Mushing, Norway

Autumn Rollover

Last week the end of autumn started announcing itself. Or at least, the end of the cosy, colourful fall, that beautiful time of the year with yellow leaves and golden sunlight during the still warm days, and frosty crispy mornings after cold nights. In the course of 24 hours about 40cm of snow came down on our house and suddenly everything transformed into a winter wonderland. It didn’t come to stay yet: rain melted the snow away and now we are in the grey zone, that brown, colourless time when all the beauty of the autumn has faded away but winter hasn’t arrived yet.

This little winter intermezzo happens every year and you might be surprised to learn that even Norwegians get caught by it year and year again. When the snow does come it’s all over the news and everyone panicks about still driving around on their summer tires, like it really all came unexpectedly and the snow really wasn’t announced on the weather forecast for the past 10 days. Cars crash, roads close and all workshops have no time available for a week after as everyone rushes in to get their winter tires on.

As an outsider I find it a little funny to witness. I even had to kick PJ in the butt to get a time at the workshop before the snow, so he got his spikes on only 24 hours before the dump. And yet, even if I think we managed it much better than last year (when I had to be towed down from the mountain and all my plans for freighting up about a ton of kennel material were dislodged), we were still faced with a few surprises.

Autumn training had been going pretty smooth so far, with regular runs, slowly increasing distances and little problems. It hadn’t been any stress yet: the dogs don’t need to be in peak shape before the start of January and I think it’s important that they enjoy it at this stage. It was so nice to now be out with a pack that I know well and to find more training ground as we went, discovering more of the nice environment that we live in. If anything the weather was pretty terrible from the end of September through half of October, when pouring rain persisted for three weeks and I came home looking like I fell in a lake somewhere every time again. But still then there was much to enjoy and little to worry about.

When I saw the snow coming I ordered chains for our training cart, a Trollvogn. It’s a kind of big gocart with 10 dogs in front of it. I really love it, but I wish it had a more commonly used tire size: they are really small and hard to find. So are the snow chains for them. So after looking into a lot of custom made and really expensive snow chains I finally thought I’d found a bargain, but in spite of all our efforts with straps and hooks and improvised ways to put them on, we just did not get it right.

I had a long weekend off and I was looking forward to training with other people in another place. Where we live is nice, but everyone goes a little haywire driving the same rounds over and over again, so I was really looking forward to different scenery. The wet snow sort of threw every plan I had off the charts, and the lack of chains threw the backoff plans off the table, too. All there was left to do was put them in front of the car to at least get them to run some of their energy off and increase a little distance.

Mushing is a really demanding sport in many ways. The most obvious things are the time it takes and the money that goes into it. But there is so much more than that. There’s reading your dogs, knowing when to push them and when yto stop. There’s knowing yourself and extending your comfort zone. There’s knowing all of your material and everything you need to make that material work. And well, when driving dogs, there’s a lot of material involved!

At some point I think most dogdrivers in their early stages experience a setback, that can be as simple as not figuring out how to adjust the snow chains to the tires of their training cart. And it can be incredibly frustrating to see awesome plans disappear by a simple material malfunction. Luckily one is rarely alone with this and the dogdriving community is an open one, so within days there’s a lot of info out there on how this can be fixed.

Soon those chains will fit and when the snow comes we’ll continue just as planned. I’m a little nervous for the period that is to come now, with long hours of driving in the dark and breaking trails in the mountains through the fresh snow. I haven’t done any of those things before. But I’m sure that by the end of it the steep learning curve will have gone up a good bit once more and the dogs and I will understand each other in whole new ways.

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