Mushing Bulletin # 100 – Not Your Grandfather’s M&M’s

Twenty below zero this morning. The coldest morning yet. It’s even colder in Celsius (-29). I think the two scales converge somewhere around -35 or -40. How can they start out and be thirty-two degrees apart and then end up at the same number as it gets colder? I haven’t figured that out yet. I think it’s one of the “mysteries” the nuns used to tell us about in grade school, like why it’s always cloudy on Good Friday and why a bishop wears a pointy hat but monsignor wears a beanie.

I think I mentioned that the Head Musher needs six dogs to run the Can-Am 30 and we only have four. So we are borrowing two Siberians from Rob and Louise Cooke whom we met at Mushing Boot Camp about four years ago. Coincidentally, they ended up buying a house only a couple of miles from Gino.

The two Siberians are named “Moley” and “Mannie”. I call them M&M for short. They are very laid-back dogs who fit right in with the team. See the picture below and be prepared to say “Awwwwwwwwwwwwwww!”

Last week they did an introductory, five-mile, get-acquainted run and that went well.

On Wednesday, the new six-dog team does a hilly eleven-mile run without a hitch. M&M run in the “wheel” position (i.e., closest to the sled) and provide some great added power. Fenway keeps turning around and saying “Jeez, we’re finally getting some help pulling this thing!”

They say that you don’t necessarily go faster with more dogs but it eases the burden so you can go further. When I let go of the neckline between Aura and Fenway and they take off at the start of the run, it sure seems like they’re going faster. Probably just an optical illusion due to chilled eyeballs.

Flushed with success, the head Musher decides to go out for a short 8-miler on Thursday, with just our four dogs, and trouble breaks out. About a hundred yards from the trail-head, Aura starts dancing around as if her feet hurt. Fenway picks up on the dancing action and a routine run threatens to turn into a prison riot.

Meanwhile , I am back at the trail-head fat, dumb and happy picking up the detritus left behind when the team headed out. As I finish, I am shocked to see the team only a football field away, and there appears to be some sort of square-dance underway.

I see the Head Musher plant the snow hook and head down the gangline to sort out the trouble. Fenway takes it upon himself to turn the team around and is prepared to head back toward the car. He is also barking, giving the Head Musher his advice as she attempts to sort through the problem.

Now the team and the sled are pointing in the wrong direction. The Head Musher quickly gets them under control and turned around. They run another ten or fifteen yards and the same thing happens. In fact it happens three times.

Finally, Fenway is demoted to the wheel position and Chinook replaces him. Chinook and Aura decide to head down the trail. The team and the Head Musher disappear into the Canadian forest. I figure I had better stick around in case they all come shooting back through the forest in the direction of the car.

They don’t reappear for another hour and a half but their behavior at the start has caused those of us, who have nothing better to do than seek answers to unanswerable questions, to ask: What makes a dogsled team all of a sudden behave like a bunch of politicians i.e., barking incessantly, arguing amongst themselves, blaming each other for every problem, pulling in opposite direction, returning to square one as often as possible.

There are a number of possible answers:

  1. they really are politicians, except at a somewhat more advanced state of evolution (e.g., they are loyal, play well together etc.,) and they occasionally revert to the behavior of their more primitive political ancestors;
  2. it was too cold and their feet hurt;
  3. the sled felt too heavy with only four dogs pulling;
  4. like golf clubs, sled dogs have been given to us by some Higher Power to test the fabric of our being.

Although “1” and “4” are attractive, I personally favor “3” because, if I were a sled dog that’s exactly what I’d be thinking: Hey, we’ve run fifty yards and the sled seems heavier than it did yesterday. Let’s give it another fifty yards. Maybe it’s just our imagination. Nope, it’s not our imaginations this sled is heavier. Wait, I just looked back at the sled and there are dogs missing!

Fenway’s first bark states the problem succinctly: “What in the hell happened to all the help we had yesterday? “ He wasn’t heading back toward the car he was turning around to confirm that two dogs were missing.

That’s my theory but, hey, what do I know.

The only good news from this episode is that somewhere along the trail Kodiak, who can run like a gazelle but wants no leadership responsibility, decides that he has had enough of the whining and carping from the other dogs. The Head Musher puts him in the lead position and he single-handedly brings the entire team back to the trail head. He may behave like a dork sometimes, well, alright, most times, but when the chips are down, he rises to the occasion. He has a new bounce in his step. I’ve changed his nickname from “Dork” to “Sir Dork”.

Now spring ahead to yesterday and the M&M’s have rejoined the team. The team shoots out from the trail head at about Warp-8 and less than three hours later is back, having completed just less than 20 miles. (See picture number 2 below) The Head Musher is smiling; the dogs are smiling. The Head Musher yells out “We could’ve done thirty!!! (Note the three exclamation points). In a short twenty four hours we have gone from disaster to euphoria.

This reminds me of the story of the golfer who had a terrible day on the links. He finally had reached his limit, not only with golf, but with life’s cruel turns. It was just too much to bear. So, he went into the locker room, took out a razor, and slit his left wrist. While he stood there bleeding into the sink, one of his playing partners yelled from around the corner: “Hey, Fred, you wanna play tomorrow?” Whereupon Fred clamped his right hand over his bleeding left wrist and said: “What time?”

The great thing about sports is that they teach you how to manage emotional peaks and valleys. The great thing about a dog sled team is that the dogs love you whether you win or lose. They always treat you like a winner.

The One-Man Pit Crew

Healthy Recipes


Mushing in Ocean City MD