dry land mushing

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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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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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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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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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.


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.


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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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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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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Rickety Rigs

Distance Moving Time Average Speed Maximum Speed
3.99 miles 0:27.44 8.62 mph 14.16 mph

We got some nice training opportunities in this weekend. On Saturday I biked with Dexter and Denali around our usually trail. It was still VERY muddy but we managed. Afterwards, I walked Knox on his own – man, that little puffball can pull!

This morning we were all packed up and ready to go to the Pine Barrens, but I couldn’t find my damn keys. I finally found them – in the first place I had checked, I just didn’t look hard enough. We hit the road about 40 minutes later than I would have liked, but we made it down there.

Today was our first run with the dry land rig this season. They pulled hard and fast while they were chasing another team, but really pooped out towards the end. Overall not a bad run – I just need for them to pace themselves a little better. It’s definitely harder to pull the rig, since I’m not pedaling along the whole time. I do kick off the ground to help them out, but for the most part, they’re on their own. They were eager to get back in the truck after their run, so I suppose they were satisfied!

Back at home, I took Knox out for some basic puppy training. Denali’s x-back harness finally arrived, so I was able to pass on the adjustable puppy x-back to Knox. I hooked him up to the rig with one leader line and I held the other. At first he was determined to run back and sit on the driver’s spot on the rig – silly pup. I let him get acclimated with the big, metal contraption, so he wouldn’t be nervous when it was barreling behind him.

Eventually, I got Knox out in front of the cart, pulling it slowly and following alongside me. The cart is super light, so it was barely any work for him. He didn’t seem at all afraid of it as he toddled along. Good pup!

2011-2012 Mileage to Date: 83.34

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