Photographer Alan berner travels to John Wayne Pioneer Trail to see sled dogs in action.
Dashing through the slushOn a 14-husky sleigh. Over the trail we go, Barking all the way. CLE ELUM — Fueled by a special chicken-soup broth, Larry Roxby’s sled dogs are singing their anticipation of a sprint along the John Wayne Pioneer Trail east of Cle Elum. They’re pulling a custom, one-of-a-kind wheeled cart he built from two 750cc Honda motorcycles, cut up. It has shocks front and rear, and he added cushioned seats. It weighs a quarter-ton. It’s perfect for the slushy conditions, a transition on the way to winter. Musher Connie Starr is harnessing her team of six to another wheeled cart. Roxby and Starr have both worked with an Iditarod racer. They train for about a dozen races a year, on both dry land and snow. Roxby says, “To get them going you don’t have to say much; just take off the brake.” “Mush, you huskies,” Sgt. Preston of the Yukon’s famous call, won’t work. It’s “hike” that gets the lead dog’s ear. Quickly, the dogs are doing 12 or 13 mph that feels more like 50 along the Yakima River over the narrow, old route of the long-departed Milwaukee Road rail line. The dogs love to run, and they burn a lot of calories. So Roxby cooks up a mixture of “10 pounds of chicken breasts with shredded carrots — no grain, no cornmeal — with brown rice.” Each dog will eat a quart. All of Starr’s dogs are rescues. “They know they hit the jackpot. They’re happy.” She says being a musher means “the dogs come first.” Out on the trail there’s only the sound of the wind and the wheels. The dogs heed Roxby’s calls of “whoa.” It’s a brief rest stop to let Starr’s team catch up. Some dogs snack on snow, others make it a bathroom break. With the dogs harnessed side by side, there’s some teeth-flashing trash talking. But, most say in their own way, “Let’s get this sleigh on the road.”