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$h!t and Run

$h!t and Run

Sled dog teams and their mushers recently crossed the Iditarod finish line in Nome completing a nearly 1000 mile journey across Alaska. Being pulled by running dogs with my hair flying in the breeze has been a dream of mine since the age of 8 when I thought it was a good idea to take our old English sheepdog out for a walk while wearing roller skates. For the record, it was not a good idea. Since that failed attempt to harness the power of a running dog, I thought a less injurious way to get that same sensation would be to try dog sledding. On our trip to Alaska, it was time to make that dream come true.

After researching various options for dog sledding, I quickly came to realize that during the summer, most dog sledding excursions use a wheeled sled. In my own crude way, I had already experienced the “joy” of being pulled along on wheels. I wanted the authentic experience of dog sledding on snow. The only way to do that in August would be to take a helicopter up to a glacier.

As soon as the helicopter cleared the ridge of the mountain, we were instantly transported to winter. The fact that it was foggy, drizzling and cold helped set the mood. During the summer months, the dogs are kept on the glacier so that they can continue their training. With 60 plastic, igloo-shaped dog houses clustered together, the glacier looked like doggy summer camp. Oregano and I expected the auditory assault of collective barking as soon as we landed, but the only sound we heard was from the rotors of the helicopter. Once it flew away, it was eerily quiet. 

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Doggy summer camp on the glacier

The mushers introduced themselves then gave us the history of dog sledding in Alaska. They explained the different breeds of dogs used, how the dogs must be fed and cared for during training and during a race.  Because they run such long distances when racing, the mushers must put booties on each dog’s paws to protect them. If you’ve ever tried to put socks on a wriggling toddler you have some appreciation for what these mushers must do. Now imagine trying to accomplish this task on sixteen four-legged, wriggling toddlers while your hands are freezing cold. We had no idea how much was involved in running a dog sled race. It was fascinating.  

As the mushers patiently answered all of our questions, their assistants got the sleds out. Instantly, the calm erupted into a canine cacophony.

“The dogs LOVE to run,“  the musher yelled so we could hear him over the barking. “They know what the sound of the sleds means.”

Some of the dogs were standing on top of their igloos barking and howling. Their behavior reminded me of students in class yelling, “Pick me! Pick me!” Very quickly, the assistants selected the lucky winners who would get to go for a run and hooked them into position.

While the dogs were being harnessed, Mike the musher showed us the sleds. They are very light aluminum. The Flexible Flyer I used to sled down hills on the golf course after a snowstorm seemed a whole lot sturdier than the sleds they use to traverse Alaskan terrain.  At the back of the sled are narrow rails on which the musher must stand to balance himself and control the sled. Between those rails is a  flap of plastic they push down on the snow to cause drag and slow the sled. There is a small metal anchor that acts as a brake.  DSCF0134

Mike got us situated on the sled. I sat on a seat at the front. If I’m being honest, seat is a generous term for what I was actually sitting on. It was more like a butt-sized plank with a tiny bit of cushioning and handles on either side. Oregano stood behind me. The musher got on the rails all the way at the back and the assistant lifted the brake. Without the anchor holding them back, the dogs that had been straining against their harnesses began running. It was like being shot out of a cannon. I had always imagined it would be more of a gentle increase in speed. Not so.

From a distance, the dog sled looks like it glides smoothly. As we bounced and bumped over the uneven snow and ice with the sled sometimes listing to one side,  I was disabused of that romantic notion. I grabbed onto the handles on the sides of my tiny seat and held on tight.

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This was soooooo much more fun than being pulled by my dog while wearing roller skates.

Mike mushed us around to the far side of the glacier and threw the brake in the snow. He complimented us for not flying off the sled. Apparently, many dog sledding newbies are easily tossed from the sleds when they first leave the camp. He snapped a few commemorative photos then he told us it was our turn to drive. He showed us the proper stance, how to steer and had us put our feet on the narrow metal runners. Braver than me, Oregano opted to drive first. As we were flying over the snow, I noticed cylindrical brown projectiles hurtling past me to the left and right. I  thought it was another unexpected hazard of dog sledding; rocks being kicked up by the dogs. As I looked around the mountain and the pristine snow of the glacier taking a moment to absorb where I was and what I was doing, it dawned on me that there aren’t rocks on top of the snow on a glacier. It wasn’t until I saw the “rocks” falling out of the business ends of the dogs in front of me that I realized it was flying feces. To my amazement, the dogs were shitting as they ran at full speed. There was no stopping to sniff around to select the perfect location. There was no spinning in place until just the right moment in time. These pups didn’t even break stride to poop. As a member of a species that sits and remains stationary to defecate, I was truly impressed by the dogs’ stamina and agility. The most I’ve ever accomplished while pooping was finishing a chapter of a book.

Oregano was driving at the back of the sled presumably trying not to fall off. I doubt he noticed the miracle of nature I was witnessing from my front row seat. Since the real musher was standing just behind me, I tilted my head back towards him, “Are those dogs really shitting while they’re running?” He could hear the awe in my voice.

