Back where I Belong

After almost a week in Texas, I was super excited to return home to frigid Jersey and hit the trails. This weekend looked promising, but fell through.  

 Saturday’s run was botched when I stayed out late Friday night. I did manage to take each dog for solo bikejoring runs. They definitely need to brush up on their commands. I’m hoping that if I train them individually, some of that will carry over into team runs. 

 Sunday we were packed and ready to go. Woke up at dawn, but Knox just seemed off. He’s generally a weird dog, but he had been acting funny all weekend. I narrowed it down to his mouth being sore, but I couldn’t find any cuts, nothing lodged, no broken teeth.  

 I decided to stay home and let him rest. He ate breakfast and started to act playful, so we did a brief run around our local trails. He pulled hard as heck and seemed feel just fine.  

 I’ll be keeping a close eye on him and if he’s not back to his normal-weird self by tomorrow, a vet visit will be in order. Fingers crossed for my little dude!

After almost a week in Texas, I was super excited to return home to frigid Jersey and hit the trails. This weekend looked promising, but fell through.

Saturday’s run was botched when I stayed out late Friday night. I did manage to take each dog for solo bikejoring runs. They definitely need to brush up on their commands. I’m hoping that if I train them individually, some of that will carry over into team runs.

Sunday we were packed and ready to go. Woke up at dawn, but Knox just seemed off. He’s generally a weird dog, but he had been acting funny all weekend. I narrowed it down to his mouth being sore, but I couldn’t find any cuts, nothing lodged, no broken teeth.

I decided to stay home and let him rest. He ate breakfast and started to act playful, so we did a brief run around our local trails. He pulled hard as heck and seemed feel just fine.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on him and if he’s not back to his normal-weird self by tomorrow, a vet visit will be in order. Fingers crossed for my little dude!

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Summer Camping

I took Denali and Knox camping in the Pine Barrens this weekend. I wanted to bring Dexter, but the campsite had a two dog limit and I didn’t want to bend any rules this time around. After spending the weekend there, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be an issue for the future.

We weren’t too far from our go-to dryland mushing trail, so I’m glad we scoped this spot out. Dex has also camped before, so this trip was to teach the huskies how to behave.

The first night, they were a little wound up. Two high prey drive huskies in a small tent does not make for a peaceful sleep when the area is full of noisy critters. But they eventually settled down.

It was cool enough in the morning to take them for a quick bike ride around our usual trail. I didn’t push it, though. They’re out of practice and the flies were swarming, so we did less than a mile.

After that, they were much more behaved. We returned to camp for breakfast, a nap, and lunch. We did a quick hike around Pakim Pond, then drove around some more trails to plan for the fall season.

The Pine Barrens offer miles and miles of flat, soft trail which is perfect for dryland dog mushing. I’m looking forward to getting back down there when it’s cooler and without all the flies.

The pups slept soundly the second night, after a day of adventures. We packed up early Sunday morning after an intense rain storm. Can’t wait to head out again!

Full album on Flickr.

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Trouble on the Trails

Denali is an incredible dog. She’s so awesome in harness, that on bad days (like today), I have to remind myself – she’s only a year and a half. This is only her second season in harness. She’s way ahead of the curve, so little slip-ups are to be expected.

We’ve only done a few runs thus far, but I’ve noticed her prey drive is way more intense than it was last year. She used to get excited by squirrels or ground hogs, and even try to chase after them – but I could always call her off. It took 15-30 seconds for her to regain her composure, and we were moving again.

This year, she’s way more focused on capturing whatever it is that darted into her line of vision. In fact, she seems to be going after imaginary animals, too. Or she’ll stop at places where we saw an animal during a previous run and try to find it.

This behavior throws Knox off and he joins in on the hunt. Dexter either joins in, or stands there pitifully while she yanks at his neckline. Today was pretty frustrating, in particular. I had to get off the bike several times to pull Denali out of the bushes and point her in the right direction.

I don’t like screaming my head off at the dogs (especially when I’m around the neighborhood, with the occasional bystander looking on in awe), but they go deaf to my commands when they’re chasing something. Sometimes, a stern enough shout breaks them out of it. Most of the time, though, I need to physically pull them away. And that’s not good.

