Gold Rush Aftermath pt. VII

Vet checking Esko after Gold Rush Run

This is Part 7 out of 8 in a series of lessons learned from our first medium distance sleddog race. To start from the beginning, click here.

During the race, I think I had almost every dog in the lead at some point or another. It was quickly becoming evident, that our training had not been sufficient. On our way back, before the last, steep uphill section to climb to the top of Jorpulipää hill (200 meters of vertical), Remu wore himself out, having worked the whole day in the wheel in soft snow, and had to be bagged into the sledge.

My team was thus just 7 seven dogs strong for the last, hardest part of the heat, and I had to work hard myself, too, to push the sledge with one big stud in it to the top of the hill. My veteran dogs were showing the distance passed, but all the dogs were making me proud. Every shortcoming in the team was mine alone to take responsibility, I cannot pass any of it to my team, who with limited training and various amounts of experience crossed the finish line after the first day, coming in 15th out of 20 teams.

Lesson learned: It is not evident which of the dogs is doing the most work. Remu had shown no signs of fatigue before he went lame. Quite simply: he had given all he had to give.

At the finish line, I informed the judges that I had one dog in the bag and was instructed to consult the vet. He checked Remu and said there was nothing serious, he was just worn out. While he was around, he took a look at the other dogs and noticed that Esko had a limp, too, and his ankle was swollen. We were instructed to keep an eye out and consider the dogs’ condition in the morning.

The next morning, back in Sodankylä, I did a quick inventory of the dogs. Our veterans Chaika and Skoda were showing clear signs of fatigue and were quite stiff. Esko was still limping, and while I could not see any symptoms in Remu, I was still worried about his ability to perform. Altogether half of my time was in a condition less than ideal.

I made the call to DNS for the second day. My objective for this season was to successfully participate in a medium distance race and get the experience of a solid performance. I think we achieved that. A lot of lessons to be learned, but that was expected.

Click here to read part 8 – the Conclusion!

Gold Rush Aftermath pt. VI

Taking a break during Gold Rush Run 2018

This is Part 6 out of 8 in a series of lessons learned from our first medium distance sleddog race. To start from the beginning, click here.

Once on our way, the team was working really well. It was just an absolute privilege to get to see the Huskies working in what I can only consider as their natural environment, doing the work their ancestors have been doing for thousands of years and countless generations. Stunning!

As we started last, pretty soon we started catching up with some other teams. I lost track of events at some point, but we were passing teams on the left and the right, being passed from both sides, meeting returning teams head-on on a single width trail, and at one point even coming across a returning team head-on while passing an LD team on the same, single width track!

Lesson learned: For a race like this, you need to prepare for every conceivable event. At the end of the day, it boils down to your lead dogs, and their ability to keep it together. 

I am super proud to say that our dogs managed these rendezvouses without incident. Initially, I had Chaika and Skoda in the lead, as originally planned. At some point. Chaika started losing speed, as was expected, he is starting to show his age. This was also a conscious decision I made before the start, to use Chaika in the lead in the start, to help keep the speed down early in the race.

To continue reading, click here. Next lesson is about assessing the dogs' performance during and after the race. 

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From Safari Dog to Coach Dog

I recently wrote a brief update when travelling up North to Rovaniemi to pick up Skoda, a veteran safari dog from Bearhill Huskies. Time for an update!

As reported, her name is Skoda, and she is a very experienced safari dog. She is not young anymore, but our sports training is relatively easy going, compared to full-time professional safari work. We hope that we can give her a nice, active retirement home, and in return, we hope that she, along with her brother Chaika (who joined our team in the summer), can depart some of the wisdom built up during their working years.

When I was at the Bearhill’s kennel, Vallu (co-owner of the safari) noticed that Skoda had a lump in her chest, about the size of a walnut. We agreed that I would take her to the vet and get it checked out. Bearhill’s agreed to pick up the bill for the operation.

Once down South, I contacted Omaeläinklinikka in Lohja. I took Skoda for a check-up and since the lump seemed to be mobile (and thus less likely to be life-threatening), we decided to go for a direct approach and scheduled a date for removal. Last week she was operated and the lump, along with two smaller ones were removed. Everything went well in the operation.

She is now recovering. She spent the first five days indoors and is now back in the kennel. There is no sign of infection and next week it will be time to remove the stitches. By end of the month, she is scheduled to be back in training with the rest of the pack!

I would like to promote this type of adoption, especially for less experienced sleddog sports amateurs; give a home to an experienced, professional sleddog. From my personal experience working with Chaika and Skoda (we got a few training runs done before the operation), I can promise you that the dogs can teach you things you would never pick-up from a book. And your other dogs will benefit immensely from having two experienced dogs in the lead, working as intended, to learn from!