Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Last Days at Baisley Lodges

The sled dog team: Zoe and Acadia (lead), T-Bone (team), Sobo and Okemo (wheel)

Post Can Am Crown dog sled races, our last days of our northern dog sledding adventures at Baisley Lodges were spent skijoring (see earlier blog entries) and exploring various dog sledding trails alone and with our host, Gino Roussel and his team of (Can Am finishing) sled dogs. Over our second week, we ran the Ten Mile Excavator Loop, the Five Mile Excavator Loop, the Tadpole (in the reverse direction), and we skiied and skijored several days. Photographs (our team photographer is sled dog dad, Eric Benson) from some of these runs are below.'s cold out here

Another gorgeous day on the trail

Interesting lighting

All told, for our trip north, we spent three days in Harmony, Maine at the Lumberjack Lodges and two wonderful weeks at Baisley Lodges exploring the trails in the surrounding areas. We logged approximately 150 miles with the dogs either on the sled or skijoring. We also snowshoed, cross country skiied, attended the Can Am Crown Sled Dog races, had a wonderful dinner at Chez Charlotte in Edmunston, dined by the fire at Baisley Lodges with several Canadian and US mushers after the Can Am, and visited the Edmundston library to check email and post blog entries.

Excavator Ten: Here we come!

Leaving the Excavator's lot

As many of you know, this was our second season visiting Baisley Lodges in St. Jacques, NB and we highly recommend it to both mushers and non mushers. The trails that Gino grooms in (with his prized Skandic) are excellent and total well over 100 miles in length. The variety of trails and scenery is simply stunning (as you can see in the photos throughout our recent blog entries). Distances range from the five mile Lynch Mountain Trail to thirty plus mile trails. Trail mileage is never a problem. There is very little snow mobile traffic. Last year, during a full seven days of visiting Baisley Lodges, we saw one snow mobile the entire time. This year, we saw two snowmobiles during our two full weeks at Baisley Lodges, both on a weekend run. Running early in the morning on the weekends is advised to minimize contact with snowmobiles. The two snowmobiles that we encounter while running the team were very polite and slowed way down and gave the team a wide berth as they passed.

Love these big mushers' mitts

Five little sled dogs (and shockingly I can see them all)

Gliding over a silent trail, behind a team of hard working sled dogs, listening as the birds call, animals rustle in the woods, and watching for animal tracks along the trail. This is the life we love.

Riding the runners

Down the big hill

Returning to the Excavator Trail Head

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Skijoring Fiend: What I like about Skijoring

Skijoring in Canada with T-Bone and Okemo

This blog entry is by guest blogger, chief poop scooper, occasional musher, and T-Bone's dad, Eric Benson. As many of you know, Eric's hobby is photography and Eric is the photographer of nearly all of the stunning photographs on this blog and on the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures LLC website. Eric has photographed everything from weddings to dog sled races to heavy equipment and machinery. For more information on Eric Benson Photography including rates and availability, email Eric at In addition to his duties as photographer, musher and poop scooper, Eric is an Associate Professor in the Bioresources Engineering and Animal and Food Science Departments at the University of Delaware.

Eric R. Benson Photography

Since my wife, Catherine, and I began dog sledding approximately seven years ago, we have tried canicross (running), canicross (hiking), bikjoring, scootering, dryland (wheeled) dog sledding, and, of course, dog sledding on snow.

Catherine skijoring through the trees with Acadia

So which dog powered sport is my favorite?

My favorite option is skijoring with two dogs. Skijoring is cross country skiing while a dog or dogs pull you. I enjoy skijoring because it’s a shared experience between the dog(s) and the skiier and the dogs really seem to enjoy it. Skijoring is also particularly appropriate for small (1-2) dog teams. In skijoring, the skier can easily help to provide additional power to go up hills and help the dogs as they get tired. Catherine and I often skijor as an activity in conjunction with dog sledding to help keep the dogs limber or when a couple of the sled dogs need a rest. Skijoring also allows us to work one on one with one to two dogs refreshing basic commands such as gee, haw, on by, and line out.

