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Mud

Today we set out for the longest run my little team has ever completed in a single day. It wasn’t the prettiest run, but I couldn’t be happier with how things went.

First, a little backstory: I’ve been dying to up our run mileage, but it’s not an easy task for a central Jersey musher. Last night, I spent several hours on trail websites and Google Maps, trying to scope out some decent miles for us. I ended up with four options:

The Pine Barrens - Ol’ faithful. When I make the journey down there, I usually end up running the 3.8 mile loop at Mt. Misery, but I’m getting bored with that. There are many, many more miles of trail I’d love to explore there.

Six Mile Run - Another trustworthy spot. However, just like the Pines, this area offers miles of trail I haven’t tried yet.

Paulinskill Valley Trail - One of two converted rail trails I’m interested in running. It’s 27 miles long, and pretty much a straight shot through Sussex and Warren counties. My plan would be to pick a starting point somewhere along the trail, run a few miles, break, then turn around and head back. My concern is activity on the trail, especially people walking dogs. Since it’s only one path, it’ll be hard to avoid interaction. My team is hit or miss with passing strange dogs – it mostly depends on the dog.

Columbia Trail - This is the other rail trail, which spans about 16 miles of Northwest Jersey. I’ve hiked a portion of it during the summer, and it’s definitely a well-travelled spot. Ultimately, an area I’d love to run, but it’ll come down to finding the least busy time.

When I woke up around 7:30 this morning, I thought the day was a wash out. There was a mix of rain, sleet, ice, and snow coming down throughout the early hours. Not enough snow to go sledding, but enough ice to make a rig fishtail. I was about to call it quits when the sun began to shine.

Since I got a late start, I decided to head over to Six Mile Run, as it’s the closest in proximity to my house. My usual parking spot was full of cars, so that had me worried – but I was headed to a different spot today. I had spied a “Blue” trail on Google Maps, which seemed to hug the edge of various farms along the woods. My game plan was to run this trail until it met up with the “Red” trail, take a break, and then run the same path back. I knew from past hiking experiences what the red trail was, and I wasn’t about to attempt it on the rig.

We took the wrong path right from the get-go. Well, not really, but it wasn’t the part of the blue trail I saw from above. Now in real life, the wiggly trail was labelled “Blue Trail”… and the trail I wanted to take had no sign or could even really be seen from where I had started out. Welp. At least it was pretty fun.

The majority of the run was smooth and simple. The path was wide and flat, with gentle inclines and declines that didn’t trouble the dogs much. The whole thing was pretty muddy, but in some spots I had to hop off and help push the rig through. We saw lots of birds (Turkey Vultures kinda give you a sense of impending doom), a horse, and an abandoned house along our journey.

That’s not to say this run was easy. Oh no. It certainly had its challenges! There were multiple spots where the trail turned into the woods. This meant weaving through trees, bouncing over exposed root and rock, much steeper inclines and declines, and the scariest part: making our way over boardwalk bridges.

I don’t have any photos from that part, because I was holding on for dear life. But imagine the boardwalk pictured below. Instead of being directly over the ground, elevate it about 5 feet up. And stick a freezing cold, rushing river beneath it. Now keep in mind I’m not riding a mountain bike – I’m riding on a rig, which is precisely the same width as the bridge.

Oh, and the bridge doesn’t have any railing on the side.

By some miracle, I am still here to blog about it. The dogs listened phenomenally well as we inched across these bridges. They hated being on them, and I know they were fighting the urge to bolt to the opposite side. Somehow, they managed to control themselves and didn’t take a single step without my call. What good pups!

Finally, we reached a point in the trail where it got too steep and winding for the rig to handle. I turned the team around and made the slow trek back to the truck. I stopped them a few times for water, but they didn’t want to rest. I was really impressed with how well they did, considering our daily runs are only 1.8 miles. 

The entire run was about 7.5 miles and it took us roughly two and a half hours. I couldn’t tell you the exact numbers because I forgot to push “record” on my Mushometer app, so that whole squiggly part in the beginning is just a guess. I’ll definitely go back there again, since it was very beautiful and quiet. The part of the trail that’s best for us is too boring for the bikers, so it works out better than my old spot. 

I hope it’s a little less muddy next time, though.

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A Musher's Day

Sometimes, on the weekends, I like to sleep in. Especially when I stay up until 2 AM working on a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle (uhh yea). And especially when I know it’s going to be under 50 degrees the following day, and I don’t have to head out at the crack o’ dawn to run dogs.

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Sometimes, the dogs miss that memo. Thankfully, they did let me sort of sleep until around 9:30 AM (as you can see in the second photo). They didn’t make it easy, though.

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So off we went to Six Mile Run in Somerset, NJ. We also ran there last weekend, which went pretty well. I scoped this trail out quite a bit during our hikes this past summer, and I realized it would be pretty decent for running the dogs. It’s primarily used by mountain bikers, and there’s quite a bit of trail I simply can’t do with the dog cart. Lots of steep, rocky, root-filled declines and inclines. Nevertheless, there’s still a few good miles of beautiful scenery, and it’s only 30 minutes away from home. The Pine Barrens, on the other hand, take over an hour and a half to drive down to. As much as I love the Pines, it’s tough on my sleep schedule and my wallet.

