Duluth Women Model and Musher Amanda Vogel has spent over a decade living, working and playing with her sled dog team, and in that time has learned much more than just the logistics of racing. After several years of competing in the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, Amanda made the difficult decision to sit this year out as her team undergoes a transition. As she prepares to retire the sage leaders of her team and bring new puppies into her kennel, she reflects on the trials, tribulations and memories of life as a musher.
It’s always been all about the dogs.
Being a musher brings many things into a person’s life: amazing experiences, battles with mother nature, travel and interesting people. It also brings many challenges: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. I always say I’ve had the best of times and the worst of times behind my dogs. But the most important thing it brings into your life is your dogs.
If you are in this sport, you’ve loved many dogs.
I’ve kept a considerably small kennel for the distance of racing I’ve accomplished — up to 400 miles. I currently have 16 dogs in training and 5 puppies. As a musher, it’s always all about the dogs. You’ve been present and full of joy and wonder when your new leaders, teammates and their potentials were born. You’ve seen their first sled hook-ups and training runs, race starts and checkpoints, and even their last steps across the finish line. You’ve given them everything, even during the hard times when you feel you’ve little left to give, just as they have.
Currently, my team is in transition.
And it won’t be easy for any of us. There will be many things to adjust to as we’re finding our way. I have to prepare to retire the majority of my team while I introduce their younger replacements into the kennel and into the string.
I have to say goodbye to the team that drove me through a blizzard at -40 °F with 50 mph winds, when the trees were screaming so loud that the dogs started to scream back. I have to say goodbye to my leader, whose voice cut through those ferocious blizzard winds to the rest of the team, as if to say “pay the wind no mind, we have a job to do, focus up!” I have to say goodbye to the team who, when I was so tired after so many miles, fired like pistons of one engine whisking and winding silently through the wilderness up and down mountains in the dark of night, with the surreal glow of the Northern Lights above as our only guide.
You see, what my team and I have is trust.
I’ve cared for these dogs and allowed them to do what they love to do, and they know that. They’ve cared for me and allowed me to do what I love to do, and I undoubtedly know that. I’m looking forward to the future generations, but I’ll never forget the dogs who have brought the rest of us this far. As the younger dogs and I will be driving ahead, we’ll hopefully make the old dogs proud for what they’ve taught us. Living within the dog pack teaches us more than we could ever teach each other as mere humans.
Amanda and team on a training run through the Minnesota northwoods.