Tuesday, December 15, 2009
First Run on Snow!
Temps have been well below zero at night for a few weeks now, making Oake Lake safe to run a dog team. All we needed was some snow! It was the perfect set up, really. If we were to have gotten loads of snow right away, the ice would be well insulated and may not have thickened as much as it has. We have a solid 6-8 inches of ice which is more than enough. Snow..... well, we got a couple inches last week and maybe a couple more just a few days ago. Not nearly enough to run a big team. And to add insult to injury, it was light fluffy snow and we can't set a snow hook to anchor down the team. Instead of whine about it, we decided to do all we could; take small teams out on the lake and plan to use our studded drag pads instead of our bar brakes to slow down and to attempt to stop them because the bar brake wouldn't do us much good on ice.
Our first run was with two teams of three. Better safe than sorry under conditions that haven't been tested. Klaus lead the first team and got to set the trail on the virgin snow. Zodiak and Sweet Pea were his back-up in wheel. Behind us was Neil with his team. Oken and Zala lead with McKenzie in wheel. The 2007 Tuloon/Bazil pups (Oken, Zala and Zodiak) haven't been out on Oake Lake before. We have had to leave for our up north winter adventures before the lake was safe for travel. A new adventure for the now 2 year old pups! The run began well. Not much to keep the team slow until we hit the edges of the lake where the snow had drifted. Slush was abundant and made for good training for the pups. New this year was an attempt to pass the house, go around a small island in front of the house and come back to our hook-up point from the north instead of the south. Big training moment. Klaus, being the veteran and having headed home from the south most often in the past just didn't want to grasp the new direction. Lots of deep breaths on the musher's part and lots of failed attempts on the leader's part finally got us there and we were no worse for the wear.
After a short rest, the second run became another story. Lots of wear at the beginning with a fabulous ending. Since we ended up doing more work on the lake than anticipated with only three dogs, we decided to take out four dog teams for this run. Phoenix and Journey would be leading the teams with Ilu and Icoa in wheel. Neil would have Klaus and Oken in lead and Tuloon and Zala in wheel. Much was considered when making dog placements. Three of Neil's had already gone so it would be best if they were behind the fresh team. Phoenix and Journey needed to be in front as I had been anxiously awaiting my time to do some open country leading with them this season.
I gave Neil the signal that I was ready to go. He released his team just a second before mine. Mine saw his team and went the wrong direction. They then corrected with voice command and met Neil's team on the lake. Literally. Instead of taking the right they took a left and headed directly for Neil's team. At that moment, it dawned on me that I had left one very important consideration out of the mix when planning teams. Tuloon was in standing heat and Phoenix looses all ability to grasp reality and becomes a testosterone zombie. Too late. Now we've got two teams in a tangle. What a sight this must have been! Neil did an awesome job of controlling his team, who then wanted to turn around and head back to the hook up area when it saw my team coming head on. Geez. Phoenix, at this time, is oblivious to everything that is going on. Oblivious even to the fact that Ilu is getting angry that he continues to get the team into a tangle and begins to snap at him. Deep breath. Neil gets his team turned around first and begins to head down the trail. Then a light bulb goes off for Phoenix when he realizes that Tuloon is now headed down the trail and he had better try to catch her. Alright, change of plans, Neil is now in lead and we are following right on his heels because I am barely able to hold back my testosterone intoxicated lead dog.
Of course, just when you think things should go smoothly...... Klaus and Oken decide to test Neil and take him off on a new adventure, making a different trail that leads to something they saw running along the shore. Phoenix does take the commands I give him but then the testosterone pull leads him back the opposite way and in search of Tuloon. Journey is just plain confused by all of this as she obediently tries to take the proper commands. Gaining control of the team, Neil gets them back on track and away we go! I spent the remainder of the run with my full weight on the studded drag pad. With Phoenix pulling as hard as he was, it felt like a much larger team.
As we pass under the railroad bridge, we are close to the end of our journey. Neil attempts to get Klaus and now Tuloon (Oken was switched to wheel when he continued to make issues out of passing through slush) to go to the right and past the house as we did on our first run with Klaus. And if you recall, I had one heck of a time doing it during the first run. After a second "gee" command, Neil's leaders took the right and went smoothly around the island and returned to the house from the north. Excellent! Now all I had to do was to get Phoenix and Journey to continue on to our hook up area versus following the other team. One "haw" command and Phoenix took it and followed through! The hard run must have cleared his head of thoughts of Tuloon. It was a wonderful end to a very trying first run of the season on snow.
In the excitement I had lost my mitten out on the lake so the puppies got a fun canicross hike out with us to retrieve it. At the same time, we set another trail around the island for leader training during our next run.
For Neil's second dog sledding season, he did an excellent job with his teams today even amidst all of the chaos. And he got to be in the leading team!