My friend Trish Cordon works 7 evenings each week, so stealing some time away to run sled dogs is difficult for her. Yesterday she was able to do just that, so we decided a game of "chase me" over the trails was in order. We certainly didn't expect the challenges we had to overcome.
In the past, Trish has run smaller teams of just four or 5 dogs. Yesterday we were going further, so decided a six-dog team would be 'better'. Since Trish weighs little more than a feather in a windstorm and the toboggan sled she was driving was empty, that was probably 1 or maybe even 2 dogs more than necessary.
I was driving my traveling sled, with has nearly all my back-country camping gear in the basket. With a heavier load, 8 dogs seems to be just the right number for me on that rig.
Here is line-up of our teams:
My team -
Orion and Capella (lead)
Chetan - Grace (swing)
Selene - Vladimir (team)
Midnight's Son - Denali (wheel)
Just and Cassie (lead)
Maggie - Animosh (swing / team)
Beau - Seamus (wheel)
One of the earliest challenges was my fault. I had just installed a new type of quick release on the snub line of the sled that Trish was running. Because of the way it was set up, Trish didn't have enough strength to release it one handed. She used both hands, which resulted in her being pitched off the sled when the dog's bolted.
I realized there was a bit of an issue when Just and Cassie were trying to pass my team shorting after launching. I called for Trish to slow her team, but that didn't happen. When I glanced back to see why, it was pretty obvious. There was no musher on the sled.
I got my dogs stopped (they didn't much want to), and got her team stopped as well. Shortly after that, Maggie and Animosh started fighting. I had to break up the dog fight, while holding my sled and team in place. Meanwhile, Grace was running without a neckline, and had gotten into a bad harness tangle.
When Trish caught up with us, I pulled my guys forward a bit to fix Grace's tangle. We got everyone sorted out reasonably well and headed off again, this time with Trish practically welded to the runners of her sled. We hadn't gone all that far when Ani and Maggie decided to continue their squabble. In the ruckus Maggie slipped her neck collar.
Maggie is a little sprint-type Alaskan husky that Trish rescued as a starving stray. She's a delightful little girl who loves to run with the team, but she isn't experienced enough to run safely without a neck line.
Meanwhile, Grace was also running without a neckline as either she or Chetan had chewed it in two. Normally Grace runs quite well without a neckline, but yesterday was the exception. So, we stopped to resolve those issues. The problem now was that Maggie was rather uncooperative when it came to replacing her collar, and both teams were fresh, full of energy, and pounding at their harnesses wanting to go. I ended up grabbing another spare neckline to use on Maggie in lieu of a collar, and just lucked out that it fit perfectly, with one snap fastened through the other so it couldn't become a choke collar type set up.
Once those issues were resolved we were able to continue our run. Trish reported she had to do nearly the entire run with most of her weight on the drag mat, and sometimes on the bar brake, to keep from over-running my team. Hauling so little weight, Trish's six-dog team was much faster than my 8 dogs, and she had to work hard to prevent them from passing. Since Trish doesn't yet know the trail system, it was fairly important she stay behind me.
The important thing is that we finished our run, enjoyed some pretty scenery along with way, gave the dogs a good workout and got everyone home safely. I've already re-rigged the sleds, putting the snub line with the new type quick release on my sled and the one with the older and more easily released style on hers. That should resolve the initial problem that caused Trish to lose her team. Next time we'll either put some additional weight in Trish's sled or hook up fewer dogs so it's easier for her to control the speed. If we can keep the dogs moving we are much less likely to have to deal with squabbles between team mates.
In any event, I did capture some of our challenges on video. At the very least, it provides about 10 minutes of entertainment.