I’ll be honest. Five thousand miles is a long drive, especially with a team of dogs loaded up in the truck! For me to justify making the journey from one end of the continent to the other, I better have more than ONE good reason. Well, to tell you the truth, I had several! Sure, it has always been a goal of mine to start a summer tour business in New Hampshire where I can educate the public in a fun fashion about dog mushing and the amazing sled dog, but by returning to this region it gives me a chance to catch up with family and friends who I do not get to see much these days especially when I now consider Alaska home. These people have been so important to me over the years and have helped me grow into the person I am today! Heck, on my 27th birthday my friends and family all pulled together and helped buy my first dog sled! Which on a side note has been sitting in my good buddy’s garage for the past two years in Vermont collecting dust… That is a good enough reason to come home, I love that friggen sled! You will be seeing it traveling on the roof of my dog truck on the way back to Alaska in the next few weeks with its green sled bag made by the one and only Nooksack Racing in Maine!
I’ll be honest again, I have been told that I am a goofball and struggle to show my emotions but this next reason I came home will prove my critics wrong… One of the main reasons I made this drive was for my best little buddy, Tukdog. I’m sure you probably all have heard enough about her by now. By most people’s standards, this dog has led me down every wrong path a person could take. In fact, she rarely ever uses a path! She just goes with an intent that only she knows! I heard her described once as ‘her own dog.’ That is the truest statement ever about Ms. Tukdog. She is not one for confinement or rules, she does best where she and nature can call the shots. Anyways, back to the point, I acquired Tuk as a pup at 6 weeks old from a backwoods farm house in the middle of northern Maine. It was a near 30 below night where the air and the lighting just looked damn cold. I remember the sun setting on the open flats of Maine and it almost winked at me saying, “get ready for a cold one buddy!” Well, I did not know at the time the setting sun was predicting the future more than just the next twelve hours. The sun was cluing me in on the dog I was about to acquire who was going to take me to distant places, and cold was forever in my future.
As Tuk grew, I realized pretty quickly that hiking mountains was really the way to let this dog be who she was born to be. Wild and free! I have always been an avid fan of hiking in Northern New England where the most rugged of all Appalachian Mountains spread through the vastness of our northern forest, but this dog turned hiking into a requirement. Her desire to run without the confinement of society was a true necessity to her well-being. One of my most memorable hikes was when I skinned up Mt. Moosilauke which stands at 4,805 feet above sea level and is the first peak on the Appalachian Trail that has a true tundra on the summit. Well, Tuk and I did this one in January on skis. The snow was deep and the moose were plentiful! She spent half the day chasing moose through waist to chest high snow that blanketed the higher terrain of this mountain. Once on top of the bald summit, where some fine above tree line snow fields awaited to be skied, the winds picked up with a grand New Hampshire fashion! It must have been gusting about 50 mph and my thermometer read ten below. IT WAS COLD! Tuk and I looked at each other, and I hurried to gear up for the elements and get my ski equipment ready for the six mile ski down through New Hampshire’s ‘wild snow.’ I remember my hands going numb as I prepared my skis for the descent. I felt like the fella in Jack London’s ‘To Build a Fire’ struggling with nubs that once were full of dexterity. Needless to say, we made it back down to the car a while later. With exhausted legs and a tired Tukdog on the front seat. Sure, it was a six mile climb, and a six mile ski down, but for Tuk, you have to add in the energy spent chasing moose through the tight spruce forest in the depths of a February’s snow. I always say that Tuk hikes every mountain ten times to my one!
I got side tracked again… I really enjoy talking about my dog. But my point for this drive across North America is based around having one last hurrah with my little girl. We have had so many adventures in the woods of this region and we really needed to have one more; just in case she decides to get old anytime soon…. Tuk will be turning eleven this December, and by most dog standards that is too old to be outrageously physical anymore, but not by a husky’s standard! I drove five thousand miles so Tuk and I could have one last climb up the Northeast’s highest peak, Mount Washington. This is a mountain of Alaskan proportions. It holds the highest wind speeds ever recorded at 231 mph and receives snow every month of the year. It even has permafrost on the summit! Basically, it is one BIG mountain and has been a special place for Tuk and me. For the two of us, we have had tons of adventures in all the weather conditions one could have on this rage. I remember skiing the famous glacial cirque known as Tuckerman’s Ravine with her one of the many times, and I decided to ski out the Cutler River drainage. In most conditions this is a fun, yet technical ski, but this particular season was a low snow year. I had been making turns down what was a known frozen waterfall, while Tuk, whimpered behind me. Her senses told her this was a bad idea. Sure, I had been on this many times and the fact that I am a dumb human, I told her to quit her complaining. I ignored the common mushing belief, ‘When in doubt, trust your dogs.’ I kept making turns, and when I got to the bottom of the steep decline in the fresh powder the ice shelf gave way, and I fell about three feet into the shallow waters of the river! I looked at Tuk, and with wet feet I shook my head with embarrassment… I could only imagine what she was thinking! Needless to say, I trusted my dog from there on out!
Then there was the time Tuk and I introduced Shorty to Mount Washington. We summited the mountain on skis and started our decent. Now Shorty might look like a mountain dog with all of his fur, but to be honest, this dog does not like to move more than the daily requirements of eating and relieving himself on the nearest tree stump. But he did make the summit! On our ski down, we traversed the upper snowfields and started our decent of the famous Tuckerman’s Headwall. This route has huge cliffs and extremely steep chutes down to the ravine floor. Tuk and I have navigated this many times and we’re fully confident in our abilities. We thought Shorty would just follow along. Well, it turns out that the great white Bumble (aka Shorty) does not like steep! I decided to traverse above the headwall's band of cliffs and take the route known as the Chute. Tuk, as usual was right by my side, but it turned out Shorty had an unknown fear of heights! He must have panicked and ran back to the section of the Ravine known as ‘the lip.’ This is my normal route down, but it was spring, and the lip was breaking up and exposing giant crevasses. This was an extremely hazardous route, and I was now hundreds of yards away from Shorty who decided to take this way down! Tuk and I watched in horror as the steepness of the headwall had caused Shorty to begin to slide. He was heading directly for the first crevasse! Some how, his giant arctic dog paws found grip and he stopped just before the opening… He then tip toed around and ended up jumping over the next giant crevasse! I seriously thought I was about to lose the great white Shorty that day, as Tuk and I watched helpless. After I realized he was safe, I looked at Tuk and said, “Lets get him out of here!” We headed down the Chute which starts at a near sixty degree pitch. We charged it to the floor of the ravine with a few turns, and Tuk, as usual straight lined the whole thing with a full sprint…. I wish I had her legs!
I could go on and on about how much Mount Washington means to me and all the mountains of New England’s North Country. That was why this summer’s hike up Mount Washington was so meaningful. Being in Alaska for the past few years, I have really missed climbing up in these peaks with my best little girl and all the adventures we have had. Now a days, Tuk is starting to grow older. She is obviously slowing down but still at almost eleven years old she summited with no problem, and made it down like a champ! I don’t know if we’ll make it back to New Hampshire again after this summer, but now I can say I got at least one last climb up Mount Washington with the dog who has lead me off the beaten path to where I am today! I can’t be happy enough for this opportunity. As I finish writing this, my little girl lays by my side while I drink my morning coffee. I couldn’t tell you exactly what dogs feel for emotion, but moments like this where I sit in my chair writing in the early morning light with Tuk by my side… Well, they are the memories I will cherish forever. I guess I will always remember the time she chased a bull moose right at me in a ten below January day in New Hampshire too!