Update for December.

I’ve not been very good with the whole picture taking thing. I will try to have some for the next post. Really.

I don’t really know where the winter is going. In just one week, we have our first race: Markstay-Warren’s Challenge the Champ. We will definitely be out of our element at that race, mostly because we will be competing in the “open” category against faster teams with sprintier dogs.

Our training season has been good, although I think we would prefer to have been out more with the dogs to this point. Problems with our four wheeler and a prolonged period of too-much-snow-for-the-four-wheeler-not-enough-for-the-sled have managed to keep us sidelined. So, too, have the renovations to our living room. But, now that the busy holiday season is drawing to a close, the more serious season of sled dog running continues. Eager to get out the other day, Jenn and I loaded the dogs and headed to our usual trail head. The conditions were less than optimal: it was difficult to set a snowhook due to lack of traffic on the trail and since we were the only ones who had been down the trail since our snow came, we only had a single track to follow, having broken out the trail a few days prior. In many places, the dogs would fight each other for position on the trail – they’d push each other side to side, trying to get the better footing, they didn’t actually fight. I thought I should clarify.

Nearing the trail head it became evident that we were not alone. Several trucks and trailers were there, scattered about the parking area – really, the end of a narrow bush road large enough for the snowplow to turn around – as were three large four wheelers. The adults eyed us warily while their kids, two boys, sauntered sheepishly over to our truck and peeked curiously inside the dogbox. Jenn and I, our routine pretty rehearsed by now, started getting the sled and dogs ready, trying to answer the questions that came one after the other.

Yes, this is the lead dog. No, he’s not the boss. Of course they’re friendly. Yes, they all have names. Well, it’s easy to remember all their names… surely you have more than twelve friends? You remember all of their names, don’t you?

I spoke briefly with one of the group. They were heading up the same trail as me to a cabin that I would love to own. They were planning on spending the night and they were bringing in all their gear on the four wheelers. Hearing this, I tried as much as possible to hurry and leave ahead of them: they would destroy the trail with their tires, making my run a real chore. At least up to the point which they turned off the trail. It became clear that I was to leave behind them in spite of the effort they were putting into trying to start a four wheeler that would not, no matter how hard they tried, start. They ended up leaving it behind; their philosophy being that if anyone was to try and steal it over night, they’d have to start it first.

My way now cleared of four wheelers and trucks, I brought each dog to the line while Jenn made sure the leaders held the line out. Lead dogs, swing dogs, team dogs and wheel dogs: I was ready to go. I pulled the snowhook out of the ground, undid the quick release and pulled the slipknot I had tied around the dropbars on the truck. The team surged forward. And then jerked to a halt. Somehow, my slipknot had twisted around the bar and the part that was supposed to slide freely was now pinched and unable to move. A quick look at my quick release set up showed that it was too far away to use – I was going to have to deal with the rope on its own. Against my better judgement, I took both hands off the sled and set about untwisting the rope. I succeeded in freeing it and immediately thought “Dammit! I didn’t think this all the way through!”

The short end of the rope – and the end I was hanging on to – was getting shorter fast and my sled was getting farther away and out of reach. My bare hands tried to hold onto the rope as it slid around the dropbar. I called to Jenn who was luckily still at the head of the team. “Grab the dogs!” I shouted as the rope pinched my hand to the bars of the truck. It continued to slide, burning and cutting as it did. Jenn was now being dragged by the team and I found myself out of rope and running behind the sled, my good hand holding the very last two inches of rope.

Jenn and I finally got the sled slowed enough that I could catch up, grab on and regain control. “Got it!” I shouted. Jenn looked back, and I’m not sure how she managed this as she was still being dragged, made sure I actually did have it, let go, stood up, brushed the snow off of her pants and walked to the car to drive to town to do laundry.

It took a half mile to sort out the mess: the rope was neatly wound around the sled’s handle, the snow hooks were repositioned and secured, I put on my gloves, secured the flap of the sled bag and closed its two clips. Even though the four wheelers were ahead of me, and even though they had left ruts in the trail, the trail was not as bad as I had thought. I even remember thinking as much as I rounded the corner and saw, some two hundred feet ahead, a dark black stain on the snow. “Aww, crap!” I thought.

On one side of this particular trail is a beaver pond. On the other, its drainage. In the middle is a floodplain of fifty feet or so in width and at least knee deep. The four wheelers ahead of me had broken through the ice, leaving a water crossing for me and the team. A few years ago, one of our now-passed-on leaders got weirded out by a two-inch deep, twelve inch wide creek crossing, causing the team to ball up into a knot on the banks of this liquid chasm. “Straight ahead!” I said, not knowing how this was going to play out. The leaders charged into the water, their feet catching the ground now and then until the whole team was in the water and half swimming, half running through the ice-chunk-filled water. My sled hit the water and I leaned back in an effort to keep the nose up. Its belly pan kept it from sinking but I found myself into water a few inches below my knees and for all intents and purposes, water skiing. The dogs reached the other side and emerged two by two from the water, never really missing a stride. My sled bumped as it hit the solid ice of the trail and we were clear of the water. As they ran, the dogs shook themselves to shed water and I waited for the inevitable seeping feeling of water, creeping into my boots and chilling my feet. It never came. Thank god for good equipment! We ran on for a bit until I could find a suitable place to stop where I checked feet for snowballs and booties for frozen velcro or collected snow. There was none and the dogs were losing their minds with eagerness to run, so I un-wedged the snowhook from its anchor point and off we went. My hand throbbed under my glove but the way the run had started, I wasn’t going to take off the glove to look at it. All of this in less than five miles.

As the dogs strained against my dragmat, I hoped the mishaps were over for this run.


One Response

  1. I just read the whole story:) I’m glad this sort of stuff doesn’t just happen to me..thanks for the great read!

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