JUNIOR MUSHERS - LITTLE SU 4-H CLUB - HOME of the ALASKA DOG MUSHING PROGRAM

Featured in the Sept/Oct 2006 Issue

On March 24, 2006 we were busy getting ready for our first snow camping trip. We loaded all of the dogs and started on our trip to Talkeetna where we planned to mush in to my family’s homestead. When we arrived in Talkeetna we met up with the Stitt Family from Willow. It was a very warm day, around 38 degrees F, with clear blue skies, and sun. We headed north towards Chase, parked our 5 vehicles and 3 trailers along the side of the street and unloaded all of the 6 dog sleds and two large snow machine sleds. Before leaving we held a small meeting to go over who would be mushing which team, safety, and the route we would travel.

There was one snow machine ahead of the lead team and two machines trailing behind all the teams. If there was any trouble, we were covered. We had a total of 36 dogs between 6 dog teams.

Each 4-H musher had been training and racing sled dogs all season. We had one team that won the Jr. Eagle River Classic in Chugiak, Jr. World Championship in Anchorage and came in second in the Jr. North American in Fairbanks. This was going to be a small, exciting challenge and would definitely test our mushing skills, and the dogs. Most of our dogs have had experience going over bridges and through tunnels, but we had a few younger dogs that had very little experience with this kind of trail.

We traveled along the main trail system for about 15 miles. We came to an area of deep snow. We tied the teams off and put on snowshoes. We had to break a trail for about a quarter of a mile, which brought us to the lake across from the cabins. The lead dog team was about 50 yards behind us following the snow shoe trail. The dogs had to work through about 3-4 feet of snow. After all the teams and snow machines arrived at the cabins, everybody started taking care of the dogs, staking them out, starting a fire for melting snow for water and cooking dog food.

As some of the adults cooked food for the people, the rest of us took care of the dog teams. After dinner we treated ourselves to roasted marshmallows and s’mores then set up camp for sleeping. By the time all of the dogs and the sleeping quarters were laid out we were all very tired. Some of us slept in our sled bags, while others slept out on the snow covered lake. During the night the temperature dropped to 20 degrees F and the skies were full of stars. For most of us, this was the first time winter camping with dog teams.

The next morning after watering our dog teams and having breakfast, some of us took a few dog teams out to mush around the area. We had a lot of fun. Then we loaded up and started the trip back to Talkeetna. On the way home we traded off and tried our skills at driving a snow machine.

This is a practical, learn-by-doing educational program for youths 8 to 19. It is run through the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the Mat-Su Copper River District Cooperative Extension Service in Palmer, Alaska.

There are three levels of curriculum: Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced. For more information on membership and the course curriculum for the 4-H program, please visit www.alaska4hdogmushingprogram.com or contact Larissa Myers at lmyers@mtaonline.net.

The program is also working to have a Junior Sled Dog Symposium for beginners to advanced classes, Junior Sled Dog Camp, and a scholarship to any educational credited institute.

We would like to thank Cruz construction, Alaska Sausage and Seafood, Play ‘N’ saw, Nordic Constructors and CAC Plastics.

Thank you to Martin Buser and Jeff King for the wonderful educational field trips and to Rex Jones for the use of equipment and dogs.

Martin Buser Kennel Tour

On a visit to Martin Buser’s kennel, the 4-H students were treated to a surprise; Martin had set up different stations that were just like check points. He had a fire, and there was a station that was a veterinarian check point.

The students watched a movie about the Iditarod, and held two-week old puppies. Martin then took the students through the check points. He dressed up and took on the role of the check point people and explained everything that goes on in that check point. He had sleds with all the equipment that is used, and the students put on all the winter clothes. The sleds were a range of those he had used in past Iditarod races to his current racing sleds.

At the veterinary checkpoint station Martin dressed up as a vet, and he used dogs to explain what the vets do on the trail, including the vet records the mushers have to carry, drug testing, what he carries on the sled for the care of the dogs. We visited with all the dogs he had in the yard and he hooked up a team to a 4 wheeler and they went around a trail. After the tour, the students had an opportunity to help feed the dogs.

Jeff King Kennel Tour

The students joined the daily Husky Homestead Kennel Tour and started off by holding puppies. The kennel handlers spoke about the dogs they had, hooked up a dog team to the a 4-wheeler, and took the dogs for a run and swim in a pond were we could see them. They showed how the dog walker works, when they breed the dogs, very basic information on the kennel and how it is operated.

After the kennel tour everyone moved in to a log cabin and listened to Jeff King talk about his Iditarod race experience, and a little about Yukon Quest. He had good jokes, and a good sense of humor. The students enjoyed learning different things that most mushers don't talk about. The students took pictures with Jeff King and then left.

Donna Gates-King was very nice and answered lot of questions the students had. They were very good and supportive to the students.

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