For skijoring (as with all other dog powered sports), the dogs wear a harness designed for pulling. Catherine and I use traditional x-back harnesses on the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures sled dogs. The skier wears a padded belt (waist or diaper style) and the dogs are attached by a special one to two dog line of approximately 8-9 feet in length. The line has a built in shock absorber to help to take some of the impact off the dogs and skier during stopping and starting. The skier wears cross country skis, boots and uses ski poles.

Me (Eric) skijoring with Okemo and Sobo in New York

Okemo and Sobo demonstrating line out.

Sled puppy, Acadia, has taken to skijoring like a fish to water

The surprising thing about how much I enjoy skijoring is that until recently, I was not a big downhill or cross country skier. Since I was more of a snowboarder than a skier, I have had to quickly learn to ski. While much of my training has occurred while strapped in behind one of our sled dogs, conventional wisdom is that it is helpful to be an intermediate skier or better before skijoring. In particular, I have spent a lot of time learning the art of stopping, slowing down (aka the “snowplow”), and various aspects of falling with dignity (aka the very important “getting up out of a snow bank” move). Thankfully, given my experiences snowboarding, I was already proficient in the “sit on your butt in the snow” skill. As I have become a better skier and thus a better skijorer and have grown more comfortable with skis strapped to my feet, my style of skijoring has evolved.

Skijoring through the pines on the Excavator trail in New Brunswick with Okemo and T-Bone

When I started skijoring, I wanted to be in control at all times. I wanted the dogs to move at my pace. No easy feat when my pace was snail like slow and our dogs are mostly 10-12 MPH dogs once they reach their cruising speed. And while 10-12 MPH might sound slow on paper, trust me when I say it feels pretty fast on skis. Starts were even more harrowing as the dogs would reach speeds of 17-20 MPH in the first mile or so. As my skills developed, I soon learned that an important part of skijoring was learning to “embrace my inner speed demon” and letting the dogs ride out the sections where they wanted to go faster. It was much more effective and controlled than trying to snowplow the entire way. Occasionally, we joke that skijoring is like water skiing behind a fast boat that chases squirrels.

Skijoring: Exploring new trails

That brings me to another point. For skijoring, the commands on by, whoa and line out are probably three of the most important commands we use. When dog sledding or dryland dog sledding, you can rely on the drag or bar brake on your sled to slow or stop you or the brakes on your rig to slow you down or stop you. When skijoring, your ability to fully stop a determined, hard driving and hard pulling dog, is fairly limited. Thus, the importance of those three basic commands: whoa, on by and line out.

Okemo, our big white Siberian Husky – Akita mix, is one of my favorite skijoring partners. Okemo is one of my favorite partners in everything we do, but that’s a different story. Okemo loves to skijor and you can see it in his facial expressions and his reactions on the trail. He gets into his big loping stride and starts to race down the trail. Okemo has proven to be a hard working dog for dryland dog sledding and dog sledding, but when skijoring, Okemo will race whoever he is next to! Okemo’s favorite time to race the other dogs is when skijoring DOWN HILL! The bigger the hill, the better (and faster) the race.

My favorite skijoring partner, Okemo (looking deceptively calm here)

Catherine skijoring down a hill in Tug Hill with Okemo

Okemo puts a lot of muscle into skijoring

During our trip north to Canada, Okemo and I have gone skijoring several times. Our night skijor in Harmony, Maine, sticks out as a particularly memorable (ok, so possibly a more appropriate word would be terrifying) skijor. At the early stages of the trip, the dogs had spent a lot of time in their dog boxes in the truck. For those of you who are mushers, you know that this results in shall I say, excited dogs. I decided to take Okemo and Acadia out on the trails around Lumberjack Lodges where we were staying one evening after dark. In hindsight, this was possibly not the best idea since the Lumberjack trails were new to us.

