Gealach Mor Siberians
Working sleddogs - just for the love of it..............
January was a really busy month, the snows finally came, my wife flew back over along with my best friend and the racing has started.
Updates to follow.................... honest .
Returning from the run across Umbagog Lake, Vader and Beth lead the chase back to the trucks. Paddy from Aviemore gets to drive Scottish huskies in Maine, USA
Happy New Year to everyone. A late start to the day for some reason.........................
Despite snow dances galore and much finger crossing, there is still not enough lying on the ground to safely run a sled, so with a heavy heart, I dragged the cart back out and headed off to the Bristol end of the Hill trail for the first run of the New Year. making a full day of it, I ran two teams, the second string, boosted by an appearance by BB, went out for 6.5 miles while the first team, with Fina promoted ran for 12.5.
You can't see the dot in the distance that is Kevin leading the way and neither could I. BB astounded me by tracking the snowmachine's trail exactly - no matter where it went.
Tied off to the snowmachine, snowhooks barely gripping into the lake ice, the dogs are not impressed at a break after only 6 miles.
My constant moaning about a lack of snow and no sled running has obviously had an effect on my friends. Today I find out that they have been phoning around to try and find us an area where we can go and get the sleds out. It does seem to have been generally a slow snow winter, but our friends, Kevin and Polly in Newry, Maine are sure that they can find us something to run on, so with great excitement, we load the trucks and head a couple of hours north. Kevin and Polly run Mahoosuc Guiding Service, offering dogsled trips of varying lengths in the winter and hiking and kayaking in the summer.
We meet up and head over to the trailhead where we met Andy and Caroline of Crescent Moon Sleddogs, who have just finished their run. A fortunate meeting, as they are able to advise us that the strong wind has blown the trail clear and there are several large bare patches on some steep downhill sections. Never one to be downhearted for long, Kevin comes up with a couple of alternatives and we set off again for Umbagog Lake this time.
Three teams were hooked up, Lidia with 5 of her big furries, I ran 5 of my guys and Paddy, a fellow Scot, who was wintering with Kevin and doing some guiding was along on his day off and asked to run my other 6 dogs. An interesting trail, made even more so by the locked single bar gate blocking the trail about a mile in. Some limbo moves later and we are all safely through and off down the trail before coming out onto the frozen lake. By now, it has started to snow and the visibility was dropping rapidly. Kevin was ahead on a snowmachine and the dogs were to follow him across the lake, round the farside perimeter before returning to our starting point. Things were a little complicated by the lack of snow cover on the lake - it was like running across an icerink, oh yeah, and the ice creaks and flexes ! The dogs did struggle quite a bit to retain their footing and several times I wondered about the wisdom of this trip.
After a short break and mindful of the continuing and increasingly heavy snowfall, we turned for home. The lake was much easier to run on now with the couple of inches of new snow which had come down since we went out. After leaving the lake and getting back onto the trail, we stopped to make sure that all 3 teams were together again. It was at this point I had my moment of madness - it just goes to show how quickly things can go from calmly being in control to complete chaos. As I turned to check on Paddy and Lidia, I also pulled my snowhook - feeling the tension on the gangline release, the dogs took off with a jerk and I was unceremoniously dumped off the back of the runners. It's a musher's nightmare to lose a team, hence the oft repeated mantra "never let go". However, that is easier said than done when tumbling backwards and not actually having anything to hold on to anyway. Fortunately one of the safety precautions I take is to tie a "last chance rope" off one of the rear stanchions of the sled. This 10' rope drags along behind the sled and is there so that if you do come off, you have one last chance to grab on. As I went down and the rope went by, I somehow caught hold of it and wrapped the last couple of feet around my hand. I then proceeded to be dragged on my belly and back, whipping around and yelling at the dogs to WOAH - or something like that. Everytime they did slow down, I would take up a little of the slack on the line before they shot off again. At one point I distinctly recall surfing behind the sled on my knees.Eventually - and it was probably only a couple of minutes and no more than a few hundred yards despite feeling a whole lot longer and further - I managed to get back on the runners and the dogs continued on as if this was all perfectly normal.
Sadly, in the coming few days, it was to be an all too common occurrence!
Once safely back at the trucks, Paddy confessed to having laughed so much that he was in pain but that he did think the knee surfing was cool and could possibly catch on as a new winter sport.
Yahboo and Opechee lead Lidia's team home.
Vader and Beth settling in the snow after the run.
With some snow now on the ground, I was at last able to run the team from our house on a sled. My training buddies were all otherwise occupied so I was fortunate that no-one was around to witness the shambles and terror that followed. Perhaps I should have learnt from the dragging incident on Thursday, but where's the adventure in that? My one saving grace was that I only hooked up 5 dogs, Ubee, Harry, Fina, Milloy and BB. Even so, I managed to remain upright for mere yards, before we hit the 90 degree left turn out of the yard onto the trail. The sharp turn, combined with a snow bank, tipped the sled and left me, once again, staring at the snow from inches as the dogs continued to pull us along. I felt quite a sense of achievement at being able to right the sled and climb back on the runners all while still moving. A feat I was to continue to perfect in the coming days !
