The snow may not be flying yet, but that hasn't stopped peninsula mushers from getting under way with the training season.
Although some mushers run dogs year round through businesses giving sled dog rides to tourists, most mushers take the summer off to pursue other work, vacation or just to give the dogs a break.
"We started training around mid-August," said Kasilof based musher Jon Little.
He said he's been waiting for the temperature to cool down a little, and that the recent dips of the mercury have really helped out.
Little is currently training around 25 dogs, and typically runs 12 to 13 at a time.
"We've been doing five mile runs every other day," he said. Mostly on the side of the road on dirt trails around the Pollard Loop area in Kasilof.
A sled dog rests on top of its box after a late day trining run.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
Although Little will be taking this year off from racing the Iditarod to cover the event for Cabella's, he still has an aggressive schedule planned for numerous other races around the state.
"I'm hoping to use the Knik 200 as a training run," said Little. "I'll also run some yearlings in the Tustumena 200 to show them how to race. Also, because that's one of my favorite races. It's always fun and I love it."
He added "I'm also looking forward to the Kusko 300 in Bethel."
Little said that he might even try to run the Yukon Quest 250 in Feb. just for the experience of it, but that would be a big maybe at this point.
Dean Osmar, another musher out of Kasilof, is a commercial fisherman in the summer. He stays busy picking fish during the racing off-season, but he resumes dog training as soon as the salmon run ends.
"I usually start on Aug. 1," said Osmar "But we got a little bit of a late start this year and began around Aug 15."
Osmar, just like Little, starts out slowly while the weather is still warm. "We've mostly been training in the early morning and late evening," he said.
"We do about two-thirds of our early season training on the beach, and then the rest through neighborhood trails," said Osmar.
The trails he was referring to are an intricate series of pathways throughout the interior of the Cohoe Loop area. Some of the paths are old homesteading trails, while others are relatively new, having been put in by mushers living in the vicinity.
The trails require some road crossings which can occasionally present close calls according to Osmar.
"Most people are aware of us mushing because we've been doing it for years," he said. "But every year there are a few new people in the neighborhood and a few go a little too fast."
Osmar said he wasn't certain what races he would enter this year. He has recently downsized his kennel significantly so he's currently working with a lot of puppies and yearling dogs.
"I also just try to get 2000 miles behind each dog by Iditarod time, whether I run it or not," said Osmar.
He is also an avid hunter so sometimes running dogs this early in the season takes a back seat to stalking bull moose up in the Caribou Hills.
Paul Gebhardt, also from Kasilof, is still busy running his construction company but has found time to start his training.
"We've mostly been going out at night after work," he said. "We've been running teams of about 14 dogs, going about two to two-and-a-half miles per run."
He currently is working with roughly 45 dogs.
Like the other area mushers the temperatures are also a major factor in Gebhardt's training regime. "Once it gets colder, probably around mid-Oct., we'll really start picking it up," he said.
Gebhardt also hopes this will be a good year for snow, since snowfall amounts last year were so poor that many races had to be rerouted or cancelled.
He said it's all weather dependent as to what races he will enter this year, but stated "I will be focusing primarily on the Iditarod and at least one mid-distance race, preferably the T-200."
He said he tends to stay away from the 25 -50 miles races, because they don't hold the same appeal and challenges as the longer runs.
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