Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Trials and Tribulations: Chapter One and Two

    General Raven

   We left the yard with our teams at 9:20 a.m. Ray (my mentor/coach) with his team of 16 dogs, Ben (my training partner) with his team of 12 and me, with my team of 12. I had General and Brother in lead. I was the last to roll down the drive (training with ATV's as we still don't have snow) and eventually came up behind Ben, who's team was traveling at a slower rate of speed. I decided to pass in an effort to catch up with Ray. Ray's team of 16 dogs was traveling much faster and I could not catch up with him and eventually lost sight of him. I was suppose to follow him but, at this point all I could do was guess where he had gone. I hung a left (haw) down Hazel Road, went to the very end at which point I got turned around and came all the way back to the Knik-Goosebay Road (KGB). Once at this intersection, I wanted to go left but General had his own idea. He wanted to go home and I did not. We had not gone enough miles yet for it to be a successful training run.

   General did not want to go left.  He momentarily glanced at me over his shoulder and then succinctly pulled the whole team around 180 degrees. I thought, "oh no, not this again". General had pulled this move on me during other training runs and at this point I had had enough of this trick of his. I walked to the front and pulled the two leaders with the rest of the team in tow back around in the direction we were originally facing.  As soon as I got the team pulled around and turned to walk back to the get on the ATV, General did the same 180, the gangline hitting me behind the knees, knocking me down and dragging the whole team trampling over my back.  I was not hurt, just really ticked off at defiant General ! Raymie (Rays dad) and Ryan (Rays brother) saw the whole thing happen as they happened to be driving up the road. They jumped out of the car to assist me and told me they had seen the whole thing. Raymie said "that General will screw you up every time". They helped pull the team around again, unsnarled the lines and I jumped back on the ATV. You will never guess what happened next....yup....you got it ! General did it again, he pulled the team around in a 180. Bad dog ! The leader days are OVER for my pal General. Shred was switched with General and lead the remainder of the training run. Never again, General !

   Once I got Shred in lead, we went left along KGB, towards Wasilla. At about mile marker 11, I saw a woman next to the trail with a large black dog. As I got closer, I could see the dog, a black lab, was loose and did not have a collar. The woman was yelling, asking me if I knew who the dog belinged to. I shook my head and continued on. Suddenly, my dogs were turning their heads looking behind and there the lab was gallivanting along behind us. Literally, frolicking the miles away the lab seemed to think this was lots of fun. All I could think of was that the dog left alone would wander out into the busy road and most certainly be hit by a car.
   I had to do something. I stopped the team and coaxed the lab up onto the back of the ATV. That silly dog rode with me all the way back to Rays on the back of the ATV which was a rough, bumpy ride to say the very least. Once back at the yard, I put the lab in a crate. Once my team was unharnessed I took the dog to the closest veterinary office to scan the dog for a chip. A chip was found and we discovered this labs name was Raven. The owners information was there as well, so the vet called and told her we had the dog. Ever grateful the owner said a profuse thank you and was very happy to have her dog back.
All in a Day
   Ray had taken his team out just a half hour before us. We usually pass him along the trail, smiling and waving as we pass each other. In preparation for our daily dog run, like I do most days, I back the ATV and park it behind Rays truck. Then, I attach the tie-down cable to the ball of his hitch and fasten it to the ATV. It is a jerry-rigged sort of affair but, has proven effective to hold the team in place. A team of 16 fresh dogs can pull the ATV all over the place even with the brakes locked. A tie  down is a must.
While, I was waiting for Ben to get home from school, I did the usual pre-run preparations. I backed the ATV and attached it to Rays truck and attached the tie down cable. The gang-line attaches to a "bridle" afixed on the front end of the ATV is attached by a carabineer. With the gang-line attached, I stretched it out and straightened all the neck and tug lines. Getting this all set up saves time and also gets Ben to hurry up and finish his post-school snack faster. A 40 milerun is a long trip, especiallyat this late time of day, so I am always anxious to get rolling.
We had nearly finished harnessing up the team so the gang-line was nearly full with only one place open.Gso (pronounces "So") gets put on the line last these days as she is "in season". It saves lots of aggrevation this way. Ben was in the feed shed getting some salmon for snacking the dogs during the run and I was on my way there, walking by the ATV. It happened so quickly. Apparently, the tie-down cable slipped and was no longer attached to the ATV It started to roll, picking up speed exponentially, as the 16 dogs careened down the driveway. As fast as I could run, with my hand just inches away from the handlebar and brake handle, I stumbled and fell. Down the driveway, went the ATV, the team at full speed, with a riderless ATV in tow. The ATV didn't make the turn. At top speed, it skidded sideways, caught the edge of the tire and flipped up, high into the air, flipping and rolling and crashed, upside down over the embankment into the trees. That stopped the team and no dogs were hurt.
 Ben reacted to the action like a pro. He got his ATV, attached a cable to the gang-line and then cut the bridle on the crashed ATV. We had detached all the tug lines so the dogs could not pull while we made this clever transfer. With lots of scrambling, I held the brakes on his ATV, as Ben made quick order of fetching our heavy coats, hats and gloves that were strewn all over the driveway as they were piled high on the back of the now crashed ATV and off we went.
The run was fairly uneventful with the exception of a rough engine sound coming from Bens ATV. I had visions of us, 20 miles out on the old Iditarod Trail in the darkness with a dead ATV. Oh well, I thought, worse comes to worse the dogs will pull us home. We met Ray and his team along the trail. He immediately asked why we were not on the red ATV. I told him I had wrecked it and quicky told what had happened. Ben and I were so worried he would be angry, but he just grinned his funny "ate the canary" grin and off he went down the road. I later learned he had done the same thing a year earlier. Takes one to know one, I suppose !

We were less than a mile from home when it happened. The trail at this point of our run, runs parallel to the road. There are many side road crossings along this section of the road. People who live in Knik seem very patient and courteous as they know dog teams are everywhere and they must keep a vigilant eye out on the crossings. I always wave and mouth the words, thank you, as we roll on by.

We were moving along the trail and came upon a car parked on the trail, with its lights on blocking the trail. The headlight on the ATV was on and Ben and I both had our powerful LED Lenser halagen head lamps on as well. These headlamps are so very bright that they can cast a bright cone of light on the trail in front of your 16 dog team. Ben stopped the team well before getting to the parked car. Moments of assessment passed and Ben made the decision to send the team on around the front to the car. At the moment the leaders were in front of the car it started moving. Ben and I screamed as the car wheel literally ran over Shred. Brother, the other leader was under the car as well. The car bumped up over Shreds body and continued to drive off into the darkness, never to be seen again.

I ran up to the front of the team. Brother and Shred were both standing and appeared to be o.k. Miraculously, they appeared to be fine. There we stood, Ben and I, in the darkness, in total shock. We just could not believe the car just drove off. We both agreed, there was no way they could not know they had run over something as we both saw the car "bump" as it went over the dog. About 5 minutes passed as we watched the dogs and decided we could make it the last mile home to the dog yard.

The dogs enjoyed their post-run snack of salmon steaks as we told Ray the story of what had happened. Shred got a week off so he could be closely monitored to be sure he was fit to continue work.  A week later, Shred was in lead, as I had my first 40 mile run on a sled over marginal snow cover. That is a story for another day.

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