dog sled training

Just a Frosting

We finally got a little snow to mush on! Not enough for sleds, but enough to make the dogs very happy.

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Up before the Sun

Hot breath on a cold morning.

Hot breath on a cold morning.

 

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Beginnings

As the old year closes and the new begins, we often talk about goals and resolutions. I have my own set of personal achievements to strive towards this year, but I think now would be a good time to write about my mushing goals.

Every season, I set a goal at around 150 total miles. We generally start running in October, and continue up until late March, weather permitting. This gives us six solid months to accrue distance. If we’re lucky, we get a head start in late September, and run into April. Either way, 150 miles is a pretty attainable goal.

As of January 1st, 2015, we have around 83 miles in the books. Dexter is behind with only about 70 miles, since I didn’t run him in our first race and he’s had a minor paw pad injury this past week. I’m not too sure about his future in mushing, since the pups have definitely hit their peak and run much faster than he does now. I don’t want to force him to run, but I’d hate to leave him behind. We’ll see how he does after a week of rest. Hopefully we’ll see some snow this season, which he does run better in.

I’ve got a few other mushing related goals I’d like to accomplish, for this year and the future:

  • Purchase an Arctis Cart (slated for Summer of this year)
  • Dryland mushing roadtrip 
  • Stay in a cabin with mushing trails in the vicinity
  • Overnight mushing trip (mush to a spot, pitch a tent, then mush back the following day)

If anyone has any suggestions for those last there, please let me know! They’re not really activities I’ll be able to do around New Jersey, so any advice is appreciated.

Have a happy 2015!

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you – beyond that next turning of the canyon walls. 

― Edward Abbey

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In the Pines

We had our first real run in the pines this past weekend. Slow but steady 3.8 miles at Mt. Misery (charming name, eh?) in Brendan T. Byrne State Forest.

I was hoping for colder temperatures, but it hovered around 47 degrees which meant lots of breaks. The dogs did well despite the temperature. I think they were just happy to be running those sandy trails again.

We’re heading back there this weekend to camp and mush. Can’t wait!

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Sunrise

We woke up well before the sun to train at Six Mile Run. I wanted to be on the trail at sunrise, in hopes of beating all the mountain bikers and people free running their dogs.

When I rolled up, there were no other cars in the parking lot. I started unloading the dog cart when a truck towing a horse trailer pulled in. “Ok, we’ll have to avoid someone on horseback, no big deal.”

And then about a dozen more trucks with horse trailers drove in. As it turns out, they were holding a competitive trail ride throughout Six Mile Run that morning. Just my luck.

I was just about ready to drop the dogs when I decided running this trail wasn’t going to happen. Frustrated, I repacked the dog cart and drove to another trail head. There were signs and markers warning about the horse race there, too, but I decided to give it a shot.

The dogs ran beautifully and it was a perfect, crisp morning. I was still disappointed we couldn’t run the longer trail, and I could tell the dogs still had plenty of gas in their tanks by the end of the trip. I was tempted to do the trail twice, but I figured the horses would be approaching and didn’t want to take any chances.

It’s only the start of our season, though, and we’ll get plenty more chances to run.

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Fall is Here

Day two of fall training. It was a bit warmer and more humid, so we took it slow. The squirrels are very active right now, and Denali needs to learn to keep her prey-drive in check!

Day two of fall training. It was a bit warmer and more humid, so we took it slow. The squirrels are very active right now, and Denali needs to learn to keep her prey-drive in check!

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Mushing Season Begins

I took Denali camping up in New  Hampshire this past weekend, but I haven’t had time to go through the 500+ photos. So for now, here’s a picture from our first official run of the 2014-2015 season. 
 Happy fall!

I took Denali camping up in New  Hampshire this past weekend, but I haven’t had time to go through the 500+ photos. So for now, here’s a picture from our first official run of the 2014-2015 season.

Happy fall!

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Gratitude

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I’m really very lucky. Sometimes I need to stop and remind myself. Especially when I’m feeling pent up and frustrated about my current location.

