Saturday, February 27, 2010

I’m a REAL musher now.

"When the cop asked if I knew what I was doing, I didn’t have an answer."

It was a nice, sunny, 27 degree day. I was replacing some chains on the new dogs’ pickets. I figured that I would do stuff with them on Saturday as a bonding exercise, then Sunday run them if I thought they were ready. I hooked Ellen and Browning to the drop chains on the truck, and they thought we were going for a run. OK, if they want to, then we’re going.

Browning, Nick and Ellen waiting to go

I got Mr. Nick hooked up to the truck as well, and loaded the sled and lines. Then I put Nick in the cab of the truck, and Ellen and Browning into the dog box. We drove to my usual put-in spot a few miles from home. The plan was to run about two miles out and then back, for an easy little jaunt.

I put Ellen and Nick in lead, with Browning in wheel. We were a little messed up, as Nick had learned some bad behavior from his sister. But I got them turned around and the lines untangled, pulled the hook and we took off. Like a rocket!

My friend Ed had warned me that I had ‘turbo-charged’ my team and that the extra power would be unexpected. Having only run Nick with Alice balking, and sometimes the little farm dog Biscuit along, I knew it would feel different with three dogs that all wanted to run. But the moment I said “All right!” the sled popped a wheelie and we flew down the trail.

It was going smoothly, I was finally experiencing a ‘magic-carpet ride’. The wind was in my face and I had under-dressed, because I was overheating back at the farm. I crouched down behind the sled to eliminate the resistance. Hey, this IS fun!

Photo op seconds before disaster

We had gone about a mile and a half, about a half-mile from the turn-around, to a waterway at the bottom of a hill. I stopped to take a couple of photos. As I was putting the camera back in my pocket, I asked them if they were “Ready?” Bam! The sled popped a wheelie and I fell off, losing my grip. “Whoa, whoa!” I screamed, but it was having no effect. They raced up the hill and out of sight. I took off running, but my heavy boots in the soft, snow-machine trail were making it impossible. I gave up and could only walk.

I knew not to panic, so I got out my cell phone, as Angie had told me many times to be sure and bring with me. She had offered to come along and drive the truck, but in typical fashion, I wanted to be able to do it alone. I called her but she was at a hair appointment, so I left a message saying I lost the team and where I thought they were headed.

I was hoping they would stop when the trail came out of the field to the road, but I knew the snow machine trail went on west, where it would come to a major highway. There, they would have to choose between going straight across it, or turning and crossing a paved road to follow that trail into town. If they crossed the highway, there were three directions they could have taken. I couldn’t tell for sure if they had even turned that way, or had headed in the other direction, but I knew that if they went towards the highway, I had to go get them before they got hurt. If they went the other way, there would be way less traffic to worry about. I hoped for snow-machines to come from behind and pick me up, but I feared if they were to meet them head on.

I had walked about .7 of a mile when a car came racing up to me. “I got them” he said so I jumped in. As he took me to get them, he told me he had seen them running down the highway towards town, and he grabbed them and someone else was holding them. They had passed underneath the overpass of a four-lane, divided highway! A nice young couple was holding them. No one looked hurt, and they were only tangled a bit, possibly from being held. I thanked everyone profusely, turned the rig around and got the lines straightened out. Ellen took us back along the trail, under the overpass. There was large gravel and it was very uneven, so I was walking and pulling the sled over it when a police officer pulled up, with lights flashing. “Are those all of them?” he asked me. I assured him that they were, and he then asked the most profound question of the day: “Do you know what you are doing?” I didn't have an answer. I told him that I had just got the two dogs and it was our first run. He went on his way, and I went on mine.

Running back to the truck

We had to cross the on-ramp and then the paved road before getting back on good snow. Ellen and Nick did a great job leading us back. There were extremely tired, and we stopped several times on the way back for short breaks.

Riding back with a combination of stress and relief

We got back to the truck without any further incidents.

