"We take to the breeze; we go as we please..."
Memphis enjoying a summer evening on the homestead...
And so another summer has come and gone at Flint Sky. As everything else in the world at the moment this one was different than most normal summers which are dominated long, slow days sunbathing in the slow stretch between working seasons and punctuated by weekend shows near and far as well as numerous social dog events and camping weekends.
However this year - still being in the 'set up' stage at our Homestead, revisiting our old plans and making news ones, of scouting locations for adventures and new training and all the while dealing with the complexities the world throws at us at this moment in time, this summer was both busier - and less involved than they usually are.
Nevertheless - we found our way through some beautiful warm, quite un-Scottish days of sun and very long days where the light never seemed to end. The heat was every bit as savage at times as we found it in the south of England. There was much give and take over the earlier months of this year.
There are many things to reminisce about this summer - and I will get to that in the follow up blog here recapping our summer months - but this entry was for a very particular and very important member of our team - our van - Thor.
I've been wanting to write a blog about Thor for a little while now. Ever since an experience we had earlier this year with a dodgy mechanic and being without him for several weeks, it's really hit home just what a beloved and important part of the team he really is.
Thor has been our biggest project outside the normal Homesteading required every summer (which incidentally involves an inordinate amount of mowing and weedeating - I've never experienced the level of growth anywhere quite as much as we do here! Flint Sky becomes a jungle in a mere week of negligence in the summer if we aren't careful...).
Dog Vans are a vital and absolutely intrinsic member of the pack - they make travel to all those destinations we need not only possible (happily carrying numerous dogs and people and all their kit into all sorts of terrain they were never meant for) but also make them so much more enjoyable. You can tell a lot about a musher from their dog van. Thor has been ours for 5 years now. He arrived on the scene (the third dog van at Flint Sky) as one of those emergency purchaces that turned out to be a godsend.
Dog Van Number 2 had just died coming back from the AMWA Salisbury fun weekend in August (I won't share the nickname we had for that one - it was far less flattering) and so we were stuck with no vehicle at all needing to find something immediately and - as always - without the funds we would have liked to have when upgrading our team transport. Thanks to some very helpful dog friends we were able to find and pick up Thor from London - at the time he was acting as someone's crash pad while they worked in the city - and he was not only a huge step up for us from Dog Van Number 2, but also was a blank canvas and had huge scope for making him just what we wanted.
He couldn't really have served us any better in the next few years of competing - and with custom dog crates so well designed and put in by Moonfrost Crates - we've been very happy with our set up.
However new adventures call for new designs, and this year we felt that the time had come to transition Thor from a van just for working events - to a van for adventuring. Our trips are going to be longer and involve different types of stays, and so many new adjustments were required to get him ready for this new chapter of Flint Sky.
Here in September we are still in the process of designing and putting our vision together - but the clarity is definitely beginning to show through and with the new workshop also being constructed on the Homestead - we are not far from getting to the finished product. In the days when we were predominantly going to races, shows and doing distance miles, the only really important thing was that the dogs were comfortable - and that we could fit all the kit in. A sizeable and important task which Thor handled with ease. We gradually made little changes over the years that made things a little easier or nicer - one year we ditched the rubber matting floor in exchange for real vinyl flooring, we added fans to all the crates, better lighting, hooks for hanging kit. But in essence, Thor was more our racing van than our adventuring van - and make no mistake, he was excellent at it.
We'd made so many little changes we were at the point two years ago of wondering if it was time for an upgrade from Thor as we knew we wanted to start taking a different kind of trip with the dogs - longer ones where we would all need to be comfortable in all different types of conditions, and with different levels of kit. So began our remodel and into the 3rd reincarnation of Thor's life with us. We decided he was too well loved, and too hard working to trade in for a newer model. So we started from the ground up.
When all is said and done - we hope to have a decent living space for us and the dogs - and we're really liking the way it's all coming together. There were so many elements which had to be included so that he can still function as a racing van for those days, and a camping van for others, but I think we are very close to hitting that balance.
Our most recent trip was a little jaunt out to the west coast of Scotland to try out the new living space, and hopefully figure out what things we had missed, which were superfluous and which we hadn't even thought of yet.
(We didn't even think of midge screens - how did we miss that??) but we were able to have a great little journey out with the dogs - practically stumbled on to the Jacobite Steam Train passing to Mallaig whilst walking Sawyer in a remote little corner of the coast, found one of the most beautifully positioned churches in the world, saw the blackest red stag I've ever seen wandering along in the village of Glenfinnan and sat on the coast with the dogs as long as we could manage before the midges brought us to near madness.
I've got dogs of different ages and different sizes with three very different personalities all
enjoying the trip we were able to take together. Even Tybalt has become a resident in Thor for some trips - including the last we took down south for the World Sled Dog Championships where he dutifully set up shop in his crate and watched the sled dog madness unfold for an entire weekend.
We ended the trip by stopping in the long, crystal-clear night of Rannoch Moor - hiking a chunk of the West Highland Way with the dogs under the milky way and neverending sea of almost black before us. Thor was - of course - waiting at the end, with new Tent Box ready, warm and inviting as we rested and had some food and made coffee in the darkness.
He's not finished yet - and our plans get a little grander by the day - but our adventures in the coming years are definitely going to have a new shine on them with the addition of our biggest team member.