The Journey

The winter (what winter?) has ended but that doesn’t necessarily mean running the dogs has. With our new GoPro camera, I managed to film a bikejoring run we had recently. There isn’t much to tell about it, other than the camera is amazing. Below is the video…

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The First Annual(?) “Happy Hounds” Race

(this was originally to be published three weeks ago – I had trouble with the slideshow though, and had to wait. But, now, here it is…)

Last Saturday night as it neared midnight, I pulled the snowmachine into the shed and shut off the engine. I unhooked the piece of expanded metal that served as a trail groomer – satisfied, not impressed, with the job it did – and stood it up against the wall. As I turned to go in the house, my headlamp caught the beginning of the freshly groomed trail. It was smooth and flat. Temperatures were to drop to minus 17 overnight so I expected it would be good and firm by morning. It had to be: we were hosting a race. The idea of a race at our house was an absurd one. Firstly, because we only have .7 of a mile to race on and, secondly, because the racers were going to be almost all non-traditional breeds: Tibetan Mastiffs, Malinois, a Weimeraner and so on. But the number of people that had responded to the Facebook Event said otherwise. Jenn and I wondered if we would have enough room for all the cars that were going to show up.

For many of the racers, this would be their first race. Some had never even seen a dogsled race before. So, what’s the deal? Why are all these newbies coming out and why are we putting on a race? Well, it started like this: a friend of Jenn’s runs a dog training business and is involved in Ringsport, Agility, Dock Diving competitions and other sorts of high-energy dog sports. At first, her idea was to run her two Malinois dogs with us in our team as a way of exercising them and because she was interested in the sport. Then, a few of her students found out, or were encouraged to try, and so we set aside a few days last winter to introduce the people and their dogs to the sport. Jenn and I have noticed that there seems to be dwindling numbers in the mushing community; we have three friends who have ‘got out of dogs’ in the past year alone. In helping put on these pet-mushing days, Jenn and I were hoping to attract more people to the sport or hobby or lifestyle. More interest means more chances of races, more trail access, better public perception and a bigger community to connect with. Plus, we started out with pet dogs too, and we know the amount of knowledge needed at the outset is great. If we could help someone get their dog to pull properly and safely and avoid the inevitable frustrations, then it would be a success for all involved. We all gravitated to this sport for the same reason: we love to have fun with our dogs.

Once a month this year, there was a dogsledding day where these people could attend. The format had us provide the team and run the dogs, and the pet owner was able to put their dog in our team and ride along to watch how their dog did. We would only go short distances of about a kilometer or so and then there would be a switch: new dog, new owner. As the season progressed, so did the pets. It wasn’t long before some of the owners were asking questions about racing. Jenn told them of the Novice races available at some of the races we go to and encouraged them to attend. Many of them seemed pretty excited. But, the winter being what it was this year, seventy percent of our races were cancelled, which included the Novice ones too. What were the excited pet owners to do? Race at our house I guess.

The schedule said the race – a two dog affair – started at 14:00 and that there would be a mandatory meeting for all mushers at 13:30 to explain the rules and the trail as well as to answer any last minute questions. Since this was a replacement for a Novice race, Jenn wanted to try and keep the format as close as possible to what really happens at a race so that if the people wanted to go and try a real race next year, there would be some familiarity with the procession of events. It is now Sunday morning. Eleven o’clock, to be exact and our first musher pulls in the driveway. Then our second and third right behind. By one, the driveway was full. People were kind enough to have brought pop, Tim Horton’s coffee (in a huge, can-you-help-me-lift-this? carafe) cookies, donuts and water. Although we had planned to have a large surface for the registration table, it soon got covered with food and drink. It had been decided that we would collect an entry fee which would be used as a donation to Bullies in Need, a charity/shelter/rescue that Jenn’s dog trainer friend works closely with.

Everything went pretty much according to schedule. The bib draw, the musher’s meeting, the race start. Jenn was the official starter and I was the official timer, so I was able to watch all the teams come across the finish line. It was great to see these two-dog teams, comprised of all sorts of breeds, come around the corner and cross the finish line. The looks on the faces of the mushers were a mix of having just run a marathon and summited Everest simultaneously. It seemed as though everyone was proud of their pets and of themselves, too. There were thirteen teams in the two-dog category and three in the in the one-dog. Everybody got a prize which were generously donated by a pet food store owner, friend and racer. The winner in both categories got a nice, new dog bed. In total, the race raised $320 for Bullies in Need and it gave a lot of new mushers the experience and encouragement to continue harnessing their pets. It was such a success and all involved had so much fun that Jenn and I have decided to organize – or help organize – a race as frequently as once a month, year ’round and as the seasons dictate: sledding, canicross/bikejoring, scootering so that we can all enjoy the sport with our dogs without having to rely on the weather.

Below is a slide show I put together of the people and their pets that attended the race. I am not happy with it because I couldn’t get the photos to show like I wanted, so there is a lot of movement in each shot. Also, I wanted some action shots of the racers but I didn’t have any. It’s not a great sludeshow but it ought to give some idea of the people and dogs that attended.

Another video of dog butts.

I’m still working on getting some photos uploaded to accompany a post I have waiting…

Until I do, here is a video I made of a recent run.  It’s not as exciting as I’d like because I have my camera in one hand and the sled in the other, so all I have is footage of a flat run – all the excitement happens off-camera when I need both hands for driving the sled.  I am hoping to save up enough spare money (does that exist?) to buy a GoPro camera that I can mount to my sled or my head.  Or somewhere else that allows me to film AND control the sled.