Today was the day.
Leo and I loaded up my skis and his equipment in the SUV and drove to a nearby park. I dressed him in his harness, smeared Musher’s Secret on his paws (to prevent ice chunks from forming between his paw pads) and hooked us together with the bungee-equipped tether, one end to his harness, the other to my skijoring belt.
When I gave him the all clear, he popped out of the hatchback, all energy and ears. While I stepped into my ski bindings and shoved my gloves through the leather thongs of my ski poles, his attention tweaked to the sounds of dogs running in the dog park across the river … voices of kids sledding on a hill across the road … another skier gliding past us on a groomed trail … animals dashing about under the snow, I imagine.
The air was filled with the sounds of life. It was, after all, over thirty degrees after weeks of below-zero temperatures. Our whole community seemed to be thawing out, emerging from hibernation.
Not sure how Leo would respond in this public space to the relative freedom of a tether, which is longer and has more give than his leashes, I held on tight below the bungee. What would happen when I gave him his head? Would he run us down the hill onto the river? Would he take off across the road toward the sledding hill? Would he listen if I told him “Whoa!”? I’m a world-class catastrophizer, and this setup offered countless opportunities for negative outcomes.
Once we were both fully equipped, I guided him across the groomed trail and into the empty field, which was nearly free of any foot or pawprints. I half-heartedly called “mush out!” and received no response but a doggy smile. So, what the heck, we did our own thing: “Let’s go!” I called out, gesturing him on ahead.
This is how twenty-seven years after I first tried skijoring—cross-country skiing while harnessed to a borrowed dog—Leo and I claimed it as our sport.
We didn’t exactly take off like fish to water. Rather, we fishtailed around for a bit, Leo dashing to the left and then to the right. But then he seemed to gather up his power and steered straight ahead, and I experienced the sensation of being pulled up and out of the water by a motorboat. We were off to the races across that field, Leo leaping forward, I pushing off on my skis, laughing and calling out “yes, good boy!” and racing along faster than I ever had on flat ground before. As we neared the groomed trails on the far side of the field, I pointed my ski tips toward each other in a snow plow, yelling out, “Whoa! Whoa!” And, miracle of miracles, Leo stopped.
We turned around, somewhat awkwardly, and tore back toward the vehicle. Back and forth we went, sometimes pausing for him to take stock of the scenery, to sniff a tumbling leaf, to look for the dogs he knows live in that corner house. But who cares?
A couple skiing the trails swished by. “You’ve got a good helper there!” the man called out, smiling.
“We’re in training,” I said.
I took a selfie with Leo and then a portrait of my doggy friend. We were all teeth.
The truth is, we’re not training for anything other than the joy of being together.
Leo’s and my earlier skijoring-related (mis)adventures:
If Japan is more your speed, here’s a link to information about my memoir, The Same Moon, and Inaka, an anthology on rural Japan.
Interested in writing about your own life? I’m teaching Memoir Moments and Haiku with You, and offering writing coaching — more info here.