Friday, March 12, 2004

"Hike up."

That's the "go" commmand for a team of sled dogs. "Mush" is for the movies.

Chris at the Grizzle-T let loose seven eight-dog teams yesterday, to follow a 13.5 mile trail through the countryside. Each sled left with a passenger and a driver standing behind. At midpoint on the trail, passengers and drivers could switch places if they wanted. The dogs were paired along a line that drivers were to keep taut with the use of foot brakes of two kinds -- a sort of rubber mat that would create slight drag, and a bar brake that the driver would stand on to create strong drag on steep slopes.

Lyman drove the first half of the trail, and I drove the second.

These sled dogs are much smaller than I thought. Our team averaged about 40 pounds apiece. But even the largest were only 55 pounds. Chris compared them to marathon runners. Sure, the lead dog knows where he is going, but the most interesting to me was the pair of "wheel dogs" linked closest to the sled. They constantly looked back to see how the sled was traveling, then might jump to one side or the other of the line to guide the sled itself along the trail.

Once they are hitched up, these dogs are on "go". We had some stops along the line as drivers had difficulties. It was everything I could do to bring them to a halt. We had no command to make them "heel". It was done strictly with the brakes.

At one point in the trail we got just slightly bogged where the snow at the edge of the trail had melted and the team stopped. Chris had told us to give sled a little nudge onto the track and tell the dogs to "hike up". That's what I did, and they were going in a flash.

At the stops along the trail, the dogs complained loudly. They are bred to run.

Lyman and I both think dog-sledding is the most interesting thing we've ever done. What smart athletes the dogs are. What pristine countryside we went through. Worth the price of the trip. More on the dogs later.

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