Monday, December 31, 2007

Tour Clients and Necklines

The team and I had SO much fun yesterday. My friend Jan DeNapoli runs a tour business at her Muzzy's Place Kennel. Jan is stuck at her place of employment on the North Slope, so asked if I'd like to take some clients for short rides yesterday. It was a chance to show my team some new trails and earn a little money to help pay for some expensive equipment I recently purchased, so I jumped at the opportunity. Needing one more experienced musher to come help, I recruited Lynn Orbison. Jan's handler, Trey Ravencrest, helped organize the entire adventure, outfitted and entertained waiting clients, and did a wonderful job coordinating all the activity surrounding the event.

The clients were a lot of fun. Two young ladies rooming together in Fairbanks and the parents of one of the girls, who are visiting from North Carolina. Our job was to help them stay comfortable and have a really good time, and I think we succeeded at that very nicely. Although short little runs (only four miles), the dogs wanted to run fast and they got a nice workout. Jan's trails are very picturesque as they are narrow single-track trails with plenty of twists and turns to add some excitement to the trip. The ponds are beautiful and offer a chance for the team to really run hard and strut their stuff. Although the current lack of snow made for a bumpy ride in places we had plenty of cushioning in the baskets to ease the pain, and I put a closed cell foam sleeping pad in the bottom of my toboggan to help insulate my client's butt from the cold.

I did have some technical difficulties, but I'm proud that my two clients never realized it. I had repaired my broken drag mat the day before, but apparently when I reinstalled it on the sled I forget to tighten the bolt that holds the bracket to the sled, so half of the mat came loose. This means that using the drag mat to control the sled causes the sled to skew off to one side.

Back in the old days, before drag mats were invented, mushers used to control the sled by dragging their feet in the snow, and that I what I had to do to compensate. It's not nearly so easy as using a mat and of course runs the risk of breaking ankles, but it works. At least it worked for me.

Necklines are lightweight cords we use to connect a dog's collar to the mainline or, in the case of our leaders, to each other. This keeps the dogs running parallel to each other rather than running off in different directions. Most of the mushers I know keep lots of extra necklines available because they are useful for so many little things. I use necklines to fasten my sled bag into the basket, for suspending my GPS unit so can maintain contact with its satellites, for keeping the dummy cord on my mittens out of my way, and I sometimes even use them as necklines for the dogs. Necklines are also very handy when you need to repair gear in the field.

When I returned from my first run I did a quick jerry-rig repair of the mat, tying it to the mount with a neckline. That worked very well for the most part, but when I had to stop the team clear a tangle that resulted in a bad head-on pass with Lynn's team, I learned immediately that the repaired drag mat bracket jammed up my primary bar brake. In a nut shell, that meant that I could slow my team by putting LOTS of weight on the drag mat, but I would be relying on my leader to respond to "easy" and "whoa" cues to actually stop them. Although some leaders respond to those cues very nicely, most are so eager to run that getting them to respond to "whoa" without having a really good brake to reinforce the cue is at best a challenge.

During yesterday's run I had to stop the team twice to deal with problems in the team, but little Dutchess (my lead dog, running with one of Jan's leaders) responded very nicely and there were no major issues as a result. I was very proud of her, and pleased that the client never realized there might be a problem.

So, at the end of the day I had a lot of fun, my dogs had a lot of fun, and our tour clients enjoyed a unique adventure they will remember and be boasting of for years to come. Oh, and I also earned enough money to finish paying for the money I spent buying a full 8 dog kevlar gangline setup. That is just AWESOME 'cause the darned thing is very expensive.

Here's the training log entry for the day:

12/30/07 Sunday: Tourist rides for Jan DeNapoli. 4 miles on Jan’s trails going from Muzzy’s Place to the ponds, circumnavigate the 2nd pond, and return. 4 miles. Temperature approximately -10 to 0. Jan’s dogs denoted by an *.

First run, with a fairly hefty guy in the basket:

Daisy / Morton*

Grace / Gump

Sheenjek / Seamus

Max speed 14.5 mph. Moving and overall average 8.1 mph..

My dogs really wanted to run today, so we gave Andy a really good ride. With two big men on the sled they nonetheless gave us a fast starting burst and maintained their good speed for a goodly distance before settling into their traveling trot. About ¾ of the way into the run Morton came off his gait and started pacing, and continued pacing the remainder of the run.

Apparently I forgot to tighten to the bolt on the left side of the drag brake, as it came loose very early in the run. (Sigh) I’m getting lots of practice at the old-school foot-drag thang.

Second Run. Petite and light weight lady in the basket.

Ducthess / Leena*

Grace / Jinx*

Nels / Morty*

No GPS available, but with a light passenger and dogs that like to run faster we launched harder than the first team. Lynn O had left with her passenger well before we did (I was repairing the drag brake). We had a head on pass with Lynn and her client just before we reached the first pond. Leena pushed Daisy into the wheel dog of Lynn’s team, resulting in a tangle. Had to hook down to go forward to clear it. It took two hooks, but they held well enough so I didn’t loose my tourist (thank you, God). Once we got moving again Dutchess got tangled in her tug line and couldn’t clear it until I stopped and hooked down again. The remainder of the run was unremarkable, except that the drag brake repair caused the fairly loose bracket to interfere with the bar brake, so my only control was with the drag rather than the more reliable bar brake.

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