As I sit and pen edition 4 of Wes and Wendy's Weather, I am filled with anxious trepidation; last night the thermometer hit 35 degrees and this morning, 45. Above zero!
The snow slid off our roof in avalanches last night forming a moat of slush around the cabin. Patches of brown are appearing all over the yard where the snow is melting! Weather forecasts predict mixed rain and snow over the next few days. Our meticulously groomed trails with their packed bases, face the threat of being good for nobody but Canadian curlers. For mushers, slick, icy trails bring training to a virtual standstill. Both dogs and mushers struggle for traction on icy trails and the snow hook is useless. In addition, the risk of injury to everyone increases. To add insult to injury, areas just west of Fairbanks have a foot of snow predicted. The National Weather Service has promised us some snow over the next few days but we are not holding our breath.
What does this mean for SP Kennel? It means that during the next week, trail conditions will be monitored closely and if it is considered unsafe for the dogs then we will start working the phones. "Has anyone checked out the trails in the White Mountains? What about in the Denali area?" If the right conditions do not come to mushers, then competitive mushers go looking for the right training conditions.
Since releasing the last edition of Wes and Wendy's Weather, my personal mushing skills have developed considerably. I am constantly being challenged with different aspects of team management. (If anybody is unfamiliar with my initial struggles managing a sled, you can read Edition Three HERE.) I am happy to say that I have found my sled feet, and am relaxed during runs. I now am able to harness, booty, and jacket all the dogs on my team; as well as hook up my sled with all the right cables and hooks. My confidence wavers however, when I look up from a narrow part of the trail and see another dog team barreling towards us. More than once panic has set in when I have realized that the person on the other sled is the legendary Rick Swenson. Thankfully the SP Kennel dogs are highly experienced and well trained. They "On By" with minimal encouragement and don’t lunge or bark at passing teams.
The smoothness of current team passing is a vast improvement from my first trail encounter. It was nearly a month ago now, Allen hooked up a large team and attached a second "whip" sled for me. After a disastrous start that saw me trail grooming more than sledding, my confidence in sled management was as low as it could possibly go. This was worsened by the fact that, due to prevailing trail conditions, snow and ice was being sprayed up from Allen's drag right into my eyes. I was mushing virtually blind. It seemed that with no warning another team was practically on top of us. Remembering what Allen had instructed, I jumped on the right runner with both feet expecting that the sled would slide to the far right of the trail. It did not and merely angled the nose of the sled straight into the middle of the oncoming team. "I'm going to kill that dog!" was my first horrified thought. I jumped off the runner and, holding on as tightly as I could, ran behind the sled pulling it away from the other team. Meanwhile, our dog team was delighted to be unleashed from the 4-wheeler for the first time in the season and were happily speeding along.
It was not so easy for me, who rarely ran 12 mph even in my prime. Struggling to keep up and desperately hanging on, I realized there was a second team further down the trail. I had no choice but to put my head down and keep sprinting until we passed the second team. By the time we passed them, my elbows were hooked over the handle bar and my feet dragged behind, as I managed an unconvincing "Hi" to the stunned musher.
The moral of the story is…If anybody out there is contemplating becoming a musher, please consult your physician first.