Several people have asked me recently to describe what I do on the
weekends when I take my dog scootering. This document will hopefully
clear up some of the mystery, and convince a few to join us.
When I started working downtown (I write software for a living) I began
raiding the library for books to read on the train. I ended up reading
a book on doggie sports, and read about dog carting. Online carts
started at several hundreds of dollars, which is a lot of money to
spend just to try out a sport. I snagged a couple of unwanted bicycles
and built a rickety cart. My collies Harley and especially Cosmo pulled
kids around for several years while I walked beside, leash in hand.
Below is a picture of Cosmo (after Harley was retired) pulling a child
back in 2004 around the parking lot at the Collie Rescue Picnic.
After Harley died I got a young, athletic collie I named Suki. She was
far too interested in running fast to pull my rickety homemade cart. At
a local dog park I was invited to bring my dogs around to a group of
people who mushed. Old Cosmo hated it, but Suki loved running with the
huskies. Most weeks I would bring my old cart around, and Cosmo would
pull it slowly, and Suki would run with the huskies.
Sometime during the second season of training I decided to buy my own
rig and purchased a push scooter (a scooter with no motor). I began
training Suki with it, and went to my first competition. Or, to put it
more precisely, my daughter went to the competition. She'd never driven
Suki before, but insisted she wanted to try, so she entered the race.
Half way though the race, however, Suki decided to quit, and poor
Gillian had no idea what to do when Suki rolled over for a belly rub.
She took three times longer to finish the course than anyone else ...
two years later when I was driving, however, Suki somehow popped out of
her harness and it took me nearly as long to finish. You have got to
keep your sense of humor about this!
The following year shortly after adopting my Samoyed Zephyr, I
was expelled from the mushing club. One of the founders apparently
objected to my training philosophies complaining that my techniques
were insufficiently harsh, specifically that I used no choke chain and occasionally gave my dog treats. Her claims were correct,
however no one had spoken to me of them previously. I remain
baffled as to why she insisted I leave, since there was no suggestion
that I had done anything except to my own dogs. I remain on friendly
terms with all other members of that group. For the curious, you can read the details here.
I continued my training on my own. At about this time my friend Mike
Elder decided he wanted a sport to do with his Golden Retriever Sam,
and I invited him to join me. We took turns using the one scooter, and
Mike eventually went out and bought his own scooter. Near the end of
that season I met Pam and her husky Kodiak in a dog park, and invited
her and her dog to join us.
The following year Mike threw out his back doing chores at home,
sidelining him for most of the season and Pam and I shared the one
scooter. Near the end of the season I found a wonderful second hand
sled for sale and purchased it, although I had little chance to use it
For the 2009-2010 season Mike was back as was Pam. At my request the
park district groomed a small piece of trail for mushers when there is
adequate snow for sleds. I met a couple of other people who were
interested and they came by from time to time, but unfortunately not
when Pam had her camera.
The 2009-2010 season
This is my favorite picture of the season.. That's my samoyed Zephyr
and my smooth collie Suki, taken near the end of our run. This picture,
like most of the pictures, was taken by Pam. My dogs are not really
generally particularly competitive, and my Samoyed is frequently
distracted but in this shot they look great!
Another great shot of my dogs and me, this time pulling my sled. The
sled really should have at least four dogs pulling it, but I only have
two. This was taken right after we started. The bags you see by my side
are to pick up poop; I live in a pretty populated area, and we can't
leave poop lying around.
When they snow is too thin for the snow equipment we sometimes stick
with our scooters. Here's Mike with his golden Sam, and Pam's
Kodiak. I usually wear a helmet, but not everyone does.
Here is Pam on Mike's scooter with Kodiak pulling. Pam's usually the
one taking pictures, so it's unusual to have a picture of her.
The one trail set aside for mushers only is sometimes busy, although it
is usually empty. In addition to the sleds scattered around I'm using a
toy lent to me by a neighbor, called a "Snow Jack". It looks like a
steerable snow board, and I liked it so much I bought one.
