Armchair Musher: What Happens in Dawson...

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

2-5-2019  11:45 AM

Well now that teams are getting to Dawson I am seeing a lot of fans interested in what actually happens in Dawson. Well the list is long, and each musher has their own plan. But in general there are some things you can be fairly certain all the teams are doing. 

Vet Check – in Dawson the vets have the opportunity to spend more time with the teams, and this helps is invaluable. Dan and I have been known to spend an extremely long amount of time with the vets in Dawson going over every dog thoroughly when they get in, and often again before they take off.  And NOT because we are having problems, quite the opposite, because we want to make sure we do not get problems. Vets are an invaluable source of information and insight, and working with them has taught me so much about how to better care for my canine athletes. And while we mention vets, I am not sure y’all know this. But the vets are volunteering for this race. Yes they willingly take time off from their practice, and give up income, to spend days in the cold, because they love dogs. So MUSH thanks to the amazing vets!!!

Feeding – in 36 hours you can give dogs multiple meals, meat drinks, and snacks. Mushers most likely have a tentative feed schedule that they worked out before the race. But they may adjust it based on things like temperature, for instance racing dogs need extra fat and hydration at extremely cold temps. Or dogs attitude; on a long distance race for reasons known only to the dogs they can get fussy and decide they no longer like fish and will only eat beef. Luckily this is common knowledge to racing musher and when packing drop bags many will include a variety of options to make sure they can cater to the dogs tastes.

Massage and Walking – over the stay on Dawson most mushers will spend time massaging dogs, who just soak up the attention. And dogs are taken for walks to stretch out muscles and so mushers can observe them. You will see mushers grooming dogs, running balm into their feet. Sometimes mushers will use wrist wraps with liniment, these are dog equivalent to the compression arm sleeves and socks worn by human pro athletes.  

Gear Check / Repair – Sleds need to be thawed out so that they can be thoroughly inspected. As I mentioned in an earlier post, sleds can take a beating. So they need to be inspected and possible some repairs made. The Mounties in Dawson have generously opened their garage again this year for musher to bring sled inside and work on them. All the dogs harnesses and coats will need to be dried out and checked, as well as the mushers clothing. Ganglines are inspected and any worn lines replaced. Dawson is also a major resupply point, and the only place on the trail you can get supplies from your truck (or the Dawson Hardware Store if you discovered something you forgot). When repacking this is the perfect chance for mushers to double check everything and make sure the have everything they need for the long and challenging second half.

Sleep & Eat – Mushers will be doing as much of both as they can. You might think sleeping would be the only thing they would do after being on the trail for so long, but honestly you would be wrong.  From personal experience I can say that although you crash right away as soon as your team is cared for, you cannot sleep for long. Your body may be done, but your mind is still racing.  Getting back to your team and working with them is a strong driving force.  I would wake up from a dead sleep in a hotel room and my first thought was “where’s my team”.  Although I was beyond thankful for the long break and the opportunity to receive some help, I just could not stay away from the team for long.

Of course I am speaking in general terms, but I hope this gives you a good general idea of what is going on.  For people who prefer a visual I have this fun time lapse video our dear friend Erin made when she was helping me handle for Dan in Dawson on the 2013 race that I think you might enjoy.

Dogs in Dawson

Also in Dawson you will see kennels doing more posts to social media, as here they have easy access to internet and time to post. I know social media can be daunting to some folks, so I have a little tip for you. If you do not want to search all over for all the various kennel posts you might consider joining a moderated group, where you will see information shared from a wide variety of sources. One I really enjoy is the Facebook group Alaska Mushing News.

Now it is time for this Armchair Musher to get up and go play with some puppies.

Mush Love




Jodi Bailey