fall 2008-
winter 2009

Here comes the team...

With three new dogs - Dia, Forest, and Mystic - on the team this year, we had a LOT of energy in the harnesses this season! We had a very full schedule and made it to as many races/runs as we could, even completing two mid-distance runs, a length new to us.

We started this season training our youngster Dia and were blown away by her athleticism and working drive. She is a phenomenal addition to our team. Forest and Mystic also both increased the energy on our team many-fold as they ran at lead. We decided to set a new goal for ourselves this season and attempt a mid-distance run instead of the usual sprint races we had been doing. We began training a little earlier in the autumn than usual in preparation for this. Unfortunately we lost several weeks of training due to an injury I received when I crashed our training cart. Oops. But we kept to our goal and carried on once I could walk moderately well again.

A very special thank-you to my lovely and talented wife Melanie (my ever-patient handler, dog-vest seamstress, and unpaid kennel help) for all her assistance with training, racing, and photographing the kids this year. I couldn't do it without you, sweetheart. heart

Training Photos 2008-2009
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Dogsledding Class At The Minnesota Zoo ~ December 30, 2008
We had the opportunity to offer a day-long dogsledding class for twenty children at The Minnesota Zoo. Melanie, Gwen, and I talked with the children about the history of dogsledding (as used by native northern people, polar explorers, fur trappers, the Canadian Mounties, gold miners), the 1925 Serum Run and the Iditarod, what physical attributes make a good sled dog and what breeds are commonly used. In addition, we also covered the various positions on a dog team, sleddog care, different types of sleds, ropes & lines, harnesses, booties, commands, bike-jorring, cani-cross, and skijorring. We made dog "trading cards" and had the kids assemble their ideal dog teams. Each child had the opportunity to harness and bootie a dog. After we studied the commands, we hooked each child up to a tugline/gangline and did a practice "run" through the hallways of the zoo. Did we get some interesting looks from the zoo-going public then!

After lunch, we moved everyone outside to some snowy weather and took each child on a sled run around a large field. I was very proud of my dogs who ran the same loop over twenty times without complaint.

Thanks to the North Star Sled Dog Club for sponsoring us!

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White Oak Classic
Deer River, MN ~ January 10-11, 2009
The White Oak Classic was the first mid-distance race we've ever run. We ran in the recreational class (18 miles). This was a very well-run and musher-friendly event - everyone was so helpful and there were always helping hands at the ready when we needed them.

Here is an article I wrote for The Yapper, the official newsletter of the Organization For The Working Samoyed (OWS).

DiamondDrift Goes The (Mid-) Distance!
Originally published in The Yapper, Winter 2009, Vol. 14, No. 1

