iPods quit working at -32 degrees–dog sledding Alaska

January 16, 2011

Robert Forto

It was early Saturday morning at the dog yard. The four of us sitting in the kitchen planning out the days run. It was going to be two dog teams and two snow machines.

The snow machines were going to go out first and put in a turn around at about 25 miles and then head south to scope out some of the trail for next weeks Serum Run shakedown that my friend competes in. Well, its not really a race, but an endurance for the sake of history.

The Serum Run pays homage to the original Serum Run of 1925. You know the story if your kids have ever watched Balto or you have heard of the Iditarod, Nome, Diphtheria and/or possibly just dog sledding in general.

The two dog teams would head to Susitna Landing, about 10 miles north of Willow, Alaska and run northwest towards the Rabideaux Trail.

It was a very cold -28 degrees Fahrenheit at the dog yard while we were feeding the dogs and packing all of the gear that we would take on our 50 mile run.The first of our troubles started before ever beginning. The dog truck’s battery kept going dead and would not hold a charge, so we all decided that I would drive my truck to jump it at Su Landing.

We arrived at 11:30 am and paid our fee to park and launch on the river. 18 bucks. Did I ever say that dog sledding is probably one of the most expensive weekend sports that you can partake in? Well, if you are thinking about getting into this sport make sure you have deep pockets and not just deep pockets to hold extra dog booties, a neckline or two, if you know what I mean.

At the river the temperature had dropped to -34 degrees. This will be fun!

We hooked up the dog teams and the new handler on a snow machine showed me the way to the river and cut off any snow machiners that may be coming up the chute. Within a couple miles I was out on my own running due north with the most magnificent view of Mt. McKinley that I have ever seen.

What a beautiful day!

With the cold temperatures the dogs were in their coats and booties and I was dressed in all of my gear. I put the 1000s of dollars that I have spent on clothes since my arrival to Alaska and can say that Wintergreen Northern Wear’s parka and gloves rock!!!

About 20 miles into the run I thought it would be a good idea to switch the shuffle on my iPod to something a little less heavy– I usually start out a run rockin’ to White Zombie, Metallica or Tool. After the dogs and I settle in I usually switch over to Regge, Classical, Jazz, Blues or maybe even some old school Herbie Hancock or Robert Cray.

Hey, Apple! Did you know that at -34 degrees iPods shut down as soon as they hit the cold air?

Hey maybe I could get a job field testing Apple stuff. Steve, you can contact me through my blog if you like…

So no more tunes for the next three hours or so but thats okay, the sound of the runners and the swishing of the snow under the dogs feet is music to my ears.

I met up with my friends on the snow machines for the last time and they let me know where the turn around is. You see, dog teams don’t turn around on their own. It can take a great deal of effort to get them to go the other way. That is the reason a large loop is put in ahead of the teams so that they will do a long u-turn to head back the other way.

I snacked the dogs on some frozen fish, gave them all a “good dog”, replaced any lost booties and made sure every dog was “A-OK.”

I hadn’t seen my friend with the other dog team since we left the dog truck but soon passed him going the other way. He was only a couple minutes behind me but in the middle of the Alaskan swamps you feel like you are all by yourself.

My snow machine friends headed southwest to check out other trails.

The rest of the run was awesome. It had gotten a bit colder but the dogs or I didn’t seem to mind. We kept up the pace that I would later find out was abut 10.4 miles an hour. A great pace for a long distance mushing team.

We arrived back at the truck just as it was getting dark. My friend was behind me by about 10 minutes. We got all the dogs unhooked and loaded up in the truck and began to head home.

About three miles in, my friend called saying that the dog truck was over heating and he had no heat in the cab. I followed close behind him and could smell a strong aroma of anti-freeze. We had hoped to meet our snow machine friends at Deshka Landing for a burger but it would have to wait.

The dog truck trucked on and I stopped at the C-store to pick up a gallon of anti-freeze. It was 16 bucks, but hey what are you going to do?

The truck made it back to the kennel and my friend looked it over. He is thinking it is just the thermostat. We hope its not the water pump or worse, a head gasket.

We un-loaded and fed all the dogs in the yard. A chore that takes about an hour.

Our snow machine friends made it back to the house just as we were finishing up, our burgers in tow!

It was now 8 pm. 12 hours since we started the day. We chatted about the day’s run and talked about just how cold -30 degrees really is.

I headed home a little while later, started a fire and settled in for the evening at the ice box.

While I grump and moan about this house and how cold it is in here, I would not give it up for a minute just for the chance to do what we did today;

Living a life with dogs.

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About robertforto

Robert Forto is the owner of Dog Works Training Company in Alaska, a canine behaviorist, mushin' down a dream, sports nut and radio show host. Robert writes a lot about his observations in Alaska, pop culture, music, and of course dogs!

View all posts by robertforto

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3 Comments on “iPods quit working at -32 degrees–dog sledding Alaska”

  1. Michele Forto Says:

    Sounds like you’ve been initiated!


  2. huskyhouse Says:

    Oh so true, and you said it so well.


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