Saturday, December 27, 2008

Happy Holidays

T-Bone says: Look Dad, I got a chicken for Christmas!

Yes, it's been a while since our last blog entry. The Maryland Sled Dog Adventures sled dogs and Eric and I have been busy running dog sledding programs, training the sled dogs in earnest, and taking folks out for dryland dog sled rides during the busy holiday season. For photos of some of those dog sledding adventures, check out the Gallery page of the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures website and click on the type of program that most interests you.

On one early morning training run at Fair Hill NRMA, six separate sled dog teams gathered at Fair Hill in the early morning hours for a fun group training run. Present the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures team, the Powers Pack, Sue Thompson and Howling Huskies, Ruth and Nick Sands and team, Reggie Brown and team, and Chris Bannister and Xtremeweather Siberians. As all of the teams set up to go out, we counted four Fritz Dyck rigs and 20 sled dogs all lined up and waiting to go at one time. It was like a mini Mushing Boot Camp. While out on our run, we had many opportunities to practice our "gees," our "haws," and our "on bys" as we passed each other.

Early Morning Training Run Fair Hill NRMA at Sunrise

Long line of sled dogs at Fair Hill

Wheel dogs Okemo (white) and Sobo (red and white) line out before a training run

Zoe and Acadia in lead (Acadia, open your eyes; it's hard to run with them closed)

The team all lined out and read to go!

In other news, we've begun training sled puppy, Acadia with the team. Acadia is now 8.5 months old and is learning to pull and work in harness with the rest of the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures dogs. She rotates through all of the positions on our team but is most frequently running in lead and team. So far, while Acadia still needs to learn many of the dog sledding commands such as "gee," "haw," and "line out" she is exceeding many of our expectations as a hard little puller with a lot of drive. And she has at least partially mastered the all important "on by" command, the "come haw" command, and seems to be quickly learning to "gee over."

A group training and fun run at Fair Hill NRMA (Maryland Sled Dog Adventures team, Howling Huskies team, Powers Pack, and Ruth and Nick Sands' team)

Time to "gee over" Acadia

Ruth Sands and team followed by Sue Thompson and Linda Powers

Sue Thompson and Howling Huskies

Linda Powers and the Powers Pack

Xtremeweather Siberians all lined outReggie Brown and his four dog team

Chris Bannister and his six dog team

The pups and some of their sled dog adventures have also been featured in several publications during the month of December including Spark Magazine, the North County News, the Bowie Blade, and Baltimore Magazine. Soon to be available, Taste of the Bay and Urbanite Magazine.

The sled dogs have also been busy chopping down their Christmas tree, decorating their Christmas tree, opening their presents, and practicing their naughty and nice behaviors.

Eric decorating the Christmas Tree

One of the plush his and her huskies (that we turned into ornaments) sent over from our friend Astrid in Germany

Husky Ornament on the sled pets' Christmas tree

Dog Sled Christmas ornament

Acadia practicing her nice behavior (the universal symbol she has to go out)

Naughty Acadia says: Can you see me now?

Sobo watches squirrel TV

Naughty behavior: Look Mom, I caught a squirrel

Happy Holidays from the whole Maryland Sled Dog Adventures crew: Catherine, Eric, Zoe, T-Bone, Sobo, Okemo, Acadia, and Chloe (the cat).

All of this holiday stuff is tiring!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Here Comes Santa Claus!

Sled dogs, Sobo and Okemo meet Santa and Mrs. Claus

Here comes Santa Claus, Here Comes Santa Claus, Right Down...The Avenue at White Marsh???

Yep, that's right, last night the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures' team of sled dogs had the pleasure of taking the Man himself for a short dryland dog sled ride as we delivered good ol' Saint Nick for the eleventh annual tree lighting ceremony at The Avenue at White Marsh in White Marsh, Maryland.

"His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry"

Along the way we got to meet Santa and, of course, Mrs. Claus and a couple of elves. The sled dogs enjoyed all of the attention (once they got used to the big guy in the red suit).

As we arrived at the plaza to make our extra special delivery, a light snow (courtesy of the snow machines the good folks at The Avenue arranged) began to fall despite the unseasonably warm 55 degree temperatures.

"Reindogs" Sobo and Okemo awaiting Santa

"Where are my sugar plums?" asks Okemo

Awaiting the signal....

Away down the Avenue, we flew like a flash...

So all of this holiday cheer, prompted me to recall a little bit of Clement Clarke Moore's Christmas poem A Visit From St. Nicholas or, as we have retitled it, A Visit from St. Sobo Claws:

'Twas the night before Christmas (or November 14th), when all through the house,
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The harnesses were hung by the chimney with care,
in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of St. Nick being dragged by a team of sled dogs danced in their heads.
And Eric in his Carhartts and I in my polar fleece,
had just watered the sled dogs, their stomachs at peace.

