213. WHAT MAX THE IDITAROD SLED DOG TAUGHT ME ABOUT LIVING TO FIGHT ANOTHER DAY
Until recently, over half his teammates sacrificed themselves during each race. The rules have not changed, but the strategy has, and only a few dogs die now.
Many in the Freedom Movement, including people like RFK, the Breggins, and McCullough, are willing to work themselves to death. We know we are fighting a forever war and doubt we will live to the end. Many hustle more than 70 hours a week with no time off. This was my pattern until recently. I would crash and burn every month or so for a day or two.
The Iditarod is an 838-mile Alaskan dogsled race. Until recently, half of Max's teammates died during each race, and the teams sometimes finished with only five dogs out of the original fifteen. Here is Jack London's description of this from Call of the Wild (1903):
With the last remnant of his strength, [the sick dog] managed to stagger along behind till the [dog sled] made another stop, when he floundered past the sleds to his own, where he stood alongside [the lead dog]… He pleaded with his eyes to remain there. The driver was perplexed. His comrades talked of how a dog could break its heart through being denied the work that killed it and recalled instances they had known where dogs, too old for the toil or injured, had died because they were cut out of the traces. Also, they held it a mercy, since the dog was to die anyway, that he should die in the traces, heart-easy and content. So he was harnessed in again, and proudly he pulled as of old, though more than once he cried out involuntarily from the bite of his inward hurt. Several times he fell down and was dragged in the traces, and once the sled ran upon him so that he limped thereafter in one of his hind legs.
But he held out till camp was reached, when his driver made a place for him by the fire. Morning found him too weak to travel. At harness-up time he tried to crawl to his driver. By convulsive efforts he got on his feet, staggered, and fell. Then he wormed his way forward slowly toward where the harnesses were being put on his mates. He would advance his fore legs and drag up his body with a sort of hitching movement, when he would advance his fore legs and hitch ahead again for a few more inches. His strength left him, and the last his mates saw of him he lay gasping in the snow and yearning toward them. But they could hear him mournfully howling till they passed out of sight behind a belt of river timber.
Here the train was halted. The [driver] slowly retraced his steps to the camp they had left. The men ceased talking. A revolver-shot rang out. The man came back hurriedly. The whips snapped, the bells tinkled merrily, the sleds churned along the trail; but Buck knew, and every dog knew, what had taken place behind the belt of river trees.
A new Iditarod strategy evolved in the past few years—running for four hours and resting for four hours. Most doggies now live until the end, yet the winning times have been repeatedly smashed.
Running ourselves nearly to death makes us slower and less productive. But if we schedule time off each day, each week, and each year, we get more done overall and feel better. We need to listen to Max.
Jerri Nielsen says that she "believes in geographical cures."*
She signed up to spend the winter at the South Pole station when she needed to throw malaise and unhappiness out of her life. This is a commitment, for after the weather closes in, the people there cannot leave for many months. Dr. Nielsen diagnosed and treated her own breast cancer over the winter. This and other trials and adventures healed her wounds and made her stronger. You will not put this book down.
Travel works for me as well. Every trip I take, and every new place I visit, no matter how mundane, enhances my perspectives. Each time, my creativity is shot through a cannon of renewal, and my discouragement evaporates. I recently spent a month in the Caribbean and slept sixteen hours a day for two weeks. If you cannot go to other countries, even a few days on the road with your bros helps.
*Alcoholics Anonymous claims geographical cures do not work, but they face a different problem.
Melville wrote about geographical cures as well:
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me. (Moby Dick)
Rereading great writing or even your favorite fiction deepens and elevates your thoughts.
If you do not read (DFR), you might as well not be able to read. Here are examples of writing that helps me:
Sacred Games (2007) by Vikram Chandra
And I knew also that there was no victory in this world without another larger loss hiding inside it, that in our triumph we were already hunted by some disaster.
Sartaj was thinking about how uncanny an animal this life was, that he had to seize it and let go of it at the same time, that you had to enjoy but also plan and live every minute and die every moment. And what of disasters? suppose the cable broke the lift plummeted carrying it's load of men and women into the dark chasm below...
Only the enlightened ones knew what that story was. Only Guru-ji could shatter the prison of time, and look directly into the blazing confusion of creation. 'Guru-ji, it is good of you to tell me that,' I said. 'I thought I had been defeated.' 'You are not defeated,' he said. 'Have faith, and do your work.'
