Sunday, March 14, 2010

Our Magnificent Mushing Madventure (Chapter 2)

After the sun went down the temperatures started to drop.  We heard later that it was about -14 degrees.  I was well dressed, as you can see in these pictures.  The hardest thing was bending over in all the layers.  One of our first problems was that several of the female dogs were in heat.  I  won't go into it, but we had to stop several times to  'wait' ,  or shuffle dogs around in the line-up.  Doing that was a challenge because the testosterone was up, and a few fights broke out, fighting over their girlfriends.  That, then, creates a tangle in the tug lines.  You untangle one, and by then another is tangled.  When you try to unhook the metal clips, they immediately freeze open, and you have to blow on them to unfreeze them, being careful not to get your lips against the metal,  to get them to re-hook.  OK, so we had to stop several times with those 'shenanegans'.

When we were moving through the night, I stayed pretty warm, even as the temperature dropped.  My feet would get cold but I could run a little, or move my feet from runner to runner and warm them up fairly easily.  My hands stayed cozy in my new gloves, but when I had to take them off to untangle or get to my camera, they got cold in a hurry.  All of those things, though, didn't even matter.  I was in heaven being behind that sled with my 10 dogs lined up and chugging right along in a zone.  They obviously were loving every minute of it, never seeming to tire. 

I think we mushed for about 4 hours stopping only for those dog problems.  This is me coming into where we were going to camp.  Yep, me, not a Yety.

When we got to camp, we tied the team off to a tree, then got some straw that had been cached there and spreas that out for the dog's to rest.  They made there own little beds and most of them snuggled right down to sleep.  The rest looked toward us patiently as if saying, "I'm hungry, isn't my food ready yet?

So we got the 'cooker' going with liquid 'heet' in the bottom, then filled and refilled the pot inside and over the heet with snow until it all melted and was almost boiling.

Then, we dumped frozen chunks of meat and fat into the cooler and poured the hot water in.  We closed the cooler, and let the food thaw out.  At that point, we cleaned up some of the mess, checked the dogs feet to be sure they were healthy.  Then-, kibble was added to the dog meat, and each dog was served up as much as two bowls of  'supper'.  Most ate ravenously.  One special dog, Miss Piggy, would eat anything that moved, or not.  She was a cute yellow dog, out of Dee Dee Jonrowe's kennel, and she was a hoot.  The boy dogs thought so, too, and as a result of the action on our mushing trip, Christina and Bob said I could name the puppies.
 Ok, so Pam and I have done our 'jobs' and finally, ravenously, eaten some of the food we brought, and have time to bed down in sleeping bags in our sleds.  Now THAT'S WHEN I GOT COLD.  I mean, COLD.  We actually slept a little, I think, but I spent most of that time adjusting myself to get my hands warm.  No way.  And, now I know why Iditarod mushers get so little sleep.  And, it's warm here compared to what they are experiencing.  So, I layed there and enjoyed to sky full of stars and  being amazed at where I was, really taking it all in in the immense silence. I loved it.........but the cold was increasingly creeping into every particle of my being.....and it wasn't even windy.  I finally had to get up and walk around to warm up a bit.  That helped, but it was still pretty uncomfortable.  We made the decision to not go for another several hours as we had planned, but to head on back to the truck, about 5 miles away.  (We had made a big loop and could go straight back, or increase the distance of the loop).  That is when real trouble started.  When we got the dogs up, (actually when we got up, the dogs did, too),  the dogs in front got in a big tangle, and  we had a major time getting them straighted.  Mean time, the other team started the 'boying and girling' again.  That meant tangle on their team, and more is really cold............but ......we're warming a little because we are working so hard........but...........most of it has to be done with gloves off........then gloves back on to warm up, then gloves off to work again.  Running the dogs is FUN, taking care of the dogs is WORK. 

