MUSH – Learning to Dogsled

MUSH – Learning to Dogsled
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It’s official. The first of the 12 bucket list adventures in the 12 Adventures film series, MUSH,  is complete and up there on Amazon.com for all to see.

How cool is that~

The thing about short films though is there’s not a lot of room to cram in all of the (many) cool moments and lessons learned or even the much needed how to’s so others can easily follow suit. That’s where these blogs come in. Here is where I can break down the where’s and how to’s.

THE WHAT

Dog sledding/Learn to Mush

THE WHERE

We decided on Bigfork, Montana because it was closer to home (San Diego, CA), which made it more affordable and less of a pain to get to. It also happens to be the state my beloved Pop was from and he passed away the year we tried to film this, so there’s a great sentiment attached to the location.

Things to love about Bigfork? It’s less touristy (yeah, so if you go there, you have to promise to be a good guest and not an obnoxious, demanding tourist, because they’re proud of their authenticity and want to stay small enough to keep it real).

The people are incredibly genuine and friendly, neighborly and the restaurants are chock full of fresh ingredients and picture perfect presentations and most with low to mid-range pricing.

THE WHY

Because there’s something magic about putting your life in the paws of 6 semi-wild dogs as they pull you along the snow driven, wintery landscape. Plus, I grew up in Seattle. We didn’t get a lot of snowy winters growing up, so that’s an added curiosity for me.

THE HOW

For details watch our film (well, yeah), but the gist of it is this; book it, show up in proper dress (they’ll guide you), follow instructions, then get onto or into the sled, hold on tight and prepare for the ride of your life. The adventure itself can take anywhere between 2 hours to overnight depending on how in-depth you want the experience to be.

THE WHO

There are a couple of different dog sledding outfits in the area and all with great reviews, but I was particularly drawn to Base Camp Bigfork.  I liked the voice of the owner (Mark Schurke) when I called. Talking to him just really put me at ease. I also really like that his dogs were unique to me. They weren’t the typical huskies one would associate with dog sledding.  They’re called Inuit and were near extinction in the 70’s, so he got points for helping to ensure their survival. the more we talked, the more I knew this was where I wanted to go. I also liked the fact that his outfit was year round. Not just dogs, but all kinds of outdoor adventures. Plus, he has one of the few outfits that lets you actually stand at the helm. Most only let you ride along in the sled while they mush. I assume for the risk of all that could go wrong and that’s cool, but my bucket list wish dream was to drive a team of sled dogs, not go for a ride in a sled, so Base Camp Bigork, it is~

THE CHALLENGES

Everyone has their obstacles.  For me, after 40-something cycles of chemo over the last few years, my body is in less than ideal shape. I’m overweight, got a gut hernia and my joints ache (which make bending a problem) and I have really limited flexibility all around (especially in my neck). My brain doesn’t learn new things very well either, which can be dangerous when attempting adventures where you need to remember when to pull a cord or to hold onto a safety bar, etc. Y’know, that kind of thing.

After several years of on again, off again treatment and a pretty big loss of income I’m also well, broke-ish.  I can afford to live simply as I chip away at the pile of debt incurred, but pocket rich holidays are a thing of the past for the foreseeable future (never give up, never surrender).  These adventures need to come in at under 3K per year in order to keep my head above water and most people are in the same boat I’ve found, so I’m all the happier to be able to shed light on deals I’ve found, making these once in a lifetime experiences actually do-able in the here and now.

THE COSTS

What surprised me the most about this adventure was that getting there was the most expensive part. I’m still baffled by this, but winter is considered their low season for tourism in Bigfork, so prices are way below market, e.g. hotel rooms for under $100/night and a solid 3 hour Mushing experience for less than $200 per person. They’re hopping busy in the summers because of their gorgeous lake and the activities that go with it, but it’s yet to catch on that this place is a winter wonderland on par with the likes (cooler/better than, I’d say) Whistler BC or Whitefish, MT.  Excellent restaurants, art n culture, excursions and they even have their own distillery.

The whole trip can easily be done for under a grande (depending on where you’re traveling from) and the season is from November to Mid March (depending on the weather).

