A Day in the Life

A few months ago, Blair Braverman wrote a Twitter thread documenting what her days look like while training for the Iditarod. More than just sharing cute dog pictures, Blair offered an inside look at the sport of dog mushing. Animal Rights groups like PETA are constantly spreading propaganda against the Iditarod and dog sports. Dog sledding isn’t something that’s easy to stumble across in suburbs and cities. Without exposure to mushing, it’s easy for people to fall for PETA’s misrepresentations.

Mushers like Blair, her husband Quince, Mari of ATAO Kennels, Alice of Wolf Moon, and many others have begun sharing their lives and their dogs. By being transparent about the sport we love, I hope those who question mushing will see our side.

I am by no means preparing for a distance race like the Iditarod (which Blair is currently running—GO BLAIR!), but many have asked what it’s like to take care of so many dogs. So in the spirit of bringing visibility to mushing, here’s what a typical (winter) day looks like for my little team.

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The dogs and I usually wake up around sunrise. The dogs sleep indoors, so it’s a mad dash to get out back into the dog yard. Many winter mornings involve fresh snowfall.

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While the dogs are outside stretching and playing, I come back in to get a fire started in the wood stove. On the coldest days, where highs barely reach double digits, I keep the fire going all day long. When it’s milder, I tend to wait until evening to get her burning.

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After the fire has been lit, it’s back outside in full winter gear for chores. First I scoop poop while the dogs continue to dance around the yard.

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Next, I deal with whatever new snow has fallen. For smaller storms, I’ll clear my entire driveway myself, but for bigger dumps I’ll call in a snowplow. Either way, the snowblower still comes out to clear walkways and the space in front of the garages.

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Every couple of storms, I have to bring the snowblower into the dog yard to fling snow out. Most of the time, I shovel around the perimeter. The dogs appreciate the pathway, and it ensures snow doesn’t pile up so high that the dogs can jump out.

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Finally, after all the chores are done, it’s time to mush! We run straight from the dog yard and the distance depends on how much trail breaking we need to do. Once trails are packed down, we can go for four to five miles right around the property. I made the late-season discovery of an entirely new trail, which should add a few miles. Next season, after the ATV club has cleared up some logging debris and I (hopefully) acquire a snowmobile, we should be able to go even further.

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After their run, the dogs cool off in the yard while I put away the sled and peel off my layers.

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Once everyone is sufficiently relaxed, it’s food time! The team eats Inukshuk 32/32 kibble with some canned food, Nupro glucosamine supplement, and bone broth. Dexter gets a sensitive stomach recipe kibble with lower fat content, because he’s not nearly as active.

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The dogs head back outside after breakfast in their crates. Now it’s finally time for me to eat something. Some mornings look like this. Others involve a bowl of cereal and a gallon of coffee.

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After the fire is lit, poop has been scooped, snow has been cleared, dogs have been run, and we’ve all been fed, it’s time to start my work day. I devote roughly 40 hours a week, sometimes more, to a remote tech company as their project management lead. My time consists of organizing development team features and fixes. And roughly a half dozen video calls every day.

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While I’m somewhat bound to my desk for eight or nine hours, I’m still able to take breaks to roll outside with the dogs, clean the house, do a load of laundry, or any of the other dozens of household chores that exist outside of snow-stuff. Some days, I won’t get a chance to run the team until my afternoon break. On even busier days, we don’t get to run until sunset.

After work wraps up, the dogs let me know it’s dinner time. The feeding routine repeats and I usually do a 45 minute workout—unless it’s Tuesday, which I devote to art-marking in the evening.

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I’ll scrounge up some dinner and a fruit protein shake for myself while the dogs find their spot for the rest of the evening. Couch space is a hot commodity, but the dogs rotate pretty often. The fire keeps this room toasty and they can only stay tight little donuts for so long.

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This is what a regular weekday looks like for me and my team. There are days when I pile everyone into the dog truck and venture out to new trails well before dawn. There are days when freezing rain is pummeling the house and we barely step foot outside. We’ll see what warmer weather brings!

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Thinking Ahead

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We still have a solid month left of winter—realistically, more like two up here in the North Country—yet I’m already planning out next season. I set some pretty lofty goals for myself and the dogs, and I’m disappointed that they (probably) won’t be met come spring. Moving across the country, buying a house, completing renovations, getting the dog yard up, and figuring out our new trails took a lot of time and energy. Warm weather and crappy conditions didn’t help. We’re expecting another round of mid-40s and rain this weekend, which could be why it already feels like spring.

