Happy trails ahead

Mother Nature gives mushers something to work with

Posted: Tuesday, November 25, 2003

"George W., quit being such a bozo and leave them alone," shouted Greg Bagle while shaking his fist in the air.

Despite how it sounds, Bagle isn't bashing the U.S.'s Commander in Chief for his policies in the Mideast. Rather, he's a dog musher trying to correct one of the dogs in his team that keeps nipping at his canine cohorts.

Bagle, like many other Kenai Peninsula mushers, was out with his dogs this past weekend enjoying the heavy accumulation of snow in the Caribou Hills.

"It's bitchin'," said Bagle in regard to the trail conditions in the high country over the weekend. "It's the real deal up here."

Bagle is a novice to the sport of driving dogs, but there were many professional mushers, and even a few past champions out, as well.

Tim Osmar, a former Yukon Quest winner, lives in the Caribou Hills. Unlike many others mushers who get up at dawn to make the long drive to find suitable terrain to train their dogs, Osmar needs only to step outside his house to put in a run.

On Sunday morning, Osmar laboriously sawed down trees and stumps to put in a new trail, then, later in the day, enjoyed the fruits of his labor.

"Training's not too bad this year," Osmar said. "I haven't missed out on much training due to the weather. Last year at this time I was so behind."

The poor snow conditions last winter hindered many mushers statewide, and here on the peninsula where glare ice prevailed, things were particularly tough for mushers.

Osmar said he's got some good leaders this year and some nice young dogs that are coming up.

"We're up to 22-mile runs with no problems, so we hope to start camping soon," he said.

Some mushers as they move into 20- to 30-mile training runs, start camping overnight with their teams, because they enjoy the time away with the dogs and to get them ready for life on the trail while racing.

Tim wasn't the only Osmar training in the hills over the weekend his dad, Dean, also took out a few dog teams.

"It's getting better," said the senior Osmar. "We need another foot or so (of snow), but it's better than it was last year when we were still on a four-wheeler at this time."

The past Iditarod winner said his goal is to have 500 miles behind each dog by Dec. 1 and 1,000 miles by Jan. 1, which Osmar said should be no problem for him if weather conditions keep going the way they are.

"I'd like to start doing some 40-mile runs, maybe by the end of this week," he said.

Not all the peninsula mushers made it to the hills over the weekend.

"I haven't been up there all week," said Jon Little of Kasilof.

However, that doesn't mean he wasn't training dogs.

"We broke out a 26-mile loop from my house that goes up toward the Kenai National Wildlife ski area, then comes around Slikok Lake and then comes back," he said.

Like many of the other mushers, Little thinks there's not a lot of snow yet, but conditions are better than in 2002.

"We're definitely farther ahead than last year, when we were still on the beach at this time trying to do 20-milers," he said.

Little said he's been doing a lot of what he calls weight-training runs.

"We'll put in a 20-mile run, but it will be breaking trail the entire way so it lasts for three hours," he said.

However, Little said he should start doing runs that are a little longer soon.

"I always try to do a 40-miler around Thanksgiving," he said. "If I do that, I'll be right on schedule."

Kasilof-based musher Paul Gebhardt is still working full-time with his construction company, but makes time for dog training around the Cohoe Loop area.

"We're right where we always are," Gebhardt said in regard to training. "The dogs are getting strong and we're waiting for more snow, but it's starting to shape up."

Gebhardt still is using a four-wheeler to build up his teams.

"We're doing 15- to 16-mile runs with the wheeler, but that equates to 25 on the sled because pulling the sled is so much easier (for the dogs)," he said.

Gebhardt said December is when he will really start to pick up his training regime. After Thanksgiving, he'll start camping and likely will use some of the smaller dog races to train for the Iditarod.

"We'll do the Copper Basin and the (Tustumena-200) for some longer training runs and to get the dogs ready for the racing atmosphere," he said.

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