Siberians Nu & Tosha in lead (yes, she’s still blind but she LISTENS to me, OK, sometimes, that is). Malamute Singer & Siberian Bess at Swing. Malamutes Summer & Tom at wheel. OK, 3 Malamutes and 3 Siberians. Is anyone out there feeling a strong sense of dread… Well, I didn’t. Color me crazy.
But I wasn’t completely daft, so I chained 2 great big tractor trailer tires to the back of the cart because the start of our run is a long, downhill gravel driveway (brakes don’t work when wheels are bouncing through the air anyway) which always inspires me to give up carting every time we take it at a dead run.
Thus, the tires. Worked great. You could say the “inspired” the dogs. You could also say they scared the crap out of the dogs and made them run faster down that long slippery slope driveway.
The end of the driveway is a 4-lane highway. My commands are not terribly orthodox. I say “Turn Gee” and “Turn Haw” — I can really lay the consonants down on the T in Turn. And I tell the dogs, “We’ve got a TURN Haw coming up: Turn Haw.” And when those don’t work, there’s the next step, which is “Dammit Turn Haw NOW dammit.”
So we made the shoulder of the highway without flipping, tangling or killing ourselves. And the dogs even stopped at the top of the driveway for me to unhook the tires. (This is vastly important later. They are fooling me into complacency.)
Since the state in their infinite wisdom closed down the railroad crossing right across from my house, we get to go a mile up the highway and wave at all the cars honking and then stop at the top of a long gradual hill for the cross over. Not bad. Control is important at the beginning especially. You don’t want the dogs hurting themselves, I like to think of the first mile as the warm up. So I kept them at a screaming all-out GALLOP by riding the brakes the whole way and yelling, “Easy, Easy — E-Z, DAMMIT.”
By the time I got them stopped at the top of the hill a mile from the house, they were ready to stand innocently and pant while I checked feet and patted them on the head and stopped my hands from shaking. My hair is NOT white, but there sure are some more gray hairs mixed in they can take credit for.
We do the cross over and it’s a long downhill slope again, uh-oh. But uneventful. Got them to stop at the stop sign. Got them to stop at the railroad tracks. Got the Haw turn (left) at the top of the next hill. Ran right into the middle of a herd of chickens.
Yes, chickens come in herds. When they are being herded by 3 border collies and they stand 2 feet tall at the shoulders, they are herd beasts. They can also FLY when inspired (scared) into it. A lot of inspiration going on today. The border collies were indignant. The 10-year-old shepherd and his dad were laughing their butts off. And my dogs were completely confused by the whole thing. Dinner was here. And now it’s not. Which way did it go?
The next 4 miles were uneventful. I was feeling a bit cocky (boy, should I know better). Had the dogs stopped on the near side of a railroad crossing (like rivers, cross them before the breaks) but was looking for trains before crossing. When I saw… blink twice, knuckle my eyes, when I saw a horse charging us from down the railroad tracks
The dogs heard him and I was sunk. He charged like an avenging angel. Apparently we were on HIS spot. No dogs allowed. And the dogs were all set to defend mommy from the frothing, screaming, demon-spawn.
Now I bring a 1″ wooden dowel strapped to the cart with velcro for self-protection. The inspiration was that a big screaming, waving arms woman would scare off loose critters. The flaw in the plan is that the dog team doesn’t believe in letting me fight their battles for them. And I can’t wave my arms, scream and defend them while riding the brakes. So they PASSED me and I had just enough time to throw down the dowel and grab the cart as it went bouncing by on the railroad TRACKS after the suddenly reconsidering horse.
We should NOT be on railroad tracks. I know this. I tried explaining this to the dogs. I tried bargaining with them. I tried threatening them. I would like to say that my superior Alpha position in the pack swung the battle. It probably had more to do with the horse detouring off the tracks.
Onto this driveway I didn’t know was there — who has a driveway off railroad tracks? Which lead to a barn and the surprised SHEPHERD and his dad with their herd of chickens. The horse sailed over the fence and the dogs actually did listen to me commanding them to ON-BY DAMMIT. The dad yelling, “Thanks for bringing back my horse.” Me yelling, “Anytime.”
About a mile from the house is a lovely shaded section of road and we stopped there to rest. I don’t want the dogs coming home winded — remember the long downhill gravel driveway? I ain’t pushing this 115″ Frank Hall Cart up that driveway.
And this voice comes out of the bushes “Are you OK?”
We’ll not now, I think, I just nearly wet my pants. It’s a neighbor of mine, a lovely, fragile, white-haired lady (wonder if she ever ran dogs?) who lives next to the church we’re paused next to. She tells me she thought I might have turned the cart over or something because I stopped for so long (she really might have run dogs, what do you think?) I explained that we had had a long run and I was resting them before we went home. She explained that she had been watching me come down the road and it was a lovely sight <I preen and grin here>. And she loved to watch me run the dogs in the cool part of the year.
Well, I didn’t know this. I thought I was the community joke around here or Public Enemy Number 1, depending on your fondness for dog sings at 7 am.
She then tells me that she lost her husband this summer and he used to sit at the window and watch for me. I ask if he liked sled dogs. She said, no, he just thought I was crazy.
PS: For my 34th birthday coming up in November I’m going to bite the bullet and put Working Team Dog titles on the Malamutes and Siberians (these will be excursion titles issued through the AMCA or the HELP League since the SHCA doesn’t recognize excursion miles or rescued Siberians). But I digress. Anyone who is going to be in East Tennessee in November, come on over. You can join my cheering section. Or just stand and shake your head.