Donkeys, Mushers, and Dogs

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Temperatures have finally taken a nosedive and we've been treated to a little snow. Mushing has been swell. On Saturday, we stayed local and ran up and down the mountain next door. We even spotted a wild donkey along the way! The dogs smelled him before I saw him and I had to make sure to keep them on the trail—so no photo this time. I’m not sure if these guys will act like deer and run or act like moose and charge. I’m not really looking to find out, but I hope to see them again—from a distance.

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Sunday we were back at Holcomb Valley, this time for a late afternoon run. I prefer running in the early morning not only because it’s cold, but also because there are rarely any people around. Fewer people means less opportunities for trouble, like loose dogs or horseback riders. Since we were going out late, Will came along to act as “handler". As I was getting set up, he noticed two other dog teams making a turn nearby. Surprised, we both trotted over to say hello and see who they were. Both were members of the Urban Mushing group in SoCal—I didn’t see their post about coming up to Holcomb that weekend. One musher was running a 5-dog team on an Arctis Cart, just like me. After socializing, we continued on our own run, completing just over six miles as the sun set.

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Monday was a holiday from work and a minor snow storm hit the mountain. There was only a thin layer of snow when I woke up, so I decided to sleep in (if 7:30 AM counts as sleeping in). By late afternoon, snow had kicked back up, and there was maybe 2-3” on the ground. I debated taking the sled out, but I wasn’t sure how well covered the trails would be. I also wanted the extra weight of the rig, in case I ran into people and loose dogs (holiday weekend + snow = tourists).

Sure enough, less than a mile into our run we came upon a beautiful loose malamute. I saw his person dip over to an adjacent trail, and my leaders started to follow, but I was able to keep them on track. For a moment, Denali and Willow dipped around a bush to take a look at the loose dog, and they were out of my field of vision. Another loose dog appeared at my side, and for a second I thought Denali had somehow slipped her harness and collar. Then I realized this was a second loose dog—another beautiful malamute. They both retreated back to their person, and I got a better look at them. They weren’t even wearing collars, which gave me a pang of anxiety. They looked so much like wolves, I wouldn’t have risked bringing them out to the woods without a bright orange vest. (And yes, I know the difference between dogs, wolves, and wolf dogs. I’ve worked with them. These may have been low content wolf dogs.)

The remainder of our run was uneventful but beautiful. The snow made things a bit tougher, and I wished I had a rig that could convert its wheels into runners. While out there, I realized I had achieved the perfect combination of clothing to remain comfortable—hot, even—while in bitter cold. The wind was ripping through the mountains at 7,500 feet up and the snow was swirling all around us. I could feel the wind pushing against me, but it didn’t get through. For those interested, I was wearing:

  • Merino wool socks
  • Leg warmers
  • Muck Arctic boots
  • Fleece-lined leggings
  • Singbring windproof/waterproof hiking pants
  • Tanktop
  • Uniqlo thermal long sleeve
  • North Face fleece
  • Columbia Catacomb Crest Insulated Parka
  • Face guard
  • Ski helmet
  • Waterproof, tight fitting gloves (for working with my hands)
  • Mittens (one size up, over gloves)

And that, folks, is how you spend a winter weekend.

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