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Hi. I’m Maery, a writer in the Twin Cities. Although I no longer have the body for extreme adventures, I love to bicycle, go horse trail riding and take hikes with my dogs.  

One thing you should know before you join me on my quest -- I don’t have a map. And I’ve been known to wander off course and stop to listen to birds and look for agates. I also have a few issues with fear and anxiety. In other words, I’m not a good role model or adventure guide. But in this time of uncertainty and polarization, I'm not sure anyone has a reliable map. We'll just figure it out as we go.



The second presentation I went to at Midwest Mountaineering’s Outdoor Adventure Expo, was called “Tails to Tales,” presented by Paul Schurke. You can read about the first presentation I went to about Travel and Adventure Writing in my post yesterday.

The description of the class said that Paul Schurke will “share his favorite dog stories and offer tips on crafting your own repertoire of animal tales.” I was looking forward to getting solid tips about how to write better stories about my dogs.

An hour later, I was feeling pretty disappointed as all I’d heard were stories about dogsledding, the history of canine evolvement, and a bit of history on how dogs have been involved in our lives throughout the ages.

But I didn’t realize just how much information I’d walked away with until I started complaining to Steve about the presentation and realized that I was telling him some pretty interesting stories that I’d learned about during the class. I’d actually gotten some great information. Even though I wasn’t told in five easy steps how to craft my own tales, I had learned a few things about what makes a story something memorable and worth repeating.

I heard the story of how sled dogs were used to bring serum from Nenana, Alaska to Nome, to treat an outbreak of diphtheria in January of 1925. This was about a 674 mile trip through very harsh conditions. To save time, a musher named Leonhard Seppala decided to cross the Norton Sound, an inlet of the Bering Sea, where ice often separated from shore and stranded travelers on ice floes. It was 85 degrees below zero, counting the wind chill, and a blizzard had turned visibility to zero. Seppala relied on Togo, his lead dog, to guide them across the ice. Seppala’s team traveled for about 261 miles – double the length that any other team went.

But what happened, as so often occurs in the media, is that the dog who crossed the final fifty-five miles of the trip and brought the serum into Nome, was turned into the hero. This dog’s name was Balto. He was turned into a Hollywood celebrity and you can visit his statue in Central Park. But things turned out okay for Togo. He was loved and cared for by Seppala and sired many pups. Several modern sled dog trainers trace their dogs back to Togo.

I also learned about Turnspit Dogs – dogs bred and used to run in a wheel that looks a lot like a hamster wheel, to turn a roasting spit in kitchen fireplaces. It’s as warped as it sounds, I’m afraid. These dogs were your basic kitchen appliances back in the day.

Paul Schurke owns and runs a place called Wintergreen in Ely, Minnesota that takes people out on dogsledding trips. He uses the Canadian Iniut dog for his teams. They are a smaller sled dog and not as fast as the Husky but they are a very strong pulling dog.

My favorite story that Schurke told was about how he ended up with a dog named Sam. Sam appeared to be a stray dog who was following Schurke’s team as they were crossing the Bering Strait (I think that’s the right place). When one of Schurke’s dogs hurt his paw and was removed from pulling the sled, this stray dog, who had been keeping a safe distance between himself and the dog sledders, gradually slipped into the injured dogs spot with the team. They eventually managed to build enough trust that they were able to harness Sam. They figure out that he must have been lost by another sled team as he was a highly trained and skilled dog that they eventually put into the lead dog position. There is information here about Paul Schurke’s dog sledding experiences with people such as Will Steger and Ann Bancroft.

Despite not being told the five tips for creating a good dog story, I wrote down what I think goes into a good dog tale:

  • Dog heroism – the part dogs play in saving people’s lives, such as in the 911 search and rescues
  • A dog’s normal everyday role in people’s lives – for example, how dogs teach us to live in the moment and start each day fresh and bug us to take them for walks so we get some exercise and fresh air
  • Services dogs stories – from dogs who help someone with a sight loss to dogs who help someone with OCD by stepping in to block them from compulsive behavior
  • Lessons dogs teach us about simplicity, not holding a grudge, forgiveness, and being able to overcome anything from a rough start in life to the challenges of aging.
  • Dog humor – because what dog is not a furry version of the best comedian you’ve ever seen?

Dogs just know how to live so much better than we do it seems. They are miracles in their own rite. It seems like a dog always comes into my life, displaying the very characteristics I most need at that time.

Every dog I’ve ever known has represented an era of change and growth for me that I’m not sure I would have come through quite the same way without them.


bikes in U of M bike rack

bikes in U of M bike rack

This last weekend, Midwest Mountaineering had an Outdoor Adventure Expo. There were sales inside the store (where it was an absolute zoo) and a tent setup where vendors of snow shoes, ski equipment and winter camping gear filled the space. There were also tourism and vacation agencies hawking their services: parks, trails and winter event information: groups trying to stop sulfide mining and other groups like MORC (Minnesota Off-road Cyclists).  Aaannnddd, there were one hour presentations on Saturday and Sunday that took place in a couple buildings on the U of M campus.

