Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Bumping it up to the next level

I left the dogyard today going about 20 mph. That is what it felt like anyway. Power in a sled dog team bumps up in increments. There is a noticeble difference in power between a four dog team and a six dog team. With four dogs you are kind of playing around. Six dogs is a team. You can go hundreds of miles with six dogs. We did the first mile at a dead run, uphill. I was airborn a few times. At the first turn, the sled tipped over and I was drug a bit. Good thing I have pretty good upper body strength and was able to right the sled and hang on. The dogs didn't miss a beat.
Doppler was eating up the trail. Like I had suspected earlier speed and the power of a big team motivates him.
I rode the break to slow things down a bit. I am not training a sprint team, though after a week off, sprinting is what the dogs feel like doing. I let them have their fun a ways and then let them settle into a comfortable 12 mph. pace. I had hooked up Doppler and Jack in Lead followed by Strider and Cruiser and then Ruger and JJ in wheel. I can't wait to feel what it is like to run six dogs that are really for real. I mean trail hardened dogs in their prime. It must be electrifying. Ruger and JJ are in their autumn years, retired from racing, but still quick hard workers.
Strider is a screwball, that only pulls for the first half of the run and may not really turn out to be a sled dog. Cruiser is just a pup, running in harness fore the first season and the same for Doppler and Jack. But these three boys, in my opinion anyway, have some serious potential.
We headed out onto the gravel road, still at a lope, except for Ruger with his fast trot. Crossed route 31 and headed into the Wild Life Management area. There once again we encountered some deep drifts. There was a single fresh snow mobile track down the middle but the snow was still soft and it was slow going.
This was another excellent training opportunity for the boys in lead. There were few minor mishapps, but I kept my composure, meted out some discipline, in a quick to the point way, and we were off again. Doppler and Jack are pretty familair with the trail by now and knew the deep drifts only lasted a mile or so, so they threw themselves into harness wanting to get on a fast trail again. When we got past the drifts and up a little rise the rest of the trail was slow and punchy. A punchy trail, is a trail with a thin crust of snow on top and softer snow beneath. The dogs keep punching through and so cannot go very fast.

The kind of trails I train on are not ideal for race training. Serious racers want smooth fast trails.
There was a race in Alaska last week called the "Copper Basin 300" Many racers were using it as either a qualifier or a tune up for the iditarod. Race trails are set with snow mobiles and then allowed to harden. This year the organization went badly and the snow mobiles were only a few miles ahead of the racers. This did not allow the trail to harden which slowed the pace down to 5 mph. They want to go 10 to 12 mph to be competitive in the iditarod. Also running 300 miles at 5 mph on a soft trail conditions the dogs muscles differently and also gets the dogs settled into a slow pace. Due to these considerations, almost the entire feild withdrew from the race before finishing. That is known as "scratching". Scratching means quitting.
Even though these racers, have my respect, and many have forgotten more than I know about dog mushing, seeing most of them scratch, kind of bothered me.
I would like to think that if I were to enter a race and spend all that money, sponsorship money, often, that it takes to do it, I would not scratch unless I broke my leg or somthing or all my dogs were sick. I also would like to think I had a team that could get me from point A to point B, even if conditions were not ideal. I suspect there was a bit of a Herd mentality going on as well. Some big name mushers scratched and then lots of people followed suit. Mushing great George Attla, once said:
"If I gave my lead dog a cigarette after winning a race, the next race I would see cigarettes dangling out of the mouths of 15 other team's lead dogs."
Racing has become very specialized. Right now I am in a learning mode, learning the basics. The high point of my season will be an overnight camping trip in the Bounday Waters Canoe are wilderness. The BWCAW does not have groomed trails. So I am glad I am able to train on less than ideal conditions in order to get ready.

Well back to the run;
As we headed down the last stretch of trail onto the Stockyard road that leads to my home, We saw a cotton tail. Sled dogs are draft animals, but they are predators not horses. The reason you can hook up six dogs and run them like this harkens back to their wolf ancestors running in packs in the primordial forests.
When they sight game it motivates them and they put on a burst of speed. Fortunately when the game crosss off the trail the dogs don't veer off after them but keep heading down the trail.

As we came to the turn onto the Stock yard road (just the name of the road, its a regular gravel road) I called out "Haw" for left. I had been traveling in a rough loop. I had been calling out "Haw" quite a bit, all the turns were left so far. I think the dogs were going by memory though. I was hoping they were catching on. But they missd this turn. When the dogs miss a turn it is unwise to keep repeating the command. Otherwise the dogs will think the command for left is "Haw... HAW...HAW!!!" when it is supposed to be just simply "haw." almost in a spoken voice.

Well they missed it but JJ, my demoted lead dog, running in wheel, she knew. Luckily Jack and Doppler saw what she was trying to do and ran out ahead. The rest of the run went well except for Striders attacks of the runs. He doesn't know how to poop on the fly yet. he hits the breaks to take a dump, bunching the team up.
Experienced dogs can poop and run at the same time. They learn this from the unpleasent sensation of being drug by the rest of the team as they try to stop and squat. Strider is a burly 75 lbs though and actually can nearly stop the whole team. He managed to get going then and I was able to observe that Jack had mastered, the pooping on the fly technique. His motivation for not stopping, is not wanting to have a 75 lb German shepherd mix slam into his behind.
This last stretch of trail was a plowed road and the dogs did it at a lope and looked pretty strong the whole way. Cruiser slacked off a little but It is to be excused. This is his first ten miler and only his second run of the season. After a little bit he started pulling again. From now on a plan to run him in every run.

We only saw one car and that was right as we were turning onto our road. I had had a bit of anxiety before the run, wondering what to expect with running a six dog tream with the new leaders, but they did me proud.


Blogger George Forgan-Smith said...

Interesting... I am still looking for a great alaskan malamute dog do you know of directory or something?

March 31, 2006 at 6:56 PM  

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