Dog Sledding

My blog has been dead for a while. I have many inspirations, but at this point they are merely ramblings. With time, they will find themselves. Until then, I would like to share a trip my dad and I took a few years ago. I still think about it often (especially when it's hot). I highly recommend it to anyone who values the beauty of nature, peace & quite and working hard for their dinner. Here's our story:

We drove up to Ely, MN (near the US-CA boarder) in the winter. On the way to the outfitter's lodge, we passed the dog barracks. It was sort of like a farm: interesting smells, worn, odd noises and refreshingly basic. At first it was sort of sad, but I quickly realized that these dogs are built for the snow, love their homes, and are total dumbasses.

We were feeding and scooping poop within the first hour. It was good to get used to the dogs as well as spreading the manual labor around. There's a lot of fighting due to hierarchy on a sled team; it's a constant class struggle. Some dogs are fine with their roles; the dissatisfied are why everyone's teeth are filed down. Unlike the hybrid Iditarod dogs built for speed, these are Inuit freighter dogs that can pull serious loads and are tough as nails. They love to pull and know what their harness means. The harnesses are soaked in mace to deter them from anxiously biting through them. Although they wouldn't respond to their names, it was nice to know with whom you were working. The guides knew every one of the 30 dogs by sight, despite many being siblings and having very similar colors/markings.

Here's our first morning. 6-7 dogs per sled meant that we could bring anything we wanted - cast iron pots, augers, etc. It seemed like a covered wagon and a team of oxen. Travel wasn't very fast, but I felt we were as strong as a freight train. 1-2 people controlled and rode the sled while the rest cross country skied. It was nice to switch off mindless endurance for focus (map reading/land marking) and muscling the 1,000+ lb sled around.

We stopped at some beautiful sites - these cliffs were in Canada and had ancient pictographs. We had to tip the sleds over when we stopped, otherwise the dogs would run away with them. Ever so, they would pull them on their sides before they would realize that it was rest time. Eventually they would lie down. They love to pull.

Here's our last evening. Sometimes we would sleep on the ice and sometimes on land - didn't make any difference. Most of the time we didn't use the tents (bivy instead). The nice thing about winter camping is that there are no insects, you don't have to change your clothes, and eating lots of fat is encouraged. It's always interesting to see how quickly 8 strangers can form a bond in as little as a week. The dogs were always so excited that the mood of the trip wouldn't have been the same without them.

Props to Wintergreen. More photos, if you fancy.


Married to my Work

In preparation of getting married, I recently read an online article entitled "Why Nagging Doesn't Work." This photo is the main kitchenette (female kitchen?) in my office. Note the 7 nagging signs posted by the admin(s).

  • 3 signs confirm that "We do NOT have a maid service"
  • 3 instances of "Thank you" or "Please" followed by 2+ exclamation marks
  • 3 signs stating "YOU" as the root problem
  • 2 ultimatums
  • 1 frowny face
  • 1 passive-aggressive Dilbert comic
Per the article, all of the above bullet points are in violation of being a nag. This style of communication clearly isn't working.

In true marriage style, I will not submit to this one-sided barrage. Rather, I will slowly but surely stir the pot of crazy. I plan to hang 1 additional nagging sign (not a retort, but in step with these) each week until something of significance occurs (i.e. a meltdown). Please submit your ideas.


Is Intensity Bad?

After reading an Outside magazine article entitled 'The Age of Adventure', written around the subject of longevity, I question whether intensity, of any kind, is good. The article primarily discusses physical health and extending one's life expectancy. However, the end of the article touches on happiness. This was partly a plug for a new book, yet seems to round out the underlying message of "wellness" (a balance of physical and mental health).

The article was certainly written to entice readers to seek out the big picture of wellness (preferably by buying the new book). This new book seeks to conclude that "there's an inverse relationship between happiness and over-accomplishment." How well would this message go over with most non-lazy people? Although I mostly agree with it now, my initial reaction was quite the opposite.

I liken "over-accomplishment" to the physical intensity discussed in the magazine article. We seem to be ever-increasingly obsessed with intensity (physical and mental). Intensity comes in many forms and obscurities, affects us throughout many points of our lives, and is simultaneously scoffed at and praised. On one hand, I admire the hard work that is reflected by intensity. At the same time, the extreme-nature that intensity embodies seems to perpetuate towards the unproductive/diminishing returns/irrelevancy.

It goes back to the old adage "everything in moderation." Yet we go nuts for intensity. The following examples, on the surface, are a badge of accomplishment yet rarely lead to long-term fulfillment/happiness:
  • Ironman or Marathons
  • Pulling All-Nighters
  • Airline Mileage Status
Too much intensity causes burnout, which similar waking up after a bender, is not a positive habit. It seems to me that while the benefits of intensity are enjoyed in the short-term (pride; accomplishment), the detriments affect us in the long-term (bad knees; anxiety; lack of balance).


New Positions in 2011

While not part of my list of resolutions, I've made a few changes in 2011 that have given me a new outlook:

Change 1: I sleep on the floor. Since I will be moving and no longer need my current bed, I decided not to wait until moving day to get rid of it. Now, I use a camping pad wrapped in a wool blanket and a sheet. While the pending wifey will not go for it, I thought it was a good short-term (3 month) test.

Change 2: I work standing up. Due to a bad hip and general stagnation, I decided to convert 1/2 of my desk in to a "standing workstation." I've transformed the way I work simply - the obligatory manager approval, a screw driver and 20 minutes. So far, I see this as a long-term change.

  • Both force me to stretch. Climbing to my feet each morning is a rebirth of sorts. Working from my feet keeps me alert and semi-active.
  • Both give me a new physical perspective. Sleeping from the floor keeps me humble and a new angle on my room, like how one's pet may view things. Since I'm tall, my head is now above the cubicle walls so I feel less in my cubicle-contained world and feel more at the office.
  • Both have some hassles. Since my ear is at the ground when sleeping, there's more noise from the unit below and from roommate footsteps. Being above the cube wall, I inadvertently eavesdrop (good & bad) and get a lot of outside noise.
I'm not sure if I like these changes because they seem most logical with respect to our roots or because it's change for the sake of change. I think a lot of it has to do with what's generally accepted and then stepping back and wondering how we got to the norm we are at today. I recommend both, but beware that there is roughly a week break-in time for each.


Population Sustainability

The more I learn about sustainability* the more it's apparent that the common problem we face is ourselves. I know it's no groundbreaking discovery, but it seems imminent that the common denominator to fix all of our sustainability issues is to make our numbers more sustainable (aka population control).

Since this is a touchy subject and since people (generally) are not willing to consider this currently, I can only assume that our population will be naturally forced to a sustainable level within the next millennium. That's what happens when there are not enough resources to go around.

Thus, I see two options: 1) We can either be responsible and proactive by instituting population control; or 2) Try to tackle a multitude of problems, which even if all solved, will need to be continuously re-solved in perpetuity due to an ever-growing population. My point is that it's a fact of nature that if the resources are available, humans will proliferate to meet them. So we will be playing a constant game of catch-up while the net value of our resources aren't replenished fast enough.

Let the ethical debate begin. For the record, I don't see how allowing a shortened, suffering life is more ethical than not allowing a life in the first place. At the same time, it's an easy call for me since I'm grandfathered in.

*Environment (water, climate, biodiversity), Health (disease, famine), Social Change (urban living), Political (conflict), Energy