After years of figuratively back seat driving my wife while she is on her dog sled, I finally get the chance to literally do it this weekend, and I can thank four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King for the opportunity.
King came up with the idea for a new event: the Denali Doubles Invitational, a 265-mile sled dog race from Cantwell to Paxson and back.
But this is no ordinary race. King has put several unique twists into the rules to make things interesting.
First, King tried to ensure the race field would be made up of highly skilled and/or ethical mushers. To be eligible, in any dog sled race prior to sign up, mushers must have placed in the top five places, or received the humanitarian award, or have been awarded a rookie of the year award.
Another twist to the race is that each team must consist of 20 dogs, which is typically a tremendous amount of power. Even the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest cap the team sizes at 16 and 14 dogs, respectively, and these are both 1,000-mile races.
To slow the power of this many huskies, each team will consist of two mushers for just the one team. This means mushers must choose between a single sled with both drivers on it, or a tandem sled dragging behind the first sled, or sled and a tethered skier, or a gee-pole sled, which is essential a sled with skis in the front and a giant pole on the side used much like a rudder for steering.
For our team configuration we initially went with the tandem sleds, but after a trial run in the Caribou Hills we felt like it would be a little bit too much extra weight for the dogs to carry over that distance.
We hit the shop and, working with a friend, made on sled with very long runners that can carry two people, one right behind the other, and each with their own handle bar.
This is lighter on the dogs and has the added convenience that we can pass each other food and gear. Also, we can now talk to each other without shouting, but this is where trouble could arise.
My wife and I both train our dogs an equal amount of time, but we do so in slightly different ways. As such, on our trial runs, I have already been watching from over her shoulder and offering advice such as "slow down, or "speed up," at times when she wouldn't necessarily have done either on her own.
No arguments have developed from doing this, but these were short training runs. After driving for a couple hundred miles like this and in the sleep-deprived state that is the norm when racing sled dogs, things could get strained.
Hopefully we won't get too grouchy with each other because we wouldn't want to violate Rule No. 30, which is another one of King's quirks to the race: There is a $75 fine for whining.
To learn more about the Denali Doubles Invitational, or to follow its progress, visit the race's Web site at http://www.huskyhomestead.com/Denali_Doubles_Sled_Dog_Race.htm.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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