Rob's Blog Archive

September 18, 2011

A Season without a Plan










For the first time in many years, I’ve started running the dogs without a training schedule.  Last year and the year before, I planned to enter at least one race, and that race could have been the Yukon Quest, the other 1,000 mile dogsled race.  The years before those, I was building toward and then running in the Iditarod.  I always had a training plan and followed it.

It was almost a decade ago when I asked a very accomplished sprint racer, Ralph Whitten, if he liked racing most, training most, or looked at them as being two sides to the same coin.  Without hesitation, he said he liked training the dogs the most.  Of the three answers, that was the one that could have surprised me, and it did. 

While Ralph’s answer was a minor revelation, I easily identified with it.  I’ve never really liked racing.  It always struck me as being too contrived.  It still does, so there will come a year when I stop.  I’m just not sure if it’s this year or not.  I’m looking at the calendar and realizing that this will be the last year my qualifiers will be valid for the Quest.  It doesn’t help that I’ve had a couple of really good training runs.  My dogs are very old for any race, but I could look at that as a great challenge.  If I were to enter and just make it to Dawson, that by itself would maintain my quals until 2015. 

But, running the Quest isn’t the only possible goal bouncing around in my mind.  I’ve been saying for the last couple of years that I want to head into the Bob Marshall wilderness and sled into the Chinese Wall.  That excites many imaginations, including my own. 

Though quite different, sledding into the Bob may well be as challenging as running the Quest.    A lot of people run on packed trails of one sort or another.  Far fewer break their own trail in deep snow, something I’d have to do to see the Wall in winter.  I may well have to be developing my own techniques to do this---most of the backcountry and expedition mushing I’ve read about takes place on the shallower denser snow of the arctic and near arctic.  Seeing the Wall will require moving over the fluffy snow of the Rockies. 

Though probably not for the Chinese Wall, I also plan on becoming good at solo backcountry sledding.  I enjoy sledding with others just like I enjoy climbing with partners.  However, I climbed many more mountains when I started soloing.  They may have been only fourth or easy fifth class or on neve snow rather than glare ice, but it was fun and I reveled in the freedom of being able to head off on a whim to climb. 

I recall climbing through the spot on Mt. Ritter in the Sierras where John Muir, also solo, started to psyche out.  “My doom appeared fixed,” he wrote.  “I must fall.”   Rather than falling, he focused and moved up the north face of the mountain for its first ascent.  He claimed an angel had helped him.   It was steep third class covered with a thin layer of fall snow when I climbed it, something for which I didn’t need angels’ help.   But that was after many harder climbs both with friends and solo.  The development of climbing technique during the intervening century and my experience with it is what kept angels free to help other climbers.

Sledding with my dogs by ourselves in the wilderness will be an experience I could never get racing.

I’m seeing color in the aspen, poplar, and groundcover.  It’s now cool enough that I’m wearing a light coat as I feed in the evening.  Fall has definitely started.  And the annual rhythm is taking over.  With the work preparing for last weekend’s Yom Chi Taekwon-Do Association’s National Instructor’s course behind me, I’m running the dogs regularly.  For them, the plan doesn’t matter and they’re very happy.  And even without a plan, I guess I am too. 

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