As you know, we’re renting a cabin and dog yard at the wonderful @AlpineCreekLdg, which is located on the snow-covered Denali Highway, which is arguably the best dogsled training trail in the world.
It’s a wonderful and unusual life, so I wanted to give you a glimpse into what a day looks like. I took photos for this on Monday so we’ll use that as an example.
My alarm goes off in the cabin. Flame may or may not be sleeping on my face.
We keep the cabin around 50-55 degrees, so that we don’t instantly die when we put on our parkas, and that makes it extra-hard to get outta bed.
Today there are no guests at the lodge, and the Bondy family that owns it is in town, so it’s quiet. It’s just me, handler @ChrissieBodz, cook @Chrissythecook, and Jamaican musher Newton Marshall.
Chrissie is half-asleep. Chrissy is, always, a shining beam of goodness and light.
It’s dark until 10 am, so our mornings start slowly. I’ll usually take an hour after breakfast to work on a column, answer any urgent emails, follow up on invoices, and generally keep freelance writing balls in the air.
(Most is my writing is on hold while I train for the race.)
.@ChrissieBodz starts getting the dogs’ morning broth ready. This is bloody meaty water that’s been soaking since the night before. We want the dogs to be hydrated before a run, but they shouldn’t have a full stomach.
The lodge keeps buckets of water warming on the wood stove for mushers. In this case, I grab the warm water and replace it with fresh creek water. (The lodge does have running water, but there wasn’t a ton of rain this fall so it’s not enough to support dog teams.)
The warm water goes in a cooler with the chub and we’ll close it up to soak for the next few hours. We usually do this once or twice a day, but will be shifting the dogs’ diet to mostly meat in the next few weeks, so we’ll probably change the routine.
Back to the dog yard. The pups are hydrated and ready for the day. @ChrissieBodz scoops poop while I get the gangline set up.
We’ll be taking the snow machine today, because we’re planning a 46-mile run and want to let some of the pups ride in the barkbox if they need to. There’s a lotta power in a dog team, so all lines/ropes/connections need to be double-checked and have failsafes built in.
The gangline also needs to be adjusted for however many dogs are coming. Today, that’s 18. Each section fits two dogs, with a tug line that attaches to the back of their harness and a neck line that (loosely) keeps them facing the right direction.
During this process, I don’t want to work up a sweat that will chill me later, so I’m only wearing bibs (down overalls) and a mid-layer. It’s a warm day, around 14 degrees, but will be 10-20 degrees colder on the trail. When the dogs are harnessed I quickly put on more layers.
I also forgot to mention that when I’m harnessing each dog, I’m giving them lots of petting and praise, and also stretching and massaging them to check for any sore spots or stiffnesses that I should treat or watch.
I put on my neck gaiter, hat, parka, liner gloves, and heavy-duty gauntlet mittens. Today I’m also experimenting with a new footwear combo involving overboots and a kind of shearling Ukrainian slipper called Valenki.
I am doing a bad job putting these in order but just before we hook up dogs we notice that the sky is a weird color. Like, it’s blue, but the fog/clouds are blue? It’s a good reminder to double-check the survival gear that we always carry with us.
Survival gear usually includes:
First aid kit
Fire starter and tinder
Food for dogs and humans
The biggest threat to a dog team is usually encountering moose on the trail, but wolves can also attack sled dogs, and we have both species living around us. Bears are hibernating while we train, which is very nice.
It snowed last night, so the dogs are breaking trail. They enjoy the challenge but it means we’re going very slowly. By the time we reach the turn-around point, after 23 miles, we’ve been running for almost four hours.
It gets dark shortly after we start heading back. The run is a bit faster now, since the dogs broke trail (packed down fluffy snow) on the way our, but it still takes 2 hours longer than we expected. The weather stays clear.
Now it’s time for the best meal of the day. The meat is usually thawed by now, so I mash it up with our meatorade ladle and add ground-up fat and kibble. We go through 20lbs of meat and about a bag of premium kibble every day.
This is one of my favorite times of the day. The dogs have run, they’re winding down, and the air fills with the wonderful quiet sounds of happy dogs eating delicious food.
(Pro tip: dogs don’t have gag reflexes so the easiest way to give them a pill is literally just to open their mouths and gently push the pill down their throats.)
(If they’ll allow it. Wickson takes antacids sometimes for tummy troubles and he will only swallow them if both of us run his belly at once while singing him lullabies. Jenga would be horrified by the indignity.)
By the time we finish nighttime chores and get back to the lodge, it’s 9pm. We missed dinner so we warm up some leftovers. @Chrissythecook makes the best food ever—in this case, delicious moose sloppy joes—so this is always a major treat.
9:30 pm. I sit by the wood stove to check twitter and say hi to y’all! Like in the morning, this is also a time for logistical stuff. I’ll follow up on emails and dog food orders. Or take stock of any equipment that needs to be fixed or replaced — say, Boudica’s necklines.
.@QuinceMountain is in Wisconsin at the moment, so we fill him in on the day’s run. @ChrissieBodz adds the miles to a spreadsheet and we make plans for tomorrow.
Because the run was so long, we decide to give the main team the day off in the morning and focus on running puppies.
You can follow @BlairBraverman.