Often when dog sledding, we use our headlamps. While both Catherine and I have headlamps, our headlamps are set up for different tasks. Catherine’s headlamp is intended for driving the team and has both LED’s and a brighter main beam. Since I primarily handle (musher jargon for assist) for the team and work with equipment, my headlamp has short rage LED’s. During my “Midnight Run” in Maine, the beam of my headlamp illuminated only a few feet past Acadia and Okemo’s head. As we set out on the trail, we immediately hit a downhill section of the trail. What did Okemo do? Start to race Acadia downhill! So we start going faster and faster downhill in an area where I can’t see what is ahead of me. Talk about trusting your lead dogs! After setting a new two lap NASCAR qualifying time around the Harmony course (including a couple of pit stops where it was more about off loading vs. getting new tires), we arrived back at our cabin, safe and secure. This is why I love skijoring. Tired, we fed the dogs dinner and everyone slept soundly that night.

Catherine skijoring with Acadia in Canada

A week or so later, we had a more sedate (and slightly more illuminated) skijor run at Baisley Lodges in St. Jacques, New Brunswick. This time, Catherine and I set out together. While Catherine skijored with Acadia, I skijored with Okemo and our smallest dog, T-Bone. We traveled approximately four miles, stopping often to enjoy the scenery and take photographs (my other favorite hobby besides dog sledding and skijoring).
A good time was had by all. Again, this is why I love skijoring.

Pulling hard: Acadia and Catherine skijor in Canada

Birch trees along the trail

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Can Am Crown Sled Dog Races

Stealing a line from NASCAR: Boogity, Boogity, Boogity! Let's go racing boys

On Saturday, Eric and I spent an enjoyable day watching and helping to handle (musher jargon for assist) for our friends and fellow mushers at the Can Am Crown Sled Dog Races including the 30 mile, 60 mile, and 250 mile races in Fort Kent, Maine.

This was one of the most enjoyable events we've ever attended. Meeting lots of new mushers and seeing many that we already knew was the highlight of the trip. We hope to return to Fort Kent for next year's race.

We wrapped Saturday with a wonderful lasagna dinner at with both Canadian and US mushers at Baisley Lodges in St. Jacques, New Brunswick. Thank you, Gino and Fran!

Below are some great photos that Eric got while at the sled dog races.

Can Am 30 mushers setting up for the race

Rob Cooke hooking up for the Can Am 60

Rob Cooke's team: Come on already, let's go!

Gino Roussel crossing the finish line of the Can Am 30

Gear check at the finish line

Gino Roussel: End of race group hug

Johanne Cloutier finishing the Can Am 30

Scott Alexander finishing the Can Am 30 with his Siberians

Corina Alexander finishing the Can Am 30 with her Siberians including Acadia's Mum, Belle

Lidia's DogTwuk

Gino: I'm ready for next year!

"That was great," says Corina Alexander

Good pups (Oumak and JR): Kisses all around

Dog Sledding Adventures: Lynch Mountain, the Tadpole, and the High Plateau Trails

On the trail at Baisley Lodges

As we begin our second week in Canada, the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures sled dogs, Eric and I have enjoyed several wonderful dog sledding trips and adventures on the trails here in New Brunswick and Quebec. With so many great trips to recount, I’ll be keeping each of these blog entries quite short (lest I spend the rest of the trip here at the Edmundston library and not out on the trails with the dogs).

Riding on the dog sled

Okemo: Harnessed and ready to go

After a day of rest on Thursday, the sled dogs and I headed out to run the very hilly Lynch Mountain trail. While Gino had given me a preview of this trail on Monday after we arrived from the back of the snowmobile, the blizzard conditions that day were not conducive to me remembering much of the terrain.