I decided not to race at the Tug Hill Challenge, not only because conditions were uncertain (they ended up being fine by race day), but because I didn’t feel like the dogs were ready. I still went to watch and a lot of the mushers I spoke to had equally crummy seasons. Maybe it’s the new norm with climate change, but I’m hoping not. My main concern was passing other teams, especially in a class with 20+ entries. Between spending a lot of time in the Hudson Valley and then moving to Southern California, we haven’t trained with other teams in quite awhile.

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I’ve already made plans for passing training with another musher in my area for next season. I’m also hoping to attend more training meetups and even organize some, seeing as I won’t be overwhelmed by house stuff next fall. I’m determined to get my dogs comfortable running with other teams on the trail. Most of them have done it before, so I’m not too concerned. The only wildcard is Hubble. I have a Baskerville muzzle for him if he decides to be an alligator to passing teams.

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The president of a local ATV club stopped by my house and asked if they could continue using a trail that runs through my property. This is part of the trail I use with the dogs and it used to connect to a state forest behind my neighbor’s land. The club hasn’t had a chance to maintain it, which is why I haven’t been able to find the connection. This spring, they’re planning to re-open the trail, so they’ll be cleaning up downed trees and removing the overgrowth that’s hiding the route. A symbiotic relationship: the club will maintain the trail during the mushing off-season, and come October 1st, it’s all mine again (well, mine and my neighbors). If things work out, I should be able to mush much further, directly from the house. This would make training for longer distances a lot more feasible, especially during the work week.

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So, we’ve got passing training planned and we’ve got longer trail access in our future. The next step? As you might have been expecting, more dogs. Part of the reason I bought a house on 18 acres was to expand the team. This spring, I’m planning to bring home a little girl pup from Kelim Kennels. She’ll be the sixth member to round off my team. This has been the plan for awhile, so I’m excited to see it come together!

Photo by Kelim Kennels

Photo by Kelim Kennels

Photo by Kelim Kennels

Photo by Kelim Kennels

That said, a more recent development would be getting yet another dog before next season. My goal is to run a team of six capable of doing 30+ miles at a time. I’ve been keeping a close eye on Knox, especially as we ramped up training this past week. His tug line isn’t as tight as the others. In his defense, his body wasn’t bred to be a fine-tuned running machine. Who knows what his body was bred for, really. His fur alone makes it harder for him to run and he often has issues with his feet. He and Denali will both be 8-years-old by next season, so realistically, it’s time to start thinking about their replacements on the team. Denali has generations of sled dog breeding behind her genetics, so I hope she'll stay in harness for awhile, but I won’t expect the same from Knox.

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If all goes well with our springtime puppy, I’ll start looking for another—potentially an older puppy or a yearling. I’ll get an 8-dog gang line, run a team of seven (Denali/Willow, Knox/Blitz, New Girl Pup/TBD Pup, Hubble), and see how Knox does. I’ll train him to ride on the cart or in the sled bag, so he can still join us, and run as long as he wants to. Heck, it’s very possible he’ll keep up all season. Either way, it’ll be good to have an “alternate” if he decides to throw in the towel.

I’ve mentioned plenty of times how races aren’t important to me. I’m mostly interested in accomplishing some overnight camping expeditions with the dogs. Yet part of me wants to try a mid-distance level race, at least once. My experience has been sprint races, which are fast, intense, and anxiety-inducing. A longer race, 20 to 30 miles, seems more my speed. As a gear junkie, I like the concept of carrying mandatory emergency items in the sled. These races are more like mini-expeditions, which sounds more fun.

I might be jumping the gun by announcing all these plans and goals, but this season feels like a wash. I might as well start working towards the future. Here’s the TL;DR (but why wouldn’t you read?) for next season:

  1. One to two new team members

  2. Training with other teams

  3. 30+ mile runs

  4. Overnight campout

  5. Compete in a mid-distance race (Canyon Sled Dog Challenge? CanAm30? We’ll see!)

Now that they exist outside my brain, I have to make them real!

