Dog Sledding in Cali?
By Robert Forto, PhD
This past weekend I was privileged to hang out with new friends, April and John Wood and their son Tyrell in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Central California. I went to california on business and of course I mixed in a little pleasure as well. It was great to get on the back of a cart with a team of Siberians again and it was well worth the trip!
The morning started early, as it always does for a musher. I was staying in Clovis, about 40 miles away, and I had to be up at the kennel by six a.m. so I left at sunrise in my rented Hyundai and drove up the mountain.
When I arrived at the kennel it was a very warm 57 degrees but a beautiful morning none the less. We all helped out loading dogs into the dog truck and took off to Jose Basin about 15 miles but nearly a 45 minute drive on the mostly hard-packed dirt road that was meant for 4×4’s not heavy dog trucks.
We unloaded the eight dogs, all seasoned sled dogs, and hooked them up to the cart. With April at the wheel and me as the “co-pilot” we took off in a quick sprint down a steep rocky trail. Anytime you are training on a cart it can be difficult to balance because it is a bit top heavy. We cruised around the first turn and the dogs worked in cadence.
About a mile into the run one of the leaders stopped at a rocky overpass and looked like he caught of whiff of something. I jumped off the cart to line them back out on the trail and get them going again and no sooner had I jumped off the team took off down the steep embankment. I heard a high pitched. “Noooooooo” from April as the dogs wrapped the cart around a tree and tangled themselves up in the lines.
I ran down the embankment to untangle the dogs and line them back out and looking back to see if April was okay. She looked fine so we jumped back on the cart.
A little ways down the trail the dogs had to cross a cattle guard. Spending most of my time running sled dogs in Minnesota, I had never seen a dog team cross a cattle guard and I was amazed at their tenacity. As soon as they crossed I jumped off the cart again to turn the team around and no sooner did they get turned around and me back on the cart that April took a nasty spill trying to get back on. April said, “I don’t usually jump on from the side.” as she was examine her cut hand.
We made it back to the truck without further problems from the feisty team that hadn’t been in harness since easter weekend and we did what every other musher does; tell the others stories about the run. Just like fishermen, we all have tall tales to tell!
It was great to get back with a team again and I was impressed with the Siberians. As April and I talked about the adventures with the crash and her spill we chalked it up to the feisty dogs. Hey, thats how it goes on a training cart! I have been stupid enough to train up to 12 dogs at a time on those carts that are designed for much smaller teams. But who has any fun if you are not living on the edge a bit, right?
After we returned to the kennel and settled the dogs, April and I recorded an episode of Mush! You Huskies on her property with the free-roaming horses walking by looking like they wanted to steal my equipment right off the table!
Later that evening we “talked dogs” for hours and made some plans to run races together in the near future.
What a weekend. In two weeks I will be in Alaska looking at a property that is very close to the Iditarod trail. I cant wait!