       Eighteen miles?!? Could my dogs run an eighteen-mile race? After having only done less than a dozen sprint races in our team “career”, would I be able to train my Sams to run a trail over four times longer than anything we’d run before?
      I had gotten three new dogs in the summer of 2008 and was excitedly looking forward to training season in the fall. These three (Forest, Mystic, and Dia) were all very high-spirited and when we started training with the cart they all ran like they were born to it. Adding these three newcomers to my three other racing dogs (Mazzy, Cirrus, and Jasper), I started to wonder if we could set a new racing challenge for the upcoming winter season. What could I do with six dogs, I wondered. The answer, of course, is mid- distance.
      Located somewhere between the hold-your-breath adrenaline rush of sprint racing and the casual countryside touring of expedition sledding lies mid-distance racing, typically in the 20-200 mile range, though these numbers vary greatly from one RGO (race giving organization) to another. As newcomers to any race more than four miles in length, I started looking around for a race toward the 20-mile end of the mid-distance spectrum and was pleased to see that the 2009 White Oak Sled Dog Classic would be held on January 10 in Deer River, Minnesota, only a few hours drive from us. The White Oak race has four classes ranging from the pro 130 miles to the recreational 18 miles. Eighteen miles, I thought, we could do that. Our longest training runs are seventeen miles, though we often stop for rest and snacks on those. I was sure I could get my dogs ready for eighteen competitive miles.
      As we continued to train on the cart all autumn long, I kept adding on the miles and hoping the snow would arrive in central Minnesota sooner rather than later so we could switch to running on the sled. January 10 seemed to be coming awfully quickly when we finally received some substantial snowfall in December. By this time we were up to twelve mile runs on the sled. Between work obligations, and holiday and family events at this time of the year, I kept trying to find time to take the dogs out as often as possible but still we only averaged about two or three runs per week.
      About this time it was confirmed by the White Oak RGO that they would offer a “big dog” (i.e., any purebred or non-Alaskan Husky) class embedded in the four regular classes. Oh boy, I thought, now I can compete against some zippy Sibes as well as the speed-demon Alaskans!
      One of the challenges I’d come across when training is how to let the dogs know if I wanted them to sprint or to spread out their energy over a longer distance. The only technique that has worked for me so far is to frequently urge them on when running sprint, versus letting them set their own pace when running longer distances. The dogs are always quick off the start and for the first mile or two, but then it was up to me to let them know what I expected of them for the remaining time on the trail.
      On January 9, my wife Melanie and I drove up to Deer River and stayed at a nice woodsy hotel called the Gosh Dam Place. Oddly enough, it’s located just a mile or so from the dam on the Winnebegosh Lake… We arrived late afternoon for the mandatory veterinary check. Our vaccination records were noted and each dog was examined by one of the race vets for overall health and hydration levels. Afterwards we enjoyed a nice spaghetti dinner sponsored by the White Oak Society.
      Next morning (a very cold -20 degrees F!), we headed to the race site, parked the dog truck, and dropped the dogs on our tie-out lines. There were many public spectators making the rounds from truck to truck and, as always, the Sams were a big hit. Melanie fielded most of the questions while I got the sled and lines ready, as well as putting booties and harnesses on the dogs. I chose to bootie all six dogs, even though they don’t all have problems with forming ice-balls, because I wanted to eliminate any possible reason that would slow us down once we were on the trail.
      As our chute time approached, a race volunteer drove a four-wheel ATV to us and we hooked the sled to it, using the ATV as a brake. One of the coolest things about races is that helping hands seem to appear out of nowhere just at the exact moment you need them and today was no exception. With the ATV driver going slowly as a brake, me on the sled runners, Melanie holding the lead dogs, and several sudden volunteers holding the team dogs, we made our way to the starting chute. Our sled bag was checked for the mandatory gear - sleeping bag, knife, veterinary diary and time card, and a commemorative leg-hold trap (the White Oak Society is proud of its trapping heritage in this part of Minnesota) – and we were cleared to start.
      As we were loaded into the chute and the timer called “60 seconds to start” I went up to my lead dogs and gave them some encouragement – though I think I was the one who most needed it! – and ruffled the team and wheel dogs’ heads on my way back to the sled. As we heard “three, two, one, GO” I called “Hike Hike Hike!!!” and off we went. I swear the dogs perceived the crowd’s excitement for they were flying out of the start. Later, Melanie showed me a picture she took that shows one of my wheel dogs (Dia) with all four feet off the ground.
      For the first mile or so, the trail wound through the town of Deer River, literally going down alleys and behind people’s houses, before turning onto a section of trail paralleling a busy city street. The trail was in excellent condition here, well groomed and quick but I made the mistake at one point of stepping too far off a runner and my foot sank into the snow up to my knee. This part of the trail crossed several driveways into local businesses (including a casino) and it was here that I was so proud of my leaders Forest and Mystic who would cross these driveways without hesitation, always leading us to the next bit of trail on the other side. I heard later that other teams were not so fortunate and indeed some of these other lead dogs took their team into the middle of the road. I had a Siberian team coming up behind me quickly near the casino but we had been warned in the pre-race meeting not to attempt any passing on this part of the trail.
      Very quickly, the trail turned away from the road onto a well-groomed 12-foot wide snowmobile trail. Here the Siberian team behind me passed us and over the next 16 miles or so we were passed by a few more teams. Some passes went more successfully than others... Some of the lead dogs on other teams either were shy of other dogs or they didn’t have much passing experience and it took some extra effort to get the two teams past each other. In many of these moments, I opted to anchor down with my snow hook just to get the other team safely past us, thus adding several minutes onto my race time.
      For the rest of the race, we simply enjoyed running on the marvelous trail. The day was sunny, the air was crisp, the trees and brush were layered in snow, and the dogs’ tuglines were tight – what more could I ask for? More than any sprint race, I truly felt that this was REAL dogsledding. My dogs kept a good pace, and though we’ll never be competitive with many of the other teams, I was proud that they did the best they could. Our final race time was 3 hours, 14 minutes. I had hoped to finish in less than three hours, but was content knowing that we had done something new as a team that we had never done before.
      As I write this, I am looking forward to March 14 when we are entered in a non- competitive 20-mile run called Mush For A Cure (, a fund- raising event for the National Breast Cancer Foundation. This time we’ll be running on the Gunflint Trail in the very northern-most reaches of Minnesota. Even though this is not a competitive race, I hope our experience at White Oak will serve us well.