Great pictures of Mike and his dog Sam right at the start of the trail.
Sam is starting to show his age this year, and Mike runs him a short
distance and then rests him for a few minutes.
A great picture of Kodiak, Pam's husky. In addition to the aesthetic
appeal I wanted to include this photograph to show that Kodiak wears a
prong collar. I don't like prong collars, and I won't use them on my
dogs. But I welcome anyone using non-abusive training techniques.
There are a lot of reasons I included this picture. First of all, that
orange rod sticking out over my scooter is NOT a whip, is is a stick
that keeps the rope (called a "tug") out of the front wheel. Secondly,
if you look closely you'll see a neckline between my dogs. ISDRA rules
require a neckline during races. It took me many months of work to get
my collie to accept a neckline. Many of the races are run on trails
around brush, and the ISDRA folks are worried that if the dogs run on
either side of a small tree the driver will crash - a potentially very
dangerous situation. While it is not a problem where I mush, it's
important to train with a neckline so that on race day they are used to
it. Thirdly, notice that red thing in front of Suki ... that's a
greyhound style racing muzzle. It keeps her from eating horse poop, and
as she doesn't seem to object I generally run her with the muzzle.
The 2010-2011 season
The season started out with my joining the MUSH
organization, a group of amateur dog pulling enthusiasts centered
mostly in the lower penninsula of Michigan. Late in September I
attended one of the first of their clinics, designed to help teach dogs
how to pass other teams (or be passed by other teams). I enjoyed it so
much I signed up for the second clinic two weeks later.
Then disaster struck.
We had planned to leave on a Friday; on Thursday my wife called me at
work to tell me that Zephyr was acting ill. I brought him to the vet
after work, and discovered he was in liver failure. I rushed him to
emergency care, where he was placed in ICU. The prognosis was poor.
They kept throwing antibiotics at him, pumping him full of fluids via
IV, but to no avail. He declined more and more. Finally, on Saturday
evening the vet called me to tell me there was but one thing left to
try, and it was not likely to work. But it was cheap, and it might -
just might - work. To my
untrained eye, he didn't seem any better on Sunday afternoon. But by
Sunday night his blood work was showing improvement; on Monday the ICU
called me to tell me there was nothing they could do for him at the
hospital I couldn't do at home (as he was now able to hold down water
and special food), so we went and brought him home. Suki had descended
into a deep funk with Zephyr gone, and as happy as the humans were to
see him, Suki was happier. When Suki realized Zephyr was not well
enough to play, she brought all his favorite toys to him and lay down a
few feet away.
We forced fed him for the next 2 weeks (ugh, not very pretty) and
jammed pills down his throat: slowly, he came around. His weekly visits
to our local vet were showing better and better blood values. In spite
of my dire predictions, Zephyr appears to be have completely recovered.
But the entire season was pretty much canceled. Suki was not very
interested in pulling without her buddy. It was January before I got
permission from the vet to resume training, and the early warming
canceled the last of the races.For the first time since I started
racing, I did not enter a single race all season.
Here is Zephyr about 3 weeks after being released from the ICU. Because
of his dense coat it is difficult to see that he's lost more than 20%
of his body weight. But you can clearly see where his legs were shaved
so they could receive injections and a drip. He looks pretty good in
this picture, and he certainly looked better than he did when he was in
ICU, but he tired easily and was not really as energetic or as good
looking as this picture suggests.
In the meantime, however, I learned how to cross country ski and got skijoring equipment. I joined the Nordic Foxes,
the local cross county ski club. Once I got the okay from the vet we
resumed training; Zephyr was really, really happy to be back in
harness. I kept the early runs short, but by late Feb. or March we were
running several miles.