When out on the Avenue there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the dog truck to see what was the matter.
Away down the Avenue I flew like a flash,
as leashes and drop lines hit the ground with a crash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow (courtesy of the snow maker)
gave lustre of midday to objects below,
when, what to my wondering eyes should appear, through the fog,
than a dog sled and four excited sled dogs.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles, his coursers they came,
and he whistled and shouted and called them by name:
"Now Zoe! Now Okemo!
Now Sobo! Now T-Bone!
On by, Acadia
To the top of Don Pablos!
On by Omaha Steaks!
Haw at Sazzios!
Betwixt Starbucks and Verizon they flew!
To the top of the wall!
Mush Away! Mush Away!
Mush away from the Mall!

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
so up to Spoiled Rotten K9 they flew,
with a dog sled full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard in the street
the prancing and pawing of sixteen little feet.
As I drew in my head and was turning around,
down the Avenue St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in polyester, from his head to his foot,
and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flun on his back,
and he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes--how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
and the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
and filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger next to his head,
and giving a nod, down the Avenue he sped.

He sprang to his dog sled, to his team said hike, hike,
And away they all flew, like Lance Armstrong on a bike.
But I heard him exclaim, 'ere he drove out of sight,

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

Eric, Santa, and I

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yappy Hour Dog Sled Ride

Hmm....I wonder how this goes on?

While the rest of the country chose a new President, Claudia and her dad visited the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures LLC team on Election Day for a fun and exciting Yappy Hour Dryland Dog Sled Ride.

Heading down the trail....

During the dog sledding program, Claudia learned all about sled dogs, dog sledding harnesses including how to harness the dogs, what the dogs eat, the positions on a dog team, and the commands we use in dog sledding. Claudia even helped to give the "hike" command to get the dogs moving. Fresh off a long weekend of training in central Pennsylvania, the dogs were ready to pull and run.

It's Election Day: Vote for Me, says sled puppy, Acadia

The fall colors were gorgeous (Claudia's leaf fairies had been very busy)

Learning how to harness lead dog, Sobo.

Harnessing up wheel dog, Okemo.

Ok, I'm ready to go!

Checking out the water fall along the trail

I'm ready to drive!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Fall Fun: Tow Hill Training Weekend, State College, Pennsylvania

Sobo has great things to say about the Tow Hill Training weekend!

This past Friday, Eric and I along with the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures LLC team of sled dogs set off for the annual Tow Hill Fall Training Session held just outside of State College, Pennsylvania at the home of Scott and Ginnie Pirmann. This is an event that we have enjoyed immensely in past years, and we have been looking forward to this year's event for months. On the drive we enjoyed the spectacular late fall foliage colors of central Pennsylvania.

The fall colors were stunning

Brilliant fall colors

In attendance at the training session were thirty plus mushers and nearly one hundred sled dogs ranging from lean and fast eurohounds to Alaskan huskies to purebred Siberian Huskies. Mushers arrived in dog trucks some pulling trailers with ATVs (for large team training), rigs (for smaller team training), motorless ATVs, and bikes. Team size ranged from two dogs to 12-14 dogs.

The Tow Hill trails

The trails

A two dog bikejor team set up for siberians, Hawk and Margaret

Six siberian huskies on picket lines on outriggers attached to a trailer

Big dog truck, trailer and ATV

Bigger dog truck with hounds

Biggest dog truck (Rob Downey's dog truck) with hounds


Arriving Friday we set up, dropped (walked) and fed the sled dogs. Since it was warm, we decided to take the dogs for a walk in lieu of running the dogs as planned. After walking the dogs and setting up, we staked out our bunks in the comfy and warm bunk house and socialized with the other mushers. At about 7 pm, we all headed out to Hoss' Steak House in State College for a big steak dinner.

Setting up camp

Saturday morning dawned bright, early and slightly cooler than Friday afternoon and saw teams ranging in size from 12 to 2 head out for some running on the fabulous trails on the Tow Hill property.

Liz and puppy

Siberian Husky, Chinook (of the Powers Pack), meets a new friend

Practicing gee, haw, on by, and head on and over taking passing were the major goals of the weekend for us. Since our plan was to run our friend, Carolyn's two siberians, Hawk and Margaret, we decided to leave T-Bone at the truck and run only five dogs.

