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February 12, 2012

Double Double with the Old Farts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a little over a year ago when a friend asked me if I was running all of my dogs.  Happily, I said yes.  And right now, that is continuing.  I take two ten dog teams out and all 20 of my sled dogs get to run.  So far, it has been a light year, but each of them still has 160 miles of sledding in addition to their mileage pulling an ATV.   Of course, that means I have 320 on runners.  With a little luck, we’ll double these before the season is over. 

My twenty sled dogs range in age from my two four year olds, Prudhoe and Kennicott, to my two twelve year olds, Vixen and Otter.  The median age in my kennel is 8.6 years.  For the record, that’s almost exactly equivalent to my age and I’m about to turn 56 (my secret formula is classified). 

Mushers like to say that older dogs can run competitively, particularly in distance races, but nobody actually uses them.  Next time there’s an age listing, check it.  You’ll find some six year olds, though not a ton, and maybe a few seven year olds.  Beyond that, there’s usually one or two exceptional 8-10 year old leaders who make it into the race, but that’s one or two out of hundreds of dogs.  The overwhelming majority are between the ages of three and five.  Of my twenty dogs, Prudhoe, Kennicott, Zappa, and Daisy are six or younger.  The remaining 16 are seven or older.  None of us needs walkers yet, but that time is getting closer.

So given this, it is particularly gratifying when both teams have good runs, like the two double doubles we’ve had.  Both of the teams averaged 10 mph or better for sled runs of 15 miles or more.  That’s two teams with double digit speeds---a double double.  In all the times I’ve run two teams on the same course, quite a few between December 2007 and now, there had only been once when I had both teams doing 10+ mph.  That was two years ago.  Ten mph from all of these dogs as old farts is pretty cool. 

Along with the great performances, it has been fun watching how much they are enjoying this.  The previous two seasons, I trained for and ran the Flathead Race in Olney, then took off for a few weeks before running dogs again.  I had down-selected the racing team by Christmas, so the dogs that didn’t make the team had even more time off.  Being Sibes and much more inclined to self preservation than pleasing me, I was never afraid of them hurting themselves when they started up again.  And they did keep true to their heritage----bringing them back had no negative consequences---there were no injuries.  However, many of the dogs were tentative in their runs. 

This year, running has been much more consistent, particularly for dogs who had not made the team in previous years.  I’ve also upped the yard time on non-training days.  I do think that this lets them work out kinks more than they would otherwise.  With these improvements, they are less hesitant and are enjoying themselves much more on the runs. 

Of course, with the dogs being strong, it is also time to start playing in the backcountry, such as it is.  I never did find fellow conspirators to head into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, but I still want to take teams up to the top of Fawn Peak and Mt. Henry, two short easy peaks in my backyard. 

My passions include Physics, Mountaineering, Taekwon-Do, and my dogs.  These passions all share the quality that when I pursue them, I continue to learn.  Between watching the old farts perform and moving into really doing backcountry mushing, it is looking like it’s going to be a good year.

   
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