Here we are near Horicon, WI, in early March on an old railroad bed set
aside for skiers and snowmobilers. We ran 5 miles total that day. The
dogs really don't help as much as you'd think they would, and my wife
had no trouble at all keeping up with us. That evening Zephyr and Suki
bolted from the yard of my friend's house, chasing a rabbit. Suki came
back quickly, but Zephyr didn't come back. 45 minutes later and about
half a mile away, boots filled with snow, I found him ... or more
precisely I found his shiny eyes in my flashlight. He was tired,
frightened, and apparently lost. Fortunately, the deep snow made
tracking him not too difficult even for someone with my primitive
skills. He was standing in a snow drift so deep he couldn't really get
out. It turns out that finding a white dog in deep white snow at night
is not very easy. It was a very nerve-wracking experience for both of
us, and I had this mental image of that terrified rabbit, sitting in
his hobbit-style fairy tale warren, wearing a shawl, sipping hot
chocolate in front of a roaring fire in the fireplace, describing to
his rapt family his hair-raising adventure with the huge white monster.
We continued training into the spring, and stopped in late April. In
the course of less than 3 months managed to go skijoring at least half
a dozen times, sometimes locally and sometimes away. Mike and I saw
each other most weekends once we resumed training, and Pam came by when
she had time away from planning her wedding. Joan came by with her new
malamute rescue Koda, and we got him started in the wonderful world of
The season has been a lesson in humility. The race organizers I had to
contact to cancel my racing slot seemed genuinely concerned about
Zephyr, and lodgings waived any cancellation fee. Suki clearly was
relieved when Zephyr returned home,and fussed over him while he
recovered. Friends were very supportive (especially Mike), but the most
impressive lesson was from Zephyr - watching him deal with his sudden
illness, the joy he managed to communicate even in the midst of his
debilitation in the ICU when he saw me or Carolyn, or when he realized
he was going home.
Just after the season ended I sold my sled to someone connected to Free
Spirit Husky Rescue pretty much for what I paid for it. My dogs just
don't have enough power to pull the sled by themselves, and I when I
realized I'd only used it 3 or 4 times in the 3 years I'd had it I
decided to find it a better home. The skis work a treat in snow, the sled was troublesome.
The 2011-2012 season
This year we have few photographs. Pam spent most of the season
preparing for her big wedding and not mushing, so there wasn't anyone
to work the camera.Pam, we missed you!
Suki was retired near the end of the season. She appears to be
suffering from arthritis. She seems to do fine for the first 50 feet
or so, then she starts lagging. When I did take her out with Zephyr, he
spent more energy pulling her than pulling the scooter. We did make it
to the Dirty Dog Dryland Derby; we were slow on the first day, and
incredibly slow on the second. But we did manage to get a nice picture
that SledDogCentral.com chose for picture of the week:
This was a far cry from 2 years ago, when we finished with a pretty
respectable time. During most of the run poor Zephyr was pulling Suki.
We attended a MUSH fun run, and much the same thing happened.
I had intended to get some skijoring in, but the winter was remarkably
free of snow here, in WI, and in MI. Nearly all the winter events were
canceled. We had snow here for two weekends, and I did try and run Suki
with Zephyr to see if the cold weather would help Suki. Nope. I took the
dogs up to Iron River, MI. along with Carolyn to visit my old friend
Betty Petroski. I left Suki with Betty while Zephyr, Carolyn, and I
went out to use our skis and enjoy the snow. We had a great time,
Zephyr was clearly enjoying himself without having to pull Suki. I
can't say we went particularly fast, as I am not really a very good
skier, but Zephyr managed to keep the line tight most of the time. I
tired out before he did.We did 5 miles each of 2 days.
Towards the end of the season Kerri Forest started bringing her collies
to our practices, and we discovered that at her collies love to mush.
I was looking forward to training with her and her dogs next year, and
I'm hoping to use her Max as the second dog on my team to replace Suki.
Above is a picture of two of her dogs pulling a family friend. Max and Zephyr clearly enjoy running together.
