Monday, November 16, 2009

Just so you know..

... training dogs in the North isn´t always about the white plains, frozen lakes and snowy mountain peaks..

This is what we have been dealing with most of November and October. Mud, warm temperatures, sleet, rain, icey trails, foggy and dark days.

A real test of determination.

I must say, I don´t remember seeing my dogs so depressed and uncheerful, even when I think back about Czech Republic and it´s warm, muddy and rainy winters.

They generally refuse to leave the cozyness of their dry dog houses, and there is no wonder it is hard to keep their spirits up when they are wet and dirty every day.

They are wonderful though, anyway, and wag their tails at stops, and we play games together, and I sing or whistle to them their favourite tunes.

I am also happy that I have slowly learned to listen to my sixth sense, which often prevents one from doing something wrong and regretful. This time, it was about the gut feeling, that told me to take Jachym along for a training run. And even with him aboard the ATV, it was one of the most scary runs I´ve ever made in my entire life.

Meeting the timber trucks along the main road is not an uncommon thing, although this time the road had many icey spots and I wouldn´t have been able to go to the team, if needed, as they would pull the ATV on the icey surface. We still had our full hands to keep the ATV on the road and off the deep ditches.

This is on our home stretch - everything looking fine. Shortly we descended to the swamp, where I nearly flipped the ATV into the creek, which is getting deeper and deeper and it´s banks are steeper and nearly impossible to climb, as I destroyed them with the ATV during this unusually warm and muddy season.

This is after climbing the biggest hill, and after the horrifying passage alongside a wild creek, into which the dogs nearly pulled me with gear shifted to 1 and no traction on glare ice.

We ended up driving one side in the ditch, where we found snow and grip, comparing to the road, which was just pure ice. And since turning the team around so early would be very risky, especially on such icey place, we´ve decided to drive the whole 20mile loop, hoping the dogs will be tired enough on the way back.
As we climbed higher, the ice turned into snow, thank God! Although this time it was a mushy, wet and heavy snow, very hard for the dogs to work in. And it started to rain...

Along the way, we noticed many flooded creeks, and realized there has been a significant amount of beaver work in the woods. We spoted two larger dams, blocking the water´s passage, and since there´s been A LOT of water this fall, dozens of trees stand in deep water now, very close to the trail. And many of them just hang over the trail, half chewed up.

Rainy stop to offer the dogs some water, after about 12 miles. They thought I must have lost my mind - offering water in this weater?! They apreshiated the snacks more.

Running back in rain and aproaching dark. Actually, it´s been dark and foggy the whole day, so not much difference.

As we neared the descent towards the crossing with the main road, where the steep bank from the glare-iced forrest road leads into a wild creek, I started to prepare the big plan. Running 16dogs, no matter how tired, will be a problem and the team will be simply uncontrolable.

I told Jachym the strategy steps: When we are few hundred meters before the descent, we will unhook eight of the team dogs, leaving just the first six dogs and the two wheel dogs (to help steering the team). We will attach an extra neckline to each of the unhooked dogs, for safety reasons, in case the necklines break, there will be another one to hold them. I wouldn´t normally do this, but we will be descending down to the main road, where timber trucks drive like crazy, and have no control over the team whatsoever.

Step two will be to slow down and shift to the lowest gear, trying to keep the machine moving forward, not using breaks at all.

We did all as a well trained team, and silently worked our way to step 2. Jachym got off the atv, to hold the leaders and help "dictating" the pace. We hit the final stretch - glare ice, steep bank to the creek on the left side, steep ditch on the other, the main road a few hundreds of meters infront of us.

The ATV started dangerously nearing the creek. We aproached the fairly long and sharp right hand curve. I tried to manuver the team to the center of the trail, with no luck. I yelled at Galena and Tazlina (our best leaders - coincidence that they ran lead today, you ask? No way :)) to go "gee". They manuvered the team toward the other side of the trail. Good girls. The ATV was still sliding towards the creek, the more I tried to have the wheels turned the oposite way, the worse.

With jerking of both brakes at different times, and moving the wheels straight and right, straight and right, I finally got the atv to move from the edge of the creek. It was just a few centimeters from it then. Pheew.

One of the right wheels reached the center of the forrest road, where I noticed some gravel stones sticking out of the ice. We got a grip on it. I managed to stop the ATV. Pheew. I could feel my legs were shaking. Jachym was trying to keep himself in the upright position, holding the leaders´s tuglines, standing on the glare ice. We have made it over the first 100m or so. Oh dear!

This time I tried To drive only a meter or so at a time, which surprising worked, until the gravel that gave us some grip, dissapeared under a thicker layer of ice. Now what?! All solutions ran out. The only one left was a voice control of the team and situation and we had nothing left, than trying it.

So I started a confusing series of "gee-gee" and "haw" commands towards my beloved leaders. And guess what? It worked. The girls, including Tazlina, who is so stubborn during most trainings and demanding to be the "only one or nothing", cooperated with Galena. They worked simultaneously and navigated their teammates so that they kept the ATV and the whole team in the middle. Somehow, we made it over the worst part and I finally saw the right side of the trail, where snow, gravel and grass was visible. I manuvered the ATV towards the side, where we safely got a real grip and thus control of the team. Jachym could relax and walk the leaders over the icey crossing to the main road, without falling on the ground and being dragged by the team.

Once safely on the raod, I hooked back the eight dogs to their tuglines before we could relax. I was sweating and my legs were made of rubber and rags. Never again!

The moral of the story is that sometimes it is more worth it to just stay home, play with the dogs in the yard, give them treats or massage, or focuss on something else. And definitely another one, which many experienced mushers of course know -- good lead dogs are higher in value than their own weight in gold!

Katerina

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