The above picture was from our last decent run. We got a few more local runs in, but the past two weeks have been surprisingly quiet for my team. Even though we’ve had snow on the ground, luck has been against us. We did get a seven mile and an eight mile run in prior to this slump, which I think contributes to my desire to run even more. I’ve had a taste of what I’ve always wanted, and now I want it more.

We got a decent storm last Monday, which is essentially the worst day for snow. It’s the start of my work week, and I had no time to take the sled out around the neighborhood before the plows came. Shortly after the snow, we got hit with lots of ice. Then with melting and re-freezing, the snow on the ground has developed a hard, thick crust.

The route I run around my house has become impossible. The plows have piled up mountains of rock hard snow, blocking off two sections of our 1.7 mile local “trail”. The few spots that I can go are covered in ice, making them too dangerous for a rig.

This means I need to drive out to trails on the weekend, which has been equally troublesome. North Jersey is still covered with icy snow while south Jersey apparently has just ice. I decided to stick with hiking this past weekend to keep the dogs active, since mushing seemed too treacherous.

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I almost had a panic attack about our inactivity, for a number of reasons. Most importantly, I feel like I’m failing the dogs when we don’t get out at least every two days. Along with that, it’s my own favorite pass time. My soul needs it. And least important, but still a factor: I set a goal of 125 miles for this season. We’re close, and I’m sure we’ll make it, but I’m eager to surpass it.

Why do I consider myself to be lucky? Because my dogs haven’t given me an ounce of trouble. I’ve got two young, high energy huskies and they’ve been content to chase each other around the frozen yard and go for walks to the local park. Dexter isn’t exactly low energy, either. All three have been incredibly well behaved in the house while I’m working, or while I’m away in NYC for meetings. So thank you, dogs, for making things easy on me when they could easily become mayhem. We’ve got snow coming tomorrow… I promise we’ll be running again real soon.

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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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The Ups and Downs of Mushing

THE UPS:

Things have been pretty glorious since my last entry. We’ve been getting snowed on, which is a great surprise for early December. Considering how dry the past two winters were, getting on the sled before January was a welcomed change. Here’s hoping this winter is like the one right before I purchased my sled – when we had blizzards literally every weekend!

We’ve been getting little bits of snow here and there, but the heaviest dump was last Saturday. I managed to take the sled out that night, before the plows cleared off the streets.

The following day, I went to good ol’ Six Mile Run for some more time on the runners. The dogs loved it, despite having to pull both me and Rob through the soggy snow. We did less than two miles since it was tough work, but it was still fun taking the sled somewhere beyond my neighborhood.

THE DOWNS:

Sadly, it’s supposed to warm up this weekend, and all my beautiful snow will likely melt before my vacation officially begins. Sunday is supposed to reach 68 degrees with thunder storms. Really?

I had originally hoped to trek up north to find some sledding trails, but I’m hesitant to make the trip by myself. Unfamiliar trails with questionable cell phone service worry me a bit. Finding a cabin has also proved to be a challenge. Plan B was to find trails closer to home. I had the Poconos in mind. But with the upcoming warm weather, I doubt I’ll find anything sled-able without going at least five hours north.

I need to start making preparations to do these trips on my own. I want to get my hands on a satellite GPS – I think that would help with some of my anxiety. If I’m ever going to start running my little team over greater distances, I won’t be able to do it with a passenger. That’s just too much for three dogs to handle.

I don’t expect anyone to accompany me for a seven hour journey north, where they’ll be spending their time alone in a rustic cabin with only the bear essentials, while I’m out running dogs for hours.

I also don’t expect my friends to wake up at 5:30 AM on a Saturday, hop in my truck for an hour and a half ride, only to spend eight hours in the freezing cold while I compete in races.

Normal twenty-something-year-olds don’t do this stuff. While they’re out at bars and listening to friends’ bands perform, I’m calling it a night at 10 PM.

Mushing is a lonely thing, I’ve come to realize. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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