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Today was actually the first time I drove out somewhere to run the dogs completely alone. Usually, I meet up with other mushers, or I bring someone with me to help. This time, it was just me, the dogs, and the woods (and the occasional mountain biker).

I love introducing people to mushing. I’m also extremely grateful to have the Jersey Sands mushers to meet with and exchange knowledge. But there’s something really satisfying about heading out and doing this on my own sometimes.

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I also love taking the dogs to trails they don’t know. It’s great practice for commands, since they don’t automatically know which way to turn. Last weekend, Denali showed how young she still is by not really listening to me. Well, she did , just on her own accord. Today was much better – she listened to all my commands with barely any hesitation.

Last weekend, we were out on the trail for almost an hour, even though we didn’t really go that far. My friend, Rob, was riding with me so the dogs had to work a bit harder.

They only had me to lug around today, so we did about the same distance in half the time.

I’m hoping I can bring them out to another new trail soon. I’d like to load the cart up with treats (the dog kind and the human kind) and water, and just run for hours. It’s tough to find those kinds of trails close by, though. Only in the Pines (where I think we’re headed tomorrow) or out of state, it seems.

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Running Daily

We’re finally running on an almost daily basis now! Our little woods loop is still locked up, but we’ve managed to find a new spot to add to our local run. Combining our two running areas adds up to a mile and a half, which works out perfectly for a quick morning sprint. 
 This weekend, we hope to head down to the Pine Barrens for the first time this season.  Can’t wait to run some longer trails! 
 The dogs have been doing well so far. For no apparent reason, Dexter seems to be running a bit better this year. He’s still not pulling  to his full potential, but at least he’s keeping up and not adding work for the other two. They used to have to pull him along with the rig, so it’s definitely a relief. 
 Denali has been pretty spot on, although it’s evident how much more focused she is when the weather is cooler. She much rather lounge around when it’s warm and sunny out.  
 Knox is a little (uh, big) trooper, as always. This past Sunday, we went hiking at the Mohonk Preservation in New York. And by “hiking”, I actually mean spelunking and rock climbing, because that’s what the trail required. He was nervous, but a total champ whenever we had to lift him up boulders and rocky ledges, or squish him down into caves. We hiked for about five or six hours, and he never stopped or even slowed down. I’m pretty sure he could hike forever. 

  Knox is just as great in harness. His lines are always tight and he doesn’t stop for anything. His commands aren’t as solid as Denali’s, but he knows them well enough.  
 The team has around ten miles recorded for this season, which is lower than I’d like for late October, but we can’t help how warm it’s been. Now that we’re getting some consistent cool mornings, we should start racking up the mileage and getting back into the swing of things.

We’re finally running on an almost daily basis now! Our little woods loop is still locked up, but we’ve managed to find a new spot to add to our local run. Combining our two running areas adds up to a mile and a half, which works out perfectly for a quick morning sprint.

This weekend, we hope to head down to the Pine Barrens for the first time this season.  Can’t wait to run some longer trails!

The dogs have been doing well so far. For no apparent reason, Dexter seems to be running a bit better this year. He’s still not pulling  to his full potential, but at least he’s keeping up and not adding work for the other two. They used to have to pull him along with the rig, so it’s definitely a relief.

Denali has been pretty spot on, although it’s evident how much more focused she is when the weather is cooler. She much rather lounge around when it’s warm and sunny out. 

Knox is a little (uh, big) trooper, as always. This past Sunday, we went hiking at the Mohonk Preservation in New York. And by “hiking”, I actually mean spelunking and rock climbing, because that’s what the trail required. He was nervous, but a total champ whenever we had to lift him up boulders and rocky ledges, or squish him down into caves. We hiked for about five or six hours, and he never stopped or even slowed down. I’m pretty sure he could hike forever.

 Knox is just as great in harness. His lines are always tight and he doesn’t stop for anything. His commands aren’t as solid as Denali’s, but he knows them well enough. 

The team has around ten miles recorded for this season, which is lower than I’d like for late October, but we can’t help how warm it’s been. Now that we’re getting some consistent cool mornings, we should start racking up the mileage and getting back into the swing of things.

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Urban Mushing

I was sick all week, which was a real bummer because it’s been cold. Finally started feeling a bit better today, so I decided to take the 90-pound rig out for an evening run. This was the first three dog run of the season, and they did pretty well! 

The only tough part was getting them to turn around where we normally enter the wooded area. Since it’s still closed off and locked (GRRR!), I have to maneuver them around the parking lot and head back from where we came.  

When there isn’t a soccer game going on, I can have them head off around the fields, so it’s not an issue. But this evening, there were kids out playing, so we couldn’t do that. I decided since this was the halfway point in our run, they could use a quick water break. After they calmed down, I was able to redirect them towards home again, and they did just fine.

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