Hopefully, with more runs, Denali will settle down and be the leader I know she is. And as the temperatures drop, all the little critters will hopefully be sleeping away in their dens.

2012-2013 Mileage to Date: 18.2

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Mushing Season is Here!

Hey everybody! Mushing season is back again, so I think it’s time I get back to posting on here. I’m taking a slightly different approach with our runs this season.

When Knox was little, I could manage bikejoring with all three. Not anymore! At least, not around my neighborhood. There are far too many distractions and I cannot stop all three dogs with my brakes. I actually have a pretty hard time stopping with just two. So yea, we bike carefully. Oh, I don’t think I mentioned it here yet, but I finally got a new bike! It’s a Trek 3700 mountain bike with disc brakes – a heck of a lot tougher than my previous bikes!

Into mid-October, I’m aiming to run the dogs every other day. There are still some random warm or overly humid days (like today) that I’ll skip. I don’t want to over-exert anybody after a long, low-key summer. For the most part, I run Denali and Knox first, then Denali and Dexter second. On some occasions, I’ll switch it up and run each dog separately.

Denali really is an amazing girl. She’s only a year and a half, but she’s teaching the boys more than I could ever do alone. Without her, Knox runs in sporadic bursts and doesn’t have a clean grasp of commands. Hook him up next to Denali, and she keeps him running steady and muscles him into turns.

Dexter runs well – in the Pine Barrens. At home, he still wants to sniff and mark. Denali doesn’t let him.

As it gets colder, I hope to be biking every day. I’ll also be heading down to the Pine Barrens with my new 90-pound rig as soon as the trails are cleared. I plan to eventually use one of my rigs for neighborhood runs, but I want to get the team used to it (safely on the trails) first. They’re a lot more difficult to maneuver than my bike, so I need to be very confident with the dogs’ abilities.

Oh, one last thing! I’m converting a spare bedroom in my house into a dog room. I’ll have photos of the renovation process posted once it’s completed.

2012-2013 Mileage to Date: 12.6

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And Then There Were Three

I’ve been meaning to write about Knox’s first run with the big dogs in my usual trail entry format, but I got delayed – and now we’re already three runs into his “career”. I decided I should write a little recap of each, before any more time passes and I forget the details.

Our first three dog run was on Friday, March 2nd. Since Knox is right around 6-months-old and seemed more than ready to join the team, I decided it was time. My rig is still in need of a new bearing, so I had to resort to a 3-dog bikejor. Not the best idea and certainly not something I will do once the rig is fixed, but I wanted to give him a practice run before the Pine Barrens.

Our first run went pretty well. Denali ran in single lead with Dexter and Knox behind her in wheel. Knox did fantastic… he pulled hard and slammed into his harness like he was bred to do it (which I’m fairly certain he wasn’t). Dexter also did well – he was more focused and went into “chase” mode with Denali in front of him. Denali – my sweet, oh-so-perfect Denali – was less than perfect in single lead. I didn’t realize how much Dexter grounded her. It wasn’t a catastrophe or anything. She ran like a yearling (which she is), and not the incredibly focused girlie she usually is. Her commands were a little fuzzy and she turned around to mess with Knox halfway through the run.

Towards the end of Knox’s first run, we came upon a fleeing cat. Because we can’t have a single run without some sort of animal darting away from us. My bike brakes were working, but didn’t do any good. The wheels slid, until I managed to swing up against a tree and hold the team back.

The second run was flawless. We went to the Pine Barrens, where there are rarely any animals near the trail. The freshly laid scent of other teams also helps my guys stay focused. All three did great, although Denali couldn’t understand why we had to turn back after just over a mile – she wanted to run our usual four mile trail. I didn’t want to push Knox too hard, so we only did 2.4 miles with the team. I took Denali out again later and repeated the same trail, so she could get her fix.

This morning was Knox’s third run and probably the worst thus far. As soon as we took off, I realized something wasn’t right. The duct tape job I constructed on the front brake had ripped apart. I thought about turning back, seeing as three dogs + only a rear brake might = suicide… but I had my helmet on, so god damn it, we kept going!

