Ramblin' Ma'am

I keep meaning to write up a new post. There’s plenty of topics I want to write about, or experiences in training I want to share, but my time has been especially limited. As we enter the holiday mania I mean season, I figured I better take a moment and write some things down.

Hubble has been with us for a month now. He’s been an interesting puppy so far. He’s a lot more mischievous than Blitz and Willow. I think those two spoiled me with how easy they were to house train and crate train. Hub made it known that he did not want to sleep in a crate while everyone else piled on the bed. He isn’t too eager to hold his bowels so that’s what he gets. Things have improved drastically over the first few weeks, but something so much as switching up the crate—he’s in a plastic airline style crate while my other crates are packed—is enough to make him howl all night.

Despite all the pee accidents and late nights, I can tell he’s got a really sweet disposition. He’s also the only dog I’ve ever had that chases after the vacuum and tries to bite it, so I expect him to be pretty fearless as he matures. I was a little worried he wouldn’t get along with Blitz (he was the only one to show obvious displeasure in Hub’s arrival), but they’re becoming best buds:

Aside from raising a new puppy, mushing enough mornings to reach the 100-mile mark fairly early, and working a full-time job, I’ve spent the past month preparing for our journey west. My life has been reduced to about a dozen boxes and bags stuffed into my SUV, which will be used to haul an enclosed trailer with Will's belongings. He makes the first jaunt next week, then returns in January to make the final trip with me in our vans—hauling a car and stuffed to the brim.

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As of ten minutes ago, I decided I want to video log (video blog? vlog? what do the kids call it) the trip west, as well as the fist few weeks of settling in Big Bear. I won’t make any promises as to consistency or quality, but stay tuned for that… experience. 

Let Me Explain...

Just when you thought I was done adding dogs—aw shit! Meet Hubble. Okay, yes, I know. I’ve been working towards a solid 4-dog team and Blitz filled Dexter’s spot. The team is doing great and I’m very happy with all the progress we’ve made. 

Except… two things have been on my mind.

The first is planning for the future—maintaining this hobby (obsession) for the years to come. I don’t know where the years have gone, but Denali will be 7-years-old in March. Knox will hit seven six months after that. While I’m confident Denali will run into her double-digits, I’m not sure Knox will keep up. As a structurally weird rescue dog, I’m thankful for every day he runs. Still, this means I have roughly three more years with the current team. If I’m lucky, Denali and Knox will keep running into their teens, but it’s hard to know for sure. In order to keep running a full team, there will need to be new dogs to take their place upon retirement.

Second is a goal that I’ve mostly kept to myself since I started mushing, because it sounded crazy. Before I even got my first husky, I asked a friend how many dogs were needed to successfully carry a passenger on a cart or sled. She recommended at least six and that number has stayed in the back of my mind ever since. As I added dogs, the thought of having six seemed wild, so I kept that goal a secret. It became a dream for later, when I was “grown up” enough to manage it and to afford it.

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Several years into this sport, I find myself wondering what I’m waiting for. I’ve adjusted my entire life around these dogs. I found a remote job so that I can care for them fulltime. I’m moving to a cabin near a trail system with colder temperatures and less humidity year round. I’m getting paid well enough to follow the dreams I set almost a decade ago. I find myself thinking, “Oh shit, am I grown up?"

As I mentioned in thought #1, the window for my current team is closing. If I want to run a 6-dog team, it’s time to get moving. Denali and Knox have three or four seasons left. Willow and Blitzen are young and (hopefully) have a decade ahead of them. Hubble (and whatever dog I add next) will also have around a decade to run. When Denali and Knox retire, I’ll still have a solid 4-dog team for awhile.  

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I know, I know. This all sounds like an elaborate scheme to have a ton of dogs, but really, that’s what I’m trying to avoid while still pursuing my dreams. As a recreational musher, I want to cap at six dogs, with at least four in harness. That way, when the oldies retire, I can still keep up my hobby. And when they eventually pass away, I’ll introduce new dogs to the team and fluctuate between four and six actively running.

This mushing algorithm sounds pretty cold, but it comes out of love—for these dogs and for the sport. I don’t intend to go large-scale. My dogs are pets first, sled dogs second. While many are perfectly happy living outdoors, I want my team small enough to live inside and travel with me. I also can’t bear to adopt dogs out to retirement homes—they’re with me until the end.

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Talking Dog at the Trade Fair

Last weekend, the pack and I piled in the van and drove four hours north to the Northern New England Sled Dog Trade Fair and Seminars in New Hampshire. I've been mushing for about seven years now, but never had the chance to attend the trade fair. Realizing this might be my last opporunity if I move west, I decided to make the trip.

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This was also the furthest I've ever driven without another human along for the ride. I expect to do a lot of solo traveling in California, so this was a good trial run—just me and the dogs. Four hours (well, more like five with traffic) wasn't a bad drive to do over a long weekend. Hell, I did four hour round trip commutes when I took trains into Manhattan, and that was all in one work day.

The trade fair was a really fun experience and definitely something any beginner should make a point to attend. It's a great place to learn about the sport, stock up on gear, meet experienced mushers, and run your dogs. For more seasoned mushers, it's nice to see familiar faces from throughout the northeastern mushing community. And of course, who doesn't want to talk about dogs for two days straight?

Jaye and Hanky go over harness fitting.

Jaye and Hanky go over harness fitting.

Besides seeing old friends (and meeting internet friends for the first time), my favorite part of the event was the seminars. Jaye of Sibersong (Denali and Willow's breeder) gave a great talk on the mechanics of dog mushing. Even though I'm not new to the sport, I still picked up some useful tips. Lisbet Norris (3-time Iditarod finisher) spoke about her mushing heritage and how her family has preserved the function and appearance of the Siberian Husky in Alaska for over sixty years. I might have teared up several times during her talk. My favorite seminar was by Charles J. Berger. He spoke about "the big bang through chihuahuas", and basically wrapped my two favorite subjects (evolutionary science and dogs) into a beautiful presentation. Unexpected and delightful.

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There was plenty of dog talk, dog gear, and dog friends to occupy my time, but I can't forget the dogs themselves. Aside from being a little bit overexcited to see other dogs while on the dropline, they were easy to manage and faired well in the cold, rainy weather. I walked the purebreds around the trade show and had them visit with their breeders (Blitz's reunion was especially sweet). We even got to do a quick training run with some Sibersong relatives and their musher, Megan, on Saturday and competed in a dryland fun race on Sunday.

Photo snapped by Steve Renner of Team Snowspeeder

Photo snapped by Steve Renner of Team Snowspeeder

The most surprising part of our race was how well the dogs passed another team. They've always been good about getting to the race chute and returning to their dropline afterwards, but passing during a run has been hit or miss. I was especially curious to see how Blitz would do, since he's never ran a race before—or even trained alongside other teams. I think he must have been the missing piece of the puzzle, because he and Knox (who is prone to being a jerkoff) passed flawlessly. I hope I don't jinx it, but I couldn't be happier with how they did. We got third place behind two very speedy Alaskan Husky teams, completing a 0.8 mile trail in 2 minutes and 43 seconds.

We're back home now and picking back up with fall training. We have plans to head back up to New Hampshire later in the month (or beginning of next, not sure yet) to attend a camping weekend with some of the same mushers from the trade show. I've got a lot of big plans in store for the remainder of this year and beginning of next, so stay tuned for what will (hopefully) be our most interesting season yet.