PMS Treatment, 1 of 3ÔÇª
PMS can be a terrible thing around here this year. We had 5 years of mild winters in Northwest Ohio, from 1997-2002, but that seems to have ended in the Fall of 2003.
So what's a rider to do when he / she absolutely can't ride due to winter? Anything they can to stay occupied and engaged, to keep boredom at bay. But that's not necessarily an easy orderÔÇª.
This past weekend, I tried a few unique PMS treatments. Three different PMS treatments, every one both exhausting and engaging.
So on Saturday, we watched a sled-dog race in Battle Creek, Michigan.
Background is that my son and I have been working our way through Jack London's "Call of the Wild", about a southern dog stolen and shipped off to the Far North to be used as a beast of burden. But the book doesn't have pictures, and I don't think he can relate to much of what is in the book. I've been to Alaska and read of the sled dogs and mushers, but have never seen either one up close.
While visiting the Ford Museum a few weeks ago, we saw a 1960s are road map of Michigan, with icons on it of what each area was famous for. Detroit had cars, Benton Harbor had appliances, Grayling had fishÔÇª and scattered here and there on the map were dogsleds in action.
A Google search back at home revealed that Michigan has sanctioned sled dog racing all over the state. Most are in the Upper Peninsula, which is a very long winter trip for us. But, my girlfriend Sharon found one that was in Battle Creek, Michigan - only about 120 miles away. We had snow just a few days prior to the race, so on race day we got up bright and early and drove to Battle Creek. I know, I knowÔÇª but it was about 10F when we left home, and I don't have a sidecarÔÇª
The races were at Fort Custer State Recreation Area. The event was held in one of the campgrounds.
We pulled into the park, then into the campground where we parked in the fresh snow.
As soon as we opened the car doors, we could hear dogs yipping and yapping and barking, off a ways through the woods. Hundreds and hundreds of dogsÔÇª. We walked towards the sounds, through the campground, and the first thing we noticed was that the racers were camping. Most were camping in hard campers, but a few had tents. I've camped in that kind of cold before, and admire those that do soÔÇª
The dogs that were not competing right then were chained up on long chains. One chain would go through the campsite, and there were smaller chains attached to the one big chain, so that a single long chain (and campsite) might have 5-10 dogs attached.
The dogs themselves varied widely. Many were huskies, but there were also Samoyeds and German Shepherds and various mixed breeds. All were edgy and excited, jumping straight up into the air, turngin around in circles, and yelping and barking in hundreds of different voices, all making noise at onceÔÇª Except for the dogs that were running.
We realized this was a small event by the low-key atmosphere. Participants were friendly and open, and told us there were 58 teams entered in the races. We were told we could walk into the woods along the course, as long as we were off the track and motionless when the dogs went by.
The racers themselves were a varied collection, some in crisp snowmobile suits, others in brown Carhart insulated overalls. A rather motley group, but their freindliness made up for their lack of fashion sense.
On the equipment, there were sleds of aluminum, and sleds of wood. Each sled had a large nylon bag, for bringing home an injured dog, as per race rules. Each sled also had a parking brake, a large double-hook with a chain that the racers could jam into the snow. And each sled had a brake that the musher could activate while on the fly by stepping down on a bar that went across the sled from runner to runner.
The mushers themselves stood on the sled runners, behind a curved handlebar, and talked to the dogs. The dogs were in harnesses, but not in bridles. There were no whips, just the mushers talkingÔÇª
We wander over to the starting line and look around a bit, watching several teams at the start. Teams start at one-minute intervals, and head uphill on what looks like it could be an ATV trail in the summer. There are various classes to compete in, depending on the age of the driver and the number of dogs in the team.
Then we're told that later they will have skijoring, where a dog (or two) pull a cross-country skier. Then a 100-yard dash for the kids, and a weight pull.
We sit in the snow-covered woods, listening to the race and taking pictures. When each team begins, you hear the starter yell "GO!", then you hear the dogs panting like a half-dozen miniature steam engines, then you hear dozens of paws padding fast on the snow, then you hear the sled's runners sliding along, and over the top of all that is the musher giving commands. Just personal preference, but I enjoyed listening to the female mushers a little more. Their voices tended to be prettier, more musical as they talked to their dogs, telling them what they were going to do, that they were doing great, and they could make it up the hillÔÇª.
We head over to the finish line, then into the woods, to watch the teams complete their runs. The course is a sprint, about 5 miles long, and racers have been finishing anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours. We find a twisty spot, there's a hill and then an S-curve, and the sleds have to come downhill and then zip left and then right, between the trees and the brush, and then make their way in a final straight-line burst to the finish. The sleds coming through the S-turn looked a lot like ATVs or JetSkis, the body English was the same, the mushers looking as though they were having a blast.
After that we broke for lunch, heading into the small town of Augusta for some Mexican food.
Then back to the races, which in the afternoon included skijoring, the children's 100 yard dash, and then the weight pull.
The skijorring looked like a lot of fun, too. Being pulled by a fast dog while mounted on skis could be quite a thrill, and cheaper than the dogsleds. Fewer dogs, less equipmentÔÇª One skijorer crashed in front of us coming through the S-turn, hard, and the dog (relieved of his burden) dashed to the finish line as fast as he could go.
Then we watched the children's 100 yard dash. There were various ages, I'd guess the smallest was about 5 years old, and could barely see over the handlebar. She was looking good and doing well, when her sled flipped and she tumbled through the snow, kicking up pieces of packed snow, and coming to a stop in tears. Mom and other parents picked her up, put her back on the sled, and she rode to the finish line amid much clapping.
And finally the weight pullÔÇª. But it's not quite like in the book where Buck pulls a 1,000 lb. sled for 100 yards on a barroom bet. Here, the dogs are all weighed first. Then each dog has to pull the empty sled 16'. The handler cannot touch the dog, nor can they have treats on them. The handler can be in front of or behind the dog. When the sled has moved 16', a flag falls and the dog and handler go on to the next round. If the dog can't move the sled within the time limit, people push on a handle from behond to help the sled travel the 16' so that the dog doesn't think he / she failed.
The empty sled weighs 85 lbs., and after each round 50 lbs. is added to the sled.
The reason the dogs are weighed is because the winner isn't the dog that pulls the greatest weight, but the dog that pulls the most times his weight. So a 10 lb. dog that pulls 500 lbs. (50 times its own weight), will beat a 100 lb. dog that pulls 1000 lbsÔÇª.
This event is also not like the book because many dogs are eliminated quickly. They get nervous in the harness, or they're not sure what to do, or the sled is too much. Eliminations happen fast, but not fast enough. Jean-Luc is yawning, the air is getting colder, and we've been outside for a total of about 5 hours. We're wearing out and getting cold, so we head home.
On the way home, Jean-Luc talks about the dogs and the races, and the "Call of the Wild". We talk about Buck, and the little girl that crashed, and the skier who lost his dog, and the noise and the eccentric people and the funny clothes.
I want to do this again, next year. I'd also love to take a ride on a dogsled. But not enough to be married to ten dogs, year-round. But perhaps next year, when PMS is raging, we'll go to Kalkaska, Michigan; for the event there. Two-hundred teams, some of the best in the Lower 48.
Just the same, I'll be glad when the snow goes away and I can go riding again....