Ryno Kennel's soon to be neighbor back home in Fairbanks, Smokin' Ace Sled Dog Kennel, has just posted a wonderful write up explaining how the handler's prepare for their musher's and team in Dawson City and what goes on during the 36 hour layover. Ryne's handler extraordinaires are currently preparing her team's camping spot, so pictures will follow later. But in the meantime, please enjoy Smokin' Ace Sled Dog Kennels write-up from their Facebook page:
From Matt Hall's Smokin' Ace Sled Dog Kennel -- Handler’s Role in Dawson:
Handler’s Role in Dawson:
So we know what the handler’s role is while following the musher down the trail from checkpoint to checkpoint, but what do we do during the 36-hr layover here in Dawson? Well, there is plenty of nightlife here to entertain us if we were on vacation (anyone hear of the Soured Toe Cocktail? http://dawsoncity.ca/attraction/sourtoe-cocktail-club/)
But that’s not on our priority list for this trip up North, we are d-o-g oriented!
Handler’s usually arrive 12 plus hours ahead of their musher to Dawson City, as it’s only 155 miles by truck and 210 by dog team. First we check in with Quest HQ and pick up our Musher’s packet full of vouchers and rules, then load up the truck with straw bails and Matt’s drop bags. We head across the river via the Ice Road, traversing the river over the Ice Bridge and pull down into the campground to find our assigned campsite. The site provides nothing but trees to string up a tarp.
After we determine which location in the site would be best suited for the tent, based on trees, we get to shoveling out the deep snow, packing a base, hammering together our framed in dog picket and string the tarp over 3 lines creating a peak and two lower sides. We pack the trap ends with snow and stack a short wall of straw bails on the end. The rules state the tent has to be open ended enough for ventilation and not fully enclosed. A heat source is also not permitted. We layer the floor of the tent with straw (we brought 2 bails and the Quest provides 4), with ample to spare to cover the dogs when bedding down (frosting on the cake!).
From there we set up our totes of treats, snacks, kibble, cooker, dog jackets, shoulder warmers, wrist wraps, massage oil and liniments in an orderly fashion—We’ll be needing these shortly!
Now onto our camping arrangements. This year we brought a wall tent provided by @Bush Alaska Expeditions—Thank you for providing us with our shelter! We hook up the barrel stove, stove pipe and the Quest provides us with firewood for our wood heat. There’s no floor to the wall tent so we shoveled it out to the ground and use bags of emptied drop bags as padding. The wood stove keeps the place nice and toasty even though it’s a frigid 30 below!
All said and done, it takes close to 4 hours to construct.
Next, we WAIT…. religiously watching the trackers and hitting refresh.
Once our team finally arrives, the real job starts. We essentially become full time doggy masseuses and glorified dog walkers. From Time 0 when Matt checks in, our clock start counting down from 36 hrs. First things’ first, FOOD! The dogs get a nice big meal, with lots of water and hearty chunks of meat & kibble. We toss out homemade treats filled with all the essential vitamins and supplements. We get them undressed from their racing gear (harness, jackets, booties etc) and check in with Matt to see if any dog has special areas of concern. By this time the Race Veterinarians are usually here to go through their mandatory half-way mark vet check. We need to stress how wonderful it is to have this crew on board to look over each dog with a professional eye and assess each dog’s individual health. Next we give them each a full body massage (They LOVE this part) and inspect their muscles and joints looking for knots and sore paws, wrists and shoulders. If we find any of the above we address it with our sports medicine experience acquired from years of running dogs and handling. On hour 6, we wake the dogs and bring them each for a nice walk to stretch out their muscles & let them use the bathroom. We’re heavily scrutinizing their gaits, pee color and stool consistency for any abnormalities. Are they dehydrated? Are they showing signs of hyponutremia (Being over hydrated is no better than being dehydrated and occurs when your sodium levels are too low, opposed to being too high.) Does their skin tent when pulled or is it elastic and quickly return to its previous state when pulled? What color are their stools—Brown: Good; Black: Bad. Consistency: Solid, runny, in between? Do they have a stomach bug? Do they need more fiber? Probiotics? Less water? What color are their gums: healthy pink or pale? Are they limping? Or are they just a little a stiff from waking up (if you were to watch Matt wake up from a nap, you’d think he was 90 years old by the way he hobbles around). All these things we log in our notes and address the issues.
And…Repeat. Every 6 or so hours until hr 32-ish when we wake up our musher from his cozy hotel room (previously stocked with juices, sports drinks, pizza and snacks) and return him to his team with a thawed out sled, dry parka, bibs and gear and a rejuvenated dog team rearing to go.
By the time he says “Let’s Go!”, us handlers are dog tired (pun intended)! We get a couple hours to nap, then it’s a 1,000- mile drive to get back over to the American side of the international race and to the next checkpoint.
And that folks, is why we're here! And we love it.