First test was a squirrel that darted by Denali. In double lead with Dexter, she gets excited for squirrels, but I can usually call her off. She then channels her ‘need-to-chase’ urge into pulling extra hard. In single lead, she loses her focus and tries to chase. I had to swing against a tree and wait for her to cool off.

Dexter and Knox did very well. Denali obeyed most of my commands, but she wasn’t as quick and sharp with them as usual. Towards the end of the woods loop, something caught her eye and she hopped off the path and into the high, dead brush. While she was goofing off, Dexter took the opportunity to roll around. Knox just whined and slammed into his harness, trying to get the team to keep going – nice try, little one! I had to dismount and pull Denali into the right direction. The remainder of the run home was mostly uneventful. She was a little better with the commands, but still a bit unruly.

All in all, they’re doing fine. This minor setback is just a dose of reality. For the most part, Denali has been unusually great in harness. Asking her to lead without Dexter by her side is a big step for a puppy still a few days shy of a year old. AJ plans to take her running every day and I’ll be doing more single lead practice with her. I’m sure we’ll work out the kinks as time goes on.

Someday in the distant, but hopefully not too distant future, a fourth dog will even out the team and solidify their flow. Dexter and Knox can be the powerhouses in wheel and maybe another Sibersong lady will balance Denali out in lead. Someday!

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Broken Down

Distance Moving Time Average Speed Maximum Speed
3.8 miles Unrecorded Unrecorded Unrecorded

The past few days have been fun, but destructive. On Friday, my bike’s brakes gave out entirely. The duct tape job on the front brake lost its effect and all the brake pads have worn down.

I realized I had no brakes about halfway through our run, right before the dogs spotted a cat – in the middle of the trail. The cat took off running and the dogs followed behind. She eventually went off the trail and the dogs lost sight of her, giving me just enough time to fully stop the bike after a scary few seconds. They must have saw her again, because they did a 180 on the trail and tried to pull off into the woods. I had to dismount and drag them away… they were far too excited for “leave it” to work.

The brake-less bike foiled my plans for joring at the D&R Canal, so I ended up taking the dogs to Sandy Hook with my parents. I left the harnesses at home and attempted to make it just a “walk”, but all three were pretty amped up and looking to run. Everybody got to dip their paws in the ocean and nose around in the sand, so it was a nice change of pace. It was windy and we were pelted with sand the whole time, but three tired dogs on the way home was well worth it.

Sunday, I went to the Pine Barrens with AJ and the pack. I brought the chambers rig, since the bike is still out of commission. About halfway through our 3.8 mile run, I noticed the front wheel seemed to be rubbing on something and making a weird noise. I stopped the dogs and tried to figure out what was causing the issue. As it turns out, the wheel was wobbling because one of the bearings had fallen into the center of the wheel. The inner part of the wheel was rubbing on the axle on one side, while the other side still had a bearing holding it in place.

We finished the remainder of the run, but it was a real workout for me and the dogs. I’m hoping I can replace the bearing without too much trouble. However, it seems anything involving these unusual sized wheels can be a hassle to find. If I can, I’ll just replace all three wheels completely. Bike brake pads should be easier to come by, but I’m leaning towards buying the new bike sooner rather than later. It’ll be a financial hit I was hoping to put off or offset, but it may be necessary.

2011-2012 Mileage to Date: 111.76

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Sled Dogs on the Shore

Distance Moving Time Average Speed Maximum Speed
3.63 miles 0:23.48 9.14 mph 14.54 mph

We had some pretty solid runs this weekend, both at home and away. I’ve added a new loop of trail for our local rides. Instead of running through the municipal building parking lot, we’re now running around the tennis courts (light blue below). We actually used to do this all the time, but I stopped due to frequent encounters with wildlife. Oh, and a tree fell against the back fence of the courts, so it was literally impossible to pass through.

The downed tree is still there, by the way. It’s breaking apart and somewhat passable at this point. Could I do it on a sled? No way. Rig? Doubt it. Bike? Just barely. The first time I had the dogs slowly pull me through, to avoid destroying my face on the horizontal branches. The second time, my brakes didn’t really feel like cooperating, so we tore right on through. Luckily, there was minimal damage, aside from my hat getting caught up in a branch (I stopped and went back for it).

