dry land dog rig

Race Day

We had a great time at the Betty Carhart Memorial Race this weekend. I ran Denali and Knox in the two dog pro bike-jor class. Dexter came along as our cheerleader, but he didn’t run. He’s made it clear he prefers slow-paced runs, so I’m not going to run him competitively for the time being. 

The race was Saturday and Sunday, with our run on Saturday being one of our fastest to date. We were technically second out the chute, but the team before us didn’t show up, so we went first. Two other teams started behind us, including a team of super-speedy hounds. We had a very strong start, and right as the dogs began to slow down, the hound team passed us.

Some folks get upset when teams pass them, but this was a victory for us. I pulled to the side of the trail and commanded the dogs to let the other team by, and they listened. There was no issue, no tangles, no attempts to mess with the passing team. Then, we got the added bonus of a team to chase to the finish line. Yes, we finished second, but our time would not have been what it was without those speedy hounds in front of us. 

Sunday was about 20 degrees warmer, so I kept the dogs running a little bit slower. The rest of our class didn’t show up, so we were the only team to complete the two day race (in two dog bike-jor). We were guaranteed first place, but I’m still very proud of how the dogs performed.

I’m looking forward to our next race, held in the same spot (Mt. Misery in Brendan T. Byrne) but by the Pennsylvania Sled Dog Club. January 10th and 11th, mush on!

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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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Planning on Planning

I’m a planner. I’ve got note books with me everywhere I go to keep track of plans. My Evernote account is filled with reminders for things I need to get done. If I write it down, it’s the first step towards fruition.

Of course, circumstances change and the things you plan for don’t always work out. That’s why you make back-up plans, and back-up back-up plans.

I planned to go on a cross-country, dryland-mushing road trip this fall. I wanted to hit a few national parks, camp out with the dogs, and experience amazing new places. I even had enough vacation time to make the trip do-able (though it would basically drain my PTO for awhile).

As much as I wanted to make this trip happen this year, there were too many things weighing against it. Aside from some personal matters and job related concerns, the main issue was my equipment.

I’ve got two dryland dog rigs/gigs/carts (whatever you want to call them):


The smaller one on the left is about 40 pounds and I can lift it, by myself, onto my bike rack. It’s what I primarily use when I travel around NJ trails, but it’s not really the most comfortable or sturdy contraption. The steering bar is far from intuitive and the wheels aren’t big enough to go over branches.

The larger rig is close to 90 pounds. It’s clunky and doesn’t fold down, so there’s no easy way to hang it from my bike rack. I ended up buying a cheap, China-made trailer to transport it. Which works, but I don’t trust it for a 4,000+ mile journey.

So, now what? I obviously need a safe, easily transported cart to make this journey possible. I found myself circling around the Arctis Carts website, as I tend to do at least once per season. I’ve wanted one of these dog carts since I first started mushing, before I even had enough dogs to pull it. The price tag and shipping cost always pushed me away, but I decided it was finally time to take the plunge:



(Photos via Arctis Carts)

Since things never work out as you plan, I couldn’t actually place my order for this season. The manufacturer is back-logged until next year. In this case, it works out for the best – they’ll be traveling to the Northeast next summer, so I can avoid the shipping cost and pick the cart up directly from maker. So then, just maybe, I can start making plans again.

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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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Race Day

I can’t believe it’s already December! We already had our first two races of the 2013-2014 season, and I guess you could say they went “fine”. 

Our first race was the Betty Carhart Memorial Race. It was cold. Now, when I say cold, I don’t mean normal, November-weather cold. It was in the teens, with a bitter wind all day long. A week prior to the race, I was in 80-degree Florida for vacation. I developed a pretty nasty cold when we got back. Let’s just say, eight hours in bitter temperatures probably wasn’t a smart move on my part. I felt like DEATH the following day, and didn’t make it in for my work meetings.

Our run wasn’t terrible, but it felt pretty disappointing at the time. We were second out of the chute, and the dogs took off like lightning. All three were running smooth and hard for about three miles. We caught up to the team that was first out, but I didn’t let them pass because we still need work on that. Plus, they run better when they’re chasing after another team.

At around three miles, Dexter slowed down and needed to poop. This was right before the toughest part of the trail, as we approached a hill. We lost sight of the first team, and the team that went out third passed by us. They provided a quick boost of chasing-speed, but that fizzled quick. We never got the speed we needed to finish strong.

Our overall time wasn’t terrible. We were about seven minutes faster than our previous training run on the same trail. We were two minutes faster than we were last year during a training run at the end of the season. So, I can’t really be upset. It just would’ve been nice to end the race as well as it started.

The Pine Barrens Dryland Run was the following Saturday, and it didn’t really go any better for the team. We were the first ones out of the chute this time, which I knew would be problematic. They still ran hard, but they fizzled out much quicker. Early on, Denali got distracted by some animal and tried to run off the trail. By the time I finally got her moving, the team behind us was in sight. They caught up with us quick, and after a messy pass (my team’s fault), they did keep a steady pace. I expected this would happen, and I had hoped to keep them in chase mode until the end of the race.

The last mile or so proved to be tough on Dexter, and I can’t really blame any of them for getting tired. They’re used to doing about two miles at a time. We got passed up by two bikejoring teams, which (at the time) felt devastating because there was a five minute gap between the three dog senior class and the bikes. 

