Hodge-Podge Squad: Taking a Break from the Office with Four-Legged Friends
Rod Boyce’s team rests on the Cleary Summit ridge before heading down into Fish Creek Valley. Jonni, an animal shelter adoptee, is looking at the camera from the middle of the team. Skittles, up front, also looks back. Photo by Rod Boyce/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
FAIRBANKS — One of the first books that I read about dog mushing was “The Joy of Running Sled Dogs,” by Noel Flanders.
Sometimes I think I could write a few follow-up books:
“Crazy Stories About Running Sled Dogs.”
“Stupid Mistakes I’ve Made While Running Sled Dogs.”
And, one I’m sure that many job-holding mushers would buy, “How To Find Time in Your Busy Life to Find Joy Running Sled Dogs.”
I know I find it a little difficult to find the hours to get out on the trail, but, once I do, it always seems to be worth it.
That was especially the case last week, when I took a day off work to run my longest race since 2006. A lot has changed in my life since then — my wife, Julie, and I have been busy raising a child, and I became managing editor of the Daily News-Miner in 2008 — and the time available for dog mushing has consequently been harder and harder to find.
We all need our outlets, though, and perhaps that’s why I felt a pull this season to again enter a race that would keep me on the trail for more than an afternoon. So I signed up for the Chatanika Challenge, the main event of the season for the Two Rivers Dog Mushers Association, the dog club I’ve been involved with on and off since moving to Two Rivers in 1996. The event had classifications of 200 miles, 100 miles and 50 miles.
I entered the middle category, which was actually about 90 miles or so. The distance wasn’t long by mushing standards but was long enough that it required a greater effort at training and preparation than usual for me.
Sometimes I think that just getting to the starting line is an accomplishment.
I’ve taken lately to calling our main dog lineup the “Hodge-Podge Squad.”
It helps in dog mushing, especially for those dog drivers who want to be competitive, to have a well-matched team. That generally means having dogs that run in similar ways at certain speeds, have similar levels of endurance, and that generally get along with one another.
Our dogs get along. That’s pretty much where it ends.
We have two speedy and smart main leaders, the sister-brother duo of Skittles and Butterscotch, who are almost 10 years old. We acquired them last year from Iditarod veteran Aliy Zirkle, who had decided on candy names for that particular litter of pups.
Here’s the rest of the “race” squad, from front to back behind Skittles and Butterscotch:
• Billie Jean, 11, another Zirkle dog who came to us years ago. She’s also a leader, though she’s lost some of her speed in her later years.