It was their way of showing their will to go; their desire to work. They were 50, and yet only 14 would be taken for the first round. And they knew it very well! As soon as I put a foot in the kennel, a leash in my hand to bring them to the stake out, their barking redoubled in intensity, as if to say me « Pick me, pick me ». They knew the routine: the operation would repeat itself 13 more times. So, when they realized that time hadn’t yet come for them, they moderated themselves somewhat. The chosen one showed his joy: prancing on with impatience, then leaping in all directions, so much so that I found it difficult to attach the leash and release him from the chain. Once at the end of the rope, he pulled relentlessly (most of the time, I suspected him wanting to tear my arm off), through the kennel aisles to show to the rest of the team that this time, he won the lottery.
Unbeknownst, however, was that it wasn’t a coincidence deciding the ones who came today. The day before, in front of her training notebook, Marcelle carefully prepared the teams, keeping in mind the qualities of each, the affinities between them, and above all, watching that none of them lagged behind in terms of kilometres traveled. Meanwhile, I watched her closely; I endeavoured to understand why these combinations, and not others. Some of her dogs would only guide tourists’ tours, the others had already begun their preparation to run big sled races, this winter, or in future years: Marcelle has the dream, a little crazy perhaps, to run – in the same year – the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest, the two most legendary races of all time.
Once the whole team was staked out, a calm fell over the kennel. Those who remained in their niches retained their energy for the « drawing » of the second 16 kilometres. The selected ones reserved their strength for what awaited them. They remained quietly in their place, almost immobile, and were easy to manipulate to put on their harnesses. When all the dogs were “clothed,” we got closer to the two leaders to start the harnessing and the fuss resumed more beautifully around us. The excitement was at its height, each showing it in their own way: jumps, yelping, chicaning with their neighbors or even nibbling at the draft line. They were ready, there was nothing left but to give them the signal of departure, which Marcelle did with her « Readyyy. » The team, in an almost unreal silence, rushed to the trail.
This routine became their daily life from September, when the morning temperatures began to approach zero. The day after my arrival on September 19th, it was already -5°C on waking.
This routine had become mine, too; my days paraded to the rhythm of the team, a certain form of serenity growing deep inside me.