Rob's Blog Archive

December 18, 2011

Onto the Runners 2011










November’s snow was a tease.  That’s actually pretty normal, as was my optimism about when I’d be sledding.  This year, there was enough snow, but rain made the difference between sledding and not.  It didn’t melt the snow pack away but morphed the snow compressed by hunters’ trucks into soft ice.  It was thick enough and not too hard, but snow hooks were marginal and nothing had built up on the side of the trails to hook into.  All of which had me delay being on the runners until last week after snowmobiles had pounded at least some of the ice into submission.  And last Thursday, we got a few inches of new, so I’m pretty happy. 

Like all mushers, I chomp at the bit to get onto my sled.  Most winters, I’ve hopefully dragged snow hooks through the snow checking how well they hold but feeling only slightly more resistance than I would if I were dragging them just through air.  Being able to set a snow hook I can rely on, particularly as a switch my string from ATV to sled and back at the trailhead, is a requirement.  A ten dog string stretches for forty-five feet in front of the musher and the dogs’ enthusiasm can spontaneously peak resulting in everybody hitting their harnesses at the same time.   A poor hook means a loose team, something I like to avoid.

Eventually, though, snow comes, hooks hold, and we’re on our way.  The reality is it’s pretty regular.  Since I’ve been in Seeley Lake, the earliest I’ve been on runners is November 28 and the latest is December 19.  My first runs this year were on December 13. 

As I write this, I’ve run on two days and hooked up all of my sleddogs on both.  Actually, with hook-ups of two ten dog strings each doing 2-3 miles on the ATV then 12-16 miles on the sled, it’s a fair amount of work.  But, that’s why I’m here.  Both times, one run was in daylight and one was at night. 

Actually, for the first pair, I had planned on doing both runs during the day, but as I was starting to get ready for the first run, Matt, the UPS guy, came bopping down my driveway with the new headlamp I had ordered.  This was a straight up replacement for one of the two I had on the Iditarod, but it was still a new toy and needed to be played with.  And without being forced to get both runs in before sunset, I didn’t have to take any shortcuts.  For example, I did have plastic on my sled runners that had totally warn away in a couple of spots and if I ran at night, had time to replace it (Wow, the sled really glides easy now!). 

My favorite string size is 10-12 dogs and my favorite run length is 15-20 miles.  I got off to a late start this fall, but we still had all the training we needed to start sledding with these.  The first runs were before Thursday’s snow, and while there had been some snowmobile traffic on the route, Short Marshall Lake, we still were kind of bouncing in and out of ruts from hunters’ trucks.  The route starts with enough of a climb that most of it was less icy than the trailhead and driving the sled was fun.  In the years before I had my hip replaced, roller coaster runs hurt.  I can now enjoy.  I did have a friend that told me that I would quickly forget about the miracle that that surgery was, but I’m thinking not so fast. 

The second pair of runs were the day after it snowed and on a Friday, so there hadn’t been a lot of traffic.  In fact, of the 16 miles of sledding I did with each team, less than four had seen any traffic and even then it was only one or two snowmobiles.  Only four or five inches of fresh snow had fallen on the hard base, so while the running wasn’t as fast as on Tuesday, it was close, even on the untracked mileage.  There was enough new snow to be sledding on powder, velvet smooth and quiet.  And while the bulk of the snow fell on Thursday, it was still snowing lightly on Friday.  It was heavy enough to enjoy but light enough that my hood and ruff, even with the latter laying back on my head, kept the snow off of my face. 

When I first moved to Silicon Valley, I figured I’d leave in five years or less.  Friends, family, climbing, skiing, and reasonable job opportunities had me convinced I’d end up in the Front Range of Colorado. 

I stayed for fourteen years in Silicon Valley and mushed my last four.  Rather than the Front Range I had loved the three years I was there, I moved to Montana to learn more about sledding.  The labyrinth of trails behind my house is a perfect playground.  I can and have run 80-milers from my house as out and backs using a ten mile loop as a turn around.  The runs I focus on now, those 15 to 20 mile jaunts, have me wandering above the Seeley-Swan Valley and staring across at the Swan Range.  This is why I’m here.  I am thankful to be able to do this.  And like my hip I don’t expect to lose that feeling in the near future.

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