Monday, February 13, 2012

Dead Martin Wanderings

Every year I seem to get a bit turned around when mushing over the local trail we know as the Dead Martin Trail.  It's the damnedest thing, because it is always a result of my taking a wrong turn that I really should have figured out by now.

At the end of the Dead Martin Trail, one can turn "gee" (right) to run up to Heritage Hills or one can turn "haw" to drop down to the trail that goes over two ponds.  That's the trail I wanted to take, but (sigh), I called a "gee" thinking I knew where I was, and ended up at the based of The Hill of Death.

Then, rather than turn the team around on a nice, wide, packed trail, I decided to do some exploring on a little used trail.  After a mile or so up that trail I realized it was going nowhere close to where I needed to be, so a turn around was required.

I was riding my new "traveling sled", a custom built basket sled with a six-foot long bed that is SWEET to drive and ride, even behind a small team of dogs.  Of course I haven't had to turn it, and a team, around on a skinny trail before, so I learned a few things in the process.

Some mushers train their leaders to turn a team back with a "come haw" or "come gee" cue.  I do not, as I don't want my leaders performing such behavior on their own.  Although this makes reversing course a bit more complicated, I think it smarter and safer in the long run.  Since my leaders don't know the behavior, I had to go to "Plan B".

I found a good, stout tree near the trail, stopped the dogs, and used my snub line to tie off to the tree.  The snow hook on the side I plan to move the dogs past is planted ahead of the sled, and the hook on the other side is left in place.  Then one goes up front and leads the dogs back past the sled.  In theory, the sled spins around to face the opposite direction, one collects the forward snow hook and replants it beside the sled until everyone is lined out and ready, and then relaunches as we normally would.

That's a nice theory, but in trying to put it in place I ran into a few, uhm, issues.

A long sled on a skinny trail doesn't just spin around nicely, it gets driven backward into the snow berm with the drag mat tangled underneath, making it VERY difficult to extricate and get back in line.  That task is rendered even more complicated with 7 excited dogs wanting to jerk the sled, snow hooks and snub line loose so they can continue running.

In any event, I was able to complete the task, but I learned a few things in the process, and it's the learning that is most important.  In the future, I will....

-  Park closer to the tree.  In this case, the sled ended up a good 10 feet ahead of the tree, too far for me to reach my snub line and release the highwayman's hitch that kept them from running off in the first place.  Fortunately, I had a spare gang-line section in my bag I could use to extend the tail of the line and pull the knot.

-  Unhook all of the tug lines except the leaders.  Poor Beau got tangled during the maneuver, and in doing so got a tug snap hooked through the ring in his collar.  It was very difficult to undo the mess and had the dogs been more insistent could have resulted in an injury to Beau.  Although it adds a step to the process, unhooking everyone's tug lines will be a safer approach, even if it takes a bit more time to complete the maneuver.

Other than being a bit geographically confused - a state that frequently leads to the discovery of beautiful country and wonderful new trails to run - our training run yesterday was a lot of fun, and it was a great way to wind down my R&R from work.

Yep, it's time for me to return to my work place for Two Weeks.  Tiffany is ready to care for the dogs and the kennel on her own and I have nothing but confidence in her ability to do so.  The puppies have settled in nicely, and have been enjoying the warm weather by camping out in a pen in the dog yard, next to some nice older dogs that don't give them any grief.  I have no concerns at all about the state of the kennel while I'm away.

Writing of Tiffany - yesterday she spent several hours learning to drive dogs under the tutelage of Stephanie Little Wolf.  She found herself running a team of 3 of Stephanie's "village dogs" over a 10 mile run, and it was reported she only fell once, and was very quickly back up on the runners without any difficulty at all.  If Tiffany can get in a couple more sessions with Steph, I think she'll be ready to play "chase me" through the woods with some of my dogs when I return from R&R, and will most likely be ready to take out small teams of dogs for training runs while I'm away.  That would truly be an awesome situation, making it much easier to keep the dogs in good condition.

Today I need to run some errands in town, by my monthly haircut and all those other "going to work" errands in order to prepare for an early drive to my job site in the morning.

On the Quest Trail:

Out on the Yukon Quest trail, it looks like Allen Moore, Hugh Neff and probably Lance Mackey are in a head to head race toward the Braeburn checkpoint and an 8 hour mandatory layover.  It also looks like Jake Berkowitz and Brent Sass are gaining ground on the leaders, which could make for a very exciting finish, probably some time on Tuesday.

Unfortunately, the SPOT trackers carried by the mushers must be reset every 24 hours, a task that some seem to forget.  Thus they can't be relied upon to tell us what's happening at any given minute.  My best guess is that Allen, Hugh and Lance are very close to each other but there is no way to know for sure who is actually in the lead until they reach the checkpoint.

I will likely post more about the race later today.

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