It is an incredibly important element of the bond between a musher and their dogs. Although it can't be quantified physically, such as blood pressure or heart rate can, it is, in my opinion one of the most important elements of dog mushing. My experience over the years has been that if I lose the trust of one of my dogs by not caring for it properly or getting into a situation that scares a dog badly, or any one of a number of other situations, it is very difficult to regain that trust and may well be impossible in some cases.
At the start line of the Quest 300 I had a few minutes in the starting chute with the dogs to be able to look them over, straighten out lines and just give them a pat and a hug and tell them that despite all the commotion and confusion of the start area, everything was fine. Sarah my little blue eyed leader gave me a look that I have never seen before. It was a peculiar look, somewhere between perplexed and (maybe) scared or possibly apprehensive. At the time I didn't give it much thought as there was so much going on and I was still a bit worried about why Fred had suddenly taken ill and had to be dropped. However, I do remember very clearly that it was not a look that rang any warning bells. A short while later, travelling along the Yukon River, after the team had settled into a brisk trot, I realized that probably what Sarah's look meant was that she was looking at me for reassurance that I was not going to ask them to do anything they were not capable of or trained for. I believe it was the look of 100% complete and total trust, looking for a bit of reassurance that it was warranted. I believe she knows that for her to do her job, lead the team, I must do mine, guide the team.This realization (if in fact I am correct), coupled with a strong emotional response from looking at this beautifull string of dogs all working to the best of their abilities brought me to tears for a short while. I found it overwhelming for a short while to have fully realized that although my leaders were 65 feet away from me attached through a series of cables and ropes, we shared a communication and cooperation that allowed us to travel through terrain we had never been through comfortably and safely. It is not a response that I can explain logically, nor do I care to, but it was sobering in that it made me realize just how delicate this whole scenario was in terms of me being the "leader/guide" and they relying on me to make all the right choices and decisions.
Of all the lessons learned from the Quest 300 this year, that one will remain with me forever.
Thanks to Scott Chesney for these two photos.
Sarah and Bria resting at Braeburn
Entering the Braeburn Checkpoint at -30c.
Labels: The look of trust.