In lead we started off with our best lead dog, Zoe and next to her silly Sobo, our four year old Siberian Husky. Behind Zoe and Sobo in team we had big, Okemo, and in wheel, we had two siberians from our friend, Carolyn McKendrick, Hawk and Margaret. With Carolyn riding as passenger and the dogs pulling over 500 lbs, we headed off for a three mile run on the looping trails surrounding the Pirmann residence. Along the way we had several opportunities to practice over taking and head on passing. We also frequently stopped to work on "gee over" (move to the right) as gee over greatly facilitates clean passing. Midway through our run, we decided to give Zoe a break and move her back to team position. We moved Carolyn's 8 year old leader, Margaret up into lead with Sobo while Hawk continued to run solo in wheel. Along the way, we did lots of gee/haw training.

Plenty of opportunities for gee/haw training

Preparing for a up hill over taking pass (photo courtesy of Kevin Powers)

Returning to camp, we fed and watered the dogs, ate lunch, socialized, and rested the dogs. After a break, along with our friend Linda Powers, we decided to head out for a brief canicross hike with sled puppy, Acadia, and sled dog, T-Bone, who had not run in the morning.

Relaxing at camp

Canicross is cross country running or hiking while a dog pulls you. It can be done with 1 to 3 medium sized or larger dogs and are great sports to consider if you only have 1-2 dogs and enjoy hiking, running or skiing with your dog. The dog wears an xback harness and is connected to the person with a 6-8 foot line, usually with an integrated shock absorber. The line is attached to a canicross or skijor belt. To learn more about canicross and skijoring, visit the canicross and skijor sections of the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures LLC website.

Pulling hard, Acadia dove down the trail eager to lead off and be in front of the other dogs. As we canicrossed for approximately 1.5 miles, we worked on gees, haws, line outs, and on bys. At one point, we successfully on by'd a huge herd of deer.

Musher socialization hour (photo courtesy of Kevin Powers)

Musher socialization and lunch
Relaxing at camp

Siberian sled puppy, Acadia, awaiting harnessing for canicross

As evening neared and the sun began to set, several mushers including Eric and I decided to take our dogs out for some intensive pass training. The point was not to go fast or far but to work on one of the fundamentals of dog sledding, passing another team.

Because of the intensive nature of this type of training, we decided to take out only four dogs. Harnessing the dogs, we put the ever dependable, Zoe in lead. Next to Zoe also in lead we placed, Sobo. Rounding out the four dog team, we put Okemo and T-Bone in wheel.

As we harnessed and set up, we lined the dogs up next to another team of dogs. "Silly" Sobo impressively lined out all business. While we've had problems in past years with Sobo acting downright silly, he is really coming along and is turning into a nice and even (gasp) dependable lead dog. Running him next to experienced lead dogs, Zoe, Margaret and others has helped tremendously.

As we started out of the dog yard, the dogs wove in and out of the other mushers' camps and on by'd the other dog teams perfectly. Heading down to the lower 1/2 mile loop, we began a counter clockwise rotation through the loop while fellow mushers, Linda and Christina each began a clockwise rotation through the same loop, thus setting up a series of head on passes.

Around and around we went until each team had numerous opportunities to practice head on passing and until each team successfully and cleanly passed the other teams. After several successful head on passes, Linda and I headed back to the main trails for some over taking passing. Leap frogging past each other (one team advances, passing a team stopped on the right side of the trail, then stops while the team that is behind comes past), we practiced numerous head on passes until the dogs would pass without even looking at the other team's dogs. We even got several silent, no look passes out of Mr. Barky himself, T-Bone.

Being passed by a six dog siberian team and ATV (photo courtesy of Kevin Powers)

Head on passing (photo courtesy of Kevin Powers)

Preparing for an up hill over taking pass

After all that passing, mushers and dogs were hungry and ready for the infamous Saturday evening mushers' potluck feast back at the lodge. After a huge wonderful dinner of, among other things, sausage, quiche, veggies, meatballs, chicken in cream sauce, clam chowder, capped off with pies, cake, ice cream and cheese cake, we all fell into bed stuff and exhausted. Thankfully, with the time change we even got to enjoy an extra hour of sleep.

Waking early on Sunday morning, we began to harness up the dogs for one last morning run just as dawn was breaking. This morning, we elected to run a six dog team with Margaret and Hawk in lead, Zoe and T-Bone in team, and Sobo and Okemo in wheel. Carolyn rode along to help out with her two dogs, Hawk and Margaret, and add extra weight at the beginning of the run. Much to our surprise, veteran wheel dog, Hawk was excellent in lead, at times even showing veteran lead dog, Margaret, where to make turns. While we had the trails mostly to ourselves, we did have several teams over take and pass us which was excellent practice for the dogs.

(left to right) Acadia, Zoe and T-Bone relax after training

After a yummy breakfast of egg casserole, pastries and muffins, it was time to say goodbye and head home.
All of this training is tiring....

T-Bone takes a nap

Okemo is dreaming of squirrel soup

Acadia is already dreaming about next year...