Saturday, March 13, 2010

Like a Ballroom Glove in the Moonlight

I don't know how many miles we traced across the snow -- maybe a thousand.

We were hundreds of miles off the road system.

In a tiny village of 400 -- augmented that day with several hundred volunteers: trail breakers, trail sweepers, vets, pilots, dog handlers, cooks, and general workers.

Dozens of journalists trekked down to the checkpoint, watching on the GPS and speculating when the first team would come through. The VIPs from the corporation that would give a prize to the first team came by in the late afternoon. And we waited.

The sun went down. The temperature was already ten below and it just kept getting colder. There was light snow on and off, but no real accumulation.

Someone built a small fire. And we waited.

Sometime after dark, someone called out "dog team on the river." And we flowed outside. The Mayor was there and more than 100 villagers. When the headlamp finally became visible, everyone started cheering.

For hours, it was like a party. Teams would come in and be met by camera crews, veterinarians, dog handlers, the Race Marshall, and various well-wishers. Most teams stayed no more than a few minutes before heading back out onto the trail.

By 3am, the villagers had gone home. The camera crews were sleeping somewhere warm. The VIPs were gone.

Now it was quiet.

Now it was still.

And someone ran inside to tell us: "dog team on the river."

So we went outside. The temp had dropped to 30 below. It hurt to breathe.

The snow had stopped. And everything was quiet.

So I waited with two vets, the lead checker, and four others. We huddled by the fire.

This time there was no cheering crowd. Just the stillness.

And then a light. Visible from far off, slowly coming towards us.

And a sound: quiet paws pushing off cold, fast snow. The gentle breathing of 16 dogs, athletes acting at peak efficiency.

The guy on the sled called the dogs to stop. And they did. Immediately. He pushed a heavy hook deep into the snow. The vets carefully looked after each dog. The checker talked to the guy on the sled. Like most of the others, he wasn't going to stay. Moments later, he pulled the hook and the dogs took off.

"Gee, Gee!" he called and the dogs banked right, down a chute, and back out onto the river. A moment later "Haw! Haw!" and the dogs turned left. "On through."

The others went inside, but I walked down the chute to the frozen river. The sound of paws running over snow carried in the cold night air, long after I could no longer hear the dogs breathing.

I stood alone, watching the light move off into the distance. Until it was gone.

All was still again, a stillness that was so complete and total that it felt like the world had frozen and nothing could ever move again.

And I was alone, in the middle of nowhere, in a wild motionless expanse of snow and ice.

But if I closed my eyes and concentrated really hard, I could swear I could feel someone singing:

And, yeah. Part of me never went home after that night.


thingy said...

How beautiful, Alex.

Some day...

Alex said...

Thanks Thingy.

C'mon up... it's really something you should experience. :)

whiteray said...

Wow. I don't need to come up there to experience it. You just brought me there. Yeah, it's not the same, but still... Good job.

Alex said...

Thanks, Whiteray!