Taking a well-deserved water break

A little tired out

Time to go home

At home, I checked the mileage on Google Earth and it appears that they had gone about a mile and a half without me. They ran about six miles total.

Rule #1 of mushing: Never let go of the sled. Words to live by…


Sherry and Russ Sutherby said...

Tim ~ It's great you highlight the incredible power of a 3-dog team! Our tour guests, who perhaps have seen 16-dog ganglines with Iditarod, are always amazed at small team power. Glad your day had a good ending, and neither you or the dogs were hurt. Such a scary scenario. Remember to always do a "fireman's hook" with your arm around the handle bar. I laughed out loud at the "run in" with the police. You could have answered "well Officer, the DOGS know what they are doing...:)" Have fun and remember, less is more.

Nichol Hohenbrink said...

Tim- I admit this is the first time I've checked out your blog, but I think I'm hooked.

Lazy Husky Ranch said...

You're learning the hard way the three rules of mushing: don't let go, don't let go, don't let go!

Wow, I fear for Maggie now! J/k. I wish I was closer though. What Sherry calls a "Fireman's hook" Larry Fortier calls the "Oh shit rope!" Make one!

Susan said...

Glad you're all okay!

I have never known you to learn any way but the hard way....

Cici said...

Thank you for making me laugh today as so far it has been a little rough! Glad that all ended well. Now that I found your blog, I
look forward to more adventures with Tim!

Sherry and Russ Sutherby said...

Actually Tim, when I referred to a "Fireman's Hook" I was talking about never letting go of the handle bar. ;) If you need to remove a glove, etc., just put your arm around the bar, and work your hands with your arm curled around, gripping the bar. Shannon, I think you are referring to a drag rope that is used frequently in other countries, including Canada. I never liked those...something to worry about - perhaps snagging on a tree, etc. That's what happened to Team Norway's Kjetil Backen last year at Iditarod - he grabbed the rope and struck stumps, etc. I think it is just best to always stay connected with your hands gripping - ready for action!

Loon said...

Thanks, everyone! It was a learning moment, to be sure! Sunday was better, but they DID lose me briefly - twice! I will be adding a drag rope, as I used the snow hook for that on Sunday. With a small team, it should provide enough resistance that they will slow down and listen when I scream "Whoa!" In theory.

Stay tuned...

Libby the Lab said...

Holy Smokes- glad everyone is OK and I assume exhausted!

Kathleen said...

I think Gary Paulsen in Winterdance says you're not really a musher till you lose your team. If you want to feel better, read that book. He took out a team with some newly acquired pups hitched to a rickety old bike. The story is HILARIOUS. He eventually graduated to hooking the team to a junk truck w/o an engine. And what happens after that . . well,. let's just say, best empty your bladder before reading!

I love watching how you learn, Tim. You inspire me. To hang on. Among other things! :))

AR Travis said...

Hehe! Priceless run-in with the police!

I lost my team once for about 200 yards when I first hooked Freya to lead. She is a dynamo power-house of a gal at 40lbs and doesn't know the meaning of the word whoa! Fortunately they flipped my cart and couldn't drag it upside-down very far as the steering wheel dug in to the gravel.

I only dream of being able to run a sled on snow though. It snows here, but not enough for a sled.

dogsled_stacie said...

Oh wow that is just scary!! So glad everything turned out ok, a lost team is a disaster waiting to happen. Do whatever you can to ensure it doesn't happen again, if you're in an open area without many trees, I wouldn't hesitate to tie a snub line to myself. I've done it before on rivers and it's paid off.

And "screaming" whoa! actually might fire up the dogs even more and get them running faster! Try to teach them to stop on command, that is a pretty valuable tool. I lost a team going downhill to the river once, and called my dogs back - I had two new ones from another kennel in wheel. All 4 of my dogs, slowed down, looked back and saw me. They then tried to turn around!!! But with the 2 maniacs in wheel who couldn't care less about me, them trying to go forward... ended up in this mega-tangled ball o' dogs who were actually slowly making their way back to me, it was awesome! I got them untangled and we were on our way!