In early May, days after losing my job, Zephyr became ill with what
turned out to be liver problems. X-rays revealed that his previous
problems had left him with a badly scarred liver, cirrhosis. Although
clinically he had completely recovered from his previous episode, his
recovery was far less complete than appeared. About a week after first
showing signs of illness he was dead. With Cosmo dead, Harley dead,
Zephyr dead, and Suki retired, for the first time in more than a dozen
years there are no pulling dogs in the house. Hopefully that will not
be the case by next season.
Our little mushing circle is slowly expanding. Pam, Joan, and
Kerri have all decided to purchase scooters. Up until now we have been
sharing just 2 scooters between the five of us.
2012 - 2013 Season
Well, the season sure
got off to a slow start. I didn't have a mushing dog in the house when
it started. I taught a couple of classes at Wiggles & Wags, and my
very first class at Narnia (where I took my first dog training class
years ago) as I continued to search for Zephyr's successor. It took
until October to find a suitable candidate, a beautful mutt we called
Vita. I managed to get her in a few races; the very first ISDRA
approved race in Illinois (where we came in dead last in the division),
plus Can't Depend on Snow (where we came in dead last in the division),
plus a skijor competition up in Antigo (where we managed to come in
dead last in the division). There seems to be a pattern here. We are
not only dead last, we are also typically the only one-dog team
running. There is not usually a one-dog class so we are competing
against two-dog teams. On top of that we are pretty slow.
The Illinois race was particularly notable because Vita showed her
nervousness at the race by laying down in the starting chute. I don't
think anyone had ever seen a dog do that before. The Antigo race was
really, really cold: -10 F when the race started. Vita loved it! Our
race time was dismal, about double the next worst racer. But what the
heck, we enjoyed it!
By season's end it looked like Vita was figuring out what I wanted her to do.
The local training was different this year. Mike injured his ankle, so
he was out most of the season. His golden Sam is getting pretty old,
Mike is not sure he'll be back next year. Joan was really busy, we
didn't see her much. Pam had her nose shoved in books getting ready for
her Civil Engineer license exam; as I write this she has taken it but
hasn't heard the result. We saw her a few times, but not often enough.
Kerry trained with me all season with her three amazing collies. They
are not fast at all, but they clearly enjoy scootering. Near the end of
the season Bradley started training with us.
With Pam gone, there aren't a lot of pictures, but we did have a few.
Unlike most years, there was quite a bit of snow - we were able to
skijor for several weekends. Here is Vita lounging in the snow in Lake
County I'm taking the picture on the other end of the tug.
Here's a picture of Vita with my wife in my friend's cabin in Iron
River, MI. Vita's wearing a diaper because she's in heat (scheduled to
be spade soon). I particularly like this picture because perspective is
doing something weird with the camera - Vita is no where near as big as
she appears in this picture. She's about 50 lbs, but in this picture
she looks twice that.
These two pictures were taken very early in the season. They show all
three of Kerry's amazing collies, one of whom is running with Sam.
Kerry and Mike are driving. Some fellow was taking pictures of birds in
McKee marsh; when he turned and saw us he took photos. Mine didn't come
out but the others did. Great!
2013 - 2014 Season
Some sadness this year. Pam decided to quit mushing entirely, and
sold her scooter. I miss her pictures, and I miss her. Joan was
still very preoccupied with things in her life, I only saw her once or
twice all season. Kerry was busy too busy ferrying her kids around to
get much mushing in, and Bradley's schedule didn't allow for mushing.
And Mike's Sam, the big beautiful golden, had to retire due to old age
complaints, so Mike didn't join me on the trail either, although I did
see him in a non-mushing context a few times.
But I did manage to get hooked up with a new group, Windy City
Mushers. Rather a large portion of the group were disaffected
ex-members of Greene Valley Dog Drivers, folks that I had known for a
while. They tend to be centered up around Arlington Heights, which is a
longish drive for a training session, but I didmeet up with them a few times.
