Getting Started, Part 1

When last we stepped out of the Wayback Machine, Squash had just joined our household. But the groundwork for our future together attached by a giant bungee against a backdrop of snow was being laid weeks before he actually came home. The very first thing I did after reading the email confirming he would be mine was squeal and chair dance as well as I could with the laptop perched atop my knees. Fortunately, despite the resemblance of this spectacle to a seizure or a heart attack it went unwitnessed and  thus I was spared the embarrassment of a well-intentioned 911 call by any neighbors or passersby.

The second thing I did was to open a new browser window, and God bless the Internet. Really. Not only might it lead you to your future puppy, but lurking within its nearly infinite nooks and crannies is information about every subject imaginable as long as you are up to the monumental task of separating the cyber-wheat from the cyber-chaff. So, for example, an enthusiastic but ignorant budding skijorer who has yet to even bring her future puppy prodigy home can find pages and pages of websites, forums, books, clubs, magazines, and articles about mushing and skijoring with just a few clicks.

The first thing I learned is that, while I did learn some interesting trivia, “mushing” is really a better search engine term than “mush”.  The second thing I learned is that while starting anything new can be intimidating, simply learning the jargon of your new mushING endeavor can make you feel like maybe you’ve never quite appreciated the versatility of certain words. Take, for example, the humble “line”, a word which is clearly under-appreciated in everyday life. See, there are ganglines, tuglines, necklines, double necklines, picketlines, shocklines, snublines, scooter lines, utility lines,  towlines, canicross lines, and godknowshowmanyotherlines.

So, when facing the daunting task of navigating the Forest of Many Lines and other obstacles, a beginning adventurer has to start somewhere. And here are a couple of places my new browser window and I started:

First, I ordered a copy of  Ski Spot Run by Matt Haakenstad and John Thompson. And then as a double secret surprise my husband gave me a copy as a “yay, skijor puppy!” gift before he realized I had ordered it just because he’s a swell guy. I think some of my friends think I worship at the altar of this book, and not just because I owned two copies before Squash even came home and have read it probably four or five times. I talk about it a lot and I recommend it to anyone who asks me about mushing or skijoring. One of the things I really like about it is that it is written with the assumption that just because you are a novice and need every little thing explained to you, you are NOT a child or complete moron.

The other thing I liked about this book was that when started reading it I realized that the progression of my own personal transformation from “person who reads about skijoring on the internet and in books” to “person who actually skijors” would happen to coincide with how they recommend getting started: Start training in the summer before the winter you plan to actually skijor. So it made me feel like an absolute genius, which I fully realize is completely ridiculous. It’s not like my power over time and space led to a situation in which Squash would be born in November, come home in February, be old enough to introduce to walking in harness and training verbal commands in the summer, and be old enough to start skijoring the following winter. Still, the “that’s how I’m already doing it!” factor gave me a cheap thrill at the time.

Second, I asked for some recommendations for where to get equipment from people who already mush. My personal favorite is Alpine Outfitters (, because they have a really lovely and thorough “getting started” section that, again, is written for beginners without any “duh, stupid!” attitude. It was primarily Alpine Outfitters who helped me sort out what all of the lines are for.

Third, while I am not always known for accepting unsolicited advice graciously, I try to actually listen to  more experienced mushers than myself. This is easier now that I’m getting old, so that’s some kind of silver lining. I am by no means well connected and I wouldn’t say I formally have a mentor, but I do keep in touch with the musher I got Squash from and she is quite good at giving gentle advice. For example, when I post a picture like this on Facebook:

She is likely to say something like, “Oh, have you considered using a neckline? It might help with stuff like this!” and then I reread stuff about necklines, slap myself on the forehead, and say DERP while drooling slightly.

Fourth, I got new cross country ski gear. I mostly mention this because I have to say that cross country ski boot comfort has improved considerably since my youth. As I recall, cross country ski boots used to be something akin to really, really stiff bowling shoes with a flattish square projection off the front that clipped into monstrous bindings. So now you know how long it’s been since I’ve skied and understand why I need to get my ski legs under me again before I actually go out with a dog this winter.

So surrounded by my army of books, websites, skis, dogs, harnesses, lines, and knowledgeable people, I felt ready to tackle dryland training*. And that’s where I’ll pick things back up again the next time we step into the Wayback Machine.

*For you novices, dryland training is training in the off season, when there’s no snow on the ground. Yea, I just schooled you on that.


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