The weekend after Thanksgiving is usually the first race of the season for NJ dryland mushers, but this year's race was called off early (and eventually moved to March). My job gives me Thanksgiving and the day after off for a nice, long weekend. I wanted to make the most of it and decided to book a cabin in upstate New York. It wasn't too planned out, I just knew this might be my last opportunity to travel in 2015. And with the crappy weather we've had, I knew my best chance for cold temperatures would be somewhere up north -- 320 miles north, to be exact.
I found a beautiful "back to nature" style cabin called "Mountain Laurel" in the Adirondack foothills, on 50 acres known as "The King's Pines". It relied on solar power for electricity, a wood stove for heat, and propane for just about everything else. A five(ish) hour drive for a cabin with no wifi, no TV, and no indoor plumbing probably isn't appealing to most, but it had what I was really after: acres and acres of land with private trails. And, most importantly, the owners were completely fine with a small sled team staying at their place.
I originally planned to drag a friend or two along, but like I said, I didn't really plan it around anyone else's schedule. I was prepared to make the trip alone, but my Mom offered to come along for company and to help watch Willy while I was running the other dogs. My Dad ended up getting out of work early on Friday, so he was able to come along, too. I haven't been able to go on a family trip in years, since my parents watch my dogs when I travel and I feed their cats when they travel, so it was nice to go on a little adventure with them.
We spent Friday morning and early afternoon driving. I originally planned to leave before dawn so I could mush right as we got there, but temperatures were unseasonably warm even way up north. We arrived at the cabin just before dark, and it took some time to get everything settled. I think we were all asleep by 9 PM, though we did wake up to Dexter growling at the window... at what I can only assume was a rock that he thought was a bear.
We awoke to drastically colder temperatures on Saturday. The dogs were antsy to go outside, and I was equally antsy to check out the 50 acres that surrounded the cabin. We did a quick 1.4 mile run from our cabin, to another one on the property, and back while my dad figured out the propane-heated-rainwater shower.
After the morning run we sat down for eggs, bacon, and toast prepared by my Dad, which was a much better meal than the oatmeal I had planned to make had I made the trip alone. The rest of the day went on in the same fashion: a 3 mile run, hot dogs for lunch, a 2.2 mile run, bacon burgers for dinner.
The trails on the property (and probably the surrounded properties -- I couldn't exactly tell where one ended and another started) were very interesting. Pines and sand are pretty familiar to us, since we regularly mush in the NJ Pine Barrens. But this area was definitely more varied, with dirt and mossy trails and much taller trees. One area was buried under several inches of fallen leaves, which made for a completely new experience for the dogs to run through.
A lot of this trip, I had just that in mind: new experiences. The dogs have grown accustomed to the trails we run every week. So much so that I don't need to tell them which turns to take -- they already know exactly where we're going. Even when we mush new rail trails, they're just straight lines -- so there's no opportunity to practice gee's and haw's (right and left turns) . At the King's Pines, everything was new and each trail had lots of intersecting trails to choose from. Many were dead-ends, so Denali had to work on her come-haw's (turning the team around) quite a bit.
Oh, and all day Saturday it SNOWED!!! It wasn't really cold enough to stick, but it came down in fine, consistent flurries all day. I really couldn't have asked for a better day out in the woods and inside stuffing my face with my family.
Night creeps in early out in the woods with limited electricity, and we were all struggling to stay awake past 8 PM. Temperatures were supposed to dip into the low 20s that night, so we had the wood stove well stocked to last until morning.
We had a lot to do on Sunday, so going to bed early and waking up just before dawn worked out in our favor. We ate oatmeal, corned beef hash, and eggs for breakfast while the dogs were happy to continue snoozing. We didn't have to check out until later in the day, so I made sure to squeeze in another 4.4 mile run to ensure a quiet ride home. We totaled about 11 miles in two days, which put us over our usual goal mileage for the end of November -- 54.8 miles so far this season! Considering the warm temperatures and overall less opportunities to run, I'm happy we're still on track.
Overall, the dogs did great despite some challenging portions of trail. There were areas of deep sand, steep uphills, and lots of rocks/roots, but they managed without much trouble. My wrists are achey from hanging on to the rickety rig and my shins are thoroughly black and blue from kicking into the rig platform, but it was well worth it.
After our last run, my parents and I packed and cleaned out the cabin (hopefully we didn't leave too much dog hair behind). My dad split the long drive home with me, which was a big relief, since my butt was thoroughly kicked.
A big thank you goes out to Rick and Maria for letting us use their Mountain Lauren cabin at the King's Pines. I'd love to go back when there's snow on the ground and experience the trails from the back of my sled next time!