I had the honor of meeting my hero of sport this weekend, Jeff King.
Now Jeff King is not a household name. But for me it was the equivilent of a baseball fan meeting Babe Ruth, a football fan meeting Joe Montana, a hockey fan meeting Johnny Orr or a basketball fan meeting Michael Jordan.
Jeff King has won the Iditarod sleddog race four times and will be going for his fifth time this year. He was in Park City at the International Pedigree Stage Stop Sleddog Race, where he was warming up to make a run at his fifth win at the Iditarod at the beginning of March.
I was able to talk with him, get a photo with him and of course I bought his new book Cold Hands, Warm Heart and had him sign it for me.
For an amateur musher like me it was quite a thrill. And the final leg of the IPSSSR at the Park City ice arena was great too, because it got my juices flowing about getting my dogs out and running them.
This hasn't been the greatest winter for me in terms of running my sled; other than around Christmas the snow in the valley has been weak, and some personal issues have taken me away from the routine I have held in the past couple of years. So Sunday, all pumped up, I took the dogs out.
This year I have had some major equipment malfunctions, along with trying to incorporate some new dogs I purchased last summer into the team. And as with every year, when you have a kennel, a death or two take their toll on both the physical operations and the mental state of a kennel too. The fact is after putting dogs out to pasture after many years of them giving their heart to you, you do finally lose them. It was a tough fall as we lost one of our first leaders, Mickey, to old age.
So Sunday I packed up tthe team and went up to Soldier Summit where the snow was flying. After some rigamarole incorporating some new equipment I recently purchased onto the sled, my small team of six Siberian Huskies were ready to roll (well, more aptly slide).
We took off from the truck on a good pace and they were happy to be out again after a two week hiatus.
We went about four miles and the snow was getting pretty deep so I decided to turn around. However my lead dog Ellie wanted to keep going straight. I put the snow hook in the ice packed ground, walked up to the front of the team to have a discussion with her. With my hand on the neckline between her and trail leader Poco, I calmly walked right and started to head them back the way we had come. About that time I stepped off the trail, and into waist deep snow. The line slipped out of my hand and they took off back toward the truck, probably thinking of the treat they would get as usual upon return. Yelling did no good.
I tried to run after them, but even in decent shape at 57 years old there was no chance to catch them on foot. For that matter I couldn't have done it 40 years ago either.
As I walked after them, it was like they were taunting me. I would reach the top of a hill and they would be waiting for me on the next one, milling around, sniffing each others rear ends. I would get within 20 feet of them and they would take off again. I could almost hear them laughing at me.
Finally a kind snowmobiler came along and gave me a ride and we caught up with them and I grabbed the sled with one arm and jumped off as they were still trekking along. Then they stopped to take a rest, almost right away. The jig was up; the boss was back.
We rode to the truck without further incident and they stopped and just stood without any movement while I unhooked them and put them on the picket line. But I could see in each of their eyes, for just a few minutes, they had been in charge.
What they don't realize is that they always really are.