Three. Two. One. Go!
My handlers release and roll away. The dogs vault forward. The sled catapults into motion. I'm off. Real mushers don't yell mush. They shout "go" or "hike." Laser knows "go," "gee," "haw" and "whoa."
Out of the starting chute, we plunge into dark spruce thickets. Snow muffles the noise of city traffic. The rhythmic thump of paws and the hiss of the runners are the only sounds I hear. Nearing a turn, I drag a heel to slow the sled. Laser looks back and glares. I lean into the turn, and around we go. The dogs lope happily on.
The trail twists and turns, now rising, now falling; then it sweeps around to the north and aims for the finish line.
My three veterans know it's almost over. They pick up the pace for a strong finish. We are moving at about 15 mph. Cold air numbs my face. Snow stings my eyes. Trees flash by. What a rush the open-class racers must feel when whizzing along at almost 25 mph behind a young, vigorous team. No wonder some mushers keep on mushing into their 80's.
Around a bend, the timing tower looms. Laser bounds over the finish line and into the arms of Hupp, who guides him to our hitching post. Our time for the three-mile race is 10 minutes, 33 seconds. Not first, not last.
Later, the hard-charging pros pick up their trophies and checks. Each makes a little speech and enjoys the sweet sound of applause. But the real reward lies out there on the trail, where four arthritic old males, one of them altogether too human, can still enjoy a romp in the snow.