We got a pretty nice fall of snow over Wednesday and Wednesday night, enough that I felt I should use the snowmachine to break out the trails. To get some nice, smooth trails out of it I just dragged an old truck tire behind the machine. I also grabbed a chainsaw to cut away some trees and timbers that were leaning far enough out into the trail to take an unwary or slow to react musher right off the back of the sled. I made one pass over the route and decided a second pass would really help it a lot. I had also noticed that our neighbor, who gives us permission to run the trails on his private land, had not yet broken out his trail, so I did that while I was out and about. My snowmachine had been broken down for a couple of winters, and he made it a point to break out trails for me, so it was really satisfying to be able to return the favor.
He was outside using a snow-blower to try to clear his driveway. Since he only has about an 1/8th of a mile of driveway to clear, he appreciated the opportunity to take a break and chat about sled dogs and trails for a while. He's training for a long race (200 miles) later in the season, so has been over most of the local trails so being able to compare notes was valuable to both of us.
Once I got back home it was time to put the noisy, stinking TOAD (tool of a devil) snow machine away and have some fun. Since it's still early in our training season I hooked up 6 young dogs on my team, and Trish, who is a very petite lady, hooked up four. Her team included Amazing Grace running lead beside Maggie, with Seamus and Denali in wheel (just in front of her sled). Three of her four dogs are 'rescues, and Denali is a retired racing dog who was given to me when his owner retired from racing because Denali's sire was, later in life, the best darned lead dog I EVER had on team, or can possibly hope to. Trish literally rescued Maggie off the streets, found in starving condition after having been hit by a car. You wouldn't know it today, but she was truly near death. In any event, Maggie is a small sprint-racing type of dog who just adores Grace, so we thought it would interesting to see if Maggie wanted to run in lead beside Grace.
Trish is pretty new to the mushing game, has only been running dogs for a couple of years and always with her little team following my larger team. She isn't yet confident in her ability to navigate the trail system, and it truly is a rather complicated system. Here's a map to show what I mean.
|Map of some Two Rivers dog mushing trails.|
I was a couple of hundred yards (very roughly 180 meters) beyond the intersection, waiting for her to catch up when I heard her dogs barking and carrying on. Since dogs are usually silent while running I knew something was up. My best guess was that Grace, who know the trails really well, had decided to take Trish on a longer run out to some ponds that are really pretty. Meanwhile, poor Trish had to try to hook down her sled and get the dogs turned onto the correct trail. To do that, she had to plant both snow hooks, got up to her leaders, tip the sled on it's side, and wade through the hip-deep snow to direct them to the trail she wanted.
Meanwhile, I was stuck. I was standing with both feet on the brake, and my six young dogs were STILL dragging the sled, jerking it forward a few feet at a time. There was no way the snow hooks alone would hold that team in the still soft new snow, and no tree close enough to the trail for me to snub them to. All I could do was stand on the brake and encourage Grace to bring Trish's team around. Well, when her leaders realized what Trish wanted (the other trail) they lined out nicely. Just as Trish was up righting her sled her whole team lunged, popping her snow hooks of the snow. She was dragging along behind her sled, literally climbing up the drive bow in order to get her feet on the brake to bring them under control.
Meanwhile, my guys were still lunging and screaming to go, so much so that the brake on my sled snagged on a log buried beneath the snow, and popped it out of the hard pack. It was a pretty incredible show of strength.
When we got back to the yard and Trish could tell the whole story I was VERY proud of her and her team. First, Grace proved that her leaders really are responding to her cues rather than just chasing. Second, Maggie proved that she can run in lead when beside a more experienced dog. Third, Trish proved her ability to think through a problem and correct it on her own. Fourth, in spite of the snow hooks popping out, Trish was able to regain control of her team without releasing the sled and having a runaway team.
Everything in life is a matter of perspective, and from our perspective yesterday was truly a wonderful Thanksgiving, in spite of the physical work involved. It was made even nicer because we didn't have to cook for just the two of us. Arctic Clover Cafe', about 8 miles from the house, did a HUGE community feed for those of us in area without other plans. It was WONDERFUL.