Fellow musher, Chris Johnson, between mouthfuls of beef mentioned to Jamie that she had been putting a lot of work into just a few leaders in her team, “When should I start working with new ones??”, she innocently asked. I choked on an onion ring knowing that Chris was going to regret asking that question. “Right now”, was Jamie’s reply. She went on to tell Chris that she should run a brand new leader on our morning run.
Chris had a look akin to that of a deer caught in the headlights and I felt sorry for her. “I’ll do the same, Chris”, I volunteered. It’s not so bad being behind the pack working with a new leader if you are not alone. “In fact,”, I said, “Why don’t we all do it?? “Green Leader Sunday””. The idea took off – some with much less enthusiasm then others, but everyone was willing.
The rules were set – everyone would run one TOTALLY GREEN, ‘never before run lead’ leader and one slightly more experienced, but not solid leader. Because Jamie is Jamie, we needed different rules for her – she agreed to run 2 totally green leaders. All leaders must be tried for at least the first 10 miles of the run. Anyone switching before that would face the punishment of having to cook the group’s next meal.
Conversation the whole way home and into the night focused around which dog we should each try in lead for the first time. Some told me they had a sleepless night trying to figure out who best to run. As for me – well, this time I had a plan all laid out in my head before I opened my mouth. I had been meaning to try JR in lead for the last few runs anyway. I would take him and Skor out. It wasn’t until I was feeding dogs the next morning that I remembered JR had come in a little stiff from his last run and it wouldn’t be fair to start him in lead that way. DRAT!! Okay, Plan ‘B’ – Batdog. He’s been running well. That’ll work, I reassured myself. Then I remembered he had been a little stiff too. With my mood moving towards panic I mentally ran through all my young dogs and had to eliminate them all for one reason or another. That left me standing in the yard in front of HILDA. Now Hilda isn’t entirely green – I did try her in lead once last season. It was an unqualified disaster and she was quickly put back in the team. I’ve firmly maintained since that moment that she was not cut out to be a leader.
Jamie reminded me that the whole “Green Leader Sunday” thing was my idea and there was no way I was getting out of it. With dread bordering on out and out fear, I got Hilda approved by the ‘Rules Committee’ and set off to hook up.
Hooking up went surprising well, although it took all of us a lot longer then normal as we had to keep going up front and reminding our rookies where exactly it is that leaders are expected to stand. When it was time to go, I stepped on the ATV and call the team up. Hilda stood there. Skor and the rest of the team shot off. When they got the distance of Hilda’s tug line away from my still stock still leader, she was knocked off her feet and dragged backwards. Brakes squealed as I locked them up to stop 13 excited and one confused Siberian. While trying to remember what we had in the fridge and whether there were enough ingredients to make chili for everyone later that night, I ran up front and showed Hilda where she was supposed to be. She wagged her tail in what I sincerely hoped was understanding. “Maybe I should pass the house on the way out of the yard and take some hamburger out of the freezer”, I thought. I once again stepped on the ATV and called the team up. Forget the hamburger – we were off!
Our planned camping portion of that run got drowned out, as the small bridge crossing the Valley River was under 3 ½ feet of rushing water from the storm on Friday night – but my spirits would not be dampened. Hilda was up front and actually working well. Of course, she knew no directional commands and Skor has only limited ‘Gee/Haw’ abilities, but we were all in the same boat, so it was no problem to take the time to go up and show them which way I wanted them to go at each corner.
We came back into the yard and rested the dogs in harness for 3 hours before heading out on another 17 mile run. We were well past our mandatory 10 mile mark, but almost all of us, myself included, opted to keep our ‘green leaders’ up front for the second run.
“Green Leader Sunday” was a success!!! Hilda can now be referred to as a ‘Leader in Training! Goes to show that you should never give up trying dogs in lead.