Thursday, 23 February 2006

February 23, 2006 Peaks and Valleys

I’ve talked over the years in my diary entries about how training is filled with peaks and valleys in terms of the dog’s attitudes. It seems a fairly routine part of a distance dog’s training to have ‘slumps’ in the training. My experience is that if you ride out a ‘slump’ with patience and perseverance, you will be richly paid off with a stronger team in the end. You work, work, work…then things level out or even slump for a while, and then make a jump up to a next level.

In a perfect world, your big race will be shortly after one of those big jumps. Most mushers have formulas and/or theories on how to bring a team to it’s peak immediately before or in the early stages of a long distance race, but personally I feel luck has it’s fingers in the pot too.

Anyway, where am I going with all this? Well, my team seems to have been going through a bit of an extended slump this season. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m very, very pleased with the team this year. They have been knocking off runs consistently through this season that would have had me delirious with joy 2 or 3 years ago, but on both Sheep Mt and Knik there was an edge there that was just plain fun to be behind – and one that I seem to have been missing since then.

Then in the last few weeks I’ve been seeing little glimmers of that ‘edge’ reappearing. The second leg of the Goose Bay race …the other day when I took Moses out in single lead…just glimpses here and there of what I was seeing earlier in the season. Not even that these runs were significantly faster then other runs, but there was a spark and energy to the run that was special.

Then came yesterday.

The trails here are certainly on the icy side – and the worse part is pretty much the trail out of my dog lot, so I’ve been taking out smaller teams (10 dogs) and putting fairly level headed leaders up front to keep things more sane. So yesterday Colleen helped me hook up Dasher and Kara; Junior and Batdog; Moses and Herman; Olena and Skor; Nahanni and Sprite – and off we went.

Dasher - Kara
Junior - Batdog
Moses - Herman
Olena - Skor 
Nahanni - Sprite

As soon as I was able to pry my foot off the drag and lift my head from my prayers, I shot a glance up front to see if that was really Kara and Dasher that took off out of the yard like their tails were on fire. Indeed it was. I hadn’t seen those two shoot out of the yard like that in a while. As the sled skittered over ice, a bit of bare tundra and the odd bit of snow, I wasn’t sure whether to be thrilled or terrified. I settled on a bit of both.
Photo by
Theresa Daily

Copper Basin 2006 - Dasher is the left lead here and & Kara (black) is behind her.
Two miles out we were about to crest a small hill when Kara’s ears shot forward into ‘huntress’ mode. Sure enough, over the backside of the hill stood a moose. He took one look at 10 crazed huskies and one mostly terrified musher bearing down on him and headed for the woods. We thundered by and down the trail. 

For the next 10 miles or so I gave no corrections, no encouragement, and only the odd quiet command. The crazed tone had subsided – but all head and tails where down, and tuglines tight. When asked to ‘whoa’, they did so immediately and completely. Heck I didn’t even have to put my foot on the brake, but they were on their feet and off like a shot when called up again. They waited calmly while I gave some directions to a Jr. Iditarod musher and his Mom that were training out of Norris’s yard and again when I waited to make sure the two got off Stephen’s Lake at the right spot.

By the time I hit Windy Lake I was rewording classic rock tunes – “My dog team’s back and you’re gonna be in trouble….Hey-la-day-la…my dogteam’s back” (of course to the tune of “My boyfriend’s back”). (Cue the Music! and read on by minimizing the pop up window)

Then it hit me – this was too good a run. At 19 miles I decided to make the turn for home, rather then tempt the fates by adding another 10 miles.

We pulled into the yard strongly. I was grinning ear to ear and the leaders were doing ‘4 in the air’ leaps for their snacks.

Still humming, Colleen and I put the team away.

Now, I don’t really know what all this means. Does it mean maybe we are about to make that big bounce to the ‘next level’?? Maybe – maybe not. Honestly, I don’t care. If there is one thing this winter has taught me it is that what will be, will be. All the fretting, worrying and fussing in the world won’t change anything – so often the best plan is to work hard, stay positive – and SING. So, join me if you will….


(Original lyrics)

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