Monday, November 23, 2015

A measure of freedom

Because of Autumn's increasing episodes of lameness, we have some new routines, including that our morning 3-mile run only very rarely includes her now. She usually wants to go home after less than half a mile, so we turn around, drop her off at home, and do the loop with just Starbuck, Linden, and me.

However, skiing has been a problem. I love to ski, but since I move faster on skis, it's possible for Autumn to go lame and strand us farther from home. Also, we run on roads, so our runs are generally risk-free; we could always leave her with a sympathetic neighbor, run home, get in the car, and then drive back and go get her. The ski trails are inaccessible by car, and I don't have a snowmachine. Skiing without her is possible, but not ideal. We're an all-for-one, and one-for-all kinda family. :)

I finally hit on an idea! I could ski with a little pulk, and if Autumn has any issues, Starbuckeroo and I could take her home! I know Starbuck would happily do that job--she is very distressed when Autumn has her episodes. So I contacted both my neighborhood facebook group ("Does anyone in the 'hood pulk with dogs? If so, may I come over and see your setup?") and the Alaska Skijor and Pulk Association, and met two lovely people who were happy to show me their setups. One is American and the other is from Sweden, so I got to see two types of setups. The Swedish woman said that in Sweden, everybody has pulks, that's just what you do. You ski with your pulk, you have your dogs tow your pulk, you skijor with your dogs and your pulk. Or you go for a family winter camping trip, and the parents ski while the dogs tow the kids in the pulks. Or the dogs tow the pulks full of gear so the whole human family can ski unencumbered. She was amazed that pulking in the U.S. is relatively rare, since she finds it eminently sensible. Her setup, however, was a standard setup that she had purchased from Sweden, and it was quite heavy (I'd estimate 30 pounds), and far more than I needed. This one is for two dogs:

However, she gave me the core concepts, and some excellent ideas, including:

1) That there is no such thing as a collapsible or foldable pulk; I'd be pulling the empty sled all the time from now on.

2) That the setup dog<--pulk<--human (as in here and here), which looks quite intimidating to me, is not necessary. It's quite alright, and gives the human better control, if you do dog<--human<--pulk. It's also what I'm used to, having used a similar setup to haul snow samples home, although it was on a crappy little sled, and putting money into a proper pulking sled will definitely make my going easier! The final advantage is that the hardware for this setup is way more flexible. I could tow the sled alone, Starbuck could tow it alone, or Starbuck could tow me while I tow the sled. And that would enable me to tow the empty sled while Starbuck still gets to run around and play in the woods! (I have no interest in leaving the trail myself, chasing squirrels and peeing on trees not being my thing.)

3) That unlike my skijor tow line, which is a single bungee cord, the tow "line" for the sled needs to be a double, on either side, and, more importantly, it needs to be stiff! Both women solved this problem by running the tow cords through PVC pipe. The American woman pointed out that I could cross the poles to make an 'X' behind me when I needed extra control.

4) That for the attachment points on my side, I could put D-rings into the sides of my skijor belt! How elegant!

Here is the American woman's setup:

I decided that that was precisely what I needed. This website was recommended by another neighbor, and this dude's setup is similarly simple (and inexpensive!).

I also love that neither of these women laughed at me for wanting to tow a lame dog all over the place. "It's a family outing!" one said.

The Swedish woman posted photos of her two-dog setup, towing an "injured" dog:

I pointed out that the "injured" dog was quite an actor, to which she replied, "She just got a belly rub!" :)

On Saturday, after our morning ski (at which Autumn did fine, I should mention. She bounced and boinged along the trail, happy as can be!), DL and I got a sled and temporary rope from Sentry Hardware. We also went to Cold Spot Feeds for additional hooks and line. Then we went to Apocalypse Design and had them add D-hooks to my skijor belt. They did a fantastic job, and also did it right away, for $20!

On Sunday, I guesstimated a setup and dimensions that would work for me, and towed my sled around on our ski with our cheap rope. It worked fine! I'm ready to buy real hardware and fix up my "real" pulk setup now! Yay! In the meantime, of course, I also need to practice skjoring with Starbuckeroo. I think it'll be great to give her the extra exercise, anyway. After we do shorter ski trips with the elderly ladies, she still has extra energy, so we can leave them on the couch and head out again with just her towing me.

Here is sled alpha, pre-release:

When I walked down the hill behind our cabin to get to the trail, it banged the crap out of the backs of my legs. Oh, so that's what the PVC pipe is for. It did surprisingly okay when I skied down hills, as the sled moved about as fast as I did on skis. Once we put in the PVC pipe, though, it won't even be an issue.

Human tows dog!

Well, it's only fair. In their early lives, the dogs are constantly encumbered while the humans run free. In between, both dogs and humans run free. In old age, dogs can run free while humans are encumbered with emergency sleds. :)


bt said...

What a great solution!

mdr said...

Protect your spine and back. If you insist doing it, start from very short run and gradually increase the distance. Autumn can just run in the neighborhood too. If you hurt yourself, none of the dogs get to run.

Arvay said...

@mdr, I've spent a good 4 years towing snow equipment around in a less safe fashion than this!