The new loop reduces the amount of time spent running on pavement, which is really what I’m aiming for. Dexter runs noticeably better on grass and dirt.

I planned to go to the Pine Barrens on Sunday, but I slept in and decided to check out Sandy Hook instead. I’ve been meaning to run the dogs there, since it’s a lot closer than the Pines. Overall, it’s a really nice bike trail, but it is mostly paved. I coaxed the dogs to run along the grass next to the path whenever I could, though.

It was icy cold down the shore, which was a welcome change compared to our recent warm temperatures. The wind was really brutal along the edges of the peninsula, and the ocean was pretty wild. In one spot, we were pelted by the wind and some freezing cold ocean spray. Denali ran like a maniac – she really thrives in the coldest temperatures. Dexter ran his best at that point, too. Even though I couldn’t feel my face, I’m pretty sure I was smiling the whole time.

Knox went out on the beach after the big dogs got their run. He didn’t really know what to make of it. The combination of rough winds and crashing waves didn’t sit well with him, so he peed on some seashells and we ran back to the truck.

Our next run will break the 100 mile mark! I’ll bring the GoPro along to commemorate it!

2011-2012 Mileage to Date: 98.47

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The New Bike Fund

I recently added a fundraising widget to the homepage of this site. I don’t really expect anything much to come out of it, but I’m not above begging for donations! I really need a new bike to run the dogs with. The bike I currently use is falling apart. The brakes only work thanks to some extensive duct taping. The gears don’t switch right. The chains are falling off. Honestly, it was never a great bike to begin with. It served me well for what it was worth, but now I need to move on to better things.

I did buy a new bike. Right before the Fair Hill Challenge, I bought a brand new and better version of my old bike. Big mistake. For those who don’t recall, the bike fell apart during the race. The chain fell off and the brakes came loose – all problems my current bike suffers from. All problems that I thought were due to lack of tune-ups and general maintenance. Nope, apparently they are just crappy bikes.

Thankfully, I was able to get my money back on the crap bike. But that left me with my old, equally crappy bike to work with. So I duct taped it up and have been using it ever since. Does it have the control and stability I really want and need? No. Can the dogs pull me on it? Yes.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll need to spend more than $200 or $300 to get a decent bike. I’ve heard great things about Trek bikes. Of course, the model I narrowed my search down to costs over $450 (Trek 3500 Disc Bike). It’s hard for me to justify spending that much money, especially when I do have a rig I could use. I don’t necessarily need a bike at all.

The thing is… I truly love biking in general, even without the dogs. It’s always been one of my favorite activities. I’m not especially good at it. It’s not something I’ve ever been competitive in. Hell, I’ve never even been on a “street” bike. My love is partly for nostalgic reasons. Rolling along on a bike on a warm summer evening brings me to a happy place.

You can only imagine my excitement after discovering bikejor – a sport that combined my love of biking with my love of dogs. Rolling quickly through the Pine Barrens, behind two crazy dogs, doesn’t stir up the same feeling as my nostalgic summer rides, but it brings me to another equally happy place.

If anyone decides to throw some bucks towards my bike fund, I’ll be eternally grateful. This year, I’m trying to cut back on spending. After all the mushing-related expenses last year (well over $1000, not counting the truck I bought to make everything possible), I will have to wait on the new bike. I’m going to sell some stuff, as well as take on some freelance work, in hopes of making some extra bucks. My goal is to set aside $500, not from my paychecks, by this fall. If I can buy a new bike without using my normal pay, I will have succeeded!

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Yesterday's Run

Distance Moving Time Average Speed Maximum Speed
2.4 miles 0:23.07 6.24 mph 11.8 mph

I didn’t get a chance to write about yesterday’s run, but seeing as it’s raining, I can use today to catch up. I started the dogs off with our typical trail. I put on the brakes up until we hit the woods, where I let them cut loose. Dexter did alright – still not as “into it” as I would’ve liked, but getting there.

On our way back to the house, I decided to test out another portion of the woods. There’s a small stream to get across and it’s only worth going if there’s been a period of drought – otherwise, the whole area is a swampy mess.