Meditations, Aurelius (AD 171)
Stop fantasizing. cut the strings of desire that keep you dancing like a puppett. draw a circle around the present moment. recognize what is happening. dissect ... everything. ponder your final hour. leave the wrong with the person who did it.
Feeling the gods headwind beating on our backs, we pull harder on the oars and make no complaint.
My student days are over... nevertheless you can still learn to check your arrogance, learn to rise above pleasure and pain, learn to ignore flattery, and learn not to be upset with the gauche and ungrateful.
Have before you at all times the icon of an ancient who practiced virtue.
When you are overwrought with anger or impatience, think how fleeting this life is and how soon you and your vexations will be laid out in the grave.
Plainly no situation is better suited for the practice of philosophy than the one you are now in.
In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
Thick Face Black Heart (1992) by Chin Ning Chu
I am neither self-righteous nor too eager to please, nor am I seeking approval. In action, I am swift, competent, and dispassionate. In yielding, I am unabashed and have no concern for the judgment of others. In conquering, I am effective and can be ruthless. In action and nonaction I am changeless. I adopt whatever manner the situation calls for without regard for what others think of me.
The Once and Future King (1958) by T. H. White.
There is a thing called knowledge of the world, which people do not have until they are middle-aged. It is something which cannot be taught to younger people, because it is not logical and does not obey laws which are constant. It has no rules. Only, in the long years which bring women to the middle of life, a sense of balance develops…when she is beginning to hate her used body, she suddenly finds that she can do it. She can go on living.
Annapurna (1958) Maurice Herzog
(After the survival story, this is the book's last line.) There are other Annapurnas in the lives of men.
The Count of Monte Cristo (1846) Alexandre Dumas
Life is a storm. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes.
Rabbit Run (1960) John Updike
If you have the guts to be yourself, other people will pay your price.
The Education of a Speculator (1997) Victor Neiderhoffer
(After financial losses.) I have my resolve and there are many things that I can do.
Feeding the Rat (1988) Al Alvarez
The truth is I like an unforgiving climate where if you make mistakes you suffer for it. That's what turns me on.... but every year you need to flush out your system and do a bit of suffering. it does you a power of good. I think it's because there is always a question mark about how you would perform. You have an idea of yourself and... if you just toodle along you can think you're a pretty slick bloke until things go wrong... that's why I like feeding the rat. Its a sort of annual check up... the rat is you really. It's the other you and its being fed by the you that you think you are, and they are often very different people, but when they come close to each other, thats smashing, that is. Then the rat's had a good meal and you come away feeling terrific. It's a fairly rare thing but you have to keep feeding the brute just for your own peace of mind, and even if you blow it at least there wouldn't be that great unknown. But to snuff it without knowing who you are and what you are would be a shame.
The enemy is within the gates; it is with our own luxury, our own folly, our own criminality that we have to contend.
Nothing is so strongly fortified that it cannot be taken with money.
To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to remain always a child.
Every man can tell how many goats or sheep he possesses, but not how many friends.
What is permissible is not always honorable.
Forget to exercise at your peril.
Inactivity is the path to chronic pain, depression, and heart disease.
Prescription and street drugs—even “legal” ones—are hard on your focus, body, and optimism.
Never neglect your soundtrack.
You have music you care about. It is cheap and at your fingertips. Rediscover it all, even your friends from your preteen years. It will soothe you and help you cry if you need it. YouTube has various relaxing music that you should play continuously on your TV rather than watching a random procession of idiot spokespeople for the propaganda machine.
Finally, if you have spiritual practices,
They are a wondrous shield.
Max has passed, but if he could, he would tell you to stay focussed on the trail just ahead of your paws.
Stay cool, appreciate your gifts and advantages, and do your work. Ignore the Great Psych Out and never believe predictions. You have your resolve, and there are many things that you can do.
Thanks to Michel Stawicki for his guidance when my life was out of control.
N.B. A Pit Bull has a bite force of 235 pounds per square inch (psi) which is more than a human bite force of 162 psi. But Cane Corsos like Tucker are far stronger with a bite force of 700 psi, which is higher than that of a lion!
Your friend Tilly is a ding-a-ling, but you still spend time with her. Much of my writing, including this post, is written down to a seventh-grade level. She will get it, so ask her if she will read a few if you subscribe her.