Mushing Chores: A Musher’s Work Is Never Done

My Last Week of Mushing Chores at Sibersong Kennel

This is my last week at Sibersong Kennel working with Jaye. When you oversee a kennel of sled dogs there are lots of daily chores that need to be done. I mean there are TONS of chores. A crap-load so to speak. But who wants to read about chores. I don’t. I even find that writing about chores is well, a chore! So you’re going to have to take my word for it. There’s a lot to do around here and I tip my Mad Bomber Hat off to all mushers out there who oversee a kennel. You guys (and gals!) are AMAZING!

As a retired teacher who spent 30 years educating our young, I heard both teachers and parents complain about certain kids not having a “work ethic”. I hear you! And I have a solution!!! Send them off to be a handler for a musher for a month. Not even a season. A month will do it! I guarantee they will come home and all you’ll have to do is threaten them with “Hey, if you don’t shape up I’m sending you to Jaye Foucher’s for a month and you’ll appreciate the life of Riley you have here!”

=)

As I look back on my past four weeks I only hope I’ve been able to help in some small way. Jaye may have been recovering from shoulder surgery but that didn’t mean she took the time off. She still did a ton of stuff. She just favored her arm and shoulder and tried not to overdue and she kept doing her PT exercises to make it stronger. But she still did a ton of work. I just helped fill in some of the gaps where I could.

As with all hard work, yes there is fatigue but there is also a lot of satisfaction. Today on the trail Jaye remarked at how strong her dogs are getting. They are muscling up and getting stronger every day. I feel a bit like that also. People have asked me how my month has gone and although I have to admit that I’m pooped by 9PM, it’s a good fatigue. The one that comes from feeling like you’ve accomplished something. And it’s all because of all those chores!

But I’m not going to talk about those. Instead I’m going to highlight a few Fall Projects that

a) were new activities for me and
b) make me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Seasonal Chores

Keep in mind that in the off season, i.e. the summer, many mushers have a list of activities which they take care of to get ready for mushing season. One such activity might be sewing booties for the dogs to protect their paws when training for or running in a race. A musher might also sew jackets or T-shirts for the dogs. T-shirts are often helpful during fall training as the miles start to build to protect dogs from the effects of a harness rubbing against an armpit. In some cases jackets or coats are sometimes used on dogs with lighter coats when running in below zero weather. Coats help keep them and their joints warm.

I bring this up only because I know there are people out there who love to sew and who might be interested in helping mushers with their booties. (Did that last sentence sound strange?) You know I meant dog booties right? If you are interested in volunteering to help make dog booties feel free to contact the mushers I will mention here or if you want to join a group, Paw Partners is an organized group with volunteers who help supply dog booties to mushers running the 1,000 mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Cast of Characters

To get a better feel of the Fall Projects I want to highlight I think it would be good to present the cast of characters involved with these projects. There are 4 mushers who live and train in this part of Maine and their lives often interact.

Jaye Foucher and Yours Truly

Jaye and her Sibersong dogs transplanted to Maine a year ago from New Hampshire. Originally from Massachusetts she too started with one Siberian and now well, she’s addicted.

Jaye on the left and me on the right during some down time.

Jaye on the left and me on the right during some down time.

Kasey McCarty

Kasey is another musher who lives in the area. She too has a large kennel and trains for long distance runs. Kasey runs only purebred Siberians and her kennel is called Fort Illio Kennel.

Kasey with one of her pups

Kasey with one of her pups

Maggie Wey

Maggie is a transplant from California. She runs purebred Siberians and started mushing about the same time I did. I will never forget the first time I met Maggie. It was my second year of mushing. A mutual friend introduced us at a trail head as we hooked up dogs to go sledding on snow. Maggie’s team took off before she was ready and off she went waving back at us as her team dragged her down the trail. Now she runs a 20 dog string and they all know who the Alpha is. =)

Maggie with her best buddies

Maggie with her best buddies

Ray Belanger

I don’t know Ray very well but I like him a lot. Maybe it’s because he has a French Canadian name like me. We have a lot in common since we both got into mushing later in life. But he is younger than I am so I consider him a young whipper snapper but I love the name of his kennel. Late Start Kennel. Ray still lives in Massachusetts but has a a home next door to Kasey’s and spends a lot of time in Maine training his dogs. He too runs purebred Siberians. What’s not to like. =)