I knew it would be relatively dry, due to the lack of rain (up until today). Still, I managed to get my foot stuck  in about 6 inches of pure muck while crossing the stream. Once on the other side, it’s a toss up. During the spring and summer, it’s nearly impossible to navigate due to all the plant life. There’s a fairly large field between streams, with tall, Savannah-like grass. After a few good frosts, the grasses die and keel over, making the field a bit more accommodating.

I’m jumping ahead. Before any of the field business, I ran the dogs along the major stream system that cuts the woods in half (the stream we cross over is a trickle compared to this other stream). It’s not a very far run, but it’s relatively challenging. It’s by no means a groomed pathway – technically, no one is supposed to be back there. It really tests the dogs’ gee and haw ability as we try to find suitable pathways through the trees. There is a pretty solid path about three quarters of a mile into the woods. Then it’s gone.

After going as far as we could, I turned the dogs away from the stream towards the field. There isn’t much of a trail at this point, so the dogs worked out the most navigable route. The dead grass got really thick in a few spots, so I had to get off the bike and walk it through. Although it’s not really a smart trail to take (or a trail at all, for that matter), the dogs really enjoyed bouncing through the grass and figuring out which way to go. And it’s nice to see them working together.

We eventually made our way back to the stream trail and followed it back out of the woods. On the way in, both dogs managed to hop the stream without getting muddy. Not so for our exit. Both Dexter and Denali decided to stand in the stream to cool off their feet, resulting in black-footed dogs.

All in all, yesterday’s run made for one of our longest at-home runs. I think the longer we go, the better Dexter gets at focusing – as long as I change up the routes. I shouldn’t forget that he’s always been a bit distracted at the beginning of walks, so runs aren’t much different. After he gets his initial sniffs/pees/poops out, he’s usually a lot more willing to get moving.

2011-2012 Mileage to Date: 67.18

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Neighborhood Bikejor

Distance Moving Time Average Speed Maximum Speed
2.08 miles 0:16.17 7.67 mph 13.01 mph

First time posting in my trail blog! I’m hoping to write a bit every day that we train. We’re about half way through the season, so keep that in mind.

Today, I kept the dogs moving slow on the red trail until we hit the woods loop. Dexter tends to run better on softer ground with fewer distractions. I like to have them work hard for a portion of the run to help build up muscle. Plus, I don’t like having them run full-speed on pavement, especially with cars and people around.

I had them run the woods loop twice, which threw them off a little, but they figured it out quick. It’s by far my favorite part of our run, and they usually run their fastest. Then we took the yellow trail to add on some distance and give them more command training. The street leading back to the red trail usually has a few stray cats on it, and today was no exception. The dogs spotted a kitty in someone’s yard, but I managed to keep them moving.

Denali was flawless today, as she usually is. Dexter has been off lately and I can’t figure out why. He isn’t running smoothly with Nali. Instead, he’s been pulling against her and trying to go in the opposing direction. Denali will be running straight forward and he’ll be awkwardly pulling off to the side. I checked him for injuries and haven’t found any sensitivity. At home, he wrestles and plays without any issue. He even runs relatively well once we’re in the woods loop.

My only guess is that he’s become increasingly distracted by stuff on our way to the woods. He’s always been an avid sniffer/marker, but he was pretty good about ditching the habit while on runs. Lately, it seems like he’s trying to slow down Denali so that he can pick up the habit again.

Dexter tends to run just fine in the Pine Barrens. He’ll also run especially well if there are other dogs on the trail. The area we run at home seems to bore him and he much rather sniff than run. It’s hard to motivate a dog. The warm weather hasn’t been helping, either.

Knox will be joining the team at the tail-end of this season, weather-permitting. The plan is to have the boys in wheel with Denali in lead. I’m hoping that having Denali in front will inspire some chase instincts in Dex. He also will have two dogs pulling him forward, so becoming distracted won’t be much of an option.

I’m not looking to have a super-speedy team. I mush for fun, after all. I just want my dogs to work well together and keeps a reasonable pace. We’ll see how it goes.

2011-2012 Mileage to Date: 64.78

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