Rob's Blog Archive

August 31, 2014

First Run 2014










Every musher loves the first run of the season.  While time off and half remembered routines mean confusion, musher and dogs are excited to do what we’re here for.  Beyond that, every season brings new promises, and these all start with the first run.  Mine will be on September 4.

My main goal for this season is a mini-expedition into the Bob Marshall Wilderness to see the Chinese Wall.  I need to condition the dogs, but nothing like what I’ll need the following year when I attempt, again, to skijor the Iditarod trail. 

Beyond that, I want to skijor and sled as much and as often as I can.  In addition to heading into the Bob, I expect to do a couple of overnights and a bunch of long skijoring day runs.  My P.R. skijoring in a day is a paltry 28 miles.   I expect to change that, but we’ll see.  The first and primary goal remains seeing the Chinese Wall, and that requires steady progress across untracked snow, not speed and distance on groomed trails.  Still, with a little luck, I’ll do the trip during the end of January and beginning of February, then have a month to set up a couple of dogs for a long, but hopefully fun, day on trails. 

With these as goals, nothing this year will be as hard as last year was or the next year will be.  Instead of setting up for and moving to Alaska for three months, I’ll be heading off to the other side of the mountains for a week, maybe two.  While the limiting factor on the Iditarod Trail actually was the dogs, not me, I will clearly be the limiting factor in the Bob.  More often than not, I’ll be breaking trail and the dogs will be following me, pulling the pulk.  They’ll be doing a lot of work, but it will be at my slow pace. 

With all that I had to do last year, I ran the B dogs far fewer times than the A dogs.  Moreover, as the season progressed, this went to zero for the former, while the number of dogs in the latter dropped down to the four I took onto the Iditarod Trail with me.  I’ll take only two into the Bob with me, most likely Shoshone and Prudhoe, but I am looking forward to running everybody who’s up to it throughout the season.  The B dogs will have less mileage, but hopefully as many hook-ups.

I’m starting the year leaving Vixen behind.  She’s closing in on 15, and there’s no way she can keep up, even with the B Team.  I’ll try Tok and see how he does.  I figure it’s no better than even odds that he’ll be able to keep up with the slow dogs.  Eleven of the other sixteen dogs are ten, or more, years old.  What’s clear is that, for any of them, this could be their last season in harness. 

Everybody has stayed healthy and happy over the summer, but with my dogs being as old as they are, physical issues aren’t the only reason this could end up being anybody’s final season in harness.  The fact is I could lose anybody at any time.  The lesson remains, cherish the living.  For me and my dogs, that means hitting the trails. 

Between June of last year and January of this, I lost four dogs.  When a dog passes, I keep their collars and have their bodies cremated.  On a sled run, I spread out the ashes on the trails they loved.  With my being in Alaska for almost the entirety of the last sledding season, I still have to put Ghost’s, Zappa’s, Otter’s, and Sima’s ashes out on the trail.  With that done, they too will be on the trail, this time forever.  Doing this has always been much more joyful than sad, probably because there’s always been a bunch of time between their passing and my getting this done.  I’ve moved past any bad memories from last days and moments to all the good memories I have of them.  And with their ashes out on the trails, I’ll always be able to visit those memories. 

My dogs are old.  I have no idea who will be around a year from now.  Still, it looks like seventeen of eighteen will be in harness and that I’ll have lots of time to run them.  It’s going to be a great season. 

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