Sunday, October 11, 2009

ADMA International Sled Dog Symposium

I spent most of the weekend at the ADMA International Sled Dog Symposium, so the dogs have received some time off the job while their driver learned stuff. I also did a presentation on the history of dog mushing in the northwestern fur-trade.

Saturday, the highlight for me was a class on sled tying presented by professional sled builder David Klumb. Historically, dog sleds were lashed together with rawhidge 'babiche' rather than relying on metal fasteners, and much of their strength was due to their flexibility. Although modern builders substitute braided nylon cord for the historical raw-hide, and rely on some other modern synthetic materials as well, the concept is the same as are the methods. I wanted to learn to properly do the ties not only for repairing my own equipment (dogs break stuff), but also because I'd like to build a reproduction of a late 19th / early 20th century freight sled some day.

In the afternoon, Harris and Ginger Dunlap presented a very thorough talk on Selecting and Breeding the Right Dog for Your Racing Future. I have to admit I didn't find it terribly useful, as I'm not a racer nor am I a breeder. I doubt I'll ever again have the right combination of exceptional dogs to justify breeding a litter, but if I do I have access to experts who are happy to help me out. I am positive that many symposium attendees found their lecture invaluable, though.

This morning I enjoyed a presentation in which my friend Allen Moore and Cym Smith talked about middle-distance racing strategies. Though not a racer, I am a big fan of the long races, and both men are quite entertaining, even if they won't admit it.

My own presentation started at 10:30, and I admit to a major case of butterflies. I know fur-trade history inside out and backwards, but compared to most of the speakers at this symposium I am a mere babe-in-the-woods when it comes to mushing dogs. Additionally, I was speaking opposite of the big names of dog sled racing history, including George Attla, Harris Dunlap, Merve Hilpepper and Roxy Wright. My talk actually drew a pretty nice crowd of people, some who are quite famous in their own right. It was apparently well received, as I noticed several people taking quite detailed notes.

It also prompted a visit this evening. Miki Collins asked if she could come out to meet the Stardancer dogs. Miki and Julie are famous in Alaska, and in many circles Outside, and are the authors of Trapline Twins, Dog Driver, A Guide for the Serious Musher, Riding the Wild Side of Denali, and MANY magazine articles. Some of our dogs are closely related. They have the sister to my old girl the Darling Daisy, and the brother to my 'megamutt' Sheenjek.

We had a very nice visit. She took several photos, especially of Seamus, Capella, Rose, Nels, Sheenjek and Gump. She had a nice visit with Darling Daisy and Sheenjek too. It was very interesting comparing notes, as she and Julie are also finding it difficult to find "old school" dogs to keep their teams at full strength.

In a nut shell, the old "village" or "trap-line" types of dogs that were once the key to transportation in the Interior of Alaska no longer have a job. They've been replaced by snow machines, so very few people are breeding the larger working types of dogs anymore.

So, that was my weekend, spent very pleasantly. Tomorrow I must start preparing to return to my place of employment, and we start the whole cycle again.

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