Monday, February 28, 2011

An article on the Sweetwater Challenge #2, 2011.

From the Big Rapids, Michigan Online Newspaper (subscription required to view online, but they are having a 30 day free trial right now - there is a photo montage to view online.)

Dog sleds race through Bladwin for Sweetwater Challenge

Contestants took off at 11 a.m. from the Last Chance Retreat and Trails in Baldwin, most using teams of six dogs. Each musher could choose different trail loops to travel, with the option to run as little as 10 miles or as many as 30 miles.

(Pioneer photos/ Whitney Gronski-Buffa)
By Whitney Gronski-Buffa
Pioneer Staff Writer
Published: Monday, February 28, 2011 9:05 AM EST

BALDWIN — Ask a musher about the sensation of being pulled through frozen forests by a pack of wolf-like dogs who are leading you down a path you’ve never before traveled and they’ll likely use one word to describe it: Peaceful.

“It’s just really peaceful,” said Grand Rapids resident Mariel Versluis. “All you hear is the dogs breathing and the skis whooshing through the woods. Usually the first couple miles are not peaceful, but that is the payoff.”

Nine teams — some from as far away as southern Illinois and Wisconsin — met at the Last Chance Retreat and Trails in Baldwin for the Michigan Dog Drivers Association’s Sweetwater Challenge, a two-day noncompetitive dog sled event that gives mushers a chance to whip through the woods with their dogs and relax with friends.

The retreat, owned by Baldwin residents Rich and Linda Lange, hosts two challenges each year and several musher boot camps during the off-season. Drivers from across the Great Lakes region are drawn to Baldwin because of the quality of trails found in the Huron-Manistee National Forest.

“We definitely have the best trails in the state, in my opinion,” Rich Lange said. “The condition of these trails for running dogs is in good shape. That’s one way to judge a trail. You also judge it by how challenging or scenic it is, and we have all that. We have good trails that are not for the novice and extremely scenic.”

Each musher could choose different trail loops to travel, with the option to run as little as 10 miles or as many as 30 miles.The trails cut through an area of forest that has trees that are several hundred years old and have never been logged, Lange said.

The Sweetwater Challenge attracts two different types of mushers: The traditional dog sled team, which uses at least six dogs to pull a musher standing on or riding a sled, and skijor teams, which use two or three dogs to pull one person standing on cross-country style skis.

Versluis uses her two German shorthaired pointers for skijoring and travels around the country to compete. On Saturday morning, she completed a 10-mile loop with her dogs. Versluis said she enjoys the sport because it is so fast-paced — her dogs can run a mile in three minutes.

“I like the speed,” she said, laughing. “The sled people always try to talk me into sledding, but that pace, I just can’t deal with it.”

Donna Jankowski, a musher from Lake Villa, Ill., has been participating in MiDD races for four years and has attended several musher bootcamps at Last Chance. She uses a sled to run the trails and has a team of six dogs, five of which are rescue dogs. She competes in races throughout the Great Lakes region during the winter but said she always looks forward to the races in Baldwin.

“The trails, the scenery, the other mushers — it’s just a wonderful atmosphere and a wonderful camaraderie,” Jankowski said. “The trails here can be very technical, so you have to keep your speed down to be safe. ... There’s narrow trails, steep inclines and downhills, it’s not just a flat trail. I’m just getting to the point where I can finally start to enjoy the scenery.”

Jankowski prefers distance to speed, in part because it takes so much time and effort to travel to each event. She has participated in four-mile races with large cash prizes that are all about speed, but tends to seek out noncompetitive events like the Sweetwater Challenge that give her an opportunity to spend a lot of time on the trail with her team and connect with others who love the sport of dog sledding as much as she does.

“There’s no animosity toward anyone because you passed them on the trail or anything like that,” she said. “There’s no money involved. It’s just about being out on the trail with your dogs and watching all your training efforts come to fruition.”

There’s nothing that compare to the satisfaction of a good afternoon spent on a dog sled trail, Lange said, and that’s what draws people to a sport that leaves them out in the cold.

“Dogs make life bearable, especially under these times,” Lange said. “They’re the best mental relief you can get from what goes on in the day-to-day. You take eight of your dogs and go out on a 20-mile run, spend four hours in the woods taking in Mother Nature and the peace and quiet — it doesn’t get any better than that.”

For more information on MiDD events and the organization, visit their website.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A couple more photos from the, Thurs.

I ran the new 2 mile section of trail this a.m. for the first time (these photos are not from that area.) It was just dandy. All the trails were really great this a.m., not hard and fast like last weekend.

Photos from Weds.

The drive in to the staging area
Portion of trail that crosses driveway

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Conditions for Sweetwater Challenge #2

Photos to follow (I forgot the cord to my camera, on my way to work at noon.)

We had 9 teams on the trails last weekend for our winter campout. We had a hard, fast base then got 6 inches of snow Sunday/Monday. Trail conditions are good. We have groomed the trail twice this week so far. There's a little snow in the forecast for this weekend.

Our mile-long driveway is in good condition - some areas down to dirt as we have been scraping it down to dirt when ever we can.

There are a couple of patches of ice in the open area between the lodge and camping area - the icy spots are covered with snow so are deceptive for foot traffic - this is not an area where the dogs will be running. Never hurts to pack your YakTrax or other ice-walking human foot gear.

We always recommend that you have a good drag mat on your sled for running our trails - we do have several hills on the course and it's safer for the dogs if you can slow them on the downhills or if the trail is hard-packed. The more dogs you run, the beefier of a dragmat you need.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Drag mat with snomo studs photos


Friday, 10 a.m.

The trails have held up through the thaw and got down in the 30s overnight and it's supposed to get cooler as the day goes on getting into the teens tonight. 6 inches of pack left where we've been packing trail all winter - I've been measuring where Rick plowed once - a nice mistake to find out about this a.m.

We will try to find time to shovel some snow on the driveway where the trail crosses the drive. 32nd St. is in good shape. Our driveway is mostly bare with a few icy patches.

Looking forward to running dogs this weekend!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Photos from noon today, 02-16-11

Here's Sting on the trail next to the driveway.
Here's a shot of the metal ruler, tapped into the snow pack - shows 6.5 inches of snow pack left on the trail.

A kennel shot to compare to the one on Saturday.

A look at the Coyote Pass trail where it crosses the driveway. The leaves are on top of the packed trail, not showing through the snow to the ground.

A view of the kennel from Saturday, the 12th

Like I said, we have LOTS of snow...we got a little sleet overnight, now the sun is out. We'll see how much rain we get tomorrow night....

Monday, February 14, 2011

Waiting out the melt....

Been reading about folks north of us getting rain overnight, last night...not here thankfully, we got about a 1/2 inch of snow. In the 30's today with lots of sunshine. We do have a LOT of snow pack on the trails...waiting to see how things hold out for the weekend. We have a really nice location for our impromptu campout. If I can figure out the new camera, I will post a photo from Saturday, the 12th showing all the snow in the kennel.