Monday, February 27, 2012

The Dog Yard

It’s been rather calm in the dog yard these last few days.

For the past few months, the race training and preparation has been intense. Now, the training is over and the team must put what they have been preparing for into action. Accordingly, the preparation for all that is needed to be race ready is done. Anticipation and excitement for the race start is what we sense from musher and dogs.

John Baker, 2011 Iditarod Champion
 Are there any worries on the horizon that could upset this calm? Most of the big unknowns are out of anyone’s control and a lot is in the hands of Mother Nature so worrying about it doesn’t help. “Being prepared for whatever comes is necessary but worrying about whether it will happen is a waste of time and energy,” says Baker.

What Mother Nature can throw at the teams can be a game changing factor for the worst and the best. Weather is always one thing to keep an eye on. The nearly 1000 miles of trail go through major climatic zones with varied weather conditions. Cold weather is preferred especially for the dog’s sake. Yet just how cold is relevant to temperatures the dogs are accustomed. Warmer temperatures can be more comfortable for the musher but not necessarily for the dogs to run.

On top of that, trail conditions such as heavy snowfall and reports of moose on the trail keep a team on high alert. To startle a moose on the trail can create hazards. So far, the trail reports have been good. However, an unexpected turn for the worse in any of these areas could trip a carefully planned race strategy. Last year, with ideal weather and trail conditions, John and the dogs set a new race record. And, since Team Baker’s win, expectations are high for the team in this year's race seemingly adding more pressure.

Velvet, 2011 Golden Harness Winner
 Yet the calmness exhibited in the dog yard is perhaps best described through the eyes of a dog. As the lead dog, Velvet seems to know that there is always something to worry about as she keeps a close eye on John. Frankly, it’s the musher’s job to worry about what could go wrong and for the dogs to focus on getting the job done. The good news is, John and the dogs always seem to find a way to overcome whatever obstacle is thrown their way.

Team Baker will leave for Anchorage shortly and the atmosphere in the dog yard is relaxed and calm. The team is ready to handle whatever comes on the Iditarod Trail as they run their own race, even the unexpected.