GETTING THERE

There are two airports near Bigfork. Glacier International [FCA] in Kalispell (not to be confused with Kalispell city airport) is the closest and the next is Missoula International Airport [MSO] is just under 2 hours south.  Both have rental cars onsite and you’ll need one to get around unless you plan to just cab it there and stay put. If you do rent a car, trust me, go for the all wheel drive SUV. The last thing you want is to get stuck in the snow or spinning your wheels on that terrain. This is a once in a lifetime, let’s do it right.

WHERE TO STAY

Trip Advisor will tell you, there are lots of charming places to stay, but I’d been eyeing this one place in particular for a couple years prior, ever since my sister and I thought up the idea of a road trip back to our Pop’s home town of Havre, MT. We have a semi-annual tradition of jumping in a lake and Bigfork has a great, big one, so it’s been on my radar.  There are several good options in the area. Marina Cay Resort was the place we chose to stay and it didn’t disappoint.  It sits right on the lake, practically guarantees a wild deer encounter, has a laid back bar and restaurant with an inventive menu and is owned/staffed by some of the most down to earth, coolest people you’ll ever meet. And their rates are great. I’m still shaking my head over how reasonable it all was (in the end they opted to become sponsors (they so rock) of the film, but we’d chosen Marina Cay long before and can’t wait to go back).

WHERE TO DINE

Okay, I know this isn’t dining per-say, but in town near the grocers they have a Dairy Queen and I haven’t been to one since I was young, so a double dipped soft cone just had to happen. For finer dining, there are so many really good restaurants to choose from though. Here’s where I ate and all of ’em were stellar:

Marina Cay Resort | Raven Pub | Grill 459 | When in Rome | Saketome Sushi

From start to finish this was an amazing adventure. Not just the mushing, but the people I met were just plain beautiful inside and out. I fell in love with the country…

LAST BIT

If you haven’t yet, go watch the film (click on your area amazon link below), then start planning it today. It’s never too early to plan for it. And when you book your dog sledding adventure with Base Camp Bigfork and your stay at Marina Cay, be sure to tell ’em Ali from 12 Adventures says hi and, (sniff) and I hope to see ’em one day again soon~

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A Cowboy, 2 Angels and a Fortune Cookie

A Cowboy, 2 Angels and a Fortune Cookie
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Pops MugBack home, at my desk with a (very big) coffee mug that belonged to my Pop and a fortune cookie one of my best friends left for me to find when I arrived home last night. A writer’s inspiration.

Over the past couple of weeks I let the series’ blazing campaign trail grow a bit cold and for reasoning I wasn’t completely aware of until now. There is always a point when you’re going after something new; a job, career, skill, language, big holiday, whatever,  where you start to question the wisdom of your decision, your ability to succeed and whether those you hoped would be are really on board or just being polite, so don’t push it.  There are also external “signs” that make you wonder yourself if you should put down the baton, shuddup and sit quietly in the corner.

Why do we do this to ourselves and how do we stop doing these things that stunt us, hold us back?  Good question and I’m working on the answer, but this I’m sure of, I must break through this barrier myself if I expect any of you to follow along with me on 12 adventures. More so, to take the leap yourselves into your own bucket list of 12 adventures.

I had a pivotal conversation with one of my brothers about this while I was home, in Seattle.  What I got from it (besides learning I do NOT like the smell of single malt scotch) is that we humans are highly receptive creatures.  If enough people transmit the message they don’t believe we can, should or worse, are silent in response to our search for affirmation, we will be inclined to step back or stay in a holding pattern until the momentum dissipates and the opportunity passes.  Sad.  Our lives here are so brief.  Too brief not to make the most of them.  I made case in points of people with less ability who are doing what they want.  I myself am a case in point to a certain degree.  I may have yet to be wildly successful in my endeavors, but I am a scrapper and I do somehow by hook or by crook, finish what I set out to do.

