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Mark & Karen
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North Wapiti Siberian Husky Kennels
Yukon Quest 2006 - Tales from the Trail

November 25, 2005

 
Impressive!

You cannot call Karen's Siberians "Slowberians" as the breed has been nicknamed in racing circles. I recently spent a couple days out at North Wapiti and went for two runs with the A team. And I was blown away by the workability and work ethic of the North Wapiti dogs.

Days start early for Karen, up at 4:30am with Mark who is off to work at 5:00am. Between 6 and 6:30 she feeds and waters the A team and the puppies. At 9:00am (or a wee bit later, if she is entertaining chatty guests) she pulls out her records and her "team board" and writes up a list of dogs in order for the team for that day. By 9:30 she is out in the yard, hooking up. This involves getting out the 14 harnesses she will use that day, filling up water jugs, grabbing any other gear she might need for her trip, and then off to the dog yard where she hooks up 14 dogs worth of gang line to the ATV. The dogs are screaming and bouncing around on the end of their chains howling in anticipationů.. "Is it me? Do I get to go? Pick me!!! Pick me!!!" they all seem to be yelling in unison. She selects the dogs of the day according to the order on the team board and brings each dog to the drop chains to be harnessed. On this particular morning Karen casually said to me "you might want to bring some money for lunch!!!" 

Once the dogs are all harnessed they get hooked up according to that order on the board. I found I actually had to really haul those dogs back far enough to clip on their tug lines as they really lean into their harnesses. For the most part Karen's team is quite calm at this point. I think my 6-dog team makes more noise and fuss hooking up than the 14 of hers did. Some of them roll around on the ground like they are getting in a good back scratch while they wait!! 

With little fuss and an "alright" from Karen, we are off, through the dog yard, past the puppy pens and onto the trails. And my education began. Karen does not use the throttle to assist the dogs. With her and I on a 600lb ATV those dogs pulled us up hills and down hills and rarely did Karen get off, walking beside the machine to assist them. If the dogs slack off she drops a gear and if you look down the line you can see the dogs IMMEDIATELY get down to business. And quite often the "slacker" gets a firm telling off from the dog beside it.

At one point we had to make a very sharp left hand turn coming off one trail, around a fence and onto another trail, almost doing a complete about turn in the process. It was quite something to watch this team swing wide to the left around the fence and go again, keeping a 14 dog line tight. I do an about turn on the trails myself, but always my line accordions and goes slack as the dogs almost snap the rig around. Her line stayed tight. She made small use of the throttle here to get the machine around, then off the throttle as we trucked up the long hill.

We made our way up to the highway and onto what she calls ditches, but look more like long grassy banks to me. It was quite fun to hear the honks and see the waves as people drove past us. I can only imagine what went through their minds. Mile after mile clicked by, with Karen monitoring the team, and quietly keeping me entertained with stories of dead porcupines, flipped ATV's, flying squirrels (which desiccated remains are fixed to the barbwire fence and I quote " it may be a flying squirrel, but obviously he wasn't very good at it!" ) I should also mention that as I have come to know Karen, I find she tends to minimize her adventures in the telling! She warns me when the going gets rough (oh my aching muscles from hanging on for dear life) and eventually we make our way to the now famous Perryvale Cemetery! I notice that Karen now parks the team well past the gate to the graveyard!

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Outside the fence
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Past the gate

A quick pause to water the dogs and we are off again, down the main road into Perryvale. A lost driver pulls us over to ask for directions and once she is comforted that she is no longer lost she looks at us in astonishment and says "OH!!! Beautiful dogs!!!!"

Our next stop is the little town of Perryvale! I never in a month of Sundays imagined I'd ever get to go to town to pick up the mail by dog team! A quick snack (why I needed lunch money) and some more stories and we are off again.

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Perryvale
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Town visit via dog team

Coming out of Perryvale we did some more road riding, and then back into the trails for a real workout. I kept peeking over Karen's shoulder to check our speed, can those dogs work!

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On the move

I'll mention the "Pork Chop" incident here, although it actually occurred on the second run we did. Pork Chop is the neighbor's dog. Pork Chop seems to lie in wait for anything it can chase down the roads and through the fields. He doesn't care if you are a car, a truck or a dog team, the chase and harassment is on. I had quite a start when I saw him making a sprinting bee-line for Karen's team, imagining the upcoming tangle and fight, wondering what she would do. Karen didn't do anything except yell at him. This pain in the butt hit the team going full belt and actually ran between her leaders and her point or swing dogs right through the lines. What did those Siberians do? NOTHING!! Hardly twitched an ear at him. Although he followed us for ages, barking and running at the team they completely ignored him. I can only imagine the amount of training it took for Karen to get her team to ignore this idiot dog. I was blown away.

It only gets better! Back to running trails now. 

The particular route that Karen took to go back to the dog yard has a long flat (but not necessarily level) section of a mile or so. Again peeking over her shoulder, seeing that the dogs had already clocked over 21 miles, I watched the speed creep up. For a steady mile these dogs pulled at 20 mph (32 kilometers per hour for us Canadians) in third then fourth gear, loping down the trail. From behind them it watching their movement looked like gentle waves rolling backwards, dogs running in unison, easily and steady. 20 mph. For over a mile. After running 20 + miles of hills and uneven ground, pulling the two of us, on the ATV. 

Slowberians? I think NOT!!!! 

IMPRESSIVE!!!!!!

On a final note, I went to North Wapiti to pick up my long awaited puppy. I came home with North Wapiti's Electra, a.k.a. Ellie.

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Kara and daughter, Ellie
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Ellie

Thank you Karen!!

Gwen Ross

Karen's Diary - Yukon Quest 2006 Edition


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