A Conversation for The Iditarod, Nome, Alaska, USA

How to Mush

Post 1

Lord Dimwit

I lived across the lake from a musher (a famously bad musher, actually; he won the Red Lantern in the illustrious race not once but TWICE) during my childhood in rural Alaska, and I became sort of involuntarily acquainted with the dog-raising lifestyle.

Mushing requires phenomenal attention to the individual personalities and oddities of each individual canine on your team. You need to know who gets along with who, who's a natural leader, who might go berserk and start biting his fellow pullers after the first hundred miles.

Dogs must also be exercised. All the time. In winter, you have them drive the sled for hours each day. In the summer, you hook them up to a sort of sleigh on wheels (my neighbor used a gutted dune-buggy) and take rides around the neighborhood.

The dogs are actually controlled via audible commands: "Mush" is "Go," hence the name of the sport, "Whoa" is stop, "Gee" is left, and "Haw" is right. Needless to say, this requires quite a bit of training to master as well.

The Iditarod has been undergoing a fairly continuous battle with animal-rights activists for the last ten years or so, with the prime movers being PETA, who claim that the race is horrendously inhumane. Without entering into the debate, I would say that the only thing to bear in mind is that someone doesn't become a musher because they're maniacally concerned with fame-earning or potential winnings; they mush because they love their animals and enjoy working with them. I'm not sure if intentional cruelty is the issue here.

**Frobozz Node #A-90**

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