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The Thaw

The team and I made it through another snowstorm and another polar vortex. We came out of last week relatively unscathed; we were lucky and only got about a foot of new snow. Drive ten miles north and they had double the snow we did. A little further north saw double that—around four feet. I managed to clear the entire driveway (twice) with just the snowblower and a shovel. The house stayed warm despite winds that sounded like a freight train.

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Since climate change is all about extremes, we’re now midway through a week of above-freezing temperatures. Another reason I’m thankful we didn’t get too much snow. All that snow is going to melt and that water needs to go somewhere. My garage drained much better this warm-up. The driveway was an ice rink for a day or two, but it has melted down to dirt again.

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This weather is wreaking havoc on our trails, as well as the trails up north in Winona. We put in so much hard work trail breaking over this past weekend and now the snow is nearly gone in spots, punchy and icy in others. We didn’t even get a single smooth run out of it.

The Tug Hill race is less than two weeks away. Evidently, a lot can change in that time period, but we still have three days of rain to get through. There’s snow in the forecast for next week, but I’m not sure it’ll be enough to fix the mess.

When I’m not mushing, days start to blend together. I’m going through the motions: chores, work, exercise, eat. When my head returns to my pillow each night, it feels like I had just been there minutes earlier, without any new memories. I think I need to do something about that.

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North Country

We’ve made it to Wednesday; halfway through what might be our snowiest week so far this winter. Between Monday night and Friday morning, we were forecasted to receive two to three feet of snow. Just 30 minutes north of us might get more than five feet by the weekend. Holy hell.

So far, we’ve been lucky. The snow that fell Monday night through this morning was minor—less than 5” total. This is on top of what we already had, of course, so there are drifting areas around a foot deep. Today and tonight we should see more snow, but tomorrow seems like the worst of it. A slight shift in winds could mean snow up to my chest, so here’s hoping we avoid that.

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I’ve been stressing about losing our home trail with all this snow we’re scheduled to get. It’ll be hard to re-break if it’s over the dogs’ heads. Maybe next season I’ll be able to pick up a used snowmobile for grooming around the property. For now, I can try to find a local rider, or pack the trails myself with snowshoes and my gear sled.

Thankfully, and also unfortunately, next week is expected to have another absurd warm-up. Sunday through Wednesday are predicted to be well above freezing, with rain and even above-freezing temperatures overnight. This will annihilate the snow and certainly lead to some flooding. So goes winter in New York state, I suppose. Hopefully we’ll be left with some packed, smooth trails.

On Monday morning, I took the dogs up to Winona State Forest to run on some wide, groomed trails. The Tug Hill Challenge (a sprint race) is held there, and it’s the reason I chose to move to this area. Though it’s been roughly eight years since my first visit, I finally mushed a team through this gorgeous forest.

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Getting to the trail went about as smoothly as I expected. The dog truck was prepped the day before and we woke up well before dawn to head out. Denali and Willow have already mastered their dog boxes. They’re used to being lifted into the top row of crates in the van, so going up just a bit higher into the boxes is natural for them. Hubble puts up a bit of a struggle (and stepped on my face), but I’ve been able to get him loaded with the help of some pepperoni. I didn’t even attempt to load Knox or Blitz this trip—they got to ride in the cab with me. I’m hoping that once they associate the truck with running somewhere new, they’ll be more confident about going into the boxes.

My intention was to run the 4.5 mile race course, but we ended up missing a few turns and going further. In hindsight, I’m glad we did, since we can run that distance back at the house and I’ve been itching to do a longer run. We did 7.5 miles in just under an hour, carrying about 50 pounds of weight in the sled. We also stopped quite a few times so that I could figure out where we were going. Not too shabby for five dogs on a brand new trail! I ended up a little bit late for work, but I’m glad we got this run in before the work of roof raking, snow shoveling, path clearing, and snowblowing eats up my free time.

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Rhythms

We’ve hit mid-January and we’re getting into true north country winter now. We finally got more snow and a cold snap that should keep it around for awhile. It took a few months, but I finally mastered the art of heating this place. I’ve been feeding the wood stove all day, instead of just in the evenings, and the majority of the house has reached a steady 65°F. The wood pile is still stacked pretty high. At this point, the propane is a backup resource that I’m hoping I won’t need to refill until the summer, when prices are cheaper. There’s a pile of wood seasoning outside, another pile ready to be split, and an endless forest to harvest for future heat. But that’s work for warmer days.

