But resting early, anticipating your dogs’ needs, does something even more important than that: It builds trust. A sled dog learns that by the time she’s hungry, her musher has already prepared a meal; by the time she’s tired, she has a warm bed. If she’s cold, you have a coat or blanket for her; if she’s thirsty, you have water. And it’s this security, this trust, that lets her pour herself into the journey, give the trail everything she has without worrying about what comes next. You can’t make a sled dog run 100 miles. But if she knows you’ve got her back, she’ll run because she wants to, because she burns to, and she’ll bring you along for the ride.
What this means for people, for us, is that we can’t just plan to take care of ourselves later. We shouldn’t expect to catch up on sleep when we really crash, or to reach out to loved ones after we’re struck by loneliness. We should ask for support before we need it. We should support others before they ask. Because if you don’t know how far you’re going, you need to act like you’re going forever.
Planning for forever is essentially impossible, which can actually be freeing: It brings you back into the present. How long will this pandemic last? Right now, that’s irrelevant; what matters is eating a nourishing meal, telling someone you love them, walking your dog, getting enough sleep. What matters is that, to the degree you can, you make your own life sustainable every day.
Sled dogs can run farther, in a shorter time, than almost any other animal. But they only think as far ahead as they can see, hear and smell. They catch the scent of a deer; they see a curve in the trail. It is, in its way, that simple. If the team meets an unexpected challenge, if they come to a steep mountain or take shelter in a storm, they’re better off for their restraint. Because they’re healthy, content; they have what they need, and they have each other. There’s no stronger way to meet the unknown.
Blair Braverman is the author of “Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North.”