Outside, 3 AM
Stamping feet, swinging arms and axes,
trying to stay warm at minus 45.
beside a fire of little use against the chill.
In the distance, a light
at the end of a tunnel of snow burdened trees.
At first weak and wavering,
becoming stronger and closer.
Clouds of vapour and puffs of fine snow,
the silhouettes of ears and moving feet.
Fourteen dogs wearing coats,
red in the firelight, eyes glowing
in the beam of my headlamp.
Silently, swiftly, gliding and sliding towards me,
a massive sled, a frost encrusted figure,
eyes peering from a circle of fur and ice.
Beaver mitts to the elbows,
boots the size of small boats.
Before thoughts of self comfort
the musher’s dogs are bedded down,
each in it’s pod of straw.
Waiting for the warm kibble,
grasping the chance for rest.
Noses under tails, curled in compact discs.
Inside, 4 AM
Vats of boiling water thaw food for the dogs,
Steam coating the windows with thick frost,
the crackle and spit of wood stoves.
The murmur of quiet conversation.
“The jumble ice was not bad this year,”
“But the hills on the road were wicked,”
Comparing experiences of the trail.
The slurping of soup, water hissing on the hot stovetop.
Air rich and moist,
with smells of burnt lasagna, pots of corn chowder, and coffee,
wet wool and fur, feathers and leather.
The room festooned with sagging clotheslines,
drying balaclavas, sweaters, jackets, socks, and boots.
Tired sweaty bodies ranked on the floor
in sleeping bags of many colours.
A symphony of snores, groans, moans, and farts.
Grabbing a couple hours rest.
And for me, another cup of coffee to prop my sagging eyelids.
More dishes to wash, pots to refill, more lasagna into the oven.
Waiting for the next arrivals,
watching the time, checking the list.
Wake the right musher at the right time.
A night volunteering on the Yukon Quest.