Last night I slept like the dead and dreamt of dogs. This morning we were off to an earlier start. Josh got up around six and went down to take photos of the sunrise and help with the dogs. I pulled myself out of bed right before breakfast- a great pre-sledding meal of eggs, sausage and bagels.
We headed to the trail and were met by Sean, Steve, Paul, Leo and many many dogs. Today we were going to be riding with Steve, a real pro, on his double sled. We had a 12 dog team and I knew this would be a different experience than our first day. It helped that we knew a little about what to expect. Speaking of what to expect, today I wore an extra layer on top and 2 sets of toe warmers in each boot.
We got the teams harnessed, put their booties on and got them in order. This team we were running today is Steve’s “A team”- the team of dogs he takes racing. I could sense a difference in this group before we started running. The dogs were eager to go, barking and getting excited to get running. Once we established our positions on the sled, me sitting in front, Steve standing in the middle position and Josh on the back of the sled, standing, we were off! These dogs were FAST. Steve told us how each dog had a bloodline of Iditarod racers. I could feel the difference, the power. Each dog was pulling over it’s own bodyweight- and they made it seem easy!
Steve taught us how to talk to the dogs- friendly, but with authority. To tell them they are doing good and direct them on the trail. We also learned how to steer the sled and “pedal” (push the sled along.) On uphills we had to pedal and get off to run with the sled. It was then we were really able to appreciate the strength and stamina of the dogs. We needed more breaks than them on the uphill climb!
When the dogs caught the scent of another animal- be it a moose, chipmunk or another dog, they really took off. It was like stepping on the gas pedal of a hotrod. The sled we were on had two hard brakes and a soft break, used for slowing the team down. Steve kept the dogs at a trot most of the time.
Toward the end of our 30 mile ride, Steve let Josh and I drive the sled. The dogs immediately sensed our uneasiness and stopped, turned around and looked at us. Steve guided Josh to find his inner Dogman voice- and so he did, motivating the dogs to pull us. Somehow those dogs know when you don’t believe in what you’re saying- and they don’t believe you either. When Josh got it down pat, he was in control- well, mostly. There is a lot about this trip I can’t possibly convey in writing. I am just not that good with words. The funniest part I can share was Josh and Steve serenading the lead dog, Roxanne, ala Sting. At the tops of their lungs these too sang Roxanne while I just laughed.