Ray with one of his beautiful Sibes

Ray with one of his beautiful Sibes

Sponsors

Mushing is an expensive undertaking. I would hesitate to call it a sport, but rather it is a way of life.
That being said, there are sprint, mid distance and long distance races which are held to help promote the sport and while some mushers enter these events merely to participate and finish, there are many who enter races in the hopes of winning a purse. Purse winnings don’t cover the expenses incurred in preparing to enter a race so many of the long distance mushers will enlist the help of sponsors. Sponsors may help with financial donations which can go toward sponsoring a dog for the season, or toward expenses such as race entry fees. Or sponsors may contribute in other ways by providing equipment or supplies.

Jaye has a sponsor who has enjoyed sponsoring a dog for each one of his grandchildren for a season. Together the family can follow Jaye’s progress online as she takes part in events and they cheer for their favorite Sibersong Canine. It’s a wonderful way to introduce children to the sport and as a fan who has followed mushers online during long distance races, I can say that it is quite exciting to be part of all the activity in cyberspace. This year Jaye’s sponsor had a special treat for her. In their discussions he discovered that huskies love to eat the left over venison that hunters don’t use. As it turns out he was in Maine hunting moose and on his way back home he called Jaye to tell her he had moose meat for her! What a treat! So one evening he stopped by and gave her buckets of moose meat for her dogs. Jaye doesn’t have a meat grinder but fellow musher and neighbor Kasey McCarty does! All it took was one phone call and Kasey was willing to lend Jaye the use of her meat grinder. Some neighbors borrow a cup of sugar. Mushers borrow meat grinders! Gotta love it!

Bartering

When Jaye and I arrived at Kasey’s she was ready with her high powered meat grinder.
Jaye knew that Kasey’s dogs love good venison so in exchange for the use of her meat grinder Jaye gave Kasey some of the moose meat. Now a lot of women I know like to go to a store and look at different bottles of nail polish and oooh and aaah over the latest shades. Some like to go out together to a restaurant and try a flight of different wines. I’d never met 2 young woman who oohed and aahed over a bag of raw meat!

Here are Kasey and Jaye looking through the bag of meat remnants.

The delivery of moose meat is like Christmas morning for a musher.

The delivery of moose meat is like Christmas morning for a musher.

Kasey, who is studying to be a Vet Tech was spouting off things like. “Oooh, this is full of Vitamin A! Oooh, lots of iron in this!” Her professor would have been proud! =)

A bag of moose meat is like a box of chocolates

A bag of moose meat is like a box of chocolates

Once Kasey and Jaye had gone through all the meat it was time to grind it up and freeze it for the dogs.

Jaye and Kasey working the meat grinder

Jaye and Kasey working the meat grinder

The dogs will be pleased

The dogs will be pleased

The difference between Hay and Straw

Not being a farm girl I don’t know much about hay and straw. When I think of either I think of sneezing since that is what I had to deal with on hay rides with some of my kids. And I certainly didn’t know the difference between the two. But now I know. Hay is used to feed animals while straw is used for bedding. And straw is hollow, like a drinking straw! which makes it easy for me to remember. Straw bales as it turns out are also lighter than hay bales! A good thing! if you are going to be hoisting a few of those onto your trailer to bring them back to the kennel. Straw is very useful in the winter as bedding for sled dogs in their dog houses and in the dog truck when traveling. So the night that we ground up the moose meat at Kasey’s we also picked up 10 bales of straw. Mushers are always looking for ways to save money so when it’s time to order straw the four mushers in the area were able to place one large order and help bring the cost down. It helps to have friends who are like-minded individuals. =)

Our little trailer was put to good use.

Our little trailer was put to good use.

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

Over the past few weeks I’ve been able to observe that life seems simpler when you are away from the crowds of the cities. But that life comes with a lot of hard work. And that hard work is part of the lifestyle. You learn to do a lot on your own and you also rely on the help of neighbors and friends. But what I liked the most was that what many people consider painful chores, people here just consider them part of their daily activities.

Last week Jaye’s ATV brakes failed and she was unable to train her dogs. Luckily she was able to order parts and her friend and neighbor Ken Williams was able to make the necessary repairs. Ken is the owner of 1 Sibe and is learning all about running her with a team with Jaye’s dogs so he is eager to lend a hand and has been a huge help as a handler and as a fixer upper. Here he is adjusting the brake lights on Jaye’s new dog truck.

