05 November 2018

Pyramid Power

There are lots of different food pyramids. My personal pyramid, sanctioned by neither the USDA nor the USDAA, rockets skyward to a summit of chocolate peanut butter cup ice cream, hovering over layers of black bean burritos and artisan hard cider, especially the kind that’s been dry hopped with organic fruit. The firm foundation is a base of thin crust pizza and salad, featuring asparagus and caramelized onions. And sandwiches. This food pyramid is not to be confused with a food chain. The pyramid’s been carefully constructed as aspiring upwards starting from the bottom, where as the chain heads downwards. Great white sharks are at the top of the chain and their mission is to eat all us down below. Although we’re supposed to see the chain as not all together a negative thing, more circle of life, where life is actually pseudonym for death, as our guts end up decomposing in shark poop that fertilizes growing kelp which seagulls can carry ashore and is harvested for sushi wraps and toothpaste and so forth, which helps the world keep spinning around the sun.

There are plenty of warnings of pyramids and chains. Everybody always warned me about that food pyramid when I was young and could eat like a logger without gaining an ounce. Then I got older and got what they were talking about. For youngish agility people, the ones with all those colorful tights and thigh gaps of gazelle-like limbs, I am telling you now, it is not a lie. This food pyramid will undo your fast running, then you will probably have to re-pyramid yourself and the top is going to have broccoli with a row of hard boiled eggs beneath it. As for the chain? Predators with teeth sit up there in the top, and that's usually not the greatest place to be, below a beady eyed predator watching you from above.

Dog agility has it’s own pyramids and chains. Every subculture does. Traditional dog agility lore stacks the mythology like this. Winning a gold medal at the World Championships is the pinnacle. Congratulations to some of my friends who have won this, you pyramid toppers, you. Standing on the podium with a flag behind you in a crowded arena, complete with screaming fans and national anthems. Winners are the queen bees, the big hurrah. The conventional wisdom of the little voice inside my head tells me to strive for this. Even though I don’t compete in AKC events. Or have any interest in putting my dog into an airplane to fly across the sea. Or the ability to run those courses without an E.

But still. It’s the lore. It’s the pyramid. It’s the way things are done around here.

Sitting under the AWC are some of the other European vacation championships. They go by various acronyms. They too involve complicated airplane tickets and motel reservations in countries where English may not be spoken and vegetarian food may be sparse except for as a side on a plate of mutton, culminating in podiums and medals. They maybe don’t have quite the shiny reputation of the World Championships, but they still involve jet setting off to exotic locations to compete against the best of the best.

These are propped up by all the National Championships. Preface your own flavor with the initials of your choice. People zig zag across the country for these events, pack their dogs into motorhomes and again, the airplanes. There are shining trophies, fluffy ribbons the size of adult raccoons, and checks for winners. Exciting rounds leading up to the finals. Does everybody who goes really have a chance to win? I dunno. I’ve gone. I’ve never won. I have a glimmer, though, of maybe, just maybe, maybe in a someday.

The pyramid’s base? That holds all this up? The salad and healthy grains foundation? Perhaps Regionals, and then the local trials. Titling, tournamenting, the things you can do closer to your own zip code. Competitors interested in titles can compete to their heart’s delight, racking up the Qs for Top Ten points or fancy long titles, numerical MACHs and Metallics. Or maybe just enough to move up for the bigger events sitting on top for the people who don’t care about the titles. Something for everybody, with varied levels of competition to get there.

So just like how I enjoy a frothy dark beer and garlic fries way better than a bowl of raw greens, your candy coated pointy top might look different than mine. Thus we got our food chains. Where everybody thinks their pyramid is the magic power kind, and starts eating everybody else lower on the chains. Everybody on their own trips. You’re racking up local Qs to go to an Invitational? Good for you. I’m tired of gathering up local Qs so am going to a Regional? Bully for me. One of these things is better than the other? Your mileage may vary. The stronger the opinions grow as they move up the pyramid seems to make the biting down the chain a bit sharper.

