Blair Braverman
+ Your AuthorsArchive @BlairBraverman Dogsledder. Author. Adventurer. If you like these tweets, you'll love WELCOME TO THE GODDAMN ICE CUBE (@eccobooks). Dec. 20, 2018 9 min read

I want to tell you about A Day in the Life as we train for my rookie Iditarod

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.

7:45 am

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.

It’s pitch black out. The cabin is right next to the dog yard so I take Flame to her house and do a quick check to make sure all the dogs are cool.

Time to walk up the hill to the lodge for breakfast!

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.

I have sworn off caffeine for the winter (except for when I’m racing) so I make some decaf and pretend it’s real.

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.)

When it starts to get light, we head down to the dog yard for morning chores.

.@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.

Meanwhile, I start preparing their main meal, which has to soak for several hours.

First thing, I go down to the creek below the dog yard and fill a bucket with fresh water.

Then I grab a “chub,” or 10lb bag, of ground beef...

...and bring the bucket and chub back up to the lodge. I often vow to do this on foot, but let’s be real, I almost always end up using the snow machine (which is what Alaskans call snowmobiles).

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.

We grab the harnesses from the cabin and set the right size in front of each dog.


Booties also come in different sizes, so we set those out, too, based on paw size.

But we have to be careful not to set these too close. Jeff Sharlet may look innocent...

...but look away for one second...


Sorry Jeef but those go on your feets

Everything takes longer when there are dogs to be cuddled and loved.

Anya waits her turn to be harnessed.

I just really want an excuse to share this picture of Grinch in his house.

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.

Some of my inner layers:

By now it’s almost noon. Chores took two hours and we finally get to hook up dogs. Pepe and Clem will be running in lead — here they beeline for their spots.

Part of the role of lead dogs (and swing dogs, the pups directly behind them) is to hold the gangline taut while we hook up the rest of the team.

The gangline, ready for dogs.

Q: What happened here?

A: Boudica got impatient cause we were taking too long so she chewed through Jenga’s neckline

While we’re hooking up dogs, Newton comes down to offer us some frozen booties he found in the trash. Do we want them? heck yes we want them!

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
Sleeping bag
Fire starter and tinder
Food for dogs and humans

Ready? We sat. All right! The dogs take off down the trail. Since we’re using a snowmachine today, we can set the pace. On a sled we have more dexterity but less control.

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.

Human lunch is usually whatever fits in our pockets.

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.

Ideally we stop every 1-2 hours for snacks. In this case, frozen slices of raw salmon. They’re a hit!

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.

We arrive back home after more than seven hours on the trail. It’s 7:30 pm. The dogs’ work is done and our goal now is to get them fed and cozy and tucked in for the night.

We want them to cool down a bit before eating a big meal, so first we get them all back to their houses and take their harnesses off.

This is another chance for me to give each dog a thorough petting and stretching. They’re warm and tired and proud and usually happy to let me inspect their feet after the long run.

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.

The dogs can smell their food, steaming in the cold air, and they get very excited as we prepare their bowls.


The tongues are ready

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.

Then it’s time to scoop poop again

Dogs get meds if they need them. Jenga’s getting older and takes glucosamine for some minor arthritis in her right knee, and it’s been working wonders.

(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.)

Then we sort all the harnesses and velcro the booties into a long chain so they can dry.

Last, we make sure that the pups have straw bedding in their houses and they haven’t kicked it all out in the snow. If it’s cold, we add some extra straw for insulation and added softness.

Need anything, Boudica?

Here is when I made weird noises to get Clem to look at me but he just got worried and had to check to see if I was ok.

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.

We also hang up the day’s booties in the generator building so that they will dry.

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.

11:30 pm

It’s the end of another day of Iditarod training. Time to dream about trails and dog butts.

You can follow @BlairBraverman.


Tip: mention @threader_app on a Twitter thread with the keyword “compile” to get a link to it.

Enjoy Threader? Sign up.

Since you’re here...

... we’re asking visitors like you to make a contribution to support this independent project. In these uncertain times, access to information is vital. Threader gets 1,000,000+ visits a month and our iOS Twitter client was featured as an App of the Day by Apple. Your financial support will help two developers to keep working on this app. Everyone’s contribution, big or small, is so valuable. Support Threader by becoming premium or by donating on PayPal. Thank you.

Follow Threader