For the next few days, I’ll post about some of the presentations I went to. The first workshop I attended  was on “Travel and Adventure Writing” with Shelby Gonzales.

Shelby  had three writing techniques for us to try:

1. Story Matrix

First Shelby had us think of an activity we’ve done or a destination that we were to plug into the top of the matrix. In the left column were questions to answer. The questions help you think of a twist for your story as it brings out what was special about your experience that will make people want to read it. Below is my example.

First time mountain biking at ladies night at Hillside
Tried something new Went mountain biking
Failed at something Couldn’t go more than a few yards without putting a foot down
Unexpected experience Despite inexperience and fear, I also felt very excited, like this is something I can actually do. I was able to do things on the mountain bike I could never do on my townie bike.
Went someplace cool Hillside mountain biking trail has the reputation of being pretty tough and not a beginner course

2. Word Dash

This was a free-writing exercise that I’m pretty used to doing already. We were to take what we’d come up with in the Story Matrix and use the writing prompt Shelby provided.

The rules:

  • Hand doesn’t stop moving until timer dings
  • Stuck? Write the prompt again and again until something comes
  • Don’t think just write

The prompt we were given was: I remember…

I didn’t come up with anything worth repeating so let’s move on to the next exercise.

mountain biking

3. Memory Mining

We were to take an event and use one the following words to mine as much of what that word brought forth as we could. The words were:

  • Hear
  • Taste
  • Touch
  • Smell
  • Feel (emotion)
  • Expect
  • Meet

I chose to write about trail riding in Patagonia, Arizona and used the phrase “when I hear”.

  • When I hear the crunching of hooves on the stones and the grit  of a dry wash, I think of the old west. I look up at the dirt walls on the left and right and the rocky cliffs, wondering if anything wild, man or beast, is hiding up there waiting to pounce.
  • When I hear the shale dropping away from under my horse’s feet to the bottom of the hill below, I throw my trust to the horse, who knows how to navigate this world better than I do. (He’s my nieces horse and I’m trusting he’s as smart and talented as she is. )
  • When I hear my horse’s hooves slide and seek solid ground to dig into, I wonder whether we will soon be racing down the hill like “The Man from Snowy River”, minus the snow and the whip and the slow motion that made the movie scene a thrilling and beautiful thing instead of the scrambling panic in the imagination of a Minnesota flatland girl.

horses in Arizona

And here are a few things to remember if you are a photographer, writer or video movie maker:

Don’t let your goal of telling a story mean that you are buried in a notebook, computer, or camera. Don’t let telling a story blind you from living the story.  Be sure to spend as much time looking for real instead of through the lens of your creation.

Remember that writing or photography is a gift to people who haven’t experienced what you are experiencing. It is a way for you to let someone who may never get to do what you are doing know what it might be like if they were right there with you.

Happy Monday! May your week start off  with a whiz bang bundle of peace and happiness.

night skyline

night skylineThe post below began with this writing prompt, a few sentences taken from a short story called “The Raw Brunettes” by Lorraine Schein: “The Raw Brunettes sometimes run through the night, howling in their secret language at the moon. Or they ride on their black motorcycles, dark tresses flayed by the night air, skirts hitched up to show…”

I would have liked to do more with it, but short on time, and sticking to the spirit of just getting “it” down, here it is…

The Grungy Grays sometimes walk through the night, howling in their secret language at the moon. Or they ride on a hodge podge of mountain bikes, road bikes, and falling apart bikes, their graying hair flashing like sparks in the moonlight. They wear skirts hitched up over wild patterned leggings covering not so delicate thighs.

These legs were made for biking
And that’s just what they’ll do.
One of these days these legs are going to
Carry us to the moon.

They ride through the night, bike lights flashing, reminding them of the strobe lights they well remember from their bar hopping, dancing days. Their laughs are not ladylike titters but bellowing guffaws and nose snorts. Half a dozen bracelets, leather and metal, jangle from each woman’s arms. While knee high boots circle in a blur on sets of rotating pedals.

As they pass by houses, people look out to see what the commotion is all about. Vertical blinds are quickly drawn and behind them, people shake their heads. But once in awhile, another woman looks out, and dreams a grungy gray dream.

The pack of Grays move further into town. Not much of a town really. Because these aren’t city girls. Where they live, there are mostly bars with bad food that if eaten, guarantees a sleepless night. Not that they sleep much anyway, but they do try to stack the cards in their favor. Two Scoops is still open and with miles to go before they sleep, they deserve a cone filled with Coconut Almond Bliss, Dark Side of the Moon, or Carmel Chaos.

Rejuvenated, they head toward the river – ten women, forming a silhouette in the lights of the dam. They pause and listen to the sound of falling water and breathe in the combination of fish mixed with automobile exhaust, then continue on, spinning their gray-silver magic into the night.