Friday, February 3, 2017

Canadian Challenge; It's a Dog Sled Race

When I finally decided to do this blog and make my way East to Saskatchewan to follow this race I was struck by the challenge I had given myself.
To make the posts read worthy and interesting I would need to learn more about the mushers who would be carving out the trails with their teams, and to educate readers who perhaps have no idea what is involved in such a race or dog sledding at all.

According to the International Federation of Sled Dog Sports dog sledding in North America and Siberia originated 4,000 years ago.
Of course it would have only been used as a means for transportation to trade, hunt, fish and monitor trap lines.   When communities and outposts began to grow this means of transportation would have been used to deliver supplies , mail and news into the Northern Canadian Wilderness.
Mail Run 1911, Photo Credit: Smithsonian

In the late 19th century sled dogs were trained to respond to two voice cues, the traditional French 'Marche,' which was mistakenly pronounced mush, to get a team started and 'whoa' to tell the team to stop.  It wasn't until the last decade of the 19th century when William Miller of the Hudsons Bay Company trained the first team of Eskimo Dogs to respond to turn right (gee) and left (haw)

The first documented sled dog race was in 1850 from Winnipeg, Manitoba to St. Paul, Minnesota.  Disney shone a light on the 1917 version of this race in "Iron Will" in which Alberta Campbell, a Metis from Pas, Manitoba won the race.

I suppose the most well known distance race, The Iditarod, which covers 1,000 miles from Anchorage to Nome was born out of the memory of the great race to get serum over 600 miles to Nome via dog sled when an outbreak of Diphtheria threatened the community in 1925.
Leonhard Seppala with his dogs 1925
Photo Credit;

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Canadian Challenge with a terrific line up of mushers entered. 19 teams registered in three categories, a 70 mile 6 dog open, a 200 mile 8 dog class and the drawing card , the 12 dog 350 mile class. 

There seems to be a decline in mid-distance mushers as of late, and from those that I have spoken to it is more about the passion and love of being with their dogs that keeps them coming back for more than any financial gain.   As the cost of running a dog sled kennel and attending races rise, competitive mid-distance races are slowly disappearing as the purse and sponsors dwindle.
I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to this years sponsors, your help enables races such as this one to continue year after year.   

Sponsors and Volunteers are the main nervous system of the race, you help keep it alive and running smoothly.  The beating heart, I feel, is the mushers and dogs themselves, because without their attendance it wouldn't be much of a race.

And now, without further ado it is time to introduce the mushers to you all...... 
Team Rick Wannamaker in 2015
Photo Credit: Jim Williams

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