Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Training for the Hudson Stuck Reenactment Expedition.

A nice lady named Kimberly asked a question on our National Geographic Expedition Granted contest page that requires more than the allowed 500 characters to properly answer, so I will try to answer it here instead. Kimberly asked "What is the training program for the dogs to prepare them for the trip? Any special training for you as the musher?"

Our home community of Two Rivers, Alaska offers a wealth of well groomed trails and some challenging terrain in which to train, but retracing Hudson Stuck's 1905-06 will be considerably different than our home trails. Some sections of Dr. Stuck's route are no longer traveled so heavily as they were in Stuck's day, so conditions will be considerably different than our well maintained and traveled home trails.

Many of my dogs, especially my young leaders, have very little experience dealing with overflow - yet we can expect to encounter a lot of overflow during our expedition. We can also expect some open water crossings. Both overflow and open water crossing can be reasonably easy to manage once the team has been trained to do so, so that will be one major focus of our training regimen this coming winter.

Only a few of my dogs have spent more than a night or two away from home, camping out on the trail.  The dogs and I all need to train doing longer trips, spending multiple days and nights traveling. While we could do that using local trails, it will be more efficient and more fun to do so in a less familiar area.  I am planning several longer training runs using the trail system in the White Mountains National Recreation Area. Doing so will allow the dogs and I to develop and practice a back country traveling and camping routine, making it easier for all of us to undertake a journey of 1900 miles.

It's important that we take only proven equipment, especially considering that most of the technology my own historical team will be using has been obsolete for a century or more. In addition to running in the traditional "Nome hitch", the dogs and I also need to learn how to work efficiently in the historically popular but rare today "Mackenzie hitch", in which the dogs run single file pulling against a single gangline. I'm going to need to build a full set of historically authentic 'neck ring' or 'Yukon' style harnesses, and the dogs need to learn how to work in those historical types of harnesses rather than more modern types we've been using the past few years. 

The dogs and I also need much more experience working in high winds. Although our temperatures in the Interior are usually colder than on the coast, we rarely get the high winds and side-ways blowing snow that is common along the western coast of Alaska. A considerable portion of our tour will be along the coast, so it's vital that we learn how to cope with it.  When you consider how many highly experienced Iditarod teams were forced to scratch due to the wind and weather between White Mountain and Nome last year, it becomes readily apparent that learning to travel in nasty wind conditions may be paramount to our expedition's success. To experience similar high wind conditions we may need to travel to the Denali highway for some training runs - but even that may not be enough. Jeff King trained his team on that windy trail all last winter, yet was forced to scratch from the Iditarod between White Mountain and Nome. I plan to confer with my friend Aliy Zirkle to learn how best to prepare for those types of conditions.

Meanwhile, I personally need to spend a LOT more time working out, especially on an elliptical machine. The motion of an elliptical exercise machine is similar to that of walking on snowshoes, a task I expect to perform frequently when breaking trail along Dr. Stuck's route. 

If we win the contest we will be establishing a blog dedicated to the project, and will share more of our training objectives and track our progress toward those objectives there.

Contest rules state that we must begin the expedition within 3 months of receiving the prize. That being the case, the costs of making the necessary historical equipment and clothing and traveling to these various training locations for will have to come out of our own pockets. Since all of our expedition team members are aware of that, and willing to do so, I don't foresee it becoming a problem, but it is worth noting here. The prize will cover all or nearly all the expenses of the expedition itself, but much of the preparation will require our own investment of time, energy and yes, also money.


  1. This is so awesome. I'm totally excited for you and your team. Where's the vote button:) My 12 year old son and I hope to start camping with our dog teams this winter so someday we can do a similar, albeit shorter, trip here in the lower 48. We'll be following your blog closely.

    1. Good to hear from you. If we win the contest we'll set up a blog solely dedicated to the expedition and provide a blow by blow description of anything and everything we do to prepare for and execute it. It' exciting to hear that you and your son plan to camp with your teams. It's an invigorating lifestyle.

  2. Hi Swanny, Sounds like a great idea! Dave Lukosik in the NC mtns