Wednesday, 9 February 2005

February 9, 2005 Breaking Trail

Last week I was bemoaning the lack of snow in the area and trying to convince the dogs to do snow dances with me in the yard. Yes, conditions were still fine for running and I was getting good miles on the dogs, but the concrete like icy trails were tough on joints and made for some tricky sled handling. Sharp corners would leave me hanging on for dear life with my teeth rattling and chattering in my head as we skittered over the ice. Sleds clattered and scraped over the rough trail, the noise seeming to put everything a little on 'edge'.
My friend, Doug Grillot, who I ran Iditarod with last year, and I went on a trip up the Yentna River last Thursday and we literally had to plan our breaks around where there was enough snow to sink a snow hook. In most
spots there was just ice with a skiff of snow over it.
Then the dancing paid off - it snowed.and snowed some more. Some spots in Anchorage got 15" of snow; out here it wasn't quite as much, but still registered in the 8-inch range. That was Monday. Tuesday probably brought another 4 inches or so with smattering of light snow falling again on Wednesday and Thursday.
Although Alberta gets more then it's fair share of winter storms, we don't seem to get the large accumulations of snow at one time that Alaska gets.  It leads to the neat phenomenon of 'digging out'. It's like the National Geographic Special where they show the arctic hare sticking his head out of the snow drift the morning after a snow fall - only here it is people and the moment after sticking their heads out of the snow bank they are firing up snow blowers and trucks with plows on them. In a flurry of activity roads are cleared, snow knocked off roofs and pathways dug out until enough snow has been pushed around that life can go back to normal. 
Then out roar the dog mushers. The distance mushers seem to all be scrambling to be the first to get their teams out there so they can practice breaking trail. The sprint mushers hustle out on snowmachines hauling large drags to ready the trails for their teams.
We were able to get more then our fair share of trail breaking in. Tuesday I did a 25 mile run, breaking trail for about 14 of those miles. My leaders, Moses and Surge did a wonderful job. Although the going was considerably slower then what we have been doing, they keep motivated and moving strongly forward. Good practice!
I personally LOVE running dogs after a new snow. Everything seems quieter, stiller and more magical on the trail. Even the quality of the light seems lighter and fluffier! The rattling noises of the sled are replaced by soft
swooshes of the runners dragging through the new snow, the previously scary sharp corners are much easier to navigate and you feel like an old pro on the runners as you slide confidently around them.
I am also continuously amazed by my dog's ability to find trails I can't.
Thursday I found a two mile section of trail known as Romano's Loop that had not been run since before the week's snowfall. Olena and Odie seemed completely sure of where we were going when we turned onto it, but I wasn't convinced. I stopped them for a quick break and walked up front to get a better look at where I thought the trail might be. As I was heading his way, Odie stepped to the side to pee on a tree and promptly sunk up to his ears. I guess we were on the trail. He quickly scrambled back to the hard packed snow - even he can't lift his leg that high. My faith restored, I headed back to the sled and minded my own business for the rest of that trail. Ollie and Odie never wavered or hesitated, even though in open spots the snow was up to their chests and, in my puny, limited human mind the trail was invisible.
By yesterday almost all the trail was broken open, although it was still heavy going in spots, but the running was spectacular. Bright, bright blue skies caused the snow to sparkle and shine. The dogs were jazzed by the new snow and most of the time, just roared through it. On breaks Kara would work diligently on making doggy snow angels, Loki would roll onto his back and just lay there with a soft 'pillow' under him and the sun on his belly, and Ollie would stick her head straight into the snow bank and come up completely white. I'm sure if I had taken longer breaks they would have started building snowdogs. What a blast.
However, not everywhere is singing the praises of this latest dump of snow. I heard Skwentna had several new feet of snow and hard winds. It has virtually wiped out any trails they had. Word from Norma Delia, who lives there, is don't even bother trying to come out this way for a run for a few days. I'm taking heed. I will wait until next Tuesday or so before trying to get another long river run on the dogs.
All for now!

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