A musher’s first duty is to the dogs. It’s all about the dogs. In the old days, if you did not care for your dogs properly, you’d die in the frozen wilderness.
Today, with mushing sports, there are armies of volunteers, support groups, pilots, vets, trail breakers, trail sweeps, snow machines, GPS, satellite phones… all keeping an eye on the wild frozen trail.
The dogs still come first. If you don’t nurture them, care for them properly, massage, bootie, blanket, feed, water, rest… your trail will be very short and the dogs will quit.
Here’s Joe Runyan of Iditarod.com describing Nicholas Petit coming into Tanana (I can’t pronounce it either without singing the Batman theme)…
First he took an extra snowhook (a pronged lightweight anchor with curved hooks) and tied the six foot line to a loop on the main towline and stretched out the towline. That kept the team orderly. Next, he distributed thinly sliced frozen meat to his team, fast walked to retrieve water which he distributed to the team in plastic breadpan size dishes, reached for another bag of fatty snacks. While the dogs ate that ration, Nicolas unbundled a bale of hay and started laying out a flake for each dog, careful to put it just in front of each dog. Satisfied, he released the tug lines, and just as he had planned each dog was now able to curl up on the straw without sending it in ten directions. Nicolas, well orchestrated! The main chores now complete and the dogs resting comfortably, Nicolas could take off booties from his huskies. At this moment, his is the fastest team on the trail.
In PA, we seldom have use for snowhooks. We tend to run on wheels. When you get off your bike, you throw it on the ground, two dogs can’t pull it too far. When you get off your rig, you lock the brakes, and keep a tight hold on everything as you work your way down the gangline to the two or three presumably well trained dogs who are waiting for you (hahahahaha). You can also anchor rig or sled to a handy tree along the trail; you just never tie the anchor line to the sled, that is light and fragile and will pull apart, you tie your anchor line to your gangline (the line attaching the dogs to the rig or sled).
Denali and Legolas in lead, Chasseur in wheel)
Max was a 16 pound Schipperke who ran with the team… we went at his pace, a nice brisk trot for the big dogs. When tired, he’d ride in the basket…
Chase (Chasseur), Denali, Max, Leggy (Legolas); Max is in a walking harness here, later he got a real sledding harness.