Poop is a big theme with mushers. (What, did you think this was some sort of poop-free blog? Ha!) I sometimes imagine it might be similar for parents of young human children, too, but haven’t tried to verify this. Keeping a dog yard relatively poop free takes a lot of work with shovel, rake and bucket. There is a whole variety of poop conditions, which can even be used to diagnose various health problems. Suffice to say that everyone who takes care of a yard full of dogs is a poop expert. Poopoligist, even. Some, like Ilana (chief StinkyPup) are bona fide Poopmeisters.
Today on my mush there was a poop extravaganza. I never saw such poop, in my years of mushing experience. The route I did was our Chena River route. This is about 33 miles in a big loop that takes us along the winter trail towards Fairbanks until around mile 10 CHSR, then south to a slough and eventually onto the Chena River. At that point, we were on the Yukon Quest trail (there were still markers up, and the trail was nicely packed). We followed the river for a little over 10 miles, very windey, then emerge at the Chena Lakes State Recreation site. A few miles following the dikes and drainage system there, then into the woods and back along the Quest trail to our access trail and home. It’s a great training route, though the river can be draining because it’s long, relatively dull, and can be cold. Unlike typical trail mushing, mushing along the river doesn’t involve much body movement (since it’s so flat: those many micro movements made with muscles along a bumpier route don’t need to happen). Deep knee bends are a good way to keep warm & moving.
Anyway, what I wanted to write about is poop. Lots of it! With 10 dogs, 3-4 hours after their breakfast, there is bound to be some pooping no matter what. But today, there was poop all along the 33 miles, with most dogs pooping more than 5 times each. This is, you would think, highly unlikely. Where did it all come from? Couldn’t they finish all at once or in at most two tries?
It was a warm day, making the dogs run slower than usual (our pace was around 10 MPH). Maybe that’s why. We didn’t feed them a big breakfast, and the dogs aren’t sick.
The lineup and performance:
- Dekker (5 poops, required stopping the team) & Nikki (5 poops)
- Higgs (4 poops) & Storm (over 20 stops to poop, pee, & think about it. I eventually moved Storm to wheel position)
- Pumpkin (1 poop. Today’s winner!) & Monkey (8 or 9 poops, a few pees, and multiple tangles in other dogs’ lines)
- Rattles (4 poops) & Simba (8 or 9 poops. Simba is usually a champion pooper, but this was extraordinary)
- Roo (4 poops, eventually I swapped her with storm) & Red (3 poops)
Holy cow! It was incredible, and exceeded all prior experiences with poop. It’s typical for dogs to get their poops out when they first start running, especially just a few hours after eating. But it’s unheard of for dogs to be pooping for 30+ miles (Simba, Roo, Monkey and Storm were all early poopers, and were still pooping at Chena Lakes).
Sled dogs can poop and run, and learn to do this by being dragged along by their fellow dogs while trying to squat. Really talented leaders (like Darla) can poop and run at speed, but most leaders need you to slow down a bit. Dekker is a truly outstanding leader in all ways but one: she stops cold to poop, with no warning, and gets run over by the team while squatting. Nikki can poop and run, but if I slow down she appreciates it.
Storm, another of our leaders, needs to pee a lot and cannot pee or poop while running. She is also a dog that likes to fling herself to the ground, splayed out, to cool off whenever we stop. So imagine her in pole position, squatting to do some business. Higgs, Nikki and Dekker try to pull her along, but it’s hard to do and everyone slows down. If I stop the team, Storm stops her business and flings herself to the ground… if I encourage everyone to keep going, she seems to think I’m telling her to stop and so starts running again. Imagine repeating this over a dozen times, and you understand why I moved her to wheel. One challenge is, once the dogs have begun to get tired, they’re perfectly willing to slow or stop for another dog. But Storm evidently only takes care of her business while getting yanked along by the rest of the team.
Disclaimer: all poop counts are estimates, but I’m so not exaggerating!