Archive for September, 2007

Trails and tribulations

Friday, September 7th, 2007

Things have been less than perfect the past week. First off, about a week ago we were walking some puppies through the woods when one of them unknowingly stumbled into a yellow jacket nest built into a mound on the ground. Before we knew what was happening one pup sustained several stings. Joseph tried to grab him and swat the stinging insect off, but the hive swarmed. He sustained three stings to the head, two in the arm pit and one in the belly. Our German shepherd, Tatika, was with us and took one sting just above her eye. Luckily, another puppy, Snickers, and Colleen were not stung at all. We gave the puppy Benadryl right away, and luckily he had no adverse reactions. He was just a little sore for a few days.
Our next disappointment came while scouting the trails like we do every year at this time to make sure they are clear of deadfall, broken glass and other debris that accumulates over the summer. Last year we lost two main trails due to people moving to the neighborhood and quickly showing their Lower 48 attitude by putting up fences and barriers, one of which was even on pubic land next to his property, but it’s risky business trying to win a pissing contest with someone threatening your dogs even if you’re in the right. Unfortunately, even in Alaska with all the land we have here, it’s just not enough to satisfy some selfish people who value hording what’s theirs over showing some community spirit by sharing. This year appears to be more of the same as one of our last major access points to our central trail network was posted with “no trespassing” signs today.
And, as to our last disappointment for the week. Temperatures are gradually cooling to the low 40’s at night, which is good, but we have continued to get up early, usually around 5 a.m., to run the dogs before work. Neither of us are morning people, rather we made the decision to run in the a.m. after how many head-on passes we had with other mushers during fall training in the evening last season. While living in a neighborhood with half a dozen other mushers and several hundred sled dogs is usually great, during fall, before the swamps freeze and the snow flies, we are all using the same trail. Last year it was not uncommon to have four to seven head-on passes in one 10-12 mile run. That’s way too many in our opinion. Not only are head-ons stressful on the dogs, but since the trails are narrow, it is common for one or both teams to have to veer off in the thick brush on the side of the trail where there is always the risk of dog injury from a poke from a stick or branch. Last year Cyder was hurt from this exact scenario. Adding to the situation, many of the mushers in our neighborhood have handlers that follow them closely, so while it may have been possible for our dogs to tough it out in the brush and keep their speed up while passing one 12-16 dog team, it was almost impossible for them to do so when two 12-16 dogs teams were moving together. So, as I said, we switched to running in the morning because we have never seen anyone doing so with any regularity. The first couple runs went great. The air was crisp, the temperature cool, and there was no traffic from other teams. However, it’s hard to keep secret when you running in a neighborhood full of mushers. Everyone can hear everyone else hook up, and wouldn’t you know it, for some unknown reason, within a week another musher started running in the morning and we’re back to having head-ons again.
I guess sometimes it’s like Don Bowers said in his book Back of the Pack, “Dog mushing is really just a never-ending series of problem-solving exercises ranging from trivial to cosmic,” or in the case of this last week, annoying. I hope next week is better.