Zoe and Sobo demonstrate "line out"

After my “swim” through chin deep snow earlier the week, snow shoes were a required piece of equipment on this dog sled adventure. For this run, we harnessed Acadia and Zoe in lead, T-Bone in team, and Sobo and Okemo in wheel.

Snowshoes are loaded on the dog sled

As we headed out, we first missed the turn off (a haw) for the trail that heads up Lynch mountain and had to execute a “come haw” at a road crossing which, much to my surprise, the dogs performed flawlessly on command. A come haw, early in a dog sled run can be a tricky command to get the dogs to follow since the sled dogs do not always want to turn around and return the way they came, especially early in the trip. This, however, was not the case and the dogs, following my command came haw.

Returning the way we came, we made the turn up hill but inadvertently selected the steeper of the two uphill routes. Climbing steeply, the sled dogs and I both got good work outs as we worked up the steep hill. Turning right, we followed the trail up through more gentle terrain, eventually passing the maple sugar house and a camp. After a stop and rest to catch our breath at the top of Lynch Mountain, the dogs were once again raring to go and off we went down, and down, and down. Before we knew it, we made the gee turn to head back to the excavator’s parking lot where the dog truck was parked. Total mileage was approximately 5.6 miles with a maximum speed of 17 MPH and a cruising average of 6.2 MPH (slow but this averages in the steep uphill climb to the top of Lynch Mountain). The balance of Friday was spent at the vet check and mushers’ meeting for the Can Am Crown Sled Dog Races with our host, Gino (running in the 30 mile race).

Sunday morning, March 1st, dawned clear and cold and after some rain on Friday evening and a solid freeze up on Saturday, the trails were hard and fast. Just the conditions I was looking for, I headed out to run my very favorite trail in all of Canada, the Tadpole trail. The Tadpole is a ten mile jaunt through pines and mixed hardwoods requiring a good deal of concentration. The Tadpole trail could also be aptly called the “don’t forget to duck” trail as there are many low hanging branches that will whip you right off your sled, if you are not careful. Indeed, at one point along the trail, I apparently did not duck fast enough or low enough and a low hanging branch grabbed my hat from my head. The Tadpole trail is easily the most technical trail I have ever run on a dog sled and requires excellent dog sled driving skills to avoid a wipe out or a collision with a tree. It is a narrow, twisting and turning dog sled trail that the sled dogs absolutely love to run. Indeed, I think I may have seen a twinkle in Okemo’s eye as he galloped downhill and ran through a tight turn. As expected with this type of trail, the whole dog sled team turned on the speed, producing a fast run in fast conditions. Unfortunately, I was so busy concentrating on driving that I didn’t get any photos of the Tadpole trail.

Blue skies and fast trails

Fish eye view of the trail

T-Bone in team and Sobo (l) and Okemo (r) in wheel

Monday morning the expected nor’easter that dumped more than a foot of snow on DC, New York, and Boston arrived here in New Brunswick and began generating new snow, albeit at a slightly slower rate than it had in the States. Our host, Gino, and I headed out Monday afternoon for a nice run on the fourteen mile High Plateau Trail. On my team were Zoe and Acadia in lead, Maggie (one of Gino’s big furry dogs) in team, and Sobo and Okemo in wheel. For this run, we elected to give sled dog, T-Bone, the day off. At about a mile from finishing the run, 9 month old Acadia, lost focus and we moved her out of lead and into wheel, moving Sobo up into lead and placing Acadia in wheel alongside Okemo. Even given this loss of focus, I was pleased that Acadia had completed a full 14 mile run, pulling hard and consistently for the entire duration. Total mileage for this dog sled adventure was 14 miles with a maximum speed of 13 MPH and a cruising speed of 7.8 MPH (not bad given the overall length of the run and the number of runs the dogs have done over the past week).

Lots and lots of trees

Stay tuned for more updates, as the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures sled dogs, Eric and I explore more of the wonderful trails here in New Brunswick, Canada.