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Weekend Musher Finds Dogs Keep Her Hanging On


We've been talking with people about their hobbies. It's a reminder that a person's professional life is not the full picture. We call the series "Alter Egos." And today, we hear from Julia Bayly of Fort Kent, Maine. She lives on a farm about a quarter-mile from the Canadian border, and she works as a reporter for the Bangor Daily News. But that is just the day job. Her passion is dog-sledding. She has 10 dogs. And when we spoke with her, she set us straight about one of the biggest myths about this sport.

So you don't actually say mush. What do you say to get the dogs going?

JULIA BAYLY: My typical command to get going is, OK, all right. And I had once stopped the team to talk to a friend of mine who was on the trail. He said something, and I agreed by saying, all right, and my dogs immediately took off.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) I'm having this picture in my head, like, the moment of a screwball comedy when the sled takes off and you're barely hanging on.

BAYLY: I looked very much like Wile E. Coyote on the Acme rocket at that point.

INSKEEP: Wow. Are there other things that people don't quite get about what dog-mushing is?

BAYLY: You mean like why we do it?

INSKEEP: Well, maybe that'd be a good one, yeah.

BAYLY: Yeah. I mean, it's - what people usually see with dog-mushing is what we see, like, in the movies. If you're an actual musher that has a kennel of sled-dogs, maybe 10 percent of your time is spent out on the trail in wonderful, blissful, woodsy, snowy settings. And an inordinate amount of time is spent back in the yard feeding dogs and taking care of your dogs and, you know, a lot of very unglamorous but very rewarding parts of it.

INSKEEP: Which do not make the movies quite as easily.

BAYLY: Yeah, I've never seen anybody shovel poop in a movie, no.

INSKEEP: OK. How hard is it to learn?

BAYLY: It's tricky. The only rule you need to learn in mushing is never ever, ever, let go. Ever. Ever.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) Because the dogs might just keep right on going without you?

BAYLY: There is no might about it; the dogs will keep going.

INSKEEP: Is there kind of a metaphor for life in what you're telling us? Because you've just said you have to hang onto that sled. You have to hang on no matter what happens.

BAYLY: I would think so. It's also an amazing confidence-builder because by its nature, mushing is a very solitary thing. You're out there with the dogs, and if something does happen, it's not the dogs' fault; they're just doing their thing and you have to deal with it. And so far, I've been able to deal with everything that has happened.

INSKEEP: Does the act of dog-mushing help you get through other things in life?

BAYLY: Yes, without a doubt.

INSKEEP: Such as what?

BAYLY: Well, about six and a half years ago I lost my husband/best friend/soul mate to cancer. And he was a really big part of my mushing. He never stepped on the runners, but Patrick (ph) was my cheerleader; he supported me in this emotionally, morally. And he had this huge, gigantic garage that was his spot. And at the very end, before the morphine really kicked in, our last conversation happened to be about the dogs. And he kind of made a joke and said, well, you know, now you can finally turn the garage into your dog barn. And I said, oh, you know, sweetie, I think without you, I don't think I really want to stay in dogs. And he started to cry. He knew how important the dogs were to me.

So I stayed in dogs. And I will say for a good year, without those dogs, I don't know if I would've gotten out of bed in the morning because as low as I was feeling, as, you know, unhappy, as sad as I was, there are these creatures that were depending on me.

INSKEEP: Now, you mentioned that your husband at the end encouraged you to turn his garage into your dog barn. Did you do it?

BAYLY: No. I still think about doing it. No, I did something that made more sense - I got chickens and turned half of it into a chicken area.

INSKEEP: Chickens?

BAYLY: Yeah. And chickens and sled dogs do not mix, at least not with good results.

INSKEEP: Julia Bayly in northern Maine. Thank you very much.

BAYLY: See you on the trails.

INSKEEP: Got that image in your head of chickens pulling the sled? That's Julia Bayly, a reporter and dog-sledder from northern Maine. You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.