Knowing a big day was coming I got up around 4:00 am so I could get a few hours of work in before feeding the dogs around 7:30 am. After feeding them Ken and I went over the options for training. We decided to take the 30 min drive to the white mountains. To take the dogs on a road trip takes a few extra steps including packing their food, harness, sleds, 4-wheeler, our lunch, and emergency equipment. Most of these items are packed in Ken's custom designed enclosed trailer that has ten little dog doors on each side that leads into their small section while still leaving enough room in the middle of the trailer to transport the sleds. After loading all the dogs, we soon were unloading them at a trail head in the white mountains. After about 40 minutes we had 19 dogs tied to the 4-wheeler and 7 to my sled.
Today is my first time on the sled this season and my 7th time in total, however, I have always felt confident riding it. The first seven miles went by really quickly as I watched the sun completely disappear now navigating by headlamp. The trail conditions were sub par with three inches of snow down. Any musher would tell you the most dangerous part of sledding with such a small amount of snow is not being able to stop. Your primary breaking source is your drag break. This can be described as a rubber mat with spikes sticking out the bottom. When stepped on it drives those spikes into the snow slowing you, however, the drag break has little effect when used on minimal snow. Seeing the trail beginning to slope downwards I wasn’t immediately worried thinking I would just have to hang on tight and hope to make it to the bottom. What started to worry me was seeing the lovely flat trail I have been sledding on turning into a trail with deep 4-wheeler and rainwater ruts. Even though this is my first time sledding in these conditions, I know to avoid these ruts because if half your sled falls in you will be trying to ride at a 45 degree angle. Good luck! Unfortunately, I would soon find out that similar to dogs having an internal magnet that always takes them home, I have one that takes me right into ruts.
The dogs are running ever faster now down the hill; I yell woooooo repeatedly as both of my feet are on the breaks watching the ruts grow ever closer. As I was approaching the first one, I knew there was no getting around it, and I was going in. Trying to position myself on the sled to hopefully stay on we entered our first rut. With one significant drop of the right runner, my feet were thrown off and I was hanging on by one hand. Grabbing on with my second hand still sliding down the hill I righted the sled up, only to be back off again moments later.
I’ve watched several Iditarod and Yukon Quest videos and always saw mushers going through terrain similar to this and thought, that doesn’t look bad and I would sled through that no problem. Well, I’m here to tell you it is that hard. There was one moment I was scared. Dog mushing on a smooth trail is amazing, and I think everyone should try it. The current situation I am in going down a light snow covered, rutted out trail with seven dogs pulling, is not a good one.
As I am getting thrown around on the sled my foot gets almost sucked under the back part. I imeditly drop my body to the ground creating more drag to slow the dogs down allowing me to remove my leg before breaking it. Yelling wooooo and using my body as the break the dogs came to a stop. Shacking up, I knew I didn't have another option but to continue down the hill. As I right my sled the dogs are almost waiting for the tension on the rope to go away to start running so I had to jump back on right away making sure I didn't lose the sled.
As Ken sits at the bottom of the hill, I am giving him updates over walky-talky on my progress. Undeterred I continued getting back on my sled and eventually making it to the bottom of the hill. I joined Ken at the bottom of the hill one cooler top, spoon, and a half a hay bail lighter.
Ken described the conditions, “wicked” and said the 4-wheeler almost rolled once. He also said how impressed he was that I made it through. Ken doesn’t usually give out too many compliments, so I felt pretty good about myself.
On the return trip as we were going up the hill, he commented that it's almost like I tried to hit every rut! Funny guy!