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I’m settling into a comfortable rhythm here. There are challenges, but I feel like I’m succeeding more than failing. It could be that I lowered expectations (both for the team and myself), but I’ll take whatever easy wins I can get. A day’s “To Do” list might just be “clear fallen tree from trail”, but taking a chainsaw out into the woods and moving a large tree—by myself—is something I’ve never done before. (And I did it!)

The dogs had their annual wellness exams last week. Whenever I move, it means developing a relationship with a new vet. While waiting to be seen, I could hear the staff in the back room, clearly dismayed at the upcoming task of evaluating five huskies (and Dexter). I brought them in one at a time to make things easier, of course, but even a solo husky is enough to make vets sweat. They’re known for being vocal and hard to handle. I’m happy to report that my gang destroys that stereotype. Each dog was perfectly well behaved as their blood was drawn for tests and rabies shots were administered. I think we won over the staff, which is good news, since I’m sure we’ll be back. The bill for six exams was very reasonable and, most importantly, all the dogs are healthy.

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This past weekend, we started exploring deeper into the trails that cross the back of me and my neighbor’s properties. The dogs were starting to get bored, so adventuring further has got them fired up. I’m just as excited to get familiar with the land around us—especially the back of my own property. We’re far from our goal of an overnight expedition or mushing 30 miles at a time, but I’m seeing fundamental pieces fall into place.

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Once I know my own land well enough, I can cut a trail towards the back of it for next season, and that will be our “test” campsite. I’ll have the dogs run the trails they’re most familiar with, camping gear packed in the sled basket, and we’ll do our first overnight right on my property. This seems like the safest, most sensible first try. Once we’re comfortable with that, we’ll take those skills out to another trail.

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Onward

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I’m struggling to find the words to adequately sum up 2018. It was one of the most overwhelming, exhausting, and difficult years of my life. But also one of the proudest and most ambitious. If you’ve been following along, I started last year by driving across the country to live in Big Bear, California. The mountains were beautiful, but they would eventually break my gear, spirit, and heart. Southern California was not meant to be and a hard decision lead me back east, alone, to buy a house in upstate New York.

That’s all the recap I care to do—you can read past posts if you want to know more. I’m looking forward and in the words of Mari of ATAO Kennel, onward. I’m ready to dig into mushing: longer miles, colder temperatures, more gear, and new trails. The team has a lot of catching up to do and new things to learn. Dog box training hasn’t gone so great, but every dog has at least been inside a box, so that’s something. We don’t have much snow right now, and no promising storms in the forecast, but we’ll keep chugging along the best we can.

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When I bought this house, it filled my head with big, exciting ideas. I didn’t have to abide by parental concerns, or California laws, or landlord limitations, or even the consideration of a partner’s feelings. Finally, I could do what I wanted.

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As it turns out, there’s always going to be something in the way. Being completely on my own creates new complications. I have no one to dog-sit if I want to spend a night away from home. If something breaks in my house, I’m the one who has to fix it. I’m the only income provider, so I’m covering every bill.

I’m not complaining; I’m doing fine. I still have my emergency fund intact. After the usual January bills are paid and the dogs have their annual wellness exams next week, I’ll be able to start saving money again. Starting this month, I have better health insurance coverage, and none of it will be coming out of my paycheck. I’m also due for a raise.

In 2019, I’ll be moving forward in this solo, dog-centric life, but proceeding with caution. I need to think twice before mushing on trails that might be dangerous due to ice or lack of snow. If I get hurt, I won’t have immediate help to come rescue me. And if I’m injured long-term, I don’t have anyone here to help with day-to-day dog care.

I also realize that I can’t expand the team as quickly as I initially thought. I wanted to add a yearling this season and two puppies in the spring. This would round off a 6-dog team and have replacements for Denali and Knox’s retirement on deck. The wildcard I didn’t expect was Hubble’s attitude towards dogs he doesn’t know and making sure he adjusts to any new team members. I also need to focus on the big play yard this spring. Once the season ends, the existing dog yard won’t be enough space to keep the dogs I currently have exercised, let alone three new ones.

