Gwenn Bogart: A Day in the Life of a Rookie Musher
To people on the sidelines, mushing dogs appears to be a beautiful way to travel. What could be more wonderful than to slide along silently on a sled, through the spectacular scenery of the Alaskan landscape? When things go right, it is an experience to behold, but some days, things do not go according to plan.
I recently had one of those days, as I set out for just another training run. The dogs, fresh and rested after two days off, charged ahead with great exuberance as we made our way through the twisty turns of one of our usual courses. Earlier, my husband Dave had made a cursory trip on his snow machine to lay down tracks in a half foot of fresh snow. He came back warning me of a bad spot, describing the location and saying, “Don’t worry, you can’t miss it.”
He was right, I sure as heck did not miss it – a gaping mud hole, spanning the width of the trail. Before I could react, my team of 14 sled dogs headed straight for it. I jammed my foot on the brake lever to slow my full-throttle-on charging team, which allowed me a split second to decide what to do – keep going, straight on through it. My leaders did not hesitate and leapt forward, straining into their harnesses. Their next stride plunged them into two feet of icy water. With great big bounding strides, the team seemed to be cresting a wave as they bounced through the brown muddy slew. I watched in slow motion as one runner of my sled landed on a sliver-width shelf of ice and the other plunged down into the mud. With both feet on the runner on the high side, and hanging tightly onto the handle bar, I strained to lean back far enough to release the mud-bound runner. It was a good thought, but the sled tipped over anyway, dragging me with it, face-first, through the ice-cold, thick, watery swamp sludge.
Several things went through my head before I decided to continue on. I did not get wet inside my arctic mushing outerwear so I knew I was going to be ok. If I were wet, I would have turned around and gone back to the kennel immediately, but I also thought: this kind of experience is good to have so you learn how to deal with it. There’s a good chance that things like this will happen during races; I know I cannot just sit down and cry. I have to solve, take care and carry on. I recalled when I ran in the Copper Basin 300 race, known to be the toughest 300-mile sled dog race in Alaska, that there was a very difficult river crossing; many mushers had to scratch out because they ended up in dangerous situations. I was lucky, and was able to continue on. This whole adventure is a challenge, but I am excited to be pushing forward with my ultimate goal: the Ididarod on March 7 in 2015!
A Manchester native, Bogart is an accomplished outdoorswoman. Following careers in horsemanship and fly fishing, she co-founded Casting for Recovery. A fundraiser will be held on March 22 to help support her endeavor run in Alaska’s Iditarod Race. Visit gwennsmushpuppies.com for details on her latest adventure.