The snow this season has been minimal and most has melted and re-frozen creating a very crunchy layer of icy snow. We’ve taken our team to the Nez Perce Road up the West Fork of the Bitterroot the last two weekends because of the low snow levels. Last weekend, I tried out my new camera, a Christmas gift, and opted out of sledding; rather I cross-country skied up the trail to take pictures as Cobey and the team went by. They seemed to have improved over last weekend. It took only a few calls of ‘leave it’ and ‘let’s go’ to get the dogs to stop sniffing and run. When they came by me, none of them veered off course to say ‘hi’ to me but continued on by and up the trail. The Nez Perce road was where the dogs were first introduced to dog sledding last year. I believe they’ve associated dog sledding with this location and know it’s not the place for ‘running free,’ which is what they get to do when we’re hiking. Roaring lion, where we went early in the sled season, is a common place we like to take the dogs hiking, which probably added to their distraction level.
This past weekend when we went up to Nez Perce again, I took the team out as well. They were gung-ho about running and took off up the trail the fastest I’ve seen them go yet. When Blue is fresh and excited, she charges up the trail. I am so impressed by her natural lead skills. Kona charged up the trail as well but Tensaw, on the other hand, just trotted; his head doesn’t ever seem to be in the game. He can run fast and far when it comes to chasing critters and deer but when it comes to running in the traces he doesn’t seem to want to anymore. They charged hard a mile up the road to the first turn around and wanted to keep going but I knew Blue would tire out soon and Cobey still wanted to go out with them. None of them know, or at least care to listen to, gee’s and haw’s so turning the team often takes some effort. Once the team was turned we headed back and Blue’s legs, or heart, were no longer in it. I thought I’d give Tensaw a chance to run his guts out in the front, thinking, if he wanted to, his speed could keep the team going. As soon as Tensaw was in the lead he slacked off even more but Blue pulled hard (as well as Kona because she always does). Whom ever is in wheel seems to pull the hardest. Tensaw never pulled hard but we finally got back to Cobey and then he took them out. He put Kona in lead and she did well until they turned around and, once again, freaked out so he placed her back into wheel position and Blue into lead. They made it back, albeit slowly.
At the end of the day, the usual thoughts about the dogs’ performance emerged. I was ecstatic about Blue while Cobey was disappointed with her and he was, completely in awe of Kona, while I was simply impressed. Neither of us was impressed nor disappointed with Tensaw. These three seem to feed off of competition between one another, each wanting to be in front of each other. I believe the fan formation could be helpful to them. The team is small and none of them run hard for long in the lead position but consistently run hard at wheel. If all three ran together side-by-side it may keep them in competition with each other and pulling hard. Cobey and I will also need to trade off on our sledding adventures, i.e. one day only he will take them out and the next me, to allow for the dogs to go on longer uninterrupted runs.
The sled we got this year has a large sheet of thin metal attached between the runners. It was originally put there by a man who used the sled to get out to his cabin and it was helpful to get through deep snow with. So far, we have found it the opposite though. Especially on this hard, frozen snow, it is extremely noisy. It no longer scares the dogs but it makes it difficult to direct the dogs, we practically have to scream. And the run is not quite as relaxing or enjoyable as it could be. Our runners are also old and torn up. We hope before next season to have the quick change runner (QCR) system put onto our sled and the metal sheet removed.