A few weeks ago, it was the sandhill cranes overhead, one flock & then another, another. Then it was the varied thrushes at morning, the drizzle lingering into the daylight. Now, we have said goodbye to the dark of night & listen for the cue of the Swainson’s thrush instead to toll us to sleep. & with the summer, our attentions turn from all of the details of running dogs to all of the details that allow us to do so in the first place. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have loved ones from Outside stop in to visit. Tom & Patty got to meet the infamous Tinman at long last, after sponsoring him through last race season. Uncle Tom & Aunt Kathy met everyone—notably the more socially presentable sisters of Kabob & Littlehead. & in their visiting, it occurred to me that it might be worthwhile to go over some of the basic elements of our day to day.
Our beautiful dogs, for starters, are Alaskan Huskies. Back in gold rush times, every dog that wasn’t chained up was brought north to help in freighting or mushing, however ill-suited or curiously sized. Those breeds, combined with the favored malamutes, Mackenzie River dogs & huskies that preceded them in traditional use, eventuated in a sort of mongrel breed suited best for distance racing. You may notice that sprint racing dogs tend to be houndier, short-coated, barrel-chested & built for speed. Alaskan huskies are bred out of their pure love of running & are built accordingly.
Certain kennels prefer a certain size of dog. Allen & Aliy at SP Kennel, for instance, have beautiful teams of 35-45 lb. dogs from lead on back to wheel. We tend to favor a 65 lb. male & a smaller female. The advantages or disadvantages of size are varied & are given to much theorizing into the small hours of the night by many among us. In the end, while the biomechanics are weighed & measured, sometimes you just prefer one kind of a dog over another. Sometimes you form a relationship with one size dog & are so impressed by his or her performance that you want to duplicate it in breeding. A quick look at the variety in size & shape among the famous lead dogs & you’ll see that there is no one answer. Like everything with this sport, all variables are considered in the eventuation of a successful dog run, right down to what you ate for breakfast.
Some folks have asked us why we chose the original dogs that we did. We knew from the beginning that we wanted to very deliberately & patiently bring together dogs out of proven genetics that fit our expectations in terms of size, build & temperament. We were incredibly fortunate to hit the nail on the head with the help of our friends & mentors. We could not be prouder of our dogs & we’re absolutely floored by their capacities on a daily basis.
Right now, that capacity tends to manifest itself as a huge desire to play & sprint full throttle. We take our dogs for free walks in the tundra & the creek in small, manageable groups. It’s a great way to let them just be dogs & to see pure joy writ large on their faces. It also lets us spend quality time with them as well, while watching with keen interest how the puppies & yearlings interact with their elders. Much can be told from such observation.
On evenings that are colder or wetter with rain, we’ll run a small string of dogs with the ATV. Otherwise, we spend a great deal of time in the construction & maintenance of a functional dog yard & home. We build new dog houses, drive new posts, fix pens, clip nails, split firewood, fid lines, inventory gear & do everything we can to organize ourselves before the first snowfall, when we are assured that all of our efforts at organization will explode in the usual detritus of harnesses, coats, ruffs, liner gloves & booties strewn every which way about the cabin. We’ve even found a little bit of time to tend to some of the human comforts at home, like putting in some grass seed, planting some vegetables & flowers & working on the cabin a bit. & we’re both training for trail races this summer as well in order to position ourselves well for winter fitness. Kristin will be making her trail racing debut with the Granite Tors trail run, a fifteen miler that attains to some beautiful heights. & I finally got my golden ticket for Mount Marathon down in Seward. A few weeks after that, I’ll run Crow Pass Crossing again, which is the most fun you’ll ever have in a wilderness marathon. In the fall I’ll try the Kesugi Ridge marathon too—who knows if I’ll throw anything else in there. It’s paramount for us to be able to understand what it feels like to push ourselves physically toward specific goals, as we ask that of our dogs every day in the winter. Too, it sure makes the thought of pushing a sled up Eagle Summit easier to stomach when you’ve done some legwork to prepare yourself.
Yes, the manufacture of the dream moves forward always, even when it seems like we ought to be idling on top of a dog house taking in the brief rays of the summer sun.