By Rebecca H. Savidis
A few days into Snowhook’s rookie running of the 2010 Iditarod, Rebecca watched as AJ’s GPS tracker zigged and zagged far from the designated trail. Later that day, the phone rang unexpectedly with unwelcome news. AJ explained to Rebecca, the team had tangled on an early morning run to McGrath. He set the hook, and found what he dreaded---an empty harness. Begin the zigging. Begin the zagging. Begin the searching for Whitey-Lance. Her response was simple, sincere, and despite the laughter she receives when she tells the tale even now, was serious, “Don’t come home without my dog.” AJ knew she meant every word.
Flanked by local trappers Abe and Mark, supported by residents of McGrath, race officials and volunteers AJ dove into a dedicated search for the missing mutt, only stopping to care for the dogs on the team. He rarely slept. He hardly ate.
To say money was scarce in those days is an understatement. Having put all our funds into the race, it was nonexistent, leaving Rebecca home rather than on the first plane to McGrath to help in the search. AJ was focused on solving a problem to which she felt useless. She would have felt alone if not for the emails of well wishes, support, and prayers from all over the world---Ireland, Australia, Panama, Norway, Portugal, throughout the United States---all watching and waiting for news of Whitey-Lance. They, these strangers were the buttress that bolstered her spirit.
The hope that he would return and our race would continue no longer existed as the sun rose on the second day of a five day heart ache. Hope having vanished just like the dog.
Feeling that I failed them somehow, unable to face them, I rushed through my daily chores of feeding, watering, cleaning and loving. After finishing chores and waiting for a phone call that I hoped would bring good news, I heard the dogs barking. It was the kind of bark that any musher knows---Alert!
“Whitey! Whitey-Lance!” In despair and with hope, I ran to the kennel certain our wanderer returned home on his own accord. The hope, as hope sometimes is, was irrational and I was in for disappointment. Surrounded by the watchful eyes of the dogs I scanned the trees. Was the prodigal dog timid upon return? “Whitey-Lance? Bud?” I scanned the trees a second time, then a third, the tears beginning to blur my vision, “Bud, it’s time to come home,” I quavered.
In my fourth desperate scan, hope giving to logic and clarity, I saw the cause of the commotion. Damn moose. As my heart crumbled and howled, I felt the politest of little taps on the back of my thigh. I knew the tap. It was the signature attention request of my blue-eyed girl, Patsy Ann. Mama, it will be okay. Promise.
Her tiny gesture broke the spell. I realized I needed to be in the kennel. The dogs were hurting with my hurt. Did they know the reason? ---No, the reason did not matter, but they knew my heart could no longer beat on its own. As I moved from dog to dog, lingering, each offered comfort in his or her own way.
Softly hugged by Tomboy, she pressed her head against my stomach. Forgetting the greater problem of a missing dog, I focused on stealing my glove back from Lefty---Classic Lefty. Rowdy sat with me offering silent advice. Garcia, prone to gnaw, just held my hand is his mouth.
, my main leader reminded me that a
leader knows when to rely on others.
Deep in thought and as I leaned against her dog house, Fargo draped her head over my shoulder to
absorb the hurt. Luna licked the tears
that threatened to fall and Tenzing refused to leave my side. Savannah
Once avoided, I began to linger in the kennel over the coming days. The little sleep I endured often occurred curled on top of a dog house. I found comfort, solace and even my typical joy in tending to the dogs’ basic needs.
With reassurances that residents of McGrath would continue to look for our milk-carton pup, AJ informed me he and the rest of the team were being sent home. The arrival of the team brought welcome and unwelcome news with one statement by the drop dog coordinator, “Your husband missed the flight.” My broken hearted half needed him, yet Whitey-Lance remaining missing was not acceptable. Strong muscles of dear friends helped lift the dogs into the truck and their words of comfort tried to lift my aching spirit
Returning home, those in the kennel welcomed those from the trail with tail wags for their buddies, playful greetings and nuzzles. As if the dogs had taken inventory once I completed caring for the racers with food, water, love and fresh straw, a realization settled and the howl began. They seemed to sense we were Snowhook less one. The howl continued, breaking the frigid air of the midnight hour. Lacking the deep baritone of Bridger or the confident howl of
, I howled a high-pitched, uncertain
howl of a yearling. Fargo
Had his heart heard the call of his pack? ---Maybe. Twenty-four hours after we, those who stayed behind, welcomed the racers home, we welcomed musher and missing mutt. As we had done the night before, we howled again---it was the howl of the whole and complete.
|Whitey-Lance at the 2011 Ceremonial Start.|