Shortly before the season began I found another Samoyed (thanks to
national Sammie rescue and to the local Sammie rescue). Gusty was going
to be a problem to adopt because he was such a high energy dog - when
the rescue found out what I planned to do with my new dog, they were
quite enthusiastic. Gusty proved to be a wonderful mushing dog.
We attended several races and events in Wisconsin and Michigan. At
least one event was canceled this year because there was so much snow
on the trail the groomers couldn't handle it!
The local weather was stunningly cooperative. We had snow on the
ground for a very long time, and we got a lot of skijoring in on the
weekends. We managed to make it back up to Iron River to skijor around
Ski Brule. Actually, we had to reschedule several times due to
unbelievably cold weather - they had 58 consecutive days with highs at
zero or below, sometimes dropping down to -38F. Brrr! But in late March
we finally made it up there and my wife, my dogs, and I and a wonderful
weekend at Brule mountain.On Sunday I did about 11K with the two dogs,
stopped for lunch, and then Gusty and I did a further 5K. Vita had
enough after about 8K, but Gusty needed the full 16K to tire out.
My skis saw more action this year than all the other years combined. Everyone
I knew was complaining about the snow, but I loved the fact that
I could go to a local trail and ski with my dogs for multiple weekends
in a row.We actually didn't get a whole lot of scootering in this year, and I think I like skijoring more than scootering.
No pictures this year. Not a single mushing picture. Things ...
happened. I moved from Lisle to Los Angeles in September to pursue a
job opportunity. In October, I went back and collected my family, human
and canid. Vita made it very clear that she no longer enjoyed running,
so I retired her ... which left just me and Gusty. We went to a local
park where a group of mushers met every weekend, and scootered in the
mild winter. We stopped often to allow Gusty to cool down and hydrate.
LA weather is too warm for snow, and the drought meant the surrounding
mountains had nothing to offer in terms of ski-able snow. So we ran in
temps I would not have run in Chicago, pausing often.
The folks here are really nice though. No competitions, but the group
meets pretty much every week when it is cool enough to run.
The season here in LA is a bit shorter than back in Chicago. I didn't
get many pictures of weekly training sessions at Fairway Park in Orange
County, but I did get pictures of the few trips I took this year. Here
is my favorite picture from Fairway Park:
Gusty doesn't like other dogs running near him usually, but he seems to
get along with Bravo just fine. Bravo is a big (85 lb) Dobe. His human
is a small woman named Mahree, and he pulls her very fast. We decided
to try and see if the dogs would work together: it didn't work very
well. The white stuff you see on the ground isn't snow, it is WAY too
warm for that. The park is next to the ocean, so I think the white
stuff is salt.
I took two trips up to Truckee to run with the Sierra Nevada Dog
Drivers. It is nearly 9 hours by car; there is a campground nearby so
the first trip I tented. . Despite the strong showing here, Vita was
very reluctant to run after the first few hundred feet. She is
officially retired. It's too bad. She runs hard for the first couple
hundred feet, then she is done. It is apparently a pretty common
pattern for older pulling dogs, Suki used to do that as well. I think
the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. I have pictures of another
team, but the only picture I have of mine is a quicktime movie ...
alas, the website storage is too small to upload it.
I accepted an invitation to mush out in the high desert, in the "poppy
fields" (which are supposedly spectacular when the poppies come
out in March). The terrain, however, is sand ... very difficult for
scootering. It was quite noticably cooler than in LA. The sand was
damp, pretty packed down that day ... I was told it was the best
surface anyone had seen for a very long time. It still wasn't very good.
I spent time looking for somewhere to skijor locally. Here I am at Mt. Pinos, about 2 hours away by car:
It was foggy ... very beautiful. But the trail was a lot of climbing,
not really great for skiing. I had a good time, but I did not go back. I may try again next year.
