Oh where to begin? Sarah and I enjoyed dogsledding while in Alaska. Lots of training runs a few short races. Last November our friends Wayne and Chris Curtis were visiting us in Hawaii and Wayne was telling us about this unusual race, Denali Doubles. Two musher (drag sled configuration is usually reserved for training or ceremonial events, not distance races) and 20 dog teams. They would race across the Denali Highway and back, a gravel road through the middle of the state that isn’t maintained in the winter months.
Wayne had wanted to run the race with Chris, but she wasn’t interested at this point. I wasn’t sure if the offer would be helpful or not, but I said I’d love to come run that kind of race. We talked it over some while they were in Hawaii. Wayne called after returning home to see if I was serious. It was on.
Day 1 – arriving
I flew out of Honolulu on Monday night, arriving in anchorage about 5:30am. We drove to Wasilla, home of Stormwatch kennels and had a bit of breakfast. Wayne and I loaded dogs in the dog truck and headed toward willow for a training run. Before long I was out on the trail with a ten dog team.
The first 10 minutes are always a little intense. The dogs are amped up. I hadn’t been on a sled in about 3 years, the transition from the parking lot was always a little dicey for me. Sure, I fell off the runners, but only momentarily. This was only suppose to be a short reintroduction anyway. Things were going great. It was beautiful out. The dogs were running great. We had a few big moose run across the trail in front of us, but the dogs held to the trail. What a great day for mushing.
About an hour and a half into the run it occurred to me that I may have taken a wrong turn. That was about how long we were due to be out and while we were running a loop the trail wasn’t familiar. Then the dogs accelerated and we were headed down a short, but steep hill. I was braking hard but lost control at the bottom. The sled tipped and as I set the snow hook the dogs dragged me several feet.
Once upright we drove away from the hill before we stopped so I could check the map. We were indeed off course. Turning a team around on the trail can be tricky, I’d never managed it very well but it seemed like the best option. It went far better than expected and we were on our way back.
Soon we met a snow machine groomer on the trail, he told me how to get back to our starting point, we were a few miles off. A few more confusing moments in the woods ensued, but we did find our way back and all enjoyed the run too. It wasn’t until we were half way back that I’d realized how badly I scrapped me arm in the crash. I was grateful that I’d hung on though.
Not bad for a first day back.
Day 2 – giving rides
Part of having a team of sled dogs, especially gorgeous Siberian huskies, is being asked to give sled dog rides to various groups. I’d helped one other time while we lived in Alaska.
We went to Chugiak trails to meet the group needing rides. Fresh snow that was still falling would add a small challenge, but also add to the beauty of the event. A 2 mile loop would be our track. Wayne and I would hardly see each other as we each gave half a dozen rides or so. Another musher friend came to help transitions in the turn around and loading and unloading of our passengers.
It was a fun morning of mushing, but it did seem the dogs got board with the short loop and started goofing off some toward the end. We spent the afternoon getting ready for the race. Even loading much of what we would need so we could head out the next morning.
Day 3 – the race begins.
Last minute items and the essential loading of the dogs and then we were on our way to Cantwell. The drive was pretty enough, still oddly familiar. Preparations continued after our arrival. We attended the race meeting for rule reviews and Q&A. Things were feeling pretty real.
Typically dog races begin with teams leaving in 2 minute increments. The time differential is offset during mandatory rest on distance races, or each team is timed separately in sprint (you don’t know who won until calculations are made in that case). It was decided that each team would start from their truck, rather than moving the teams to an official starting line as the additional distance was of little consequence and the challenge of moving teams of 20 dogs would be substantially challenging.
to be continued . . .