Iditarod Camp: Some crazy rides

Here’s the thing about these Alaskan sled dogs: When they’re not in harness, they’re these sweet, docile, amiable things. Sure, they have their little quirks, like any dog would, but in my multiple interactions with sled dogs at several places along my journey, I was struck by how personable and affectionate they were around people. (And once I learned more about how they’re carefully handled and socialized as puppies, I completely understood how they got that way.) Most of the time, they’re lounging on top of their kennels, or lazily dreaming about who-knows-what while they sprawl out in a little patch of sunshine. But as soon as they sense that they might, just possibly, be about to be hooked in the harness to go for a ride, they go beserk, in a happy, crazy, frantic, certifiably canine-insane way. They all start barking, jumping, leaping, spazzing, hyping up into a raucous frenzy. (Especially at the halfway point of our daily rides, when the teachers would give them dishes of water so they wouldn’t overheat, and when the dogs were so wired up about the second half of the ride that they were often airborne, as you see here with the lead dogs, practically leaping out of their harness. A casual observer might make the mistake of thinking these dogs are strung out on meth or something, but I promise you, this intense energy they display is all-natural; these dogs are genetically wired to be exactly like this when they’re asked to pull a sled.) I am so impressed that these teachers could even hang onto these dogs when they were hooking them into the harnesses for our daily ATV rides. And, by the way, while it may look like we’re just driving the ATV behind them, that’s not the case. The dogs are really pulling the full weight of that hefty ATV–and not on some manicured, dainty path, but through wooded areas rutted with tree roots, up and down hills, around sharp curves, over rocks and sticks and all kinds of natural debris, and–most spectacularly–in and out of gushy, boggy, swampy mudholes that seem absolutely impassable when you are, say, a Midwestern journalist sitting in the front seat of that ATV, holding on for dear life, worried about how much mud is getting on your camera lens, and not even aware of how much has been splashed across your face. And–as if that normal level of adventure wasn’t enough excitement for us–on one of these incredible rides, the gang-line (think of it as the center rope connecting all the dogs to the sled/ATV) snapped, and the dogs just, you know, ran off, still harnessed together, like a pack of circus wolves. Now, this is, uh, not supposed to happen, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility to imagine that it can happen–especially when you’re trucking along at the speed we were throttling at, through seriously rough terrain, and with considerable weight packed on the ATV, given the sheer number of bodies we had on there. We were able to catch up to the dogs, but not without moments when I was sure we’d never see them again. Once our musher untangled them, we were off again, careening through the woods like gangbusters. (And I thought bear encounters would be the most dangerous part of my Alaskan trip. HA! I remember thinking how glad I was to have health insurance when I was photographing these dogs’ hineys at full speed. They say the view on a sled team never changes unless you’re the lead dog. These photos testify to that.)

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One Response to Iditarod Camp: Some crazy rides

  1. Wanda Irish says:

    I can not believe that they can pull not only the ATV…but all those people on for the ride….very, very cool!

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