Thursday, November 22, 2012


Brake: A device for slowing or stopping motion, as of a vehicle, especially by contact friction. 2. Something that slows or stops action. v. braked, brak·ing, brakes.

It's difficult to believe as I sit in the cabin typing that a winter storm is coming. The days have been mild and spring-like with unseasonably warm temperatures - around mid-50s most days this week.

The dogs and I have resorted to running only at night under the cooling shroud of darkness because of the warmth. This can make for quite an adventure without a means of stopping.

Yes, it's true: I have been training all this fall without much of a brake to speak of on my four wheeler.

Some commands are more concrete to sled dogs. Like, for example, gee. Two nights ago, about five miles into our run in the quiet night, we came to an intersection in the trail. I called "Gee," and Yeti immediately perked up his head and turned sharply right down the connecting trail. No problem.

Other commands are more ... fluid in meaning to sled dogs. Like, for example, whoa.

Behind every sled dog is perhaps hundreds of years of breeding churning them forward. Their momentum is not to stop; their very DNA says go! Stopping is, therefore, counter-intuitive to their core.

Mushers in the area joke about my braking system. I carry a large piece of triangular firewood on my four wheeler and throw it under the front tire when we stop. Occasionally my "brake" flies out of the basket on the front of my four wheeler.

My "brake"

I bought new pads for my four wheeler, but before I left Ohio, found out that the drum was worn down so the new pads didn't even make a difference in stopping. And by that time, I didn't have time to do full repairs on the four wheeler. So I have winged it. Good practice for a sled, right?

During a 15 mile training run the other night, I stopped on a hill to water the dogs. It was still humid and warm - about 42 degrees - and when it's that warm, I carry water and stop along the trail to cool the dogs down with a fresh drink. Like clockwork, I chucked the "brake" under my front wheel which was also turned sharply to the left. I walked up the line of 10 dogs, patting heads and giving praise for a job well done, and threw the bowls down to begin watering, starting with my leaders.

Ruffian is my most intense dog, and young leader-in-training, Dirk, is close behind her.

By the time I set the bowls down in front of my wheel dogs, Ruffian and Dirk decided they were ready to go. They began hammering in their harnesses and barking intensely.

Before I knew what had happened, they pulled the quad over the "brake" and were hauling it up hill. Instinctively, I grabbed the gangline and yelled "whoa!" several times. I even called out Ruffian's name and told her "no!" sharply.

To no avail.

Don't worry. This story has a happy (but painful) ending. I ended up stopping the four wheeler ... with my body. I have a large, black painful welted bruise on my right hip to show for it. But I managed to hop on the seat, aggravated, but no worse for the wear.

my right hip. Ouch!

I saw Bob Shaw today. He stopped at the end of the driveway and asked how my adventures are going. I told him this little story.

He chuckled and said, "always an adventure with you!"

Yup. Always an adventure with these crazy dogs!

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