Skijoring & Dogsled Fun

Saturday, January 11, I found myself at the West Bypass musher trailhead for the Skijoring and Dogsledding Fun Days put on by Montana Mountain Mushers. The day was about 28 ish degrees with snow falling. West Bypass is on the back of the Mission Mountains and always has tons of snow there. Seems like the weather systems just hit those mountains, stall and dump. Nice for dog sledding and  x-country skiing and snowmobilers alike.

Met Brit at the literal crack of dawn in Seeley Lake to load up on, what else, coffee. Got to the musher trailhead and Clayton was already there along with newer mushers Sam from Rex Ford (above Libby) and husband and wife team, Kelly and Anthony. Clayton already had dogs out and getting ready to go, whilst the rest of us were just trying to get our wits about us! Ok, maybe that was just me trying to do that. Seems like everyone else is a “Miss Mary Sunshine” in the morning. Nope not me.  

Sam is a man of few words. Nice guy to be sure. He is a new musher just trying to learn the ropes and build a team. His lead dog is a 3 year old newfoundland (newfie) so I just had to see this. Sam told me he is the leader because “he is the only one that listens to me”! I just cracked up when he told me that. And what a cute face on that newfie! The 3 dogs with their heads sticking out of the truck are just puppies, 10 months old so not quite ready to hook up to the sled yet. Sam had 3 other dogs in addition to the newfie and he was milling around listening and talking to seasoned veteran Clayton. Later on in the day Jerry and Liz Cain came by and Jerry had a few of Jack Beckstrom sleds to sell and Sam got one of them! He was pretty excited, or at least that is what I think I was reading from him. As I said, a man of few words. I was pretty excited for him!! I asked if he was gonna try it out tomorrow and he said that he didn’t want to do it in front of people in case he made a fool of himself on it. So there you have it. He took his team out for a stretch of the legs (about 5 miles) with the newfie in the lead next to another potential leader. The other dogs in the team rolled in excited and the newfie just spread eagle and did a belly flop on top of the snow in an effort to cool off. Pretty funny. Granted, it was pretty warm for sled dogs, but you just had to see this. AND that face, you just wanted to smother it with kisses.

After about an hour or so, our own Seeley Lake musher, Roy showed up along with Rob. Roy got his dogs out of the truck so they could poop and pee. Yeah they seem to do that a lot! Then he wandered over to help out new mushers Kelly and Anthony. That is him in the royal blue jacket. Gang line out and then what? Roy spent a lot of time helping them out and showing them how connections were supposed to be so the dogs stay attached to where they are connected and not over in the next county without a musher. I know they were very grateful for his help. Kelly is the “official” musher of the team and Anthony said he is “the handler and the money” and that is how he wants it! He said he wasn’t going out there, what are you, NUTS? They too are building up a team starting with 4 rescue huskies. Beautiful dogs—who doesn’t like a huskie? Kelly said that they had been kenneled all their lives and we got them. We get them out and run and “they are soooo happy”! And like most of sled dogs, they too were lovers and ready for hugs.

An observation I have made after seeing many races, is that mushers are always either putting on booties or taking them off! Dogs have so many feet to take care of it’s a wonder any musher has time to do anything else! But, they just stand there and let you do what you gotta do. They know it is better in the long run for them to have them on. Ever try to put a bootie on your own dog? I have and it aint pretty. My Nushka will walk around like she is injured holding it up not sure what to do with it. ugh. So anyway, Clayton had about a 20 mile or so run and about to go out and do some more. Feed time for the ones back from their jaunt, yummy.

Food for sled dogs is a soupy mix of kibble, water and some protein with lots of fat.  Could be chicken, beef, beaver. You name it they use it. Every musher seems to have their own secret recipe. And during the winter it is usually warmed up, heated up in a cooker. Mushers will add water especially when racing because you put a bowl of water in front of a dog and he wont drink it. So you have to come up with a way to get fluids in him, hence the soupy mix. Some of these dogs have gotten clever and still don’t want the water and will tip over their bowls. Damn. Now what?

Roy getting his team ready to roll and his first run will be with 3 young girls in the basket. All bundled up, 2 snow hooks in so they don’t launch with the 12-14 dogs in front of them carrying on like they do before a run. They only went for a 5 mile run so they didn’t come back as ice cubes. Guessing Dad wouldn’t really care for that. Roy said he had forgotten what it was like being around young girls. They were giggling the whole time and asking Roy questions about the dogs. They got back with rosy cheeks and I am sure great stories to tell all their friends. Aimee was going to try to skijor and then get in the basket and head out with Roy on his second run.

Aimee is giving some lovin to one of Roy’s dogs and is originally from FL, now living in Missoula. She had 3 thin coats on and was still cold. Oh boy. It was a relatively warm day for January here in Seeley Lake, so I had to laugh at her a little. Ever the Race Manager, I asked if she would like to volunteer for the Race to the Sky. She would love to. So I got her information and was a little nervous about it hoping she had a heavy winter coat. She does. Phew. I am sure she had a great time with Roy and his dogs.

Brit and I were getting hungry so our stomachs started to dictate as to how long we would stay at this event. Got to see some great dogs, be out in the snow NOT freezing to death and chit chat (both she and I have the gift of gab) to everyone.  Beginning mushers got some great advice from seasoned mushers and Sam got to buy a sled. I am feeling like the dog napping in the snow, ready to eat and take a nap. AND we didn’t even do anything hard! Pretty funny.

So we are weeks away from the start of the Race to the Sky, so on my end getting very busy. Checking, double checking to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Will try to keep blogging, but might not have time until the race starts. You will then get the middle of the night blogs about what is going on during the race. So see you then! Hope for some colder temps and yep more and more snow! 

-C. Jewett