Ok, so now that I have introduced myself and you (my blog readers) and I are no longer strangers, let’s skip the courtesies and get into the nitty-gritty, the not so glamorous side of mushing. Hollywood epitomises sled dog mushing as a somewhat glamorous sport, but we all know there is a lot more to it than just standing on the runners and looking pretty while our brave and loyal companions bound through the snow, frolicking. When I was introduced to distance mushing last winter and we were beginning to up the miles and start spending much of the day on a sled, there was a rather insistent concern I had regarding logistics: how does one go to the bathroom? With a handler, the problem is much simpler – one person holds the brake and keeps an eye on the dogs, while the other goes and takes care of business. Sounds simple, right? Well, the other day I realised that despite the number of measures we take, the dogs always manage to catch us with our pants down… quite literally.
Take my run from a few days ago. Conditions were a little hairy – we had 4 inches of snow on the ground from the previous night which was just beginning to melt, and the road was SLICK. I had just amped up my team from 16 dogs to 18, and they were raring to go. I know the trail well and the turnaround at the end of the loop is not too technical, but preferring to take the safe route, I brought my handler, Dean, along with me for the ride, just in case I got myself into any awkward situations. Oh boy, did I ever.
|Cali and Sumo in lead|
Cali is our new leader and at 3 years old she is just beginning to tap her potential. She shows a lot of promise, but generally we run our young leaders with a more experienced leader to show them the ropes. I had her running with Sumo, one of our Alaskan huskies, who tends to be a little… innovative... when it comes to taking directions on the trail. We approach our turn-around at the end of the loop and prepare to run up to the front of the string in case I need to deal with any ‘funny business’. Sumo takes the corner nice and wide and the whole team completes the manoeuvre with a 10.0 score. Perfect - couldn’t be more proud of them... I’m happy (and relieved!) with the result and of course I make a big deal out of this and the team is inundated with praise and affection before continuing our merry way down the trail. By this point we have been on the trail almost 2 hours and of course… well... nature calls. I call a “WHOA!” and stop the team – it’s a good chance for them to take a break for a few minutes and allow me to do what I need to do, and I have Dean there to keep an eye on them for me. No dramas. I choose my tree and make my way down the bank to assume the position. Just at that point, I hear Dean call out, and he’s saying something along the lines of, “Uh oh… uh oh!” I look up, and I see my team completing a perfect 180-degree turn in double file, led by Sumo with Cali trotting alongside because she simply doesn’t know any better. Not one disagreement, not one tangle – just my team lined out on the trail silently waiting for me to get up there and drive them forward… EXCEPT THEY’RE FACING IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION. Honestly, I could not replicate a more perfect about-face even if I tried, and I would never even DREAM of turning my 18 dog team around on such a narrow section of the trail unless I absolutely had to. I am still replaying this scene in my mind and shaking my head in disbelief.
|Heading out with 18|
Now that my team has turned around perfectly, of course there’s no way I’m going to be able to replicate this again without any issues. Driving the ATV around is the easy part, and fortunately there is a clearing not too far down the road where I can improvise my own trail and get them back on the road, facing in the correct direction. With some creative driving and just a little ‘encouragement’ from myself and Dean, I get the team back on the road, facing in the correct direction, without any terrible snafus.
Now, on top of all this… I still need to pee. So I march right to the front of the team, drop my pants and assume the position while staring my leaders right in the eyes. “You guys aren’t going ANYWHERE!”
Of course right at that moment a truck full of hunters comes around the bend…