Rob's Blog Archive

January 29, 2012

The Perfect Winter Day










Perfect winter days were a dime a dozen in the Sierras and Colorado Rockies.  With a direct shot via the Columbia Gorge, the weather that besieges the northwestern U.S makes it inland to Seeley Lake as well   It’s a lot more like the Cascades here than the southern mountains in which I also played.  And so, when there is a perfect winter day, I tend to notice it just a bit more. 

For a week and a half, the weather prediction for Friday had been clear skies and temperatures in the twenties with snow and overcast forecast for every other day.  That would mean a couple of weeks with me waking up to nothing but gray skies.  I set up everything to run dogs on Friday.  As Friday approached, the forecast vacillated a bit, so I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.  Looking out through my living room windows Friday morning and seeing only a few fluffy clouds in sharp blue skies had me mentally drooling. 

My runs start on roads with the dogs pulling the ATV and the sled being dragged behind it.  The two real trailheads are a mile and a mile and a half from my house.  That’s where I switch the line from the ATV to the sled and go.  It’s also close enough that it’s easy for me to at least get a glimpse of the trail conditions---they had been groomed since the big storm and snowmobilers had been on them regularly.  I knew the trail was going to be great.

Moving the ATV and sled into the yard got everybody excited. It was cool, still below freezing even in the sun.  It was bright enough that I thought about putting on sunglasses, but decided I’d be okay without them.  With the bright sunlight, I did pack the camera so I could take some video during the run.

Maintaining a kennel and the house in the snow and rain and gloom is a lot of dreary work.  What makes it worthwhile is sledding on a day like Friday.  The three things that make a perfect winter day are blue skies, cool temperatures, and fresh snow.  And I am running the dogs. 

Sledding is primarily an experience of feel and sound.  Runners lightly grind and the sled moves up and down under you.  Just like skis, you have to learn to ride the runners more than drive them.  What the clear view does is it lets the musher scan the team without straining to peer through a snowstorm or with the tunnel world a headlamp creates.  Clear moonlit nights are romantic and spectacular.  Clear sunny days are relaxed and joyful.  And the dogs cue on everything I’m feeling, so the brightness of the day infects me and that in turn infects the dogs. 

We hit the top of the run.  Daisy has been limping a bit.  Given that we’ve been moving slow and on uphills, I suspect something with her feet.  I stop, and she starts licking her pads.  She does have some iceballs and I think I see a little bit of websplits, sort of broken calluses in the webbing between the toes, but I’m not sure.  No matter, pull the ice off and put a pair of booties on her front feet.  At first, she’s not keen on the booties even though she has several hundred miles with them on.  However, I think she quickly realizes that they’re working.  The limp is gone and she enjoys running on the downhill stretch as much as anybody, speeding through the winds and turns of the trail we’re on.

I also use the break to pull out the camera and start videoing the run.  Holding the camera in one hand, the sled’s drivebow in another, and working the brake to control the sled as the team runs through the turns is challenging, but I manage to film the sprint down without a mishap.   I even manage to look out at the Swan Range across the valley and capture that digitally as well.

From behind, I hear a group of snowmobilers, so I decide to hook down and put the camera away.  Like pretty much every snowmobiler I meet in Montana, these folks are polite, safe, and enjoy the fact that they are sharing a trail with a dog team. 

By the time I run the second team, it’s dark.  Stars are out, but there’s clearly the start of a build up of clouds.  The stars are hazy, not sharp.  Still the trail is spectacular, the dogs pull great, and I can see my old faves, the winter constellations.  And a sliver moon is just on the horizon as we arrive home.

It’s dreary again as I’m writing this----rain and snow.  I’ll take sledding in this over not running at all, something that a large portion of the country is now dealing with.  But, I am looking forward to the next perfect day.

The video from the run is posted at:   Mushing Archibald 1-27-12

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