Mushing – the sport of next year.

“Mushing is the sport of ‘next year,'” a friend commented to me recently. We were talking about the dismal training year we’ve had so far and how I plan to make up for it next year. It always seems as though something comes up during training season that skews our plans, so we pin our hopes on the next season and make the best of what we have this year. Making the best of what we have this year has been hard because we have a deficit in the equipment department.

My second last run was on an icy road and because we had no snow – it had been rained on over the New Year’s Eve weekend and turned to ice – so I had no choice but to use the four wheeler. That’s right: the one with no brakes and the one that used to start when the dogs pulled it but since the throttle cable snapped from being used when frozen, it no longer runs at all; I can only use the gears to slow down and (eventually) stop the dogs. An inch or so of new snow covered the trail and we were on our way back to the truck. The last hill on the trail was a sheet of snow-covered ice which we headed down at full speed. Reason one for the full speed was that the truck was in sight, something that always makes the dogs pull harder; and reason two was that I had absolutely no stopping power whatsoever. My best attempt at slowing the team down was to crank the handlebars of the fourwheeler sideways and hope that it would increase the drag. I ended up hitting a rock protruding out of the trail squarely with the tire: the back of the fourwheeler lifted up and for the briefest of moments I prepared to finish my run being dragged under a useless piece of junk. I regained control, however, and managed to get back to the truck. The fourwheeler didn’t fare so well, though. I broke a stabilizer arm and bent the bearing casing so now the wheel sits at a 45-degree angle and angles in a bit, too. One piece of equipment gone for the season.

My most recent run was an ambitious sled ride – well, it had to be: I had no fourwheeler – down a frequently-used-by-us trail. I wanted to add some mileage to the trail so I started a couple of miles down the road. There appeared to be more snow on the road than what there actually was and as we took off, all I could hear (and feel) was the “kkkeerrrrrrrrrr” (make the sound of something heavy being dragged over an impossibly rough surface) of my runners as we slid along not snow, but rather loose gravel. “Only three miles of this,” I thought to myself, not accounting for the return trip. Once on the trail proper things went a lot more smoothly. We were finally on snow, the dogs were all pulling as a team and even on the hills I had to keep my dragmat down to keep the speed in check.

We ran in near perfection for several miles. Around the next bend was the lake in front of which we were to turn around, but alongside of which we normally run. We missed the turn. My leaders assumed we were heading out on a long run so they had it in their heads that we were going past the lake, not turning and going back so soon, so they disobeyed me and blew past the turn. “Great.” I think, “where am I going to turn them around?” A half mile up the trail is a widening and likely the best spot for miles and miles to turn the team so I got ready and when the time came I called “Whoa!” stomped on the brake and jammed the snowhook in what little snow there was to hold it. Immediately I tied my sled to a tree with a slip knot and turned the eight dog team around. I had decided eight would be more prudent in these conditions versus my normal twelve and I was glad I had left some dogs at home. Nevertheless, the eight dogs jumped and barked and pulled on the gangline so much that my slipknot – the one with the ‘just-in-case’ stopper in it – pulled tight against the stopper. The more the dogs pulled, the tighter it became until it was impossible to untie. Recalling my earlier incident with the rope I tried somewhat gingerly to untie the mangled knot, but, in the end had to resort to cutting the rope. It wasn’t until we reached the road again that things took their final turn for the worse. The three miles of gravel road had now been plowed so there wasn’t even a pretense of gliding over snow. We dragged and dragged and dragged our way back to the truck, peeling off my runner plastic in the process. Now the sled was out of commission as well.

Adding up the equation, I am left with: poor late season training+lack of snow-faulty equipment in disrepair=one bad season and no races.

I think our plan is still to go to Cannington, but we are definitely out of the running for any of the mid distance races we planned to do earlier in the year. We have even had to withdraw from the CopperDog 150 and what would have been our biggest race to date.

It is our plan to get better equipment and more reliable equipment for next year so that no matter the conditions, us and the dogs are able to not only train but train safely.

On the bright side, though, I will be helping a friend at the Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, a 450-mile race in Minnesota. I hope to have pictures and a blog post or two about that in the weeks to come.

The puppies, as might be expected, are getting pretty big and pretty rambunctious.  Here are some photos of them:

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Action, in action.

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Action again, after stealing my food scoop.

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Streak

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Chase, coming out of their house.

And here are just a few photos of Hunter, some from an afternoon of tobogganing with a friend of hers…

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…and after a soak in the tub.

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