This morning I left the house at about 3.20am to get to the training area in the forest, meeting Sally and Ali just before 4am. As before, their directions were great, which was a relief as the whole area was crawling with police for some reason which remains a mystery. The system that the girls have for preparing to run is so slick that I struggled to see what was gong on to start with as there is a real sense of urgency that kicks off the minute that the dogs realise where they are, the levels of excitement run so high and the sounds that they make are primal.
The team train using a quad bike without an engine, and this morning we took 2 teams of 8 and one of 6. Some of the dogs were at home recuperating from cranial massage or resting injuries, and a couple are retired. The first out were so thrilled and grinning from ear to ear, their enthusiasm was enough to make me forget that it was still only 4am. Sally and Ali have different ways of harnessing the dogs as Ali has a back injury, and this gave me a chance to see both, still done at such speed that I couldn't quite make out which cord attached to which, but they talked me through everything. Each team is planned so that they swap sides and therefore avoid becoming lopsided, I didn't have a hope of helping out at this stage, due to the speed and the fact that I don't recognise the dogs by name yet, hopefully that will come.
Once the first 8 were on the line they began to strain, pull, jump, do summersaults and generally try to get going - they just want to run! I hadn't expected to be allowed to ride pillion straight away but Ali called me over, and a nanosecond after my bum hit the seat we were off. It would be foolish to try to be cool and laid back about what happened next because I wasn't, The dogs had stopped yelling and now it was my turn - what a rush! I had no idea that they could pull with such force, I have driven horses in harness before but this was a completely different sensation, a bit like driving a really fast old british sports car. You feel every movement of the dogs, their energy is so concentrated at first and they are hell bent on getting away, but once they get their stride you sense them waiting for their next command.
The girls take them on different routes each time, so that the dogs don't anticipate the turns and this means that they pay attention, even ignoring the wildlife in the path - not something I am used to with my two... With Ali at the helm we followed about 4 miles of beautiful track, through the forest, not that I noticed anything much on the first run as I was just too tense, not knowing what to expect next. I am grateful to the various friends who have given me pillion rides on motorbikes over the years, at least I knew how to stay on. Some of the turns are seriously hairy, not just the angles, but the ground is very uneven and some parts are really for trial bikes. The dogs seem to chill and get into a rhythm on the straight and do what my driving instructor accused me of in my youth, they speed up on the bends, this make for an exhilarating ride.
Getting back to the truck I was reminded of what professionals the girls are as they steered the dogs to their resting place, alongside the next team (prepared by by Sally), just in front of the water bowls (also prepared) and the quad came to rest at the perfect angle to swap lines over, although a little closer to the truck than I was expecting. Then I remembered to breathe.
The ritual on arrival was wonderful, all the dogs get an individual thank you from both girls - I had to join in of course - then they had a small bowl of water so that they don't drink too quickly, it is refreshed once they have calmed down. Those who were not lead dogs got filthy, so they were all toweled down and then given a little food and a pee break. No time for any of that for me though - off again with the waiting team and Sally in control this time. I knew what to expect now and was able to look around and appreciate the views, which were amazing, it was a really cold morning this morning, 3 degrees at the start and the mists were rising through the forest, not as cold as I will be in February, but everything in time... It was so quiet, the dogs don't speak when they run and the tyres are big so the only sound, other than my heart beating in my ears, was the chat that I now felt relaxed enough to have with Sally as we covered ground.
I learned so much in such a short time and when it came to the last team I was allowed to take a dog from the truck and put her onto the line, she was already harnessed, but then on return I removed a harness and took the dog for a pee walk. I think I will feel confident enough to put a harness on next time.
I'm afraid that there are no photos of the morning as I was so excited that I forgot to zip up my pocket and lost my Ixus on the second drive. We drove around at the end to try to find it, but no luck. Such a shame as I did love that camera, I guess I'll have to look at my insurance policy.... Next time I'll take a proper camera and leave it in the truck.
So, I am hooked. This brings together so many things that are good, speed, fear of the unknown, beautiful landscape, lovely people and intelligent, powerful dogs.
I could become a bore....
See Sally and Ali's details here: Forstal Siberian Huskies