Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sometimes we run at night...

"Sometimes we run at night.
In the full moon when it is blue and
white on the snow at the same time,
so bright and clean and open
you could read in the dark
we harness the dogs and run at night."
~ Gary Paulsen from "Dogteam"

Sometimes, running at night is necessary in this crazy sport for a variety of reasons, usually dictated by temperatures and schedules. So, like nocturnal creatures, we acclimate ourselves to operating in the dark.

If I'm being honest, sometimes I cheat. I have about 8 different headlamps of various lumens and intensities for a variety of jobs in the dark.

I have often wanted to capture our night runs this fall, but usually am too busy focusing on the dogs to juggle a camera. But I had the opportunity to go with my good friend, David Gill, and his 14 dogs on a night run while up in the U.P. last weekend. And I had an opportunity to capture mushing in this special time, when there is nothing but quiet and darkness.

Not only was I able to capture this special time of mushing through my camera lens, David, who is also a musician, has captured it in a collection of original music on a CD entitled, "Moonlight on the Snow."

Some of David's team silhouetted in the light of the four-wheeler

Something extra special and unexpected came through these photos during this run with David: an illustration of the supremely close-knit bond between a musher and their dogs.

David goes down the line, giving each dog a pat on its big furry head during a rest on a training run

He explains to me how some dogs "require" a hug before putting their harness on. Several of the 14 dogs were raised from puppies. The bond he has with these dogs - all of whom are some of the largest sled dogs I've ever seen - is clearly strong.

David patting each furry head during a rest

David knows a thing or two about running dogs at night as well. He has raced the challenging Midnight Run several times since his first attempt in 2006. And he was so inspired by these nighttime runs, he wrote a series of songs about mushing in the dark. In my opinion, "Moonlight on the Snow," simply must be listened to in its entirety.

The songs traverse through a winter adventure, starting with a ride on the runners and cymbals mimicking the twinkling sound of dog tags running to an explanation of why mushers are driven to "brave the darkness and the cold and the pain..."

David takes listeners through some of the great moments of dog sledding, to some of the not so great mishaps that go with this crazy sport.

Like being dragged head first toward a logging truck.

Or having leaders run right up to the front door of an unsuspecting neighbor whose poodle was in heat.

Anyone who has been in this sport for awhile has stories like these, and David's music will certainly appeal to those of us who will laugh knowingly at these horror stories, remembering some of our own.

But his music is also accessible to anyone - even those who have never ridden the runners. The folksy guitar rhythms, vocal harmonies and lyrics are exquisite and catchy. I find myself humming some of David's songs while running my own team.

If you would like more information about David and his huskies and music about them, please go to his web site.

David has been a great friend to me and is someone I have many things in common with. Thanks, David, for allowing me to capture some of the magic that goes on during these nighttime runs, and for taking the time to share some of your mushing experiences through music.

Mush love!


  1. If you don't mind me asking, what camera did you use for these photos? I have worked at checkpoints of the Iditarod the past two years and will be doing so again in a week. I love watching the dog teams come through at night, with the quiet sound of their feet on the snow and the condensation from their breath illuminated by the musher's headlamp -- I want to capture that as best as I can. I took a few photos last year, but it's tough because even at ISO 6400, I couldn't really have a shutter speed faster than 1/20. (I was using a Canon Rebel)

    1. Hi Jeffrey, thanks for your note. These photos were actually shot with a Canon 7D. More important almost than the camera, though, is the lens. If you were able to obtain a lens with a wide aperture to allow more light in, this would work well. One of my favorites is a 50 mm prime.

      Good luck and have fun at Iditarod!


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