Every time I go to type this blog post, I can’t make myself finish it. I realize that may be hard to understand. When you go through an intense experience like I did with my team, you change. I can say with confidence that I was a completely different person when I crossed the 2018 Junior Iditarod finish line than I was When I started the race.
For most, the excitement of my team running the race has faded, not from memory, but from thought.
I still think of it every single day. My heart longs to be back there, and it breaks that I can’t. The Junior Iditarod cutoff age is 17, and I will be 18 by the time the race begins.
Coming back from something like Junior Iditarod is really hard, I’m not going to lie. When you put all of everything towards one thing, and you go out and accomplish that goal, and then its just over. Just under 31 hours. Thats how long it took for a years worth of work to be put to the test and completed.
Most of the drive back was me reflecting, and sleeping. The accumulation of mental exhaustion of the entire season was finally coming to an end, and I no longer had to charge through, ignoring it and continuing on. The first person I told the story of Jr. Iditarod to was my grandmother. What was meant to be a five minute phone call to let her know I was okay and heading home, turned into two and a half hours of reliving the race.
We drove back down through Canada and into Montana, heading for Laura’s house to pick up the dogs that hadn’t made my Jr. Iditarod team and stayed with her, and return the four dogs I had used for the race. We spent a little less than a week there.
It was after we left Laura’s, and returned home that it hit harder. Laura had warned me, while I was still in Alaska, just after finishing the race, what actually finishing would be like.
I called the very next morning after our finish, and after a year of two hour long phone conversations with at least fifteen to twenty questions each, the only one on my mind was, “What now?”.
It was a strange feeling. Like I was so full and happy and proud and ecstatic because oh my god we made it, but I was also empty, and confused, because it was just over.
“Everyone tells you how to run the race, but no one tells you how to finish it.”
That was probably the most helpful thing she could have said in that moment. She told me that it was hard, coming off a race that you’ve put so much into, that I might feel a little depressed, that coming home might be challenging.
You’ve just put your soul into this race, and now you’ll return home, and everyone is still just going about like life hasn’t changed forever.
And so we returned home. And sure enough life was moving, and I was in a whole other world.
It was a struggle, but I took comfort in knowing I was not the only musher that had gone through it, nor would I be the last. I took comfort with the dogs and the solace they gave me.
Sometimes I still feel myself slip back into that other world. When I hear a song that was on my playlist for that race, or look at a certain photo, or when I look at a dog that was on that trail with me.
Summer has come and gone. Fall is fast upon us and Winter is not far behind. Olaf, one of the dogs that ran Jr. Iditarod with me has joined the kennel, and it brings me happiness every single day when i look out the window and he’s there with the others.
I’ve made some decisions about this season after looking at the bigger picture.
I know there was some question on why I decided to run Stage Stop’s 8-dog class this year, since it is not a mid-distance race. That is exactly why I decided to run it. I want to go more seriously into running longer races, but I’ve also wanted to run Stage Stop for awhile now. The opportunity it will give me to watch top teams competing, and to learn from them, will be invaluable in the years to come. So if I’m going to do it, now is my self proclaimed chance. Because after this season, I have my eyes set on much bigger and different races. Though I’m not yet ready to reveal what those races and plans may be, I have confidence in saying that I want a slightly more ‘relaxed’ year before we once again bite the bullet. Its not that Stage Stop will be relaxing. Its a highly competitive event, but its a very different type of event than what I’m pursuing, so I’ll feel less pressure in that regard.
The Race to the Sky 100 will be my first race as an adult, which feels fitting and I look forward to seeing how much better mentally I can handle a mid-distance race.
Hang on, its always a wild ride. After all, Junior Iditarod was just the beginning. We are not done here.