Dogs and ponies

A day in a musher’s life

It is 6:30 o’clock in the morning. I don’t even need an alarm any more. Every day for the last 3 months we would get up the same time. A brief look out the window: A starry sky means long underwear, fresh snow on the ground calls for snow pants, horizontally flying ice pellets will be met by goggles and a face mask. Though before we leave the house a quick breakfast is in order. Nothing fancy, hot chocolate, bread and jam, sometimes an egg, yogurt, or fruit for variety.

Rubber boots, insulated pants, a long down jacket, mittens, goggles, face mask, hat?

Check!

Leatherman, knife, lighter?

Check!

And don’t forget the sunblock!

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Walking uphill to the kennel we are sometimes greeted by a howling wind out of the west. A few times we walked in a foot of fresh pow, more recently it is more like a dicey mix of rocks and ice… During the longest nights of winter it is pitch dark. Walking by the kennel we are greeted by some sentinel dogs, pacing outside their house, in any weather. The rest is asleep, staying out of the wind.

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It is now 7 o’clock. Time to take care of the dogs. Feed, scoop, harness and hook-up. Every musher has their own routine. I walk straight to the barn, grab an empty poop bucket and a shovel. While scooping some dogs greet me with wagging tails, other stay in their houses, watching me barely with one eye open…

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Then, when I come with the food bucket all hell brakes loose. Johnny Cash is the first one to spot me coming out of the feed room. A scoop or two for every dog. It’s all gone in about a minute. Some of my pooches don’t eat out of the metal can, some don’t like to eat in the morning, period.

Then there are some general chores mostly related to cleaning the feed room.

Around 9 o’clock our guest arrive. They get an introduction into the history of dog mushing and the story behind our kennel. Once they are dressed appropriately we greet and meet the dogs impatiently waiting for us. As soon as they see me arrive with guest in tow they start a storm: barking, jumping, and jerking on the gang line. Let’s go!

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We tuck some guest into our sleds, some will ride with a musher on the runners. As soon as I pull the snub line it all becomes quiet. My dogs put their head down and accelerate from 0 to 100 in a fraction of a second, if I let them.

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A 10 mile ride to the hot spring is ahead of us. The trail conditions are different every day. I bring different dogs every day. Except Clumber, my lead dog is almost there every day. Without him my life would be much more difficult. He always takes the right turns, keeps my team straight and is always happy to run. It takes us about 1.5 hours to travel 10 miles, with photo stops and little breathers.

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Once we arrive at the hot spring our guest go swimming for about an hour, then come back, have lunch. In the meantime the dogs rest. After lunch we head back to the kennel, mostly downhill. Going home the dogs run a bit faster. After returning to the kennel we say good-bye to our guest, and return the dogs to their houses.

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Another round of feeding, storing the sleds, some general chores and that was it, unless there is something to repair for the next day. Another 12 hour day comes to an end.

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5 thoughts on “A day in a musher’s life

  1. A great post and very interesting reading. I will swop you…I get up at the same time but my day proper starts on a bus through Leeds then onto an office where I gaze out the window for 8 hours and get the bus home….what have I done wrong???

    • That’s one of the great lessons in (my) life: Who’s in charge of my life? I am.
      I once had a 9-5 job, kind of. With an office. a window, and a regular paycheck… Then came a point, when that was not enough any more. Then I traded. Now I am working in the outdoors, in places I always wanted to see, for smaller paychecks, an always changing circle of coworkers (and friends). Sometimes it is physically demanding work, but I chose it, so I am happy (most of the time). Thanks for reading. Don’t think you have done anything wrong. It’s just a choice 🙂

  2. Sounds wonderful to me and as you said to ‘smadkedpentax’, it’s your choice.

    We all think we are ‘chained to our desk’ or our way of life, but the reality is, that for the most part, we chose it.

    I chose to quit my job 5 years ago when I couldn’t stand the days of pain and cognitive dysfunction any more. I had grown to hate the inequality in my workplace and the lack of respect for individual opinions. I didn’t like the rigid and narrow-minded work colleagues. Not that they were horrible people. They were just not my sort of people. My health (and job) were killing me. I left security and an income (albeit lowly paid), to venture into the unknown (with rent to pay and no idea of how/why). Luckily my Dr helped me apply for a Government Disability Pension and while a very frugal life indeed, I am surviving on this pension payment. I can no longer work to support myself, but at least I am free to choose what I do each day (well, up to the limit of my energy anyway).

    We don’t have to venture into the extremes or isolation of a musher’s life.

    We just have to take the first step to make a change. If one is not happy, then one should be pro-active. After all, no one else is going to make the change for you.

    “Man cannot discover new oceans until he has courage to lose sight of the shore”

    • Well said. Good for you.
      Two thoughts came to my mind:
      1- Being responsible and supporting a family is a noble choice, and it comes with sacrifices and compromises, as does the nomadic lifestyle.
      2 – The grass across the fence appears sometimes greener…

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