Ken helping out with a brake light glitch

Ken helping out with a brake light glitch

While Jaye was without her ATV and her dogs were hungry to run, Maggie Wey offered to let Jaye use her ATV. So one morning we left for Maggie’s with 20 dogs in the dog truck. We hooked them all up and did a 6 mile run with Maggie, Jaye and I riding along. Then we returned to the yard, unhooked Jaye’s team and then hooked up Maggie’s 20 dogs and went back out to run those! By the time we got back this handler was pooped!

The next day we ran 2 teams at the same time with Ken along to help and Maggie having borrowed a second ATV. These women are relentless!

Here is a picture of the 2 teams taking a water break.

Running 2 teams with Maggie Wey

Running 2 teams with Maggie Wey

And here is a Post Run picture of Maggie and Jaye comparing observations of the day’s run.

Jaye and Maggie Post Run Chat

Jaye and Maggie Post Run Chat

Now I must warn you that Maggie gives the impression that she is a real low key, easy going person and her voice and demeanor underline that fact. That is how I’ve always thought of Maggie but on this day I saw something that gave me pause and I wonder if there is an evil tyrant lurking behind that calm facade. For you see, I spied on top of her dog truck something akin to the Medieval Stocks used as a form of physical punishment and public humiliation. I wondered if that is where Maggie puts handlers who don’t quite meet her expectations. I decided I was happy I was working with Jaye. And perhaps now I understood why her dogs behaved so well and she was no longer that woman I’d seen fly by with her face in the snow hanging on for dear life to her dogsled. Too many face plants had no doubt resurrected her evil twin personality. I decided I was not going to test her.

See for yourself and you decide. =)

Maggie and her Dog Truck and the Stocks on the top

Maggie and her Dog Truck and the Stocks on the top

Activities that warm the soul

Like many people who live in the country there was evidence this week at Maggie’s of work that comes from working the land and benefiting from what it has to offer. I leave you with three photos that speak for themselves.

Maggie’s Garden

Here is Maggie's Garden ready for harvest

Here is Maggie’s Garden ready for harvest

Apple Picking
One afternoon Maggie went apple picking. Now she looks forward to cooking up this wonderful fruit.

Apple picking leads to cooking up lots of delicacies

Apple picking leads to cooking up lots of delicacies

Maggie’s Sugar Shack
If you’re going to have homemade applesauce then you’ll need some Maple Syrup. Maggie has a lot of maple trees on her property so why not gather up some sap in the spring to make enough syrup to last till the next year?

Maggie's Sugar Shack with the blue tubes connecting the trees waiting for the spring sap

Maggie’s Sugar Shack with the blue tubes connecting the trees waiting for the spring sap

More training this week then we head to the Northern New England Sled Dog Fair in New Hampshire. That will end my stay with the Sibersong Sleddogs but mushing season has just begun!

8 Comments
  1. Nice 🙂 . . .

  2. As usual, what a great read! Such great imagery… ohhh and ahhh! Thanks! Linda

  3. Hi Linda,
    I am truly enjoying your blog and the tons of information about a subject I know little about but I’m learning! (:0)

    Anita

    • Glad to hear it Anita. Thanks for the feedback. Happy Trails to you =)

  4. Linda, I have truly enjoyed your take on spending time with my daughter, Jaye, and her kennel. I’ve always known that Jaye has a pioneer spirit which drives her and sustains her through all of her ups and downs. Your blogs have shed more light on the daily life of a musher, her kennel and living remotely. We really appreciate that you have been there to help her when she needed assistance while healing from her surgery. I know Jaye is sorry you are leaving and will miss you greatly. Many thanks from her family!

    • Hi Jeanne, You’re welcome! I’ve very much enjoyed helping Jaye out this past month. I’ve learned a lot and I am amazed at all she does. It’s been very rewarding being a part of the Sibersong family!

  5. what an opportunity you had and i hope you enjoyed your time. it is beautiful country out that way and right at leaf peeping time 🙂

    • It was a great learning experience Laurie and you’re right, it was at a beautiful time of the year. The Fall colors are gorgeous!

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