today, at least tomorrow will be worse.”
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