Last fall, my little pup team and I had grand plans of conquering the short skijoring racing circuit this winter.
You know what they say about best laid plans, though.
Without any lead dogs, it was tough to train these guys. Thanks to my helpful neighbour, we got the youngsters out with her team a handful of times, and they did well in the bigger eight to 10-dog team.
But if you give them a bit of freedom, put me on skis, and remove the dogs in front of them, outings turn into a test of my patience.
Good thing they’re cute.
Even though they spend their days paired together in sizeable pens, there is always more time to play for these one-and-a-half year olds.
In those first days of skijoring with two pups at a time, we would barely be down the trail when the (play) attacks would start. One pup would jump the other, then both of them would do some funky side-hop down the trail, as if indicating they really were trying to pull me, but this-whole-play-thing was unfortunately getting in the way.
Eventually they ended up on top of my skis in a ball of lines, harnesses, and slobber.
So thanks to another helpful neighbour (have to love Yukon neighbours), I borrowed two lead dogs to help get the youngsters under control.
That plan swiftly fell apart when I realized the borrowed dogs, Earthling and Willow, were terrified of skis.
I knew there would be an adjustment period, so we took it slow when we started skijoring, but one day they just flat out refused to run in front of me on skis.
They were great dogs though, so I really wanted to make it work somehow. They are very even tempered, friendly and most importantly, they put up with crazy puppy nonsense without flinching. It was like they could tune them out magically.
Six dogs make up a perfect little sled team. Unfortunately I sold my sled last year.
Thanks to helpful neighbour #1 again, and my old sled I sold her, we started getting out together.
The first time out with my new 6-dog team was amazing; everyone acted like they knew exactly what they were doing.
Those kooky little pups were hiding some fantastic inner sled dog skills. This run unleashed four little excited balls of white and black, led by two leaders who did not know the meaning of “turning around,” or “chewing lines,” or “playing while in harness,” — lucky us!
Fast-forward to the beginning of March, and the return of the Haines Junction race that holds a lot of memories for me: the Silver Sled. This race ran for many years as a 100-mile race to Silver City and back, but it always had smaller distances, too.
The shorter race was one of my first races a decade ago, in which we placed dead last. But it was also one of the most memorable, because it seemed the whole territory turned out, and it was nothing but fun.
This year, we took part in the 10-mile Sportsman race and were up against nine other competitors. The race was a fantastic experience for the pups. The excitement of all the other dogs and teams and people and smells had them a little perplexed though.
They were standing by the truck and were as quiet as I’ve ever seen them. People even commented on it. If you’ve ever been to a dog race, you know that staging areas are not really places where dogs hold back.
We were the second team to hit the trail. The dogs were very excited and running really fast off the start. My hopes were high.
A few miles in, the initial excitement died down and they calmed down into their slower pace. I couldn’t complain, the borrowed leaders were long distance dogs, so they were doing what they had been trained to do. Regardless, the whole team (including me) were excited to be on new trails and around new teams.
However, we excelled at getting passed. The pups were excited about the teams passing and were almost in awe of the first few that went by. A few times my team ground to a halt to admiring a team go by. I laughed more on this race than any other.
In honour of keeping up with tradition, we managed to steal the Red Lantern spot once again, for last place.
But it looks like Willow and Earthling might be staying with us for a while, so look out for us next season.