In the end, our time was only about a minute worse than the first race, and those bikejorers were just really, really fast. 

Going forward, my game plan might be to run Denali and Knox in the sweepstakes bikejor class, then do sportsman for the three dog senior class. We’ll see how our training goes. I’m hoping to get out to longer trails more often now that it’s cold throughout the day. If Dexter improves enough, we’ll continue to run competitively in the three dog senior class, but I’m not counting on it. 

I feel the need to write a disclaimer. This entry makes it sound like I’m primarily focused on racing with the dogs. That’s not the case at all. I don’t really like races – they give me anxiety! I compete in them to support the clubs and to stay an active member of the mushing community. Mushing has the potential to become a very solitary activity, but I do want to keep the social aspect of it going, and that’s where races come in.

My real dream is to acclimate the dogs to distance runs. I’d love to take them out for hours at a time, over several miles of trail. For that, speed isn’t a priority. Instead, I need them to build up endurance and focus. They’re used to hiking several miles at a time, so I know this is possible. 

That’s all for now! Our next race won’t be until January, but I’m looking forward to lots of morning and weekend runs to come.

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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.

image image

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.


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.

image image

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.


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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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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Nature's Fury

This season has been a crazy one so far, and it has nothing to do with the dogs. A few weeks ago we were blasted by Hurricane Sandy. We were left without power for several days. The streets and local trails were littered with downed trees and power lines. And with gas rationing and an empty tank, I couldn’t drive elsewhere to train.

A week later, we were hit by a Nor'easter. As much as we love snow, it wasn’t quite enough to do anything. It was a sloppy, slushy snow that began melting almost immediately – so there was no time to take the sled out. Plus, the power went out again. Luckily, it was only for a few hours this time.

Right after the winter storm, a warm spell struck and I was out walking the dogs in shorts and short sleeves. Go figure.

Finally, it seems Mother Nature has calmed down for a bit. The temperatures are right where they should be for this time of year. I’ve managed to sneak in a few rig runs (between disasters), with the help of my mom or sister (whoever I could drag out with me).

The dogs are doing well, despite the gaps between runs. Denali’s prey drive has noticeably toned down. At the end of today’s run, my dad met us and ran alongside the team for the home stretch. Denali was digging down so hard and pulling with all her might – it was awesome to see.

We will finally be going down to the Pine Barrens this weekend, for the first time this season. Expect lots of photos and hopefully some video of our run next week!

2012-2013 Mileage to Date: 30.48

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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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Keeping Up

Distance Moving Time Average Speed Maximum Speed
2.47 miles 0:13.43 10.78 mph 17.66 mph

Sunday may have been our last trip to the Pine Barrens for the 2011-2012 season. I hope not, but if it was, we ended on a very good note. We did a short run at Mt. Misery – just 1.2 miles out and back, like we had done the week before. This time, I had the rig instead of the bike. And this time, the dogs absolutely flew. 

My phone app clocked the team at 17.66 miles per hour – definitely their fastest maximum speed yet. They held steady, averaging 10 miles per hour after their initial burst at take off. Knox is the added kick of strength and power we really needed. I can’t wait to do longer runs with him, but I’m taking it slow.

Sunday morning was the last bit of cold we’ll be getting for at least a week. Temperatures will be in the upper 60’s and lower 70’s for the next couple of days. Since it’s too warm to run, I’m focusing on the dogs’ loose-leash walking skills (or lack there of).

Denali needs the most work with walking manners. Her walks aren’t walks – they’re still runs, in her mind. It’s not easy to teach a dog, who was bred and trained to pull, to walk nicely. Knox and Dexter each need their own individual training as well.

My plan is to walk each dog separately every day this spring and summer. The huskies will be walked in the morning or evening, Knox getting the cooler time slot (since he’s got the heaviest coat). Dexter isn’t bothered by heat, so unless it’s blistering, he’ll get walked in the late afternoon. As they improve, I’ll walk in pairs. The ultimate goal is to loose-leash walk all three together without issue.

I will be walking each with a leash attached to a limited slip O-ring collar. I need for them to differentiate between the collar/lead and pulling with their x-back harness. After all, I still want them to pull when the cool temperatures return.

I’ll also be walking the dogs on a different path, at least for the beginning of their loose-leash training. Right now, they associate our usual route with running and pulling. If I go a different direction, I’m hoping they’ll be thinking more, instead of just acting on their RUN RUN RUN instincts.

To further work their manners, I’ll be taking them around the local park, where lots of distractions will come into play: other dogs, kids, people, etc.

Today was Denali’s first real test. She did better than she usually does, since she was by herself and not focusing on leading the other two. She pulled, as expected, but also had a few stretches of loose-leash walking. I also got her to check out her surroundings a bit – sniff the ground, look at the lake, watch joggers pass. Usually, she’s all business and doesn’t look anywhere but forward. 

Knox is still getting used to walks by himself, so I don’t think it will be quite as hard to train him to walk nicely. Dexter can walk well, but he has a different problem entirely – he marks and sniffs every few feet, which can get annoying.

I’ll continue to update on our runs, assuming we get a few more before the temperatures stay consistently above 50 degrees. Once that happens, I’ll be using the blog to document the dogs’ non-mushing related activities and training. I’ll also use the off-season to write up some articles about mushing in general – not just my little team. So don’t go anywhere!

2011-2012 Mileage to Date: 121.94

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