Once out on the trail, we climbed steadily for a couple of miles, crashing through some large water bars, before coming down the other side of what we had just gone up. The downslope had rather less snow and rather more ice - an interesting prospect as the dogs relish the downhill stretch and charge off. Muffled curses, heels dug in, dragmat down and somehow we reach the bottom in one piece and still moving. Another long steady climb, another similarly hair-raising descent. And so on, a series of ups and downs, it seems that FLAT doesn't exist on my side of the Dorchester trail network. Not quite lost.......... but a little unsure of where we are, I turn the dogs and we head for home - back up the downs and down the ups. Fortunately there is a short cut and we take the 2 mile spur back to the house - a nice steady gentle downhill, except for the water bars, ice and a rather rutted trail. I don't know how the dogs felt, but I was knackered and bruised. According to the GPS, it was 15.5 miles - it felt a whole lot further.
Well it had snowed a little, so I resolved to give our team another bash at the same trail. Bash turned out to be the operative word - the snow hadn't really had much of an impact on the trail - it was still icy, bumpy and generally quite a test of my sled handling skills and ability to hang on.
Much debate preceded this trip north to Pittsburg,NH. The weather forecast was not promising - winter was definitely slow in arriving and a thaw was being promised, possibly followed by rain, of all things. Eventually a reduced trip was agreed upon, Lidia and I decided to go and hope that conditions up there were better.
A nice early start for the 3 hours drive - highlight of which was crossing the 45th Parallel - and we arrived at Magalloway Road in Pittsburg, which is one of the trail access points. Lidia had arranged to meet up with a couple of the guys from the local snowmobile club, who were putting together a piece for their club website about dogteams sharing the Ridgerunners trail system. Somehow, we had "volunteered" to assist and ended up getting our pictures taken and giving the mushers' views on snowmachines and dogteams.
The article can be read here
Eventually, interviewing over, we got on the trail - what a great area, hundreds of miles of groomed trail and because it was midweek, hardly anyone else was there. I hooked up 7 dogs - race season is only a couple of weeks away and I'm still not sure of my best 6 dogs. The intention is to run a reasonable distance today and perhaps close to race distance tomorrow with the same group of dogs. Trail map at the ready, we set out, up Magalloway Road, onto Corridor 20, and off into the wilderness.
Just a wonderful run, the dogs settled down to a good steady pace and I was able to relax and enjoy the view. All too quickly, we found ourselves on the homeward leg, 17 miles done and the dogs have been great. Back at the truck, I dropped the remaining dogs and everyone was watered with the workers getting a meal. Working quickly as it was rapidly getting dark, we harnessed our second teams and headed back out. A shorter run was planned as much to give the dogs that have been sitting patiently in their boxes most of the day a chance to stretch their legs as for any other reason. In the last of the late afternoon light, Vader and Beth led my team, with Seven, Trey and Tasker. In an amazingly short space of time, the light seemed to disappear and we were running in increasing darkness, this combined with a strengthening wind and the strangest icy rain, didn't make for much of a fun time. The rain was so weird, it seemed to fall as rain but as soon as it touched anything it instantly froze - you could feel it slick on your hat, jacket, sled handlebar, the dogs' coats.
We had taken a different trail with our second, smaller teams, a trail which seemed to climb and climb, always headfirst into the strong wind. Beth decided that she really wasn't interested in battling on and she repeatedly pulled Vader off the trail into the shelter of snowbanks. In desperation, I put Seven into lead, (a previously failed experiment, Seven had never shown the drive necessary to be in front of the team and had always balked when offered the chance before) and was pleasantly surprised - perhaps shocked even - by her. It was like someone had taken my Seven and replaced her with a real sleddog. She knuckled down and physically started the team moving, dragging Vader onwards by his neckline until he felt compelled to move. She set a great pace and marched the team onwards up the hill until at 5 miles out, we called a halt and decided to turn back to the trucks. Seven once again rose to the occasion and proceeded to lead both teams home - apart from a couple of minor blemishes on her record, where she followed the mantra that the shortest route between two points is a straight line - whilst true, it is not always feasible when following trails. Her insistence that she was correct was tempered somewhat when she tried to lead us over a snowbank into the trees. However, I was so pleased with her newfound attitude that I could forgive her anything. Strangely, the wind which had been blowing strongly in our faces on the way out had somehow veered and was STILL blowing strongly in our faces, driving the freezing rain and making it a rather cold, damp, icy but still exciting run home.
Back at the truck, the parking area was now a sheet of ice, making it almost impossible to walk on. Feeding the dogs and packing up became a whole new adventure - now I know how Bambi felt !