Which brings us to the question, “Who’s holding us back?” The first thought might be, “All those people around us who tell us we can’t or shouldn’t.”  Maybe. Humor me for a sec and Thomas-Edison---Giving-upgo look at a light bulb. Pass by a lamp and peer in or pick one up from the cupboard so it’s fresh in your mind. Got it? Right then, listen up. When he was a child, teachers told Edison he was “too stupid to learn anything” (seriously, who the fk says that to a kid??). He was fired from his first couple jobs for not being productive enough and he made over 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. Now, look around you. They’re everywhere. They brighten our nights, light up our Christmas trees and the roads guiding us safely to our destinations.  If Thomas Edison had listened to those voices outside of his head, how very dark and dreary our lives might be… Every time you see a light bulb think Thomas Edison and ask yourself which voice he listened to? Unless someone can prove you would cause irreparable damage to yourself or others by following your dream then full steam ahead I say~

Gina-Wilbanks-Swanson
Gina Wilbanks Swanson

Sometimes what holds us back feels completely beyond our control. It can be hard to celebrate and take greater chances in life when those you love or admire stop living. My father’s passing earlier this fall left a gaping hole to be sure.  He was my biggest fan and quick to encourage my far fetched ideas. For the past few years, being a Stage IV cancer fighter has been the fuel I use to drive home the message, “life is short, so go for the life you want now,” but it’s hard to say that when other Stage IV fighters, ones I know, don’t survive.  It’s heartbreaking. It fcks with your head and brings a twinge of shame for not only surviving, but boldly marching on, when what it should do is spur you on to push yourself even further, reach even higher.  Gina Wilbanks Swanson and Sandra Sundari Greer are the names of these two, new angels.  Gina, I knew from high school and Sandra, from my theatre days in my 20’s. Both bright souls, deserving of long and illustrious lives. Both died recently from the effects of Stage IV cancer.

When someone we care about passes away, how do we honor their memory?  Do we sit quietly or do we make bold gestures?  Everyone is different, but for me, I want to pick up their batons and take them with me to places unknown, on a big adventure maybe we all three dreamed of.  And this is a small gesture I know, but their names will go next to my beloved Mom and Pop’s, in the dedication credits of the premier episode of 12 Adventures.  That is my way of honoring their bright and inspirational spirits.

Sandra Sundari Greer
Sandra Sundari Greer

To those who knew them and are asking yourselves the same question, first I’d say to check in on their family and offer your support.  Whether it’s cash or a casserole, a whole lot of people offering what little they can makes a mountain of difference to the ones receiving. The other, brilliant way you can pay tribute (and I’m sure Gina and Sandra would agree) is don’t just hate cancer, fight back.  Fight back by never allowing it to ever get past the initial (highly treatable) Stage 1, by getting screened now (as in today, pick up the phone, make the appointment and then show up for it).  If they say it’ll cost you $300 (or more) out of pocket, say “No problem.” You have friends whose cancer treatment “out of pocket” costs are well over $30,000 and you can think of a hellova lot better things to spend 30k on. If your doctor asks if there is a history of cancer in your family say, “Yes” because even if you don’t have actual proof of it, the chances are 1 in 2 (if not greater) there is history of cancer in your family and it doesn’t matter what kind (did you know there are over 100 types?).  My mom had endometrial cancer, one cousin had breast cancer, another pancreatic and mine was colon. Often, back in the old days, no one really talked about cancer. I only found out after four years into treatment (and a bit of ancestral digging – thanks cousin Laine, xo) that my grandfather on my mother’s side died of colon cancer (Ahaaaa).

Now we know, knowledge and preventive measures are the best defense.  Speaking of knowledge, did you know that colon cancer is 100% preventable?  It starts as a little polyp in your colon and slowly grows (taking up to ten years) before spreading to other areas of the body.  So, if I had been screened by the age of 35 (the recommended 10 years before anyone in your family was diagnosed), I wouldn’t have had to go through five years of nearly 50 chemo/radiation sessions or these now life affirming PET scans every 90 days.  I think about how much more life affirming it would be if I could convince everyone (ok, in the world would be a bit much to expect, so let’s say) who is friends with Sandra, Gina and myself on Facebook to take action and get screened right now and then every year. That’s at least 1,200 lives wouldn’t be lost to cancer. I think I would like that on my gravestone (when I die from too much good living), “She convinced over 1,200 people to not risk death by cancer.”

How do I know this will happen, that I’ll convince that many people and more to get screened? How do I know my big idea for the 12 Adventures series will come to fruition?  Simple.  Because the fortune cookie (I kid you not) just told me so 😉

12 adventures web series

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