Monday, February 2, 2009


North central Pennsylvania… Winter… what else are you going to do? Can you have fun at 13°F and in a stiff wind?

The first non-fiction book I ever enjoyed reading was Jack London’s “Call of the Wild”. Probably the only good thing public school forced me to do was to read that book. It made me see fiction as possibly a legitimate form of reading material. Call of the Wild was quickly followed by White Fang.

These two books kindled my desire for adventure like no other. Pennsylvania in winter was as an exotic a destination as I could manage. And with a little imagination I could actually experience it in my own backyard, sans sled and dogs. This could be one of the reasons I like winter so much.

I saw and article on the upcoming race in the local paper three weeks prior. It was something I had wanted to see for a long time. Amazingly MJ and Danae were actually eager to accompany me. Danae loves dogs and I had agreed with MJ to keep the excursions brief, and to consolidate it with a shopping trip, her favorite kind of adventure.

We were in no hurry to get out the door Saturday morning. Medium distance races started at 8:30 am. MJ and Danae consider Saturday morning as somewhat sacred and I knew they would be hesitant to violate the sanctity of their sleep. They were good natured and consented to be up and ready by 10:30. That would give us travel time to get to the race area just before the Sprints started. The day broke over cast and cold just above 10° F. I encouraged the girls to bring plenty of warm clothing. They complied without hesitation.

Getting to the race area took over an hour the last few miles or so in the national forest was quite desolate especially at that time of the year. The directions listed in the paper were not as complete as I had hoped. I missed a road which turned into a half hour delay. The detour we took while beautiful just served to amplify the remoteness of a state park in the winter time and added to the overall feeling of adventure.

We reached Camp Turner in the Quaker run area of the forest at about 12:30. Fortunately things were running behind schedule and by the time we were geared up and had made a quick run through the area surrounding the course the sprints were just beginning.

Sleds… I was amazed by the wide variety of sleds we saw. Some were designed for single dog pulls up to the big sleds that are pulled by six or more dogs. All were of bentwood construction. I had kind of expected some made of more modern materials, every sled was totally traditional.

Dogs... Not so the dogs. Seemed to be a variety of mixed breeds. Husky cross Grey hounds German shepherd. Maybe some whippets. The only thing they seemed to need was a desire to pull.

Dogs just wanna have run!

The Mixed breeds were outrageous they were loud and could not wait to run. They seemed to run full bore start to finish. The huskies on the other hand were consistent and determined. They set a pace and maintained it.

We had considered taking our own dog to the race, just as a spectator of course. Danae thought with him being a wolf hybrid it could stimulate his primal pulling tendencies. I was concerned that those same primal urges could be dangerous to the other dogs and opted to leave him home. This is Sydney (aka "Syd Vicious") during his latest tonsorial adventure.

The races were lively and seemed to be well run. Not much of a spectator sport aside from the start and finish. There was a bit of a carnival atmosphere at the start and finish line. Kids enjoying the snow, families sharing food and hot cocoa.

Plenty of us musher wannabees sharing their thoughts on the teams and their strong and weak points. They dress the part very well but I got the idea this was as close as they ever got to driving a team. Lots of cameras and even a few reporters.

4 - 3 -2 - 1 ... HIKE!
The start is always the most exciting.

After a couple of hours MJ headed to the car. She was able to maneuver it to a prime position where she could view the race and warm her toes. The first team returned, he seemed pleased with his run but concerned because he lost track of the team behind him. He thought they would have been closer. After twenty minutes and no other teams showing up he headed back down the trail on foot. I notice a couple of snowmobiles heading down the course they seemed to be outfitted with first aid equipment.

Tired Huskies

All returned soon enough. Apparently one of the teams spooked some deer and the dogs decided they were much more interesting than the course. The sled flipped and the dogs ran off. Several of the teams stopped to help. So much for the sprint but good form by the competitors.

The teams returned in short order, we did not find out if they recovered the dogs. I imagine they did. Cold and wind began to take its toll. True to my word I relinquish my grip on this icy piece of the north and we packed it in and headed for warmth and Wal-Mart.

As the dog turns.

I wondered how the musher controlled his dogs. No whips like in the movies. I did hear them using voice commands which the dogs responded to quite well, but not normally on the first try. Here is a video clip of a musher using the commands “halt” (stop) and “Haw” (left). Some other basic commands “Gee” (right) and “hike” (go), not “mush” like you always hear.


My friend Bob speculated, that possibly, the mixed breeds were favored for the sprints and the more traditional malamutes and huskies for the distance events. I can’t confirm that, but experientially it seemed true.

This looks like it would be a fun sport to be involved in. Until you realize the time and money it takes to maintain a team. Most claim they run their dogs year round, four to six miles, three to five days a week. Figure in the food these pups would pack away after a run like that and you have some serious expense. Every owner I talked to claimed they do it because it is what the dogs love. I can believe it.

1 comment:

chelsea said... interesting...i love these updates so much!!