Outside of mushing, I have a lot of other work to do this year. I should be getting a promotion soon, which means more income, but more responsibilities. I need to continue writing my book and setting time aside for art. I want to grow food—lots of it. I hope to have gardens, bees, and chickens on the property by mid-year. And then there’s firewood to cut and stack for next winter.

Right before ringing in 2019, my friends and I gathered for a diner breakfast, as per tradition. We wrote down our past years’ achievements as well as goals for the upcoming year. We’ll meet again next year to check off the goals we accomplish and start the lists over again. So let’s go, forward and onward, into that unknown trail. Don’t forget to enjoy the ride.

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Fixing Funks

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The team is in a bit of a funk lately. We had a bad run on Monday—nothing serious, just frustrating. Mostly, this run was disheartening because it came off the tail end of a few mediocre runs, and I was trying to make it an especially fun, easy run for the team. 

Knox and Blitz are what I’d consider “soft” dogs. Even though they’re big and intimidating-looking, little things can throw them off. This happened last season, too. Coming out of our old California yard, the rig would bounce down a few steps to the driveway. I’m pretty sure this brief event caused them both to have anxiety, and neither of them wanted to get on the line at hookup. After we got out onto the trail, both of them were fine.

The same thing seems to be happening here with the trail around my property. There’s a steep drop off into the woods, which means going down a sloped trail. The first time we ran it, we were on wheels, so I was able to keep things very slow over the rocky path. Then, when we had about a foot of snow, we went slow as we were breaking trail. We haven’t had any big storms lately, so the trails have been a mixture of hard packed ice with an inch of powder on top, or slush, or deep snow in spots and bald in others. We attempted to run the sloped trail when there wasn’t quite enough snow, which meant I couldn’t really use the brake or drag mat. In hindsight I wouldn’t have gone this way, but we managed it successfully, albeit quickly. I think this scared the older boys, because they hesitate when we head off into the woods towards that part of the trail. 

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Denali and Willow want to keep running and I know they’re annoyed when we only do two or three miles around the property. I can tell they’re bored, but we need more snow if we’re going to explore the other trails around us. And I need the entire team to be on board, too. 

In an effort to fix problems, I’ve been putting Blitz in lead—moving him away from the sled so he won’t feel like it’s chasing him. I had him run with Willow, which he’s done before, but it highlighted how unreliable she can be as a leader without Denali to keep her in check. I know it’s a symptom of her boredom, but I really need to have solid leaders on my team. Denali will be eight at the end of this season, and while she shows no sign of slowing down, I have to be prepared for when she retires. Running Denali and Blitz in lead has proven to work better, but Blitz has a long way to go before he’s making confident decisions up front.

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I gave the entire team two days off to recalibrate before running them again this morning. I’m borrowing some different style harnesses from my friend, Megan, to try on Knox. Today he wore the Zero DC, which is similar to an x-back, but without the signature “x” on the back. It’s a little too soon to tell, but he seemed a little perkier. I’ll try the Dog Booties Saddle Back harness next. I also put a 44 pound bag of dog food in the sled to help control our speeds a bit better. I swapped Blitz and Knox’s positions, in hopes that Blitz will pick up on following the leaders in swing/point. Knox was a little concerned with the sled, especially when the drag mat scraped over ice/gravel on the driveway, but I kept it slow and gave him lots of reassurance.

We only did a mile and didn’t attempt anything complicated. I wanted to make this run a good confidence booster—what I had tried to do on Monday. I’ll try the same thing tomorrow and then see what other trails look like this weekend. I’m sure they’d all appreciate running somewhere new for a change!

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Work

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Friends often ask me if I get bored or lonely out here. It does happen, like last weekend when I was putting up Christmas decorations and had no one to share the results. For the most part, though, I am busy. A busy brain doesn’t get sad.

Despite being remote, I work a full 40 hours each week at my tech job. When I’m not tied to my desk with meetings or project planning, I’m scooping poop, feeding meals, and clearing snow.

At some point, I take the dogs running—usually in the early morning before work, but sometimes during my break in the afternoon. Then there’s the endless household chores: vacuuming, mopping, laundry, bringing firewood inside to feed the stove. Plus the work I invent for myself, like hanging Christmas lights, despite being the only one to really see them.

This was the first weekend in a while that my folks weren’t here to help with renovations (the floor is done!), so I was looking at two full days without any plans. Luckily, there’s always plenty to do, and plans materialized.

