And wonder how on earth we race dogs in Australia. The answer is, rarely on snow. There are only two snow-based races a year currently in Victoria. Meanwhile, there is a lot of "dry-land" racing, using wheeled devices, very early in the morning or late at night to avoid heat.
I had never seen dog sledding in Australia before J invited me to the You Yangs to see him and the pups race for the first time. I was working that Saturday afternoon, so I had to head out late in the afternoon. By the time I arrived, it was dark and a bit Blair Witchy, driving out into the forest. When I arrived, there was a row of cars, tents and trailers on either side of the 4wd trail, with J's big trailer all lit up at the end of the row that wound off into the dark. The noise was deafening! Every camp site had between 1 and 10 dogs, barking and howling their heads off.
J's calm, peaceful, happy fur-kids were all on "drop lines" from the bottom of the trailer and had transformed into howling, lunging demons with slathering muzzles. Really intimidating! When it was time to race, each dog got put into a harness and then hooked up to the line attached to Jamie's metal chariot or rig. Amazingly, once they were on the lines and moving, with handlers guiding them through the camp, the dogs were quiet, but still very excited. Each team went out at a timed interval, so there was some more waiting for J's spot at the start "chute". (Warning: the following clip contains NOISY dogs!)
I started to write "you can see from the outfits that it's pretty cold" but actually there are people in shorts running around in that clip. It was cold! The races are only conducted when the temperature is under 15 degrees Celsius, and the evening race starts will be held until the temperature drops below that. Morning races begin by 7am to try and get through all the classes before it is too hot. Before 7am, mushers will have attended a driver's meeting about the course, and dogs will have been watered and toileted around 2 hours before. So dog sledding people get used to being up and active in the cold Victorian mornings. It's not as cold as Canada, obviously, but it often drops down to under 5 degrees Celsius. Dog sledding people just get used to the chill. And wear shorts in almost freezing conditions. A bit like Tasmanians really.
Anyway, then we walked back up through the camp to the finish line. See how quiet the dogs are as they come up the hill. They're pretty tired.
Now, while in Canada and Alaska, dog sled races are often tens or hundred of miles, the races here in Australia are much shorter. Approximately 2 km per dog, so a 4 dog class will usually run 8-10km, and the best teams, bred and trained intensively, can do this in 15 minutes. J's team, being made up of rescue dogs that aren't top specimens, just run for the love of it and generally take longer.
Since that first race meet, I've accompanied J to a few more and gotten to love the excitement of sending a team out. I wish I had a video of the first time he took a 6 dog team out - they took off like arrows and his head snapped back with the inertia. But these days I'm usually "Handling" - literally hands onto the dogs to keep them calm, not tangled or fighting before the take off. Still, heaps of fun!