Thursday, February 9, 2012

Whip Sledding

My friend Trish Cordon has been helping me run the dogs most of the season, riding in the basket and helping me sort out issues as they may arise.  Behind the scenes, she's helps with feeding, scooping and the other day to day chores required to keep even a relatively small recreational kennel functioning.  Yesterday she took a big step toward her goal of running a team herself, by going "whip sledding".

Whip sledding is a local term we use to refer to the practice of having the team pull two sleds, with a musher on each.  Although it looks like one sled is towing the other, the tow line that connects the rear sled is actually attached to the dog's gang line, rather than the sled ahead.

We call it whip sledding because the second sled is like the last kid in line in the game of crack the whip.  When we go around a corner the rear sled must travel a wee bit faster than the front sled, and frequently gets whipped around, sometimes pretty sharply.

Since this was Trish's first time up on runners, I chose to truck the team over to Pleasant Valley, and run some of the little streets in that residential neighborhood.  I figured we would have fewer trees or other obstructions to deal with, and Trish could focus on driving the sled with minimal risk of a serious crash.  I also wanted to give my young leaders more gee / haw work on trails they aren't familiar with.

The run went better than I had any right to expect.  I made up the tow rope by making eye splices in both ends of a 20 foot length of 1/2 inch, 3 strand nylon rope.  It's the same rope that I use for much of my gear because it is actually stronger than the braided polypropylene that many mushers prefer, and I have more experience in working with it than I do the hollow core stuff that is so popular.  Eye splices really aren't as difficult to make as some would have you believe.

How to make an eye splice
One doesn't want the tow line to be too long, as that would exagerate the whip effect making it much more difficult to control the trailing sled, but if too short the "whip" musher might not have enough time to react to sudden stops or directional changes and crash into the sled and musher ahead.  This one turned out to be just the right length to go under my traveling sled to connect to my toboggan sled.

From Pleasant Valley Store we ran down the trail that parallels Chena Hot Springs Road to Pleasant Valley Road, and then turned 'haw' to the south.  That trail has several little dips and moguls on which Trish could learn to adjust the amount of weight on the drag needed to keep her tow line tight, without over tiring the team.  Once on Pleasant Valley Road, we stuck mostly to residential streets, which are hard packed and bit icy.  This made for a fast run overall, but allowed us several directional changes and turns, providing the gee / haw work for the leaders and team.

On the way back toward the start of our adventure, I screwed up.  It's been a couple of years since I've mushed over there, and someone has built a storage unit that has seen a bit of vehicle and snow machine traffic that I wrongfully thought might lead to a trail back to the store.  As a consequent the team had to break through the snow with no trail at all for 100 yard or so.  It was taxing work and required some good gee / haw responses from the team to get back on track, but bless their hearts they did it with aplomb.  I couldn't be more proud of my team and the work they did for us.

We only went about 4 miles, but at an average speed of 9.0 miles per hour.  The temperature was above freezing and I was concerned about my furry dogs getting too warm.  They finished the run in good shape in spite of warm temperatures and the humans and the dogs all had a great deal of fun in the process.  I'll post the entry from my training journal at the end of today's blog post.

Allen Moore Won the Gold:

The front-runners from this year's Yukon Quest arrived at the Dawson checkpoint late last night, with SP Kennels musher Allen Moore in first place.  Allen had passed Lance Mackey and Hugh Neff without fully realizing it, and as a result of his move earned 4 ounces of gold.  At today's prices that's the equivalent of about $6,900.00 USD.  Allen arrived 19 minutes ahead of Lance Mackey (2nd) and less than an hour before Hugh Neff (3rd).  Currently nine of the Top-10 mushers are in Dawson and settled in for their mandatory 36 hour lay-overs, giving themselves and their dogs some much needed rest.


13 / - / -

12 / - / -

12 / - / -

12 / - / -

14 / - / -

12 / - / -

9 / - / -

10 / - / -

12 / - / -

The date and time in the far right column of the chart indicates when each musher is eligible to get back out on the trail.

Date, Day, &c:
Wednesday, 2-8-12
Mileage & Speed: 
4 miles, max speed 12.6 mph, average speed 9.0 mph
Whip sleeding.  Traveling sled up front, toboggan sled in rear
Route, Trail & Terrain Conditions: 
Pleasant Valley neighborhood streets with small section of breaking out trail.  Hard packed, icey streets with short sections of hard packed trail and small section of no trail at all.
Overcast and temps in the low 30s
Orion & Capella
Selene & Cassiopeia
Beau & Nels
Trish Cordon's first time up on runners.  She did very well during this trip.

Dogs were a bit wild during hookup, perhaps because they haven't launched from the truck in some time.  Leaders did a nice job of responding to cues overall.  Had some difficulty figuring out "straight ahead" through a four way intersection the first time through, but no problem later on in the run.

Swanny screwed up and got us into a dead end parking lot, but the team broke trail and did some very nice gee/haw work in the process to get back on a packed trail to return to the truck.

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