On Tuesday’s show, The Part-time Single Parent, Amanda, Brooke, and Scott highlighted some of the positive aspects of being a part-time single parent. That got me thinking about how time away from each other can be healthy.
Take this past weekend. Thomas wanted to ref a Taekwondo tournament. I couldn’t pass up a rare invitation to dog mush in a remote area of Trapper Creek.
In the past seven years living in Alaska, I’ve always chosen to put aside my wild impulses and wait for my man to take the kids and me on outdoor adventures. But that weekend was the last chance this season to take up Hal and Nancy Morgan’s generous offer and Kyra’s favorite subject in school was Balto, so I decided to swallow my fears and propose that I take the kids by myself. Thomas grudgingly agreed to let us go after I told him my friend, Erica, was coming along. And because I do have a tendency to fall asleep when I drive long distances, he also negotiated that I stay a night in Talkeetna.
While Thomas got to do something he loved and get a break from the family, I drove up the George Parks Highway (for the first time) without falling asleep! In the backseat, Kyra giggled over her new favorite app, “Tiny Wings,” on my old iPhone and Ethan happily entertained himself with his Leap Frog LeapSter Handheld Game Console. I made it to Talkeetna in an hour and a half without a potty break or a tantrum.
From Talkeetna to the Morgan’s, Erica held onto my iPhone in case we needed help, as I drove less than ten miles per hour down the same icy road which crashed my truck against hers last month. I gripped the steering wheel tight and ignored Kyra’s repeated question, “Are we there yet?”
An hour of intense driving finally brought us to a haven of log cabins hidden deep in the woods beside a frozen Kroto Creek. The Morgan’s are an energetic retired military family, who claim that they “have no idea what they are doing.” But when I took a good look around their home, I gained tremendous respect for what it takes to live off the grid. They pump water from the well located a few feet away from the main cabin. Chop wood. Feed and care for twelve outdoor huskies and four more indoor dogs. Potty in an outhouse, something I didn’t think would work too well for toddlers. And serve as local EMT.
The sun glittered off a traffic jam of snowmachines and sleds cluttered about the front of the main cabin. Huskies chained to handmade dog shelters lined each side of a wide trail which connected all the cabins. Kyra and Ethan immediately ran down this trail and into smaller passages carved into the deep snow. I could only the see the tips of Ethan’s dragon hat bouncing up and down as he ran away from me.
The dogs entertained the kids for four hours or maybe it was the other way around. Kyra and Ethan hardly paid any attention to me. It was awesome! In the distance, I watched the kids help Hal harness four dogs and hook them up to a sled. When they lost interest, they crawled in and out of the dog shelters while the dogs watched them nervously.
Hal’s wife decided that it was too dangerous to let the kids mush so she encouraged Erica and I to give it a try.
“Uh, I have no idea what to do,” I said.
“Hike to go. Haw to turn left. Gee to turn right. Whoa to stop,” Hal said.
I stepped gingerly onto the runners and gripped the handlebar with my left hand. Reaching down with my right hand, I lifted the snow hook. The hook was barely loose when the sled took off.
Wind chafed my cheeks as the dogs picked up speed. Every bump, every rut, felt like it could knock me to the ground. I tried to relax and read the contour of the frozen earth. Suddenly, one of the dogs tripped and rolled off the trail, tumbling the rest of the team. Somehow, they got back on their feet and kept running as if nothing happened. I love that thrill of not knowing what’s going to happen next.
We broke out of the woods and onto a frozen lake. I was on center stage, like I had finally arrived at the performance of my lifetime. The dogs panted hard. They barked. The ice scraped below. But inside, all was strangely quiet. I couldn’t hear my heart, my mind churning cautions, nothing. Just peace.
When we got back to the Morgan’s, Kyra said to me, “Mommee, next time take me.”
She then climbed onto the runners and demanded that somebody be her “dog.” Ethan was more than happy to oblige. He got down on all fours with his butt facing the sled’s brush bow and started yelping like a puppy. Everybody started to laugh.
Eventually, a friend of the Morgan’s, a high school hockey player named Kris, took pity on the kids and agreed to be their lead dog. He taught them all the mushing commands and pulled them around for an hour it seemed.
That night on the way to Talkeetna, before the kids passed out, Kyra said, “Mommee, can you remind me to tell my teachers that ‘mush’ is not the right word.”
Ethan chimed in, “Yeah, it’s ‘hike’.”