You're married to a musher when...

Posted: Sunday, December 28, 2003

Recently I was in the express lane at the grocery store, and reached into my jacket pocket to pull out some spare change, when out pops a wad of dog booties.

The jacket was mine, but had recently been worn by my wife, Colleen, so it took little deduction to determine how the canine footwear had found its way in there.

It was then that it hit me I may be married to a musher.

Or, in all fairness, a musher to be. My wife has been learning the ropes for the last few months from a professional musher who lives down the street from us.

This fella has been nice enough to show Colleen some of the basics of dog mushing, in exchange for her helping out as a handler which to those not in the know is a person who does a lot of feeding, cleaning and training of puppies.

Now I don't want to get into too much of a Jeff Foxworthy-esque spiel here, but you know you're married to a musher when ...

... your wife says she's going out shopping for a new outfit and shoes and comes home with an insulated Refigwear suit and Bunny Boots.

... your wife asks to wear your good hunting jacket because it's so warm, and she returns it with pooped-up, paw prints all over it.

... your wife comes home from mushing and accidentally tracks in dog poop, cleans it up and then serves you dinner, all without ever washing her hands.

... your wife talks in her sleep, and all she blurts out is "gee" or "haw."

... your wife's cheeks are a rosy red color, but it's from wind burn instead of makeup.

... your wife always stinks like raw fish from all the salmon she cuts up and feeds to the dogs.

Now, I don't want to paint a picture that it's all bad having a wife that's into mushing, because I'm mostly being facetious with my complaints.

In fact, I'm quite envious.

We both moved here for the freedom and adventure that seemed to abound here in Alaska, but with my commitments as a full-time Clarion reporter and as a full-time student at Kenai Peninsula College, I rarely have time to do anything else.

Since I'm too busy living to make a living, it makes me happy to know at least one of us is living their dream.

For example, she recently was in her first race in Paxson. She finished in 18th place out of 40 mushers, including a few professionals, and brought home her prize of a 5-gallon bucket of fish oil.

Although she was pretty worn out from the experience, she also was beaming with pride.

Now, 18th may sound like it's right in the middle of the pack, and it is. But her 18th-place finish showed sensibility and good judgment.

Colleen took the conservative approach. She used this first race to practice everything she had learned, as opposed to risking an early season injury to a dog by running the team full-bore just to place well in the final standings.

Also, she is three things: dedicated, tough and good with animals. All three have played a role in her becoming a musher.

A few weeks back I saw her go out in minus-20 degree temperatures and blowing snow. She got bucked off the runners while passing over some rough terrain and was dragged a quarter mile.

She never let go!

I don't know where Colleen will eventually go with this sport, but from her involvement, I've learned a thing or two about mushing myself.

The first thing is that with feeding, gear and everything else, mushing is an incredibly expensive lifestyle.

I use the term lifestyle over hobby, because it's not something you can just dabble in. There's the continuous financial commitment and all the day-in and day-out work involved with caring for a kennel of dogs.

Which brings me to the next thing I've learned, and that is that mushing is work a lot of work. At times it's about 90 percent work and only 10 percent fun.

And finally, I've learned that mushers make the sport look a heck of a lot easier to do than it really is. There is definitely a difference between just riding on a sled and driving a team of dogs.

So whether Colleen decides to walk away tomorrow, gets her own kennel and mushes for recreation or becomes a professional and sets her sights on the Yukon Quest, Iditarod or other big races, I support her 100 percent, and I'm happy to see her making her dream into a reality.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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