I was able to join my friend (albeit briefly) volunteering for our local sled dog race, the Eagle Cap Extreme (ECX). I had a hard time believing that participation (for volunteers) would be that rewarding. I’ve never been so glad to be wrong!
(I must apologize on this post being so light on photos, I’ll do better next year.)
It started last year, when my friend asked me to join him. I had a big work commitment on Friday, and so I deemed myself unavailable for the whole Wed-Sat. event, and blew it off. This year, I had the same commitment, so I made myself available starting Friday night. I thought I’d see what the fuss was about. After all, it couldn’t be that big a deal, right?
It was my first year, so I was nervous about not knowing anything. I was relieved to be scheduled a single shift, from midnight to 9AM. Sweet! (I thought) I can hang out with my friend, we’ll sleep in shifts, and I probably won’t screw up! Friday came, and I was up by 6 am to put in a 9 hour day at work. Coming home, I grabbed my stuff, and headed for ‘Fergi,’ the local ski area. Arriving around 7pm, I relieved the other two radio guys on duty, and entered a whole new world.
In this unique environment, volunteers had been up for days on end with little, if any sleep. They had been sharing experiences, triumphs, and challenges for 48 hours already. Yet, they welcomed me warmly and treated me like one of the team. It turned out the race was going faster than anticipated, and we were going to be up all night as the mushers cross the finish line. I was ‘fresh’ so I stayed up, stocking the fires, and waking folks after their 10-30 minutes of being passed out. (I wouldn’t call it traditional sleep.) I got to try out a freeze-dried dinner I had bought for the occasion, which was prematurely terminated by a dive-bombing fly.
Being the communications person, it was my job to clearly relay information to/from race central. On this shift, it meant the arriving musher, their time, and how many dogs they arrived with. I was nervous, as a single transposition of numbers would affect a lot of people, so it was important to be accurate. Fortunately, I didn’t screw up, and all the mushers were in by 4AM! By then, we were all a little sleep-drunk, and started to have some fun with it.
With the race finished, it presented us an opportunity to leave and retire in real beds. We all chose to do so, but in retrospect I should have slept there. After ferrying some equipment to town and back, then going home, I was so tired I shouldn’t have been driving. Around 5 am, after 23 hours, I passed out until noon.
I woke up, as if hung over from a night of drinking. Hours in the cold, standing, walking, etc. had certainly been beyond the level of what my body was used to, so it was complaining. (One of many lessons learn for next year.) I spent a few hours catching up with life until the banquet. Here, I really got to meet the others, and get a feel for what happened. I was impressed with the stories, sacrifices, and fellowship shared. I was choked up a couple times, and found that this event gathers some of the greatest people from all over the world.
Now I see what the fuss is all about. It’s about being part of something bigger, about friends, work, rest, & perseverance. I will certainly be back next year (if they’ll have me) and be sure to take time for it. Like in regular life, change is certain, so I’ll have to make sure I’m ready.