Pride goes before … a fall. Proverbs 16:18
It was a different trip than usual. I usually wait until the last minute and then hurriedly throw things together and race to the airport, barely arriving in time to get on the airplane before they close the door. This time I had spent a week in preparation and was genuinely excited, but a little nervous to be going. This trip would begin the quest for my great adventure, which I had been looking forward to for several years. It had been four months since I had seen Doug Swingley and committed to train with him. I had attended a conference in Wilderness Medicine at the Big Sky Resort and driven to Lincoln MT, after the conference, to talk to him about training to run the Iditarod. I had wanted to have a meeting so that we could eyeball each other, to see if we could work together, before signing a contract. I had met with Tim Osmar, but that option was not going to work out. There were too many issues to resolve. Doug and his kennel were first class and I felt comfortable that he would teach me everything I needed to know about driving dogs and surviving the Iditarod.
I was flying on Northwest Airlines from Atlanta to Missoula by way of Minneapolis. Doug was going to pick me up at the airport and drive back to Lincoln. The first part of the trip was uneventful as I pulled my cap down over my eyes, leaned against the side of the plane and went to sleep. The second part of the trip was on a smaller Canadian Regional Jet with me seated in the very back, next to pleasant middle aged woman with hazel eyes and strawberry blond hair. I don’t usually strike up conversation, but she noticed that I was playing with my wedding ring and asked if it made me uncomfortable. To her I must have looked like a man who had just decided to go to the bar and was thinking about taking my wedding ring off and forgetting my vows. I told her, “No. I was glad to wear the wedding ring because I loved my wife. But I never did like having jewelry on my hands.” Then I related the story of how I had lost my first wedding ring at the beach when a giant wave knocked me down and rolled me over and over in the sand, almost drowning me. We chatted for a while and she asked me why I was coming to Montana. I told her that I was coming to learn how to run sled dogs. She was impressed and wanted to know more. I told her the story about how I had become interested after our trip to Alaska a few years before. She told me that she tried to take a trip every year with her brother. Her last trip had been hiking in the middle of nowhere and she had spent months exercising to prepare for it. When we landed, we exchanged e-mail addresses so that we could keep in touch.
I grabbed my stuff and got off the plane. As I was heading to baggage claim, one of the flight attendants came running after me to give me the fanny pack I had accidentally left on the plane. This was a blessing, because it contained my water bottle, GPS and headlamps. I threw my stuff into the back of Doug’s pickup and got in. One of the many household dogs was jumping back and forth over the seat and laid his head on my lap after I got in. For the next two hours I petted his head as we drove back to Lincoln. When we arrived, I put my stuff in the spare bedroom, which would be my home for the next two weeks. Doug and Melanie live in a log cabin that sits at the end of a long dirt road surrounded by forest and pastures. There was a door in the bedroom to an adjoining room that had been used as a greenhouse and a spa, which was not being used because of the extreme cold in the winter. This made my room cooler than the rest of the house.