Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mushing in Shirtsleeves

It was pretty darned warm today, but I took a team of six up to the ponds and back.  It's a run we've done frequently before, a solid 8 1/2 mile run that takes us through some pretty woods.  It was also another gorgeously clear day, though the temperature was a bit high.

Most of the details are in my training journal entry, which I'll post below along with some photos and a special video.  For the "short version", Grace started out in single lead, but she wasn't paying attention and not running at the pace I wanted, so I moved Just from swing to lead, beside her.  She unloaded on him big-time when I tried to launch, and got put on a shortened tugline as a result.  Not to punish her (punishment doesn't work well with dogs - or humans for that matter) but rather to make it harder for her to be snarky with him.  That helped things along considerably and by the end of the run her behavior was much better.

The other major highlight is that Capella had her first chance to run in lead, and did a wonderful job of it.

Before I move on to the training report, I'd just like to note that Ellen Halverson, the last musher in the 2011 Iditarod, arrived in Nome to douse the red lantern at 10:45 this morning.  She has plenty of time to catch a nap and make it to the finish banquet.  Her arrival signifies that all of the Iditarod Trail mushers are safely accounted for, and the race is now officially over.

Now - back to the Stardancers:

8  1/2 Miles:  Home to ponds and return.  Temperature +22 at start, +32 at finish.  Trails icy, hard and fast.

GPS batteries died 4.3 miles out.  Max speed was 13.1 and average speed was 7.9.

Team at start:
            Grace (single lead)
Just & Capella (swing)
            Cassiopeia (single team)
Orion & Seamus (wheel)

Grace could not seem to get her head on straight today.  While hooking up I had trouble releasing the snub line, and Grace took advantage of the delays to chew her harness, requiring me to go up and liner her out twice.  Finally got the damned thing loose and we launched.  I was hard on the drag going out, and kept the speed down pretty low until we hit the main trail and I let them pick it up a little.  Still remained very cautious as I didn't want anyone overheating.

Somehow Seamus' neck line came unsnapped during launch, but he ran OK without it for a good while.  Once or twice he tried dipping snow and nearly got bumped by the sled, so I decided I'd fix it at our first stop, as I planning on taking several stops to keep everyone cool.

On the Two Rivers Road trail, Grace was lollygagging and bit and nearly got clotheslined by the  swing dogs necklines.  I called her up and she moved out OK for a little bit, and then did it again.  As we were cruising through the wooded part of the swamp trail I found a tree to hook to on one side, put the second hook into the snow.  I fixed Seamus' neckline and then moved Just up beside Grace.   At that point the team looked like this:

Grace & Just (lead)
            Capella (single swing)
            Cassiopeia (single team)
Orion & Seamus (wheel)

When I tried to launch Grace unloaded on Just, resulting in a major tangle.  I had to hook down again and go up front to fix it.  I doubled Grace's tug-line back through the tail end of her harness to shorten it up so her head was about the same level as his shoulder.    She tried snarking at Just again as we launched, but since she couldn't contact his muzzle it was to no avail, and she setting in and ran pretty well afterward.

The team did a nice job dragging me up the hill out of the swamp.  Grace missed the "haw" onto the money trail, but Just pushed her into on the fly so there was no time lost making the corner.   I kept the team slow over the money trail as we stopped for a cool-down break at the little split in the trail, where there is lots of shade. 

Once everyone stopped panting I launched again and took them to the ponds.  I called for a "gee" as we entered the second pond, to circle around it counter-clockwise.  Normally we go clockwise, so this was intended to make them take a new route over familiar terrain.  Although I had to repeat the cue once, they took the right hand trail without hesitation. 

When we got into the shade of the cut-bank on the west side of the pond I stopped and hooked down for a longer cool-off break.  I kept them there probably 15 minutes  and most of the dogs took advantage of the opportunity to roll in the snow.  When everyone was done panting and Seamus and Orion were barking at me and 'testing' their harnesses I figured it was time to go again. 

The team taking a break on the pond. 

 They gave me a nice, steady ride back down the hill to the swamp trail and over the portages.  I stopped them in a big fen to do another leader swap.  I wanted to see if Capella wants to be a lead dog.

I brought Grace back to single swing and hooked Capella next to Just, so the team now looked like this:

Just and Capella (lead)
            Grace (single swing)
            Cassie (single team)
Orion and Seamus (wheel)

Grace was nicely behaved, didn't try grabbing lines or anything.  Capella did a nice job of leading the team at an easy trot.  She doesn't seem to have the drive that Orion has up front, but that's not a bad thing.  There are times for a hard driving leader, and times you want someone who will just trot along regardless of whatever might be going on around. 

As we passed the feeder trail to the trailhead Capella started to turn down it, but corrected on the fly when I asked her to "gee".   The team gave us a pretty decent sprint home considering I'd been keeping their speed way down through most of the run.

Here is a video with the highlights from Capella's first run in lead.

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