Wisconsin Musher Takes Sled Dog Lessons To Cope With Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed people into uncharted territory. No one knows how long families and friends will have to stay apart or when the crisis will end. A Wisconsin musher says people living through the pandemic can learn from his time sledding with his dogs.

“You have to rest first. You have to build in a rest that the dogs don’t even want because they’re ready to go on,” Braverman said. “Maybe you’re going to run 30 miles and you, as a musher, decide, ‘OK, we’re going to camp here. There is a beautiful river. There is water. I’m going to light a fire. Dogs think it’s so boring, because they still have energy. They are not tired yet! They want to continue, and they don’t really have a choice. This is where I come in as a musher.

Braverman said the mushers cooked the dogs’ meals, got out the straw and blankets, took off the dogs’ booties and put on their coats so they could rest. Mushers meet the needs of dogs. Braverman said it can be difficult for humans to accept that food and rest are necessary. She said sometimes food and rest is all a person can handle, and it looks different for different people.

“If you’re really busy and exhausted, maybe that means you get a plate of frozen lasagna and put it in the oven, and it’s still a hot meal,” Braverman said. “Maybe that means you like to cook and are going to create something elaborate from scratch.”

Braverman encourages people to do what they need to be OK in the moment, rather than pushing too hard for weeks or months. She said she wasn’t shy about giving her dogs a break and tried to give herself grace when she got sick or felt exhausted. Dogs also teach him confidence.

“They understand the weather differently than I do. They understand the texture of snow. They hear things. It’s all instincts that I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like, so I kind of have to let the dogs translate it.” for me,” Braverman said. “I pay attention to where they look, where they smell, their body language, their posture, the amount of energy that comes from them. And I trust them. I trust them to be honest in the sense that they tell me what they have, they give me what they have, and I do the same to them.

Sign up for daily news!

Stay informed with WPR’s email newsletter.

Braverman and her husband, Quince Mountain, have a dog sledding team called Braver Mountain Mushing in northern Wisconsin. Braverman led the Iditarod in Alaska in 2019; her husband ran it in 2020. They also ran hundreds of miles closer to home.

She said dogs have some context for big races, like crowds watching, but they generally don’t know how far they’ll go when they start a race. Braverman said it felt like how people can’t predict when the pandemic will be under control.

“For me, the trick has been to go from thinking that I can plan things, that’s what will prepare me, and instead trying to think that if I take care of myself, if I’m prepared sort of basic means, so I don’t have to know what’s going to happen because I trust my future self to be able to handle it when it happens,” Braverman said.

Braverman said she tries not to worry about the future because worrying doesn’t change what’s going on. She encourages people not to feel guilty about resting when they need to recharge, and she added that people still have the opportunity to take care of themselves this far into the pandemic.

“I think it’s never too late right now because we don’t know how long this is going to be. It comes down to that,” Braverman said. “But it’s never too late to take care of your basic needs. If you haven’t rested a lot, you can start resting a bit more. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. “

Braverman said she found peace when it was too much by spending time with her dogs while they ran and played. She said she tries to find perspective by acknowledging that what matters is taking care of her dogs. Even when larger circumstances make things difficult, she said she can find happiness in an instant.

Bette C. Alvarado