Monday, December 31, 2012

Race Week Countdown

New Year's Eve
Training in Knik
Photo by Julia Redington

     The weather in Alaska has not exactly been the best for dog mushing. It was in the high 30's today and the sun was shining. Everyone but the mushers love this weather ! We are all holding our breath that the Knik 200 Race will not be cancelled. The race organizers are waiting to see what the weather is going to do before they make an official decision. 

Early in the week, our team did a 72 mile run. We started at Deshka Landing on the Big Susitna River and headed north 36 miles to Yentna Station, on the Yentna River. This happens to be the first check point for the Iditarod and also the checkpoint for the Knik 200.  It was great to be able to run part of the race trail to become somewhat familiar with it. I am guessing our average speed was 10 miles per hour as it took us about 7 hours to finish the entire run. When we got to Yentna we had a good long snack/rest break. But, the dogs got antsy and wanted to get moving. We left Yentna at 4 pm which made most of our run back to the Deshka in the dark. It was a great training run for this neophyte !

By the way, the dogs would really love to move faster than the 10 mph. If it were left up to the dogs we would be roaring around corners with the sled careening through the turns teetering on one runner. We keep them paced at this slowspeed in order to build strength and stamina. They pull into the harnesses hard and a musher has to work hard to hold them back by keeping pressure on the brake lever with their feet. The brake lever is a bar with two sharp tine type bars which drag and scratch, cut and dig into the snow and ice. The harder you push down, the deeper these dig in and hopefully the slower or more control you have. The power of a 12 dog team is staggering to experience. My first experience with 12 dogs was daunting as I could not stop them whatsoever....a humbling experience indeed. My thoughts immediately go to wondering what in the world will it be like to stand on the runners of a sled being pulled by 16 Iditarod dogs. 

  People often ask what breed are these dogs as they all look so different; different sizes, different colors, different coats and a variety of body types. The fact of the matter is, an Alaskan sled dog is a mutt, a pure full on mutt. Over the years, mushers have bred huskies with many other dog breeds in an effort to infuse more speed into the breed. Some of the other breeds introduced into the husky bloodlines have been a variety of pointers and hound type dogs.  You can see by this short video taken a week ago that my team looks like a mixed bag of breeds. I suppose you would be right in making a statement like that. But the one thing the dogs all have in common is they LOVE to pull.

This video makes it all look so peaceful, relaxing and easy. But, I am here to tell that when it all looks smooth and easy it is because lots of successful training has taken place. During those training days chaos has ensued with crashing sleds, runaway teams,  and perhaps even some dog fights. It is what one musher friend referred to it as "controlled chaos". Suffice it to say, there is a lot more going on than meets the eye. 

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