Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Late Greats: Follies Untold

In doing research for my latest article for Mushing, I have gotten a crash course in some of the foundations of mushing in the lower 48. I discovered this picture of Millie Turner while doing research on mushing in New Hampshire and the New England Sled Dog club. I've been reading about greats such as Arthur T. Walden and his dog Chinook who founded the backbone of the Chinook breed of sleddog at the turn of the century after returning from goldrush country in the Yukon.

Reading about the foundations of the Seppala Siberian, and great mushers like Dr. Roland Lombard, Dick Moulton, George Attla, and interviewing greats like Harris Dunlap of the Adirondacks - all of whom were at one time or another champions of the Open Class North American Sled Dog race in Fairbanks.

We start mushing because of the allure of the dogs: the sound of teams clamoring for the trail; the enthusiasm of huskies jumping three feet into the air, slamming into their harnesses; the fury and rush of runners on snow. But eventually, we begin to realize the connection this sport has to a great history teaming man and beast. History is important to mushing, and learning those big names, George Attla, Joe Redington, Leonard Seppala, starts becoming important.

Any one of those people started on the runners like anyone else. And though they may not have admitted it, or many might not know about the particular mishaps, I'm sure there were plenty of learning experiences and mishaps along their training. This is part of it.

I learned more from Don Bowers and Gary Paulsen's accounts of mishaps on the trail than I ever did hearing stories of great runs.

I hope that my honesty about my trials and mishaps in training do not appear as clumsy as they appear honest, realistic tales of what it's really like running dogs in this crazy sport. I offer these stories up humbly because it would certainly be easy to poke fun at me for my follies and adventures. And I hope somehow, they can help someone crazy enough to hook multiple dogs to a single sled in the snow learn, and also learn how humbling, tough, completely ungraceful and absolutely amazing this sport can be.

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