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Driving: Accelerate, Mush, Stop, Whoa!

I drive dogs, and I drive cars. It's all about risks, rage and rewards.

I drive dogs for a living. When it’s too hot for dogs to pull sleds, I drive a two-door convertible. Believe it or not, dogsleds and cars are similar. They abide by the three R’s of driving: risk, road rage and rewards. Just like life.

Both dogsleds and automobiles can be dangerous to the driver, passengers and bystanders. It’s easy to wrap an out-of-control team of 12 huskies around a tree—safety measures cannot be underestimated. Ditto for a speeding car.

What’s most important in both cases is being able to stop. I always tell my dogsledding tours, “If we cannot stop, we cannot go mushing.” The most important part of a sled dog team is your brakes. Without them, you may end up someplace totally unexpected, like in the ocean. That’s because the dogs are genetically predisposed to run. They love mushing so much they will not stop until they hurt themselves or drop from heat exhaustion. Same with driving a vehicle. I don’t go anywhere when the roads are icy and dangerous because the ability to stop—or at least slow down­—is the best way to manage risks, especially around corners.

Dogsleds flip. Cars flip. Everything flips around corners taken too fast. Just like life.

Two months ago I was driving on a country road and going too slow for the driver of a little black sports car. Even at 50 mph, he remained two inches behind me. It frightened me and made me angry. I had to work on controlling my attitude like I do when driving dogs. Dog teams always pick up on the musher’s tone. If I’m upset or uptight over a problem on the trail, they will be, too. With the sports car on my tail, I was relieved to reach the interstate, receiving the driver’s one-finger salute as he sped past.

But this wasn’t enough for him. He zoomed in front of me and slammed on his brakes. I actually kept control of my attitude as I swerved to avoid him, but unfortunately not of my car. I rolled over 2 1/2 times and ended up hanging by my seat belt. (Sports Car Man continued on his way, feeling guilty, I hope.) Miraculously, I crawled out of the wreck with nary a bruise nor one drop of blood. The accident could have been worse. I kept my head (physically), I believe, because I kept my temper in check. Just as I must when commanding my four-paw drive. Just as we all must in everyday life.

I often think about the rewards that both kinds of driving offer. I still love to drive a convertible with warm summer wind blowing through my hair, appreciating the lush green scenery. It’s almost as good as driving my sled dog team through a white winter wonderland with the cold wind blowing past my hat as I holler “gee” and “haw.” In both cases, I assess the risks, check the rage and revel in the rewards. Just like life.

Watch Linda’s dogs in action.

The AARP Bulletin’s "What I Really Know" column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and publish some of our favorites in print and online. Linda Lee Herdering is a reader from Accident, Md., and the owner of Husky Power Dogsledding tours.

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