Saturday, November 30, 2013

November: make it or break it

November is the month in fall dog training where, in my opinion, the most growth occurs. November is when we move from the shorter, fun runs of October into longer mileage. The early days of November can still be mild, but by this time in the season, the runs are long, cold, and sometimes tedious.

I have changed my strategy this season. In the past, I've been most concerned with the number of miles accumulated on the team. This season, I've focused on consistent, quality hook-ups and time on the trail rather than the accumulated total miles.

The biggest challenge this season has been training exclusively from the farm in Ohio. I have to run partially on roads, and though I have trained the dogs to run on the berm, we still have to rely on roadways to cross into trails. This can really take a toll on paws and joints, so on almost every run, I have been double-booting the dogs to protect their feet.

This can take a toll on my purse!

These are dog booties. Image courtesy of Katy and Troy Groeneveld of Ten Squared Racing.  

Booties range from $1.50 - $2.50 per boot. I currently have nine dogs in training, and covering back feet is imperative for seven of the 9 dogs I have. That's 28 boots. For one run. Dollar-wise, that's about  $42 in booties. Most of the time, I re-use booties. But often, the outer most bootie can't be re-used.

Then, there are necklines, snaps and rope.

A handful of fresh, clean necklines 

I happen to have a team of sharks instead of dogs. They think necklines and tuglines - the rope that connects the team to the mainline that pulls the sled - are dental floss. I have to babysit them while I am hooking up to make sure they don't chew threw my necklines while I'm hooking the rest of the team. I've gone through more necklines this season than I care to count.

So I had an idea.

Secret weapon against neckline chewing?
A bottle of hot sauce costs about .59 cents. I doused my lines with the stuff in an attempt to prevent the dogs from chomping through them during hook-ups. I thought it was sure to work.

Turns out, dogs think hot sauce is the cat's meow. They were licking my line - and their lips - more than ever.

So much for that.

I am currently looking for sponsors to help offset the cost of booties, necklines, and all the other costs associated with keeping the team healthy and happy. All sponsors receive a "thank you" calendar of your choice of photos from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the beautiful land we train and race in or of the dogs.

If you'd like to make a donation to the kennel, click here

Our first race, The Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Race, is January 4 along the shores of Lake Superior. December will be busy! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"...there was nowhere to go but everywhere, keep rolling under the stars...” - Kerouac

I look in the houses as I pass at the televisions glowing in the dim light through picture windows. People warm in their houses watching The Office. I could be home watching television. Instead, I'm out here.

Smoke hangs in the boggy recesses from distant wood stoves. The dogs alert me to things in the woods before I even notice them other wise. My leaders' ears perk up, alert, searching the thicket. Two green dots glow in the woods, something watching me, us. I look over, and the pale beam of my headlamp parts the darkness and finds a lone doe standing, staring at what must seem like a startling spectacle on the trail. A girl and 9 dogs in the night.

I'm tired. After teaching all morning, working for my other job at the medical school, zooming home to be there for Elise when she gets off the bus, and dealing with dinner, it's sometimes difficult to find the motivation to head out into the night and hook up nine screaming huskies hell bent on miles to a line and go.

But once I'm out there, under the stars breathing that cool, crisp air, I'm wide awake.

The dogs chug along, puffs of steam rising from their mouths like tiny train engines. I look up at the stars; it seems like there's a billion visible out here in the night. I think about the upcoming winter.

Mushing is not for those who need instant gratification. It takes perseverance and dedication in training to build up to a place where dogs can go miles and miles once the snow flies. Hours are logged behind dog butts to get to that point, build endurance and good habits and muscle. Keeping perspective is essential. I must remember always what the end goal is. My friend Joann Fortier has a saying for those nights when we don't feel like hooking up the dogs: you just got passed. Consistent hook ups are crucial. Even on nights when we might not want to.

I think of Kerouac and one of my favorite lines: "there was nowhere to go but everywhere, keep rollin' under the stars."

And we keep rollin, rollin, rollin...

Monday, November 4, 2013

Fall in full swing

Fall is in full swing, and unfortunately, blogging about it has been the last thing on my mind!

October is always my favorite month, and it's a time of real conditioning for the dogs. In the beginning of the month, our focus is on muscle-building, and slow, shorter runs are key. We start out the season with 2-4 mile training runs to get the dogs back in the swing of things, but by mid-October, we're running 10 miles.

Every year for the past seven seasons, I drive up to my friends Bob and Jan Shaw's home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for their annual fall sled dog training session. They live right next door to the cabin I lived in last season. My oldest daughter, Sophie, has grown up knowing them as sort of surrogate grandparents. It was with Jan that Sophie had her first solo ride on a dog sled when she was seven. Hard to believe that was seven years ago!

Sophie is a teenager now and has taken an interest in other things besides hanging out with her mom and a bunch of dogs. It's been awhile since she joined me up north, but this season was extra special as she decided she wanted to return to the great north woods with her sister and me for a weekend of running dogs!

Sophie hugs a dog at Nature's Kennel
We had a great weekend running dogs and catching up with all of our mushing friends ... after a slight mishap. On the desolate stretch of M-123 between Trout Lake and Moran, where it's almost impossible to even reach a cell signal, the dog trailer got a flat. It was just after dark, and I had no way to change the tire, for, you see, this is not just any dog trailer. This is my dog trailer: which the previous owner had conveniently rigged to make it impossible to change a tire by bolting the wheel to the axle. A normal tire iron will not work; one needs socket wrenches and tools.

Luckily, I was traveling within 30 minutes of friends I've known but had only just met that day: Sandy and Karyn, who were en route to Shaw's training session, too. I had just enough signal to put out an S.O.S. to them, and they came to find the girls, dogs and me stranded there by the side of the tiny state road.

For the sake of brevity, the cliff's notes version of the story is we managed to double-box some of Sandy and Karyn's dogs two-to-a-box - enough to make room for mine...with some improvising. Four of mine had to ride in the car with the girls and me. I picked the four who I knew would get along splendidly and we finally made it to Bob and Jan's!

It was bittersweet being back on these same beautiful trails that were our backyard last season.

Stopped along the trail, Tosh (right) gets a turn at lead with Big Brown (laying down)

The dogs knew exactly where we were. The trails are so good for the dogs because they're all sand. Great for feet, joints and muscle-building.

The team running in the morning sun

I miss living up in the Upper Peninsula, and it was awesome to spend time with the girls in these old stomping grounds. They're such good helpers and always so good with the dogs. 

Elise hugs Dove aka Dover - a dog I'd known years ago who now runs tours at Nature's Kennel
Here are some pictures taken of the team taking off, thanks to mushing fans and supporters, Claudia and Lee Nowak.

My crazy dogs, amped and ready to roll

And we're off!

Saturday night, we all gathered inside to eat some great food and listen to Bruce Magnusson talk about the Copper Dog 150
And catch up with good friends. My friend, Stan, sits next to me. I was focused on listening to Bruce

Now it's November, and the fun short training runs will give way to longer, colder, and often wetter training runs. We have a lot of work ahead of us in the next two months before our first race. Stay tuned and as always...