(HOST) The end of Election 2008 hit everyone a little bit differently. For various reasons, it took Commentator Philip Baruth back to a moment when he was twelve years old, running his first sled-dog race.
(BARUTH) When I was a kid, my family raised Siberian huskies, and we raced them with a local sled dog club. I started my own racing career as a basket boy, riding in the basket of my mother’s sled on training days – turning the dogs at the halfway point, and untangling them if they were suddenly at one another’s throats.
But by the time I turned twelve, I finally had a team of my own. My five were the misfits, but I trained with them all through the fall, and the night before my first race, I was out of my mind with excitement. I asked my mother what seemed like a logical question: how many trophies do they hand out for each race? Three? Or four?
My mother shot me a look. I had to face the facts, she said: it was my first race, and almost everyone running would be older and more experienced. Just finishing a ten-mile run would be an achievement.
It was fine advice, and I took it like any twelve-year-old boy: I went into a snit, and refused to speak more than a syllable at a time all the way to the race venue the next morning.
But as my team lsft the starting line, everything else faded away; and when the dogs finally slowed after their initial burst, I got off the runners and began to run behind the sled as fast as I could. Now, typically, a sled dog racer runs behind the sled when the dogs bog down, and rides the runners when the speed picks up again. In between, drivers pump the sled like a scooter. But as far as I can remember I didn’t pump at all that day, and I only rode the runners on downhill slopes when I had no choice. Otherwise I ran full-tilt, as hard as I could in my big boots, for most of that ten miles. Eventually I ran past another team, and then another, and then another. And before I knew it, I rounded a corner and came into sight of Heartbreak Hill, the long upward climb to the finish. I can’t say I ran that last hill, but I slogged it out behind the sled, with the dogs dragging me up to the finish line.
And then I did the single most publicly embarrassing thing I’ve ever done in my entire life: I crossed the finish line, handed my team off to a total stranger, collapsed to my knees and – that’s right – vomited in the snowbank.
My mother finally helped me back to the cab of our truck, before unharnessing my dogs, and then harnessing her own. Because it was time for her own race; but she made sure I was all right first, and then she left me there in the cab.
About 20 minutes later, someone rapped on the window. It was a race official, come to tell me that I’d won my class by 28 seconds. "And I just wanted to be the first to shake your paw," the official said.
I sat there in the cold cab of the truck, feeling this very particular mix of deep, deep exhaustion and elation and vindication. It was a peculiar feeling I was never to feel again, until Election Night 2008, when a campaign longer and tougher than any in recent history finally came to a close.
Because even though I watched the final moments of this race in a hotel ballroom surrounded by hundreds of cheering people, I felt somehow like I was twelve again, back in the cab of our old dog truck, parked out in the middle of a frozen field somewhere, fingers numb, but with the sudden amazing sense that the rest of my life was just beginning.