Saturday, November 27, 2010

Learning to 'Harness the Energy'...

"If you've got a good connection with your dogs, you are a part of them and they are a part of you. They are an extension of your arm. If you feel from deep down those dogs will feel it. We all Focus as ONE mind." - Joe Garnie (Teller, Ak.)


I love the month of November- fresh trails, wagging furry tails. For many up North this is our 'spring' time: most of the rivers are nearly frozen and lakes are now safe to travel upon. 4-wheeler training on mining roads is a distant memory for now the true travelling begins- bushwhacking. Until I'm on the back of a sled flying over some bumpy terrain I never feel as if I truly know what each Dawg is capable of achieving. Early season conditioning in the fall time helps to tone up their muscles yet it's the tale of the trails that lets you know what lies in their hearts. Why do I love this month so much? Cuz there's not a day that goes by that we're not flying around in the woods, a bunch of 'free-birds' whose song remains unchanged. Keep the music flowing...

I call it Charlie Boulding training. A legendary musher, Charlie often said that the best trail he ever saw each year was the Iditarod trail. Unlike most sprint mushers and Iditaroders he did not use a snowmachine to create a hard packed, sidewalk of a trail. Instead we let the Dawgs do the creating. For me it's an homage to the past when klondike seekers and adventurers of the day did not use motorized vehicles. Lord knows I did not move up north to train dogs with a vehicle all the time. A foot or so of fresh snow to plow through shows you a lot about what each pooch is capable of- fortunately for us we've had plenty of snow to play in lately.

One of the greatest training trails in the world is just above our Annie lake homestead- some 2,000 ft. up. I call it Majestic valley and it is mesmerizing to travel through on a daily basis. "On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair..." Man, I love listening to that song when out playing with da pooches. I gaze down upon the valley off to our left as the sun rises above the mtns. behind us. It's impossible not to smile for this is heaven- not just the land surrounding us but the energy of the team as well. Early morning runs have the team amped up to chase- squirrels are scampering around everywhere storing away their winter's supplies. Once we've reached the upper part it's 10 miles of twisting roller coaster trail. Often tracks can be seen of caribou, moose and our local wolf pack. This isn't just a training run, we're traveling through a living National Geographic novel. Welcome to my office...

I've had the good fortune this season to share quite a few runs w/ another dog team driven by my good mushing buddy Normand Cassavante, a veteran Quest musher from Quebec. Not only an accomplished dogman, Normand is also a fine musician and canoeist. We share a great respect not only for Dawgs but the Native American lifestyle, after all we are just modern day nomads. We simply cannot resist the urge to be out exploring life on the trail each and every day. Our heroes were warriors who were wise enough to give praise and to honor the ways of Mother Nature. The reason we really like to train with Normand is his attitude- he always seems so happy as he sings and talks to his dogs. He's someone who realizes how lucky they are to do what they do, this life isn't about 'racing'- it's about LIVING.

In numerous mushing videos narrators often point out that "These dogs eat over 10,000 calories per day on the race trail..." Guess what? They're eating that much each and everyday right now. This season we have made a concerted effort to pour as many groceries into their bodies as possible, even while not running their metabolisms are on overdrive. Meat, chicken, fish, kibble- "yes boss, more please!!!!" Of the 30 pooches I'm training nearly all have had only a few days off... for the last month. Nearly every morning and evening I'm out in the woods living on the runners w/one of our main squads. There are a plethora of trails to choose from thus they never know where or exactly how far we are going. In the past we would have trucked the dog team a few hours south to do longer runs on the canol hwy.- to put more miles on them. Having had all summer to think about it I decided to revise our methods this year. Road training is boring, tight twisty trails usually leave the Dawgs in a much more enjoyable mood. After all it's not just about training- it's about learning how to fly!

Is it possible to have a team moving at a quick pace at the end of a long run? You bet ya, it's called knowing how to rest while moving. People would laugh if they realized how often I stop the team in training just to mellow them out a bit, "How you kids doing? Who's hungry??" I'm not necessarily looking for the fastest dog, I'd rather have one that is continually one of the most energetic. I often place a few younger pooches in the team to give the more laid back veterans something to amuse themselves with while traveling. This year we have 2 yearling standouts that might not do much racing but are comical to watch. Their enthusiasm for running is always on high alert though their energy level usually diminishes once they realize how trail hardened in their elder mates are. Like high school kids they have potential but need to zip their lips and learn with their eyes. These boys come from different litters that we had 2 summers ago, there were three pups in each litter. Yet they do share one thing in common - one is named Sylvester and the other? ... Rocky.


Often when we set out on the trail tunes are blaring away in my ears. There is one song however that I never need to have my mp3 player on to listen to because it comes from the soul instead. Two fellas from Chicago sang about it many years ago. Jake and Elwood knew how to keep the trail a humming w/energy, "Rolling, rolling, rolling... keep them doggies rolling..." It's time to see life with a pair of fresh eyes because you never know what awaits just up ahead. HHN


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