I had breakfast with some new friends on Saturday morning—cheers to Bumble BFF for helping liberal homesteaders find one another in a vastly conservative area. Next I got the dog truck’s lug nuts tightened, post-tire change, so we should be all set for winter.

Cable internet is now available in my area, so I spent a good hour working out the logistics of ending my satellite service and switching to cable in January. For roughly the same price, I’ll be getting 100 mbps (instead of 25 mbps) along with TV and phone. While I don’t need anything besides internet, Spectrum will only buy out my old contract (around $340) if I choose a package. I know my dad appreciate being able to watch sports next time he visits.

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Sunday was all about wood. There’s still a lot of branches on our trails, so I took the gear sled out again during our run and made solid progress clearing things up. Sadly, as we were making our way out of the woods, the sled clipped a tree and flipped, flinging all the wood behind us. I had the dogs do a few extra laps to collect more, as I didn’t want to come back empty handed (sledded?). I’ll try to gather up the lost wood on another run.

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During our last big snow, a few pine branches came down in the backyard and on the driveway. I had been meaning to move them off into the brush, but they were too big. Thankfully, Christmas came early for me in the form of a new Husqvarna chainsaw from Will in California. I have used a chainsaw exactly once in my entire life, but this new tool is leagues beyond that one in efficiency and usability.

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The chainsaw made quick work of the downed tree limbs. I sawed the main limbs into logs and loaded them on the gear sled (this time I was pulling it, no dogs involved). The rest of the branches were tossed into an area that will go to meadow in the spring. I unloaded the cut logs near the dog yard where they’ll sit until we’re out of snow season. Pine isn’t safe for wood stoves, but I’ll be able to burn these in a future fire pit.

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The remainder of the weekend was spent filling the fridge with groceries, hanging icicle lights on the front porch, and sunbathing in the dog yard. Even though it was below freezing, the sun made it feel much warmer. In a place that’s so often cloudy and a time when the sun gives out at 4:30 PM, a sunny Sunday needs to be soaked up.

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December

We’ve made it to December. It’s strange to think that this time last year I was preparing to move across the country. I’ve been back east for awhile now and living upstate for just over a month. It feels like longer—I first saw this place in the summer time, moved in during the fall, and winter definitely came early with the past three snow storms.

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Speaking of winter, I’ve decided that I’m not going to buy a plow truck this season. I’m still a little uneasy about it, but I think I’ll get by with my snowblower and local plow truck drivers. Even if I spend $100 on plow services every month from now until spring, it will still be a heck of a lot cheaper than even the crappiest of plow trucks. And most trucks that are in halfway decent shape start at $3,000. Since I work from home and don’t really need to go anywhere, I think I’ll be OK. The dog truck has 4WD and a new set of tires with better traction, so even with snow on the ground, we should be able to get around.

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As I type this, the snow from our most recent storm is quickly melting. For the first time in weeks, there are no major snowstorms in the forecast. It’s possible that the meteorologists were right and this winter will be mild for the Northeast. I definitely want snow, don’t get me wrong, but an easy first winter wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

December also means the holidays are in full swing. I’m so happy to be within driving distance to home (er, old home). I’ll be able to see family and friends for all the parties and traditions. But until I head south, this time of year just seems to amplify my current single-ness. Do you know how many songs there are about missing someone at Christmas time? Because I’m pretty sure it’s ALL OF THEM.

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I’ll abruptly change the subject to dogs because I rather not make this blog too depressing. This past weekend, I attached my new snow hook holders to the Prairie Bilt sled. Now that the hooks are secured, we can go out on the trail and successfully anchor down (assuming there’s enough solid snow) without having to find a tree to tie to.

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Snow hooks are pretty essential for the safety of myself and the dogs—I need to be able to secure the sled and quickly get off, like when a dog gets tangled. They’re also really helpful in non-emergency scenarios, like gathering wood. The last snowstorm brought down a lot of branches all over my property and trail, so we went out with the gear sled dragging behind us. I stopped every so often, hooked down, and gathered up branches. So now we have kindling, the dogs learned a lesson in patience, and our trail got packed down in the process. Sadly, it’s all pretty much washing away, but we’ll be able to do this again next storm.

