The New Year has arrived with a cold snap. It's been down to 45 Below and we could see temperatures remain like this for the next few days. The long term forecast does indicate that the cold snap will ease but won't get above 0 any time soon. The dogs are curled up in their houses and are resting from last week's training session along the Denali Highway. It's time to resume their training and if it doesn't warm up here a bit then we will look for an alternative training area.
Last week I (Wes) participated in my first multi-leg training run with SP Kennel. We loaded 45 dogs into the trucks and drove to Paxson Lodge. There we unloaded, hooked up and headed 42 miles up the Denali Highway to theMaclaren River Lodge. Mushers, including Aliy and Allen, experience great hospitality at the Lodge for humans and canines making it a favorite training area. It was a comfortable 10 degrees but wind gusts, poor visibility, and snow drifts warned that it would not be a straight forward run. It ended up being the toughest run of my short mushing career.
The first 20 miles involved steep climbs and wind gusts. I was expecting this and it went alright. However, knowing that Allen and Aliy are professionals, I knew that their run would be determined by how well I kept up. I put everything into kicking and poling to ensure I didn't slow them down. We started to hit snowdrifts around mile 20, and it was exhausting. Keeping up suddenly became a lot more work. Often, I would jump off and run alongside the sled for the duration of the drifts. At one point, I jumped off the sled to run beside it and immediately sank up to my waist in snow. Unable to keep up, I grabbed the handle bar tightly and dragged behind the sled. I tried to pull my knees up onto the runners but it didn't work. I finally managed to tip the sled which brought the team to a halt and I climbed back on. There was actually no way I could help the dogs; I couldn't kick or run because the snow was so soft and deep. Ranger was in lead for Ryne, and right behind me. He was continually sniffing my heels, barking and encouraging me. Roughly translated his barks were "Git on up there now!" and "Let's go!" These are brave dogs and although I had the young ones; they quickly got the idea that running is not always hard, flat trails and they responded fantastically.
After a 6 hour run, we arrived at the Maclaren River Lodge and I was as tired as I have ever been. We immediately snacked the dogs and started soaking kibble for a feeding. We put straw down for the dogs so they could nap and then went up to our cabin to rest. Being exhausted, I removed my boots, my outer clothing, unfolded my sleeping bag, and climbed into my bag. After 25 seconds of rest, Aliy got up and announced "Time to go feed the dogs". I got out of my bag, dressed and went out to help feed the dogs. The next morning Aliy gave me the day off. They re-shuffled the teams and she, Allen and Ryne took larger teams on an extended run. Our return went much quicker but did bring its own set of challenges with it. The trail we had broken had hardened and was more firm on our return. However, due to a misunderstanding with the schedule and route of the Gin Gin 200 race, we found ourselves passing head-on with the racers. Most of these mushers I had only seen on You Tube clips. It was great to finally see them in real life. Though my momentary encounter with professional musher Hugh Neff didn’t go so well. I was persistently kicking and poling uphill while he flew down from the other direction. As he passed, he leaned out for a fist pump and yelled in encouragement, "You Go Girl!" It’s time for me to stop shaving!
Though a difficult trip, it is the highlight of my mushing experience to date. I am hungry for more and am rapidly getting addicted to this way of life.