Monday, March 7, 2011

Skijoring Joy and the Iditarod Sled Dog Race

I felt compelled today to share a piece of past writing about skijoring on the river with my old sled dog, Nellie. Old in that she has since passed, but I've been thinking about her as I work with our male, Quinn, who enjoys nothing more than running hard and fast, with a woman and/or sled in tow...
          The sky was deep purple.  Alpenglow skitted the mountain tops in pink splendor.  Hurriedly, I fixed Nellie’s harness about her chest as she snapped at the skijor line.  She didn’t want to be hooked up, that is, until she actually hit the trail and was running at break speed.  Then she forgot about the woman behind her on those funny sticks of fiberglass.  She was in blissful running dog heaven.
I had fallen in love with her two years prior at a sled dog kennel in Knik. With jet black hair and cold blue eyes, she nipped at my fingers and practically jumped into my lap.  Take me home, I’m yours, she seemed to say.  We named her Nellie, after Port Nellie Juan in Prince William Sound, a favorite kayaking destination.
            Like a true Siberian husky, she is as stubborn and willful as a child of two.  And like a toddler, she has her own agenda.  Sometimes she deliberately chooses non-compliance.  When given the direction, “Come, Nellie, come,” she often she sits there and stares straight ahead, avoiding eye contact.  This is her selective attention, I’m going-to-ignore-you tactic.  Her other favorite is to grant you a gratuitous glance, then bolt.  Either way, she insists on her own terms, and usually loses, but she never gives up trying.  I like her spirit.
            On her first winter out, we skijored on trails along the river.  The first excursion turned into a nightmare.  In the parking lot, she was so distracted by people and cars that she ran circles around me, wrapping me in a mummy of lines.  I fell flat on my face, with my skis in a tangled mess of lines at my feet.  Brushing off embarrassment, I calmly straightened the lines and stood up.  No sooner had I brushed the snow off my face when BAM!, I fell again.  She sat there innocently panting with her tongue hanging out, and I swear, a smile on her snout.
            Another time, she made chase after a squirrel that crossed the road in front of us. I hadn’t been paying close enough attention when, suddenly, she turned into a speeding blur of fur.  Until that day, I didn’t know I had such a hot racing dog on my hands.  Remember, we practiced this at home.  Whoa, Nellie, whoa!  That means STOP you crazy dog!  And we finally did, through the power of a few birch trees that sort of got in the way of our little woman-dog freight train. 
             I’ve learned not to be daunted by setbacks.  After all, when things are good, they’re nothing short of exquisite.  We slice along a trail in the woods, the cold air nipping my cheeks, her paws padding lightly on the snow.  Spruce stands whiz by, and we are both focused, yet relaxed.  At the end of the trail, the river fans out into an expanse of white.  We cross and follow other trails of dogs and skis, but see no one.  We stop for a rest, and I break open a cold fresh orange. The hair on Nellie’s back glistens red in the sun.  I take a deep breath and think...”yep, you’re right, Nellie.  This is a slice of heaven.  Blissful running dog heaven.”    
            Today, I am busy pulling out harnesses and doglines for another go of it.  Nellie recognizes the action and is yelping dramatically on the end of her lead.  And Tanner, our new addition of husky-malamute mix lies languid in the sun, wondering what all the excitement’s about.  He has yet to learn about the mystery of the lines and the power of dogs and skis, but I'm sure he won’t be disappointed.
            I eagerly embrace the coming of many new snows, where spruce trees covered with confection fill the quiet softness of a wintry day.  But most of all, I look forward to zesty romps through the forest with not one, but two volatile dogs in tow.  Whoa, Nellie, Tanner...whoa!

And now a few words about the "last great race on earth." The Iditarod Sled Dog Race started this weekend in Alaska. The mushers and their dog teams travel over 1150 miles, crossing riverbeds and zigzagging through forests, racing through two mountain passes and over barren tundra, and mushing 50 miles across frozen sea ice before reaching Nome on the Bering Sea coast. It is a grueling race staged by hundreds of volunteers, villagers, veterinarians (who examine dog teams at each checkpoint), and a small air force of bush pilots. To learn more about the great race, click here:
 To purchase my book, The Iditarod: The Greatest Win Ever, about a young girl who runs the race click here:
Your kids will enjoy following Kara on her mushing journey while learning facts about the race along the way.


  1. What a treat to come along with you on some of your skijoring adventures with the late, and clearly much-loved Nellie! I'll look for your book on the Iditarod too. We have friends who have run it--craziness, I think , but I can see the lure...

  2. Hello Susan. It's a pleasure meeting you; I thoroughly enjoy your writing!