By midmorning, as predicted, Hans is distracted by the bushes, and Odin pulls up. “I’m gonna change him out,” he says. He switches Hans with a small dog named Abner. “Lead dogs have egos-if I move Hans back, he’ll work hard to get back out front.” The uptick in pace is remarkable-like Odin swapped out a fouled spark plug.
I am fascinated by each dog’s distinct character. In the wheel position, a husky named Buck runs while shouldering hard to the right against Reese, the largest dog on my team, who runs like a veteran jock-pulling his weight, but never breaking out of a lope if he can help it. Oliva, now partnered with Hans in the middle position, ducks shyly when I pet her, but lunges forward when it’s time to pull. Out front, Fittipaldi presses the harness, running hard, fast, and arrow-straight, feet a pitter-pat blur. And Abner-Abner is frantic in his desire to pull, running with his tiny body rotated 20 degrees off center and his backbone hunched, directing all his force against his right shoulder. Looking like he’s half-cocked to take a dump, he goes and goes.
Mushing is organic snowmobiling. Enough speed to feed your appetite for new territory, without the piston-blast. Because you can hear the sled’s squeak and the dog paws drumming, you feel not so much that you are covering ground as flowing the terrain. You learn to roll against the flex of the runners, and soon you are slow-dancing the curve of the earth. We run all morning, stop for lunch, then run again. We descend, break through the dogwood brush flats, and plane out across the smooth ice of the Brule River.