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The changeover from fall to winter often sucks for mushing. The trails are either oversaturated with water or a sheet of ice. That, combined with Christmas preparations and travel, means the dogs just don’t get out as much. In past years, this would drive my crazy, but this season I’m just rolling with it. Buying this house alone has taught me a lesson in patience—and not to take on more than I can handle.

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Steady As She Goes

For the past, I dunno, decade I’ve been on the move. Little moves—from one college to another. Then, from college apartment to a house in north Jersey for a few months. When I’m unhappy, I tend to find a quick way out. I’ve latched onto the coattails of others on the move. I spent some time in upstate NY—two hours from home. Then the big leap across the country, five hours by plane, 40 by car. Again, I wasn’t happy, so I didn't stay for long.

Each move brought me a step closer to things I’d been dreaming about for a long time. My own dog, then several more. A spot to have a garden. Mountains and forests. Close to friends, boyfriends, and family. None of them really hit every checkbox. They always left me wishing for something. Even before dog sledding was my motivation, I was picturing a little homestead surrounded by woods.

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After years of living under other people’s roofs (parent's, boyfriends', landlords'), I have found my place. Looking out into my backyard, tucked within acres of woods, I finally feel like I can exhale. That’s not to say this place is perfect. It’s a long drive back to New Jersey to see friends and family. Making friends here is a challenge, but there’s a few mushers around. Dating seems bleak, but I have zero interest in that pursuit for now. I’m trying to focus on myself and doing exactly what I want to do, but the holiday season does make it a little extra lonely.

Doing things solo isn’t new for me, but being a homeowner in a challenging place is. Like I said in my last post, I’ve had family and friends come together to help me out a ton. At the end of the day, it’s still just me and the dogs, doing the best we can.

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Our mushing season is pretty far behind where we usually are for this time of year. We’ve done a lot of runs at the new property, but all of them have been short. I’ve got some additional gear on the way, including a tow sled, which I hope will make trail breaking around my land a bit easier. The plan is to drag the sled behind us, carrying something heavy to help flatten out the snow in our wake. I’m also packing my axe (and saving up for a battery-powered chainsaw) so I can clear some small trees that keep getting in our way. Anything I cut will get loaded into the sled and brought back for firewood, so it’s serving dual purposes.

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My goal this season was to run longer distances at a time and to camp. I still think we’ll make good progress. Part of that training will involve stopping on the sled, anchoring down with snow hooks, and instilling patience. Wood gathering and trail clearing will be a learning aid for this. Hauling wood and breaking trail will build muscle—for me and the dogs. Even if all we do is mush around my property and stop midway for lunch, I’ll be happy. The first step in this whole endeavor is shifting their mindset from sprint racing’s GO FAST GO to slow and steady. I need total trust and control with these dogs, especially when I’m out here alone.

I often feel like I’m on a time crunch. Every season that passes is another season closer to my older dogs retirement, whenever that ends up being. While I do plan to get more dogs, I don’t have the resources to have dozens—nor do I want to. My bond with these dogs goes beyond hitching them to a sled. They’re my companions and bed-warmers. I am in awe of mushers pursuing long distance races and the highly competitive sprint teams with wicked fast dogs. Neither really draws me in, though.

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The more I mush, the more I lean towards something different. I’ve mentioned the goal of expeditions. That’s still something I plan to do. I’ve always loved camping—what better way to experience it than by dog team? But there’s something else lurking in the back of my mind. Clearly, I want to share mushing. Some of my favorite memories have been hauling friends and family members by sled or cart. And why else would I keep this blog, host a Patreon, manage websites for two mushing clubs, start a Musher Slack, and maintain a Facebook group with 1,300+ members? Oh and attempt to write a book?

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I’ve witnessed a lot of negative press for mushing. Trails have been closed off to dog teams throughout the northeast. Florida is banning greyhound racing and many wonder if sled dog racing is next. I’m not saying I want to be the poster chick of the sport, but I want to tell people about it and why I love it and why it makes these dogs so happy. I want to take people for rides and on camping trips with me. I want them to see these dogs working together and working with me. I want them to hear the shrieks of excitement at hookup and the group howl together before bed. Races are full of excitement and energy—everyone should see one if they can swing it. But there’s something more intimate about just a regular ol’ run with the dogs out on the trail. And that’s what I want to capture and share.

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