ROCK STARS AND DOG SHIT
The sled-dog pups writhe and nose through the cage's mesh. "Go on," Kate Alvo, a novice guide, urges. "Climb in. Hold one."
The pen reeks powerfully of pee-steeped snow and doggy straw. But the youngsters are irresistible and I don't even properly like canines. But they spread around us, staked near huts: howling, hundreds-strong.
I let the litter sniff my hand first, always good manners with strange animals, then loft a pup into the air. His body still churns to a jazz beat. "Thumpa, whump, slap," drums the tail. My fatigue sloughs away and I remember a minor insight of last week.
Tired, embittered by the freelance slog, I'd skived off into the afternoon sunshine. As I darted from errand to errand what a rebel am I! a man was coaxing a puppy across 20th Street in Seattle. "Go," he cheered, as the walk-light flashed. The little creature steamed off ... completely in the wrong direction.
"Well, she got part of it right," I noted. "The goodwill is there."
"She's nothing but goodwill," he beamed. (Probably because man's best friend is ginormous babe-magnet or so IB reported, while dog-sitting for his ex-wife. Case in point: would I normally strike up a conversation on Market Avenue? Hell no. Chill Seattle earns its name.).
"Oh," I thought. "Now that's the point, really. Caring for small, enthusiastic wriggling things. Not the deathless prose of travel blogs or yet another guidebook to Rome." (Or chatting up cute girls in Ballard, however fun, presumably.)
Funny, really, how even the ominous tick of a biological clock is preferable to work.
The sled's almost entirely wood, unlike the plastic-coated ash-runners and canvas sling I drove in Colorado. We glide along well-worn trails, weaving among trees, hills and lakes. The guide, Simon Jegou, tells me about his grief losing pups and his hassles crossing the border post-9-11 to follow his favorite band. "I am such a Phish-head," he announces.
I'd guess Simon's wages as a sled guide and summer trail worker don't cover his expenses. But he obviously loves this work, despite all the close-up cameos of husky-mix bottoms and droppings.
"A poo!" he declares in cheerful French-tinged English, every time a dog crouch-hops and defecates. I shield my face with the Patagucci mittens. We're barreling towards said poo what a horrible graphic term at maybe 10 miles an hour. My mouth is about 30 inches above the trail. I envision this horrible pancake-flip slapstick sequence...
Why did no one warn me about such occupational hazards?
I know, I know: my job is ranked #2 in the world on some surveys, right behind rock stars'. But riding in a snowy chute of dog excretions? Not even I can manage a glamorous spin on that one.
A student in New Zealand recently asked if my frank blog might not "erode the travel writing mystique".
"Good" was all I could reply. I would never discourage someone from their dreams this career is among the finest, no doubt. Equally, I wouldn't blow smoke about its downsides: long hours, low pay, hustling for gigs, loneliness, uncertain prospects, icy hotel rooms and, well, dog shit.