Rob's Blog Archive

September 14, 2014

The First Best Place










For years, I have said that fall training here is the best in the world.  I suppose there are places that come close, maybe even match, but I don’t believe anyplace will top the hills north and west of Seeley Lake. 

This starts with cool nights throughout the summer.  In days of yore, when getting as much running in as possible was a requirement, I’d start “fall” training in August.  Seeley’s warmest mornings average 45 F.  Willow and Fairbanks don’t get down to that till the nineteenth and fifteenth of August, respectively.  The cooler temperatures mean I can run dogs at least two thirds of the mornings, even mid-summer.  Other mushers boast about any August night in the forties.  With morning averages topping at 45 F, we get many in the thirties.   

We also have great trails.  Logging roads crisscross the hills and, with a few semi-permanent side-routes carved out by hunters but maintained by mushers, I have good turn-arounds for 3, 4, 6.7, 9.3, and 10.8 mile runs. At 15.1 miles, runs use long loops as turn-arounds.  All this is running directly from my house. 

The affordability of land makes buying a lot large enough for dogs easy.  When I look at a map of the area, my litmus test for its quality is whether or not it shows my pond, Silly Lake (it is unlabeled---I may yet change that).  I own twenty acres, including my own lily-pond. 

The area is also dog-friendly.  Missoula County ordinances offer kennel licenses at reasonable prices, but I’m not actually in violation of licensing law unless one of my dogs gets away.  Running an unregistered ATV is illegal.  Running unregistered dogs, as long as they’re attached to the gangline, isn’t. 

My mentor, Bob Chlupach, talked about various issues of ice crystals on the trails during fall training in Alaska.  We have none of that here, just mud, dirt, and gravel.  Along with that, while the mud we do get on the roads can be a little bit of a problem, it’s not near as bad as some I’ve seen.  I’m sure that the mud from storms that hit the Bay Area is three quarters glue. I never found a set of tires for the mountain bike---I used this to train my dogs---that didn’t collect enough mud to jam up the forks of my bike.  The trails closest to my house that had better dirt were more than an hour away. 

We do have a very active hunting season here during November, and I run mostly at night during that month.  I’m not afraid of either my dogs or I being accidentally shot as I am a road hunter, looking off to the side for deer, driving his truck into my team.  Hunting at night is illegal.  More to the point, nobody is moving at night without headlamps on, including me, and that gives everybody better warning that there’s a person up ahead.  The end of deer hunting season is always a relief, but that’s universal for any of the “good” places to run dogs.

The other downside to this area is we often get very icy conditions late fall and early winter.  Being west of the continental divide, we get rain throughout the season.  If this comes after some snow, but not enough to have a good pack built up, we get glare ice on our trails.  Snow does cover this up and leave an ice layer that stays hidden until spring, but before this, the only safe way to run dogs is with the ATV.  Usually, I’ll just take off the week, or so, in December during which this occurs.  I suppose that, too, is a downside of this location.

Finally, knock on wood, the snow here is reliable.  The latest I’ve had enough snow for sledding was December 19 and my average first day on runners is December 9.  Alaskans are usually on their sleds earlier and as reliably, but Seeley beats anyplace else in the lower 48. 

I suppose the other thing that is a downside here, though also a norm for fall training in anyplace “good” is we do get a lot of cold rain.  Eventually, this turns into freezing rain.  It’s miserable for mushers and I look at it as a test of mental toughness---who gets out there verses who doesn’t.  The good news, though, is the dogs either don’t notice or love it.  And, if they’re happy, I’m happy.

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