We had booked a cabin to stay in overnight and Lidia did some sterling navigating to get us there - a wonderful hot dinner was prepared and we were able to sit and relax and chat about the day's adventures. At last bedtime beckoned and I had no sooner laid my head on the pillow than I became aware of the constant whining that I had thought was coming from the tv for most of the evening. My dog truck was parked right outside my bedroom - the noise was Milloy. I tossed and turned, muttering veiled threats under my breath and gave him several deadlines to shut up and go to sleep. Worries about Lidia yelling at me or a gun -toting delegation from one of the neighbouring cabins began to pray on me. Memories of his incessant and non-stop whinging during that first night at Boot Camp ( he finally quit at 5.00 AM - we were up at 05.45 .........) ran through my mind and as his last deadline passed with no reduction in the noise at 1.30, I gave in, got up and got dressed. Dragged my good sleeping bag out and headed out to the truck for a "good night's snoozing on the back seat". Milloy's racket had instigated a minor rebellion and both BB and Takeo were also voicing their objections. It gets pretty cozy on the back seat of an F350 in a 4 season sleeping bag with 3 huskies for company. And while it may be cozy, it's not that comfortable - nor easy to breathe with a 70 lb dog sitting on your chest.
The Magnificent Seven - Ubee and BB in lead,
My day started with a jerk - as Lidia opened the truck door which I was using as a pillow. Turned out I had overslept - well not really, as I never actually got to sleep till well after 5.00. She found my night in the truck to be very amusing, especially once she heard that I had gone out to keep the dogs quiet because I was concerned that they were keeping her awake. She had fallen asleep immediately - hadn't heard the dogs, hadn't heard me going out - still, she brought coffee out once she realised where I was.
Our plan had been to be on the trail by 9.00 - so we were already running late, but I needed breakfast and the dogs needed hydrated.
Once organised, we headed back over to Magalloway Road and prepared our teams. I went with the same team set up. Whilst delighted with Seven's performance yesterday, I wasn't ready to offer her instant promotion on the basis of one good performance. We agreed the route and set off.
The agreed plan was that at each major junction, the leading team would wait for the other to catch up. My 7 dog team was obviously faster than Lidia's 5 dog team which meant I had time to take photographs, to enjoy the views and to snack my dogs. The junctions turned out to be between 7 and 8 miles apart, which meant I had a series of nice 40 minute runs. Snowmachine traffic was still fairly light and each rider was polite and considerate to the dog teams. All of the dogs performed well, we didn't get lost and it was quite a sad feeling when I completed the last turn and knew we were on the last leg, heading back to the truck. 24 miles run and a real feeling that this was what running dogs is all about.
As yesterday, the rest of the dogs were given a shorter run, Lidia and I heading in different directions. Seven, once more given the chance to show that yesterday was not a fluke, excelled herself and worked like a little Trojan. There's hope for that girl yet. An 8 mile run ended all too soon, but there was the long drive home to consider and the snow cover was wearing thin with bare patches showing on some spots. If the promised rain comes, what snow remains won't last long.
Waiting for Lidia at the Junction of Corridor 20 East.
Harry Ubee leading
Marching home, 22 miles later and still running well.
A manic morning of trying to tidy the house, rather the worse for wear and then a dash south on
I 93 to Boston Airport to collect my wife and my best mate David, who have flown over from Scotland for a 10 day holiday and to help handle the race dogs at my first mid-distance race.
After the excitement of having visitors and a well earned day of rest, it was back to the training routine. Several of our friends came up to the house to see Joyce, run dogs and have lunch..... not sure in which order they were prioritised !
A quick scout up the trail showed sufficient snow cover and we gathered round the trail map to ensure that no-one got lost.
4 dog teams, Jeff and Granite skijoring and David riding shotgun and acting as official photographer (on his first ever time driving on a snowmachine). Joyce was looking forward to riding in the sled as she hadn't seen the dogs work since November.
We hooked up 9 dogs for the task of pulling both of us around the hilly trails - a decision that we would come to regret later in the day...........
The snow cover on the first mile was ok, but quickly turned to a nasty mixture of rutted ice and the odd bare spot, with some still exposed water bars. Each time we considered the wisdom of carrying on, a decent stretch of trail would appear. After a few miles, we decided to try Rocky Loop - a very well named trail ! It steadily dropped downhill, and then started switching back and forth in a series of tight turns - the ice hampering my braking attempts and then disaster struck. The sled got flicked right, then left and I lost control and it tipped over, dumping my wife and our gear in a small stream. Worse was to follow as I tried to secure the sled amongst all the noise of dogs and wife. It turned out that my wife's complaint was the fact that one of our snowhooks was embedded in her butt and every time the dogs lunged forward it was pulling on her. Fortunately we managed to get the other hook in place, retrieve the first one and tidy up our debris and inspect the wound. Happily, the end result was not as bad as I feared , some torn pants, a large bruise and a minor nick.
Not long after this, we met up with the other teams and after a short break, during which, Hiram's lead dogs were chewed loose by Puck, and Vader tried a similar trick with our dogs as we repaired the damaged line, we decided to turn for home and were pleased to complete the rest of the 17 miles without further incident.
Hooking up, Ubee and BB hold the team out
Hiram of Rubicon Alaskan Malamutes
Vicky of Rubicon Alaskan Malamutes
Click here for the rest of January's diary