The dogs I ran at White Oak were:

Forest – Ch Chatanika’s Black Forest Run WS
Mystic – Chatanika’s Mountain Mystic

Cirrus – Donnereign Starry Jacinth WSX
Jasper – Winterlong’s Ruff Diamond WSX

Mazzy – BISS Ch Donnereign Diamond Deuce WSX
Dia – Dasha & EJ’s Song To The Siren

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Pine River Run
Merrill, WI ~ January 17-18, 2009
We ran in the this race for the first time and had a blast. The trail wound through fields and farmland and was a bit hilly (especially the mountain right out of the starting line!). Sponsored by the Wisconsin Trailblazers Sled Dog Club, this was another fun and well-organized event.
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Ham Lake Snow Bowl
Ham Lake, MN ~ February 7, 2009
Our favorite race right in our backyard! Midwest Skijorers put together this fun and casual race. Our team ran their absolute best on this day, averaging 10.1 mph over the course of the race.
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Mush For A Cure
Grand Marais, MN ~ March 14, 2009
We had a great time at the Mush For A Cure run on the Gunflint Trail in upper Minnesota. This was a non-competitive "fun"-draiser for the National Breast Cancer Foundation -- over $23000 was raised! I was proud to be part of this. :-) At the start of this run, all mushers had to be in their sleeping bags with boots off. When the starting gun went off we hopped out of our bags, booted up, then hooked the dogs up to the sled. I'm not the quickest or most graceful person in the world but we were the 11th team (out of 30 or so) to hit the trail. I ran a six dog team.

The first 30 minutes of the run were the most eventful. Even though this was not a competitive event, many of the mushers wanted to be in the lead so there was a lot of passing going on. At one point I heard someone behind me yell out "loose team!" so I hooked my guys down and caught the loose dogs and hooked them down. Several teams passed us while I was doing this. We went maybe another 100 yards when I heard "loose team!" again - they had popped their snowhook. So I hooked my guys down again and caught the loose dogs again - this time someone tossed me a snubline and I managed to pull 6 very eager dogs to a tree stump to tie them down. All this time I'm worrying about my dogs and hoping their snowhook holds as they were being passed by several more teams while I was busy with the loose team. But everyone behaved and I finally got going again. After all this "fun", we spent the rest of the run enjoying the scenery. :-)

The trail ran for 21 miles and we finished in 4-1/2 hours or so (we weren't last, yay!). The day was sunny and temps were WARM - near 40F - and my kids weren't at their peak. One of my leaders (Mystic) kept wanting to do belly-flops into the snowbanks to cool down. The trail had far more hills than we are used to, also. We stopped often for snow snacks. I moved to Minnesota in 2000 and hadn't been to this part of the state before but WOW was it gorgeous. The trail went over frozen lakes and through forested areas, some of the forested areas were burned out due to a forest fire in the region a few years ago. Because of the temperature the trail was slushy and even sticky mud in places.

All of my dogs did as well as they could in the heat except for my rescue boy Jasper - he was not pulling well or even at all sometimes, something I've noticed more and more this past winter. He is about 9 years old now and I think this will be his last sledding season. I got a little teary-eyed with him at the finish as he's always been such a good boy for me. But such is life. :-(

When the last team arrived, there were prizes for most pledges collected, most outrageous pink outfit, red lantern, the "dork" award (now renamed "the boobie prize") for the most "stupid"/clumsy/silly thing a musher did (it went to a woman who lost her team right at the start), and several others I can't remember. It was a wonderful event and most definitely for a good cause - I hope I can participate again next year!

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