If All Your Friends Jumped Off a Bridge...

I haven't had too much to write about as mushing season starts to dwindle down. We've had a mixture of polar-vortex cold and unusually warm days, but we're still getting out pretty consistently. Despite an overall not-great winter, the dogs are already at 148 miles. We'll definitely surpass our normal season goal of 150, and it's a good sign for my plan to increase the mileage next year.

Today's run at Six Mile was extraordinary and worth the quick story. We got out extra early because warm temperatures were creeping in, and the dogs were running extra well. Even Dexter had a tight tugline the entire run. We spooked a herd of deer and chased them through the trail, which probably contributed to Dexter's good morale.

By the time we reached our usual turn-around spot (two miles out), I decided to keep going further. As I've mentioned before, this requires crossing a bridge. I've done this a few times on my lightweight Chambers rig, but I hadn't tried it on the Arctis. And for whatever reason, I neglected to consider the difference in width between these two rigs.

Denali and Willy lead the team across the bridge without hesitation. I got about halfway onto the bridge and realized the back wheels of the rig wouldn't fit at the same time. Shit.

Now I was in a little bit of trouble. Denali and Willy were almost completely across the bridge. Dexter and Knox were holding steady in the middle. And I was stuck, with one back wheel hanging off the side and teetering toward the water.

It's hard to really describe the situation without pictures, but the stream and bridge are maybe eight or nine feet across.  The bridge is elevated quite a bit, very narrow, without guardrails. It's designed for mountain bikers. The embankment on both sides of the stream is steep and completely saturated with mud.

I knew the rig wouldn't make it across the bridge without tipping over, so I decided our best bet was to forge directly through the stream, Oregon-trail style. But this meant getting the team to turn around enough so that I could pull the rig back and safely down to the water.

The bridge was narrow -- about two dogs wide -- so they didn't have much choice. I gave Denali the "come haw" command, and she did exactly what I needed her to do. She leapt, without hesitation, straight off the bridge into the stream. Willy followed her lead, as did Dexter and Knox. This gave me enough slack to pull the rig off the bridge and push it through the stream.

The challenge didn't end there. I needed the dogs to pull through water up to their chests and haul the 90-pound rig up the muddy embankment on the other side. And they did it, just like that.

I need to stress that my dogs are not water dogs. In the dead of summer, Dex and Knox might wade around in streams to cool down, but none of them would ever jump into water like this. Especially not Denali. 

Today's run wasn't a miraculous experience. It wasn't luck or chance. It was years of work and training to build a team of dogs that trust me with total confidence. They don't always listen, but I'll remember this moment when I'm frustrated or struggling.

Good dogs. 

Jessica Kizmann

Dog musher, New Jersey.

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