For those who wrote and claimed to be waiting with baited breath for the latest Adventures in Dogsledding in East Tennessee, I’d love to report that Day 2 of Dogcart Training went as uneventfully as Day 1.
Love to, can’t.
Picture this: Excited team of TWO dogs, Mark (breeder re-home) and Chief (rescue). Mark because he’s the most obedient and Chief because he pulls the least of any of them but fakes it well for the tourists — and for me all last year until I caught on — both standing obediently leaning slightly into their harnesses, but just standing there like they should. Nervous Dog Driver (NDD). That would be me. I am getting the rest of my gear on, leather-padded fingerless gloves, heavy leather coat, elbow pads, bicycle helmet, etc.
Picture Mad Maxine on a bad day.
Basically new dogcart that is cherry red and unscratched and I’m thinking (this is where I went wrong, thinking) I’m thinking it’s tempting fate to drive a perfectly painted dogcart. Kind of a ready-made jinx. (And no, place to tie it off and no emergency brake, just the step on kind, this is a prototype.) This rig is at the top of a steep gravel driveway. I get a bright idea. (OK, titters are allowed here, this is called foreshadowing.) I will un-jinx the dogcart by pre-scratching it with gravel. I scoop up gravel in my bike helmet (Note: helmet is NOT on head at the moment) and sling the gravel at the perfectly painted, cherry-red dogcart with no emergency brake hooked to two excited dogs.
Need I go on? OK, I need.
Startled dog team takes off with a bound. (I think I popped Chief in the butt with a ricochet) NDD is suddenly a PDD (Panicked Dog Driver) and I drop the helmet (important plot twist) and grab the steering bar. Manage by some cruel fate to get ON the cart as it is traveling past. We are now barreling DOWN the gravel driveway with two excited dogs pulling a dogcart with merely adequate brakes and a May Simpson Wannabe driving.
The word oscillation is critical here.
I grabbed the steering bar on the end closest to me so the cart steered in my direction. I got on and compensated (the word is over-compensated) in the other direction so I didn’t steer into the side of my truck.
This is the first stage of oscillation, the back and forth movement that usually, and did, escalate.
I steered to far and jerked the steering bar back the other way, steering works great on this thing, too great. Jerked the bar again. At the same time we are gathering momentum — I am beginning to hate momentum. So I applied the brakes. Brakes on wheel traveling over gravel at speed are useless.
One wheel grabbed in the gravel. One did not. At least that’s what my uncle Pete said later (90 years old and convinced the younger generation is going to hell, I mean why can’t Sidney get into something safe like sky-diving or drag racing CARS! Dogs don’t have brakes or reins!).
Oscillation increased exponentially. Let me say in my own defense that I could have handled the steering OR the braking problem OR nearly running over my dogs separately. It was all at once that the problems started. This is the pump knot part.
A pump knot is the bump on the back of the head from impacting asphalt at the bottom of the driveway after being thrown off a dogcart at speed.
No scratches, no road rash, leather coat undamaged, elbows and knees are fine, shoes survived. Not seeing two of anything, no dizziness. Met the ambulance about a mile up the road and they gave me the once over anyway. Dogcart did NOT tip over! Yeah!
Dogcart is officially broken in. Bike helmet is going on BEFORE I HOOK UP THE FIRST DOG FROM NOW ON. Lessons Learned One dog. Go slow.
When folks suggested starting out with one dog and going slow, that they mean is SLOW THAT DANGED THING DOWN AND STAY IN A TROT. Speed behind a dogsled traveling 1″ off the ground with plenty of drag is not the same thing as a dogcart 8″ off the ground and on oiled bearings. You go FAST!
It takes a longer time to slow the faster you are going. Mail boxes are not fair stopping mechanisms. Gear up first. Put gloves AND helmet on before you hook up the first dog. See Oscillation above. Kneel as needed. No shame, get down on your knees and pray — Ok, steer — because of the lower center of gravity. Check brakes before you start. See Oscillation above.
Walk cart with dogs and Flexi. Walk beside the cart the first time with a Flexi or long line to the collar (not the tugline) of your ONLY or ONE of your only dogs hooked in. A dog can not run when his head is touching his tailbone. This works well to get the dogs back into a trot once you get that brave (foolhardy). Same rules for warm weather sledding apply. See Lessons Learned (Southern Dog Driver).
Carry ID. Carry identification on your person, and a written power of attorney for your next of kin, and a living will in case of incidents involving life support later in the day. Dogcarters (is this a word) are a different breed. Sleds have built in drag and the lowest possible center of gravity. ATVs have brakes and weight and very heavy, low centers of gravity. Trucks have frames between you and the asphalt and wonderful brakes, and emergency brakes.
Dogcarters are sort of the “high prairie, lone cowboy, six shooter, maverick horse” of the dog world. Roller coasters have tracks. Dogcarts do not. Same physics often apply. Don’t listen to naysayers, get a cart, up your Blue Cross, and wear a helmet. There is nothing in the world like dogs running out in front of you at speed. Sled and Snow, Cart and road, just do it. Go slow. One dog. Flexi to dog’s collar. Walk. Beside the cart until you are confident, deep in your heart, regardless of the lookers-on, that you can control this rig when the dogs get away from you and are running flat out. Which will be, like, never.
Happy Trails, 1997!