By the time we were ready to leave,  my headlamp had burned out, and my musher didn't have one, so I had my little headlamp only, and we were running behind the other team.  My lamp got dimmer and dimmer, and the other team got pretty far ahead.  My leaders seemed confused, and didn't want to keep going and I kept having to encourge them.  Then, we realized something was wrong, one of the middle dogs was on the ground and the team was running pretty fast.  I put on the brakes hard and stopped the team.  My helper jumped out of the sled and ran up to the  injured dog, and hollared back,  "She's not breathing!"  Now, I put down the snow hook, and stomped it in tight.  It wasn't holding good, cause we were on a pretty packed trail and there was ice underneath, nothing to grip to.  She ;was out there ahead in the dark, no headlamp, and my light didn't shine that far.  The rule is, "Never leave the sle", but, what should I do?"  I talked to her a bit, and she decided to carry the dog back to the sled.  I got scared, thinking maybe she shouldn't move Reba, stopped down the snow hook, and went to help her.  I got there, and as we lifted Reba, we saw she was breathing again.  Evidently, had the wind knocked out of her, but she was pretty lethargic.  We were carrying her to the sled, the team was line up nice and behaving well, but when they saw us up and moving toward the sled, they all took off, big time at once.  They pulled the snow hook and off they went.  My helper grabbed at the brush-bow with one hand and dog in the other, but it slipped out.  I ran as fast as I could, jumped on a runner and grabbed the bar, and slipped, and off went the team with us lying on the ground.  We had just crossed a road a bit before, so started to walk back there, hoping our dogs would follow the other team.
Meanwhile, when we were almost to the road, taking turns carrying Reba, and calling Bob on the walkie-talkie, but not raising him or Christina.  Then we saw lights ahead and realized it was Bob on the road in his truck, heard our SOS.  Of course he was majorly upset we lost the team, and I felt so bad about leaving the sled.  We drove to the meeting spot, and were planning who was going to look for the team.  When we drove into the parking lot where we were supposed to meet, there came our team, empty sled, toward the truck.   Bob jumped out and grabbed them, and one of the handlers turned them back to the truck.   Again, we thought they followed Pam's team.  But, Pam's team wasn't there.  She was having her own adventure.  Her team decided to go home, to their kennel, and wouldn't listen to commands.  They were homeward bound.  So, Pam got to see the Bob's kennel and home.  They got the dogs turned around there, and headed back toward the meeting place.  Somewhere alongs the way, on a big bump, Pam's sled turned over, she held on, and Christina (in the sled) tried to get out to help.  They struggled, being drug, and got the sled up on the runners.  But, thrown off balance, Pam fell.  Christina couldn't get on the runners, but jumped back in the sled, and off the team went.  So, Pam's walking, too.  Needless to say, we warmed up a bit with all that walking, but not much.   We were finally back to the truck, with both teams.......miracle of all miraclles.  We were beaming at each other, but tired, cold, and ravenously hungry.    But, we had to do the 'mushing work' again.  We unhooked the dogs, thanking each one, teasing them about fooling with us, and unharnessed them, saying goodbye and thank you as we move down the line.  Then they were put back in their boxes in the dog truck, sleds loaded on top, lines and harnessed hung up in the back, and they were ready to go back to their kennel.

Here is my 'trusty musher mentor', Christina, age 18, who is training to run the Yukon Quest, hopefully next year

Pam and I drove, shivering, back to Noah's Ark B&B, where Sarah and Pat got out of bed to let us in, calling us 'little popsickles', and we crawed in a warm fluffy bed eatin chocolate and nuts......and asleep in seconds.   We'd do it all again in a heartbeat.


Sled Dog Action Coalition said...

For the dogs, the Iditarod is a bottomless pit of suffering. Six dogs died in the 2009 Iditarod, including two dogs on Dr. Lou Packer's team who froze to death in the brutally cold winds. What happens to the dogs during the race includes death, paralysis, frostbite (where it hurts the most!), bleeding ulcers, bloody diarrhea, lung damage, pneumonia, ruptured discs, viral diseases, broken bones, torn muscles and tendons and sprains. At least 142 dogs have died in the race.

During training runs, Iditarod dogs have been killed by moose, snowmachines, and various motor vehicles, including a semi tractor and an ATV. They have died from drowning, heart attacks and being strangled in harnesses. Dogs have also been injured while training. They have been gashed, quilled by porcupines, bitten in dog fights, and had broken bones, and torn muscles and tendons. Most dog deaths and injuries during training aren't even reported.

On average, 52 percent of the dogs who start the race do not make it across the finish line. According to a report published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, of those who do finish, 81 percent have lung damage. A report published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine said that 61 percent of the dogs who complete the Iditarod have ulcers versus zero percent pre-race.

Iditarod dog kennels are puppy mills. Mushers breed large numbers of dogs and routinely kill unwanted ones, including puppies. Many dogs who are permanently disabled in the Iditarod, or who are unwanted for any reason, including those who have outlived their usefulness, are killed with a shot to the head, dragged, drowned or clubbed to death. "Dogs are clubbed with baseball bats and if they don't pull are dragged to death in harnesses......" wrote former Iditarod dog handler Mike Cranford in an article for Alaska's Bush Blade Newspaper.

Dog beatings and whippings are common. During the 2007 Iditarod, eyewitnesses reported that musher Ramy Brooks kicked, punched and beat his dogs with a ski pole and a chain. Jim Welch says in his book Speed Mushing Manual, "Nagging a dog team is cruel and ineffective...A training device such as a whip is not cruel at all but is effective." "It is a common training device in use among dog mushers..."

Jon Saraceno wrote in his March 3, 2000 column in USA Today, "He [Colonel Tom Classen] confirmed dog beatings and far worse. Like starving dogs to maintain their most advantageous racing weight. Skinning them to make mittens.. Or dragging them to their death."

During the race, veterinarians do not give the dogs physical exams at every checkpoint. Mushers speed through many checkpoints, so the dogs get the briefest visual checks, if that. Instead of pulling sick dogs from the race, veterinarians frequently give them massive doses of antibiotics to keep them running. The Iditarod's chief veterinarian, Stu Nelson, is an employee of the Iditarod Trail Committee. They are the ones who sign his paycheck. So, do you expect that he's going to say anything negative about the Iditarod?

Most Iditarod dogs are forced to live at the end of a chain when they aren't hauling people around. It has been reported that dogs who don't make the main team are never taken off-chain. Chained dogs have been attacked by wolves, bears and other animals. Old and arthritic dogs suffer terrible pain in the blistering cold.

The Iditarod, with all the evils associated with it, has become a synonym for exploitation. The race imposes torture no dog should be forced to endure.

Margery Glickman
Sled Dog Action Coalition,

Donna Quante said...

geez Margery---can't you leave people alone. We are sick of your claptrap over the Iditarod. your information is either outdated or taken out of context.
Get a life and leave the mushers and their dogs alone.