Sunday, January 17, 2010

When Dogs Run

Today, I experienced a true dog sled run. After struggles and frustration, it came together.

After my previous post, I had more troubles with Alice, ending with her refusing to run after a couple of miles deep into the woods on a trail a two weeks ago. I ran Nick with Biscuit (our small farm dog) once and then just Nick, leaving Alice behind. That last time, she whined so much that it freaked out Nick. We could hear her even a half-mile from home, and he whined and wanted to turn back. So, I hadn't been having a lot of luck actually getting pulled. With just one dog (and the occasional small farm dog), I wasn't able to be pulled very far. I would run to get Nick into a lope, when he could pull me easily, but if I didn't run fast enough, we just couldn't get moving. I ended up walking all but a few stretches of downhill. In 4 or 5 trips down the trail, I had yet to have a smooth run, where I just rode the runners.

So today, I loaded Nick and Biscuit into the dog box on my truck. Alice was really whining, and she had seen the sled, so she knew what we were doing. I decided I would bring her, and if she balked, I would simply tie her off to the rear of the sled and she could run behind. No pressure on her was my goal. We were going to have fun, and if she didn't, then I would just let her off the hook.

I drove us about a mile and a half to another gravel road where the snowmobile trail crossed. Organized the sled and lines in the ditch, then proceeded to hook up the three dogs to the gangline. After a couple of tangles I showed Nick to the snowmobile trail. He took off, pulling Biscuit by the neckline, Alice ran along in line, and I grabbed the sled and jumped on as it pulled by. And we're off!

Nick sniffed the trail and turned, knowing what to do. They all kicked it in gear, and I called for them to "Hike up!" and we did! They broke into a nice, fast lope and we raced up the hill. At the top, I stopped us and went up to thank them all. Alice was happy and not freaking out, so I gave her a ton of love. The boys got tangled, but after fixing that, we took off again in the right direction. Down the hill, turning to run up the waterway to the electric transformer station. Nick was going to pull us right onto the gravel road, so I stopped us and turned the team around. We just started back down the trail when I saw a couple of snowmobiles on the trail. I pulled the team off the trail and gathered them up by the gangline. I thanked the sledders as they passed, straightened out my team, and we took off. Fast!

After a nice, easy run, we came back to the road near my truck. Nick was following the trail, and he actually led us across the road to the field, where the trail continued north. I stopped us, because it went past a house that I think has loose dogs and at this point, we were having fun and I didn't want to risk the distraction or have any troubles. Plus, I wasn't sure how far we could go, and I really didn't want to finish running uphill.

Biscuit, being under 35 pounds, was getting tired, but the other two seemed ready to keep going. Even though Biscuit pulled out of his collar, I tightened him up, turned the team around and told Nick to head back onto he trail we had already done. "Hike!" and we were off!

Again we raced up the hill. Stopped for lovin' and a treat, then I decided they were up for it, so we headed down the trail to the waterway. Off into some deeper snow, we struggled a bit, so I turned us around and told them to takes us back to the truck. Part way up the hill, I called them up and we took off full speed, flying down the trail!

Once back to the truck, Biscuit was done. I knew Nick wanted to keep running, and Alice seemed like she would keep going, too. But I decided to leave us wanting more. We loaded up and drove home. Loving and water and treats were handed out at home. The Alaskans were calm and happy, and the farm dog was beat. So, too, was the musher.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

First True Run

My first multi-mile run on actual trails with my "real" sled dogs on SNOW was on my 50th birthday.

I added a small farm dog to fill out the team and to help motivate Alice. After messing around a bit, I put the two boys in lead. I half led, half rode down the road to the snowmobile trail. Once we got on the trail, the dogs knew what to do. We flew across to the woods. I stopped us and gave the dogs some lovin' before heading down the steep slope to the riverbank. I rode the drag with no trouble, but on the next corner, the dogs dug in and whipped me around. Up on one runner, I lost it and face-planted in a snowdrift! I yelled "Whoa!" and they stopped. My spare ropes and gear was thrown all over the place, so I gathered the stuff up, untangled the team and away we went. A couple of wrong turns (Nick knows "gee" and "haw" mean "turn", he just doesn't quite get which way) and we made it along the river for a half-mile or so, then up to the field. Another long hike, some riding, some walking, back to the gravel road. Then it was a LOOOONG, up hill walk, with me continually leading them to the side of the road. By the time we got home, I was drenched in sweat and they dogs were tired. Less than 3 miles total, but with tangles and spills, it was quite taxing on me. A jammed pinky seems to be the only injury, although all of my joints are sore.

What a great birthday treat!