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Right now, we’re in what you’d call fall training, and we’re kind of doing a transition between summertime and wintertime. Of course, all summer long, we train our dogs on wheeled vehicles. Besides our tours that we do in Seward and on the glacier, we also train at home in Sterling at our kennel on four-wheelers and side-by-sides. What that means is we’ll hook up a full, big, dog team to the front of a side-by-side and do up to 20-mile runs during the summertime. We try to pick the coolest time of day, which might be 4:00 AM to 7:00 AM or something. One of the challenges of summertime training is the warmer temperatures.

We now, with the cooler weather in the fall, things are starting to freeze up. It’s getting a little bit of snow here and there. We’re still on wheels, but with the cooler temperatures, we can run pretty much any time of the day. We like to limit our runs to cooler than 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and it’s a welcome time of year when the temperatures are a little bit cooler. Some of the challenges in the summertime, we try to get in water and get in mud and wet places to keep the dogs cool and so forth, but sometimes we actually end up getting a little bit too deep in mud, get stuck, get buried, have to call for reinforcements. All our four-wheelers have winches on them, but there have been times when we’re out in the middle of the swamp and you can’t reach anything to pull yourself out with.

As it freezes up, then it’s nice because the swamps freeze over and we can run on the ice on top of the swamps. We have actually broken through that ice, back stuck in the mud again, so there’s some fun times with the wheel training. In this time of year, too, we’re starting to get snow and frost and so forth on the trail. It works pretty well, but actually, when the ground freezes up, it’s a little bit more abrasive on the dogs’ feet, so when we’re running dogs, you’ll notice now this time of year we’re using booties on the dogs. Maybe not all the feet, but we inspect the feet every day and put booties on the ones that look like they’re getting a little bit of wear on them. So that, yeah, obviously, frozen ground is a little tougher on them than mud squishing between their toes.

As we start to lengthen out the runs and get more miles on them, we’re really looking for snow. We really want to get away from dirt and gravel, so we’re checking the forecast every day for any place close, but really we’re sort of, I guess you could say, the reverse snow birds because this time of year, we’re looking to go to a place where there is snow. We have some really good places to train throughout the state of Alaska, but coming from down here on the Kenai Peninsula, it’s some traveling time and some distance and expense to go to some place like the Denali Highway or Lake Louise, or even as far as Nenana or Fairbanks, to train dogs this time of year. We can’t miss out on the opportunity to train on snow.