We just tried moving up a rung on the agility pyramid. It wasn’t easy. I made a leap of faith, blew off work on the premise of Important Dog Agility Business, and packed up as much food from all levels of the pyramid as I could fit in my car. Ice, cooler, ice, cooler, shopping bag, zip loc bag, tupperware, repeat. Banksy and I headed down to a 3 day USDAA Regional at a fancy rodeo grounds on the outskirts of Phoenix, where the strip malls gave way to saguaro groves and dusty front yard furniture sales. The drive was twelve straight hours of dogs shoved in their crates, storing up their energy for nights in the cheapest motel I could find that wasn't located behind a bus station or adjacent to a strip joint. It felt like a grand, unique adventure. Although on the drive, I kept running into friends at rest stops in the desert who also had the same exact travel foods in their coolers, all of us listening intently to lengthy audio books over our car bluetooths, in the same exact cars. Grand, unique adventures all exactly the same for dog agility ladies.

The dog show had it’s ups and downs. Banksy’s magical superhero skill is to never hit a bar, and she took down 5 in the first few rounds. Our runs were just ok. I ate a freakish number of apples and peanut butter sandwiches and drank copious amounts of coffee. There is zero glamour in traveling to big events with dogs. Zero. Days in the cars, nights in a motel where the tv is bolted into the wall and semi trucks idle outside. More coffee and apples when you’re so done with coffee and apples. Dragging the stuff from the car to the motel room and back and forth again. Crabby dogs, dust, dry skin, falling into an unfamiliar bed at night and getting up at the crack of dark to do it all over again.

The big Grand Prix final was on Sunday. I walked the course and knew right away we weren’t winning anything, Banksy hates running dogwalks that shoot into a blank space or a wall, and this one did both those things. We ran, a pretty darn good run aside from the nothing wall dilemna, Banksy doesn’t like what she doesn’t like and that was it. No glamour, no applause, no podium, no medals or photoshoots with the desert wind blowing through my tangled up hair since conditioner never works in motel showers. No comments from the peanut gallery. Just me and my dog and an agony of defeat. Which didn’t sting too bad because, all in all, it was kind of a great run, if you happened to have blink when Banksy’s feet skipped the yellow on the down ramp of the dogwalk.

Back into the car we went, back across the desert with our coffee and apples and pb&j’s, back home to our people. Who scratched their heads when we had to admit that nope, we didn’t win anything.

“You didn’t win?”

Nope. How do you explain there can be so much good, so much joy in a nearly flawless Masters Challenge round, even though a bar comes down at the end or a missed contact in a Grand Prix final?

“So you didn't even win any money?”

Definitely not any money. A weekend of exhaustion, mild discomfort and low grade stress with a final tally that we reveal itself on next month’s credit card bill.

“Wow, bummer.” This is said with a very sad face for us, because apparently, I just admitted to loserdom.

I get it. You can judge me, this is how we find our spots on the food chain. We really tried. But we just didn’t win. Lots of people didn't win. Except somehow all of my facebook friends seemed to be posting podium photos. Did coming home with no more loot than the complimentary sunscreen and chapstick from my goodie bag move us up on the pyramid, or did it actually bump us lower down the chain?

“Well, if it weren’t for all those bars, that E in Jumpers, and that one missed contact…”

Here’s where the food chain gets a bit toothy as the pyramid gets slippy. Why bother going? If you can’t win at these things, why not just try to get more Qs at local shows? Climbing up the pyramid’s tiring, wouldn't it be easier to just stay home and try that new brunch place instead? I heard they have mushroom paninis. Is making that attempt and not winning more lofty than someone who stays home to get all the Q’s for more titles? If I were to tell you that I’m bored of trying to get Qs for titles, and I'd like try for some big events, is that the same thing while simultaenously completely opposite as someone who is working their butt off to get all the Qs for all the titles and who could give a hoot about the fancy trials?

The bipartisan dichotomies of modern times strikes again. Populists vs. elites, vegan vs. paleo, Jets vs. Sharks, pinch collars vs. cookies. No matter how you slice it, somebody wants to be a top and to have a top, you got to have a bottom.

Everybody on their own trips. No need to chomp off somebody’s nose and fins because their pyramid looks different than yours. Who cares if your summit to win the AWC, get a medal at a Regional or just get out of Advanced? I'll be happy when you're climbing your stairway up to wherever you're going, maybe you’ll be happy for me for where I climb mine to.

The pointy top on my pyramid? It may shape change by next week. It’s kind of a short pyramid. With an all knowing, glow in the dark eyeball floating around on the top. It's made out of tin, lives in the woods and pops out of trees. I have a ladder propped up to it, which sometimes falls down. I'll just write a little note in sharpie, on the back of a wrinkled envelope, and stick it on the side.

“Eat a carrot and hard boiled egg. Train more dogwalk exits.”

Back up we go, rung by rung. Reaching for the summit.

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