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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