I had planned on going back to the Tahoe area (Truckee is near Tahoe)
but Carolyn & Gillian ended up driving out to Albuquerque, so
instead we met in Utah at Brian Head. That is almost 9 hours by car. I
took off Monday and Friday so I could get in 2 days of skiing. I had
Vita out briefly - she was suffering from altitude sickness, and mostly
was happy just being left alone. But I did get one good picture with
her on a very brief run:
All told, she did well under a mile. She is very retired.
Gusty, on the other hand, ran and ran and ran.
A couple of forest rangers were cruising by on snowmobiles. One came
over to me ... I guess they were concerned that there were a lot of
idiots using the trails who were not properly equipped. We had a very
nice chat. He saw I had poop bags, water, and a cell phone; reasonably
equipped for what I was doing. So he took a couple pictures of us with
my cell phone and left. As it turned out I had forgotten to put on sun
cream, and my face was burned the next day.
The trail I'm on is a highway during the summer months; they groom it
for XC skiiers in the winter. This particular trail was pretty steep.
We did three miles each way, left us both pretty tired. The next day we
found another trail that was pretty flat, we did nearly 4 miles each
way. I'm not sure if Gusty likes skijoring more than eating, but it is
at least a close second.
I tried to organize one more trip - this time out to June Lake - in
mid-March. Alas, the snow had melted so I had to cancel. As I write
this (mid-March) we have had to stop training at Fairway Park as well.
By 7:30 AM it is just too warm to run any real distance. As I have to
get up at 5:15 AM and drive nearly an hour to get there, I'm not
willing to go for a short jaunt. So I guess the season is over until
late September or maybe October.
I miss the camaraderie I had back in Lisle. Gusty doesn't run with most
other dogs very well other than Bravo, so usually Mahree and I take off
by ourselves and leave the others. If she's not around we run alone.
Mahree and Bravo retired from mushing due to Bravo's old age
complaints. I stopped trekking to Orange County - a 3 hour trek there
and back, not including trail time - in favor of a local venue I found,
a canal in the Venice area of Los Angeles.
The surface isn't ideal, so I put booties on Gusty to protect his paws.
We have to be careful when we pass other dogs ... but typically the
trail is pretty empty when I use it. It's very nice most of the winter,
when the 40s or low 50s temps have driven the locals inside.
I did manage to get out to Mt. Pinos once or twice to scooter with my
friend Darlette. The scootering is nice, but when snow falls on the
mountain it becomes a magnet for tourists and gets too crowded to use.
The traffic becomes unbearable.
I made a few trips to the snow in northern CA to skijor. We went up to
Chester, which is nearly a 10 hour drive, and competed in the only
ISDRA certified race in CA as the lone entrant in the skijoring
division. Of course we won, and took home a nice trophy, which makes us
the State Champion for the year.
I made it up to Mammoth with my wife. Even Vita did a little bit of
pulling ... about a mile or less. Gusty pulled for about 7 miles both days, and
by the end even he was tired.Both dogs loved the snow and the colder weather.
Mammoth was nice because I met up with a big group from San Diego I met
when I was in Chester, it was very nice to be with a group. We stayed
in Bishop at the Comfort Inn, and had a great pot luck dinner on
Saturday. Mostly I've been mushing completely alone. I do miss the
company when I scooter.
After the season ended I took Gusty for a short walk through the high
desert to see the poppies. We stuck to the trails. Gusty started
sniffing this thing that wasn't moving on the side of the trail
... once I realized what it was (maybe 2 seconds) I pulled him
away from it. It was a green mojave rattlesnake, one of the most
poisonous snakes in North America. Had the snake struck Gusty would
have been killed. Needless to say, we aren't going back to the desert
any time soon!
Most of the dogs running with me are not bred to be sled racing
and none of the dogs running with me are likely to win any serious
competitions. We do this for fun and for exercise for dogs and their