“Yep,” the musher laughed at me. “We have 16 dogs on the team. We can’t stop running the race because one of them needs to pee or poop. We’d never get anywhere.”

As I bounced along the glacier with dung being flung past either side of my seat, I had a much deeper understanding of the axiom, “It’s good to be the lead dog.”

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The reason it is good to be the lead dog…

What Happens in Vegas?

With the nickname Sin City, it’s no surprise that Las Vegas is a city of excess. Of course there are the usual excesses that immediately come to mind when one thinks of Vegas. Many people drink to excess in Las Vegas. The lavish buffets and upscale dining options allow people to eat in excess while visiting the city. There is no shortage of ways to dispose of your excess cash in the casinos or shopping in the ridiculously expensive stores in the resorts. Even entertainment options are excessive. You can be amazed by the acrobatic feats of the Cirque Du Soleil artists, marvel at magicians or enjoy kitschy lounge acts belting out tunes from behind a piano in a hotel lobby bar. If you prefer entertainment of a more personal nature, all you have to do is call the numbers listed on the backs of the baseball-like cards men hand out to passersby on the Strip. You can select your very own personal entertainer from an array of ladies with this specialized skill set. Like a Domino’s Pizza, they will arrive at your door in less than 30 minutes; how long they stay is entirely up to the individual’s credit limit. These excesses should not surprise anyone who has ever been to Vegas, read anything about Vegas or watched an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigations, but on our recent trip there, I noticed a few excesses you may not be familiar with.

In our minds, the 6 mile round trip walk to Max Brenner Chocolate Restaurant in Caesars Palace justified our indulgence in this chocolate and caramel fondue.

Excessive Walking –The resorts and casinos are immense, sprawling structures that require hoofing it lengthy distances to get from point A to point B, so I wore a pedometer to keep track of how much we walked. We were fascinated by the distances we had to travel. Going to the valet stand to pick up our rental car was a half mile journey. Oregano pointed out that when he walks a half mile, he isn’t usually still in the same building. A round trip trek to the gelato stand in the hotel was also a half mile which justified the nearly daily trip we made there. A chocolate fondue was our reward for the 6 mile round trip from our hotel to Caesars Palace. According to our calculations, all of that walking offset our decadence; everything in moderation, even gluttony.

Excessive Bathrooms – All of the walking combined with the desert dryness means people need to drink in excess. The excessive drinking leads to excessive – well, you know what that leads to and so do the resorts and casinos because there are almost as many bathrooms and stalls as there are slot machines. As someone with a bladder the size of a walnut,  I appreciate these ever-present bathrooms. While my tiny bladder is often inconvenient, it has given me the opportunity to become quite the public bathroom connoisseur.  I can tell you that the bathrooms in these resorts and casinos are among the cleanest and most lavishly appointed that I have seen anywhere.

Excessive Glitz– I am not referring to the blinking, twinkling lights on the Strip or the over-the-top costumes on the showgirls. The glitz to which I am referring was on the tourists. Never in my life have I witnessed such a vast collection of clothing and accessories festooned with sequins and sparkles. Even more amazing was the range of sizes these snazzy clothes came in. Can someone please explain the trend of wearing pants with glittery words emblazoned on the derrière? When the numerous lights in the lobby and casino hit that word it lures your eye to the source and then that image is indelibly burned in your brain. Maybe I am not trendy, but I prefer to let my personality sparkle, not my clothing.

Excessive Heels – Given the amount of walking required to get anywhere in Vegas, wearing high heels may be fashionable, but it is foolish. The number of women precariously balancing themselves on high heels and huge wedges was staggering. These women were wearing shoes my mom would refer to as “sittin’ shoes;” shoes better suited for sitting still and looking pretty than for actually walking somewhere. These teetering women were usually texting as they walked posing a hazard to those of us in more sensible footwear. If they were texting, teetering and drinking they gave new meaning to the word tipsy.

Joshua trees in Mojave National Preserve, California.

Excessive Natural Beauty– When we got weary of the manmade excesses in Las Vegas we headed into the desert to see some of Mother Nature’s finest excesses. Joshua trees in the Mojave National Preserve are surreal.  They look like Dr. Seuss and Salvador Dali joined forces to create a tree. Oregano learned not to touch these trees the hard way because the pointy pom-pom clusters weren’t a big enough warning. In Valley of Fire State Park we played on rock formations that seemed better suited for Mars than Nevada. The splendors of Mother Nature’s excesses were a nice balance to the overindulgence of Vegas.

In Valley of Fire State Park Oregano does a near perfect impression of Winnie the Pooh.

What happens in Vegas is not exactly human nature demonstrating its finest behavior. No matter what your definition of fun is, that is one commodity Las Vegas has in spades.

 

 

** And now a word from our sponsor.**

I’d like to thank Custom Trip Planning for “touching” me. This is a kinder, gentler version of the earlier game of blog tag that was circulating around. I’m touched that she recommended Good Humored to her readers.

I’d also like to thank Roshni for brightening my day with the Sunshine Award and recommending me to her readers. It’s a wonderful feeling to wake up on a gloomy morning and find a kind note and some sunshine in your inbox.

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