What do you do when you are in Alaska in winter? Dog mushing of course! While ‘dog sledding’ is a more common name for this activity, mushing is the general term for a transport method powered by dogs. In Alaska, dog sledding or dog mushing is deeply related to the culture and the people.
As I’m in Alaska in winter, you can pretty much go anywhere for dog mushing. There are several popular areas open to the public around Anchorage, and you will see quite a lot of groups of people practicing for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the annual dog mushing race that runs 1,049 miles. We went to Birchwood Camp in the woods, nearby the Chugach Mountains, to get a feel for dog mushing.
The most popular breed for the dog mushing race, the Alaskan Husky, is different from what you’d correlate with the name ‘husky’. Alaskan Huskies are moderate in size, weigh about 35 – 60 pounds, and are smaller and leaner than other types of a husky breed. They are born to run a marathon, not a sprint. Think of the different between marathoner and sprinters in the Olympics. Despite their size, they consume one pound of meat daily.
Dog mushing can be seen as a cruel sport, to make dogs run in the freezing cold climate for days and days. But it’s a different story when you get to know these dogs. When we pulled over to the parking lot, some of the dogs were chained to the truck, and some of them were already tied to the sled. As soon as we got out of the car, they were starting to barking and jumping up and down non-stop. I felt bad and freighted a little, but that was their expression of excitement. They just couldn’t wait to run.
We got on the sled, two passengers and one musher in the back, with five dogs. The leader in the front is the one who can follow the direction. We were running through the snowy forest, and in that moment, I could feel that the dogs were content. No noise except the breathing and running; they were quiet, focused, and happy. They occasionally stop for a pee break, but they were back in line as soon as they were done. They looked back at us, “Why aren’t we going?”
These guys are born to run.
#This year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race will begin in Anchorage, 10am, March 1, 2014.