When you think of southern California you probably think of Disneyland, Beach Boys, blonde girls in bikinis or hunky lifeguards and you probably don’t think about dog sledding! Well, there’s a park in southern California where on most Saturday mornings you’ll find between 40-50 dogs and 20-25 people “dog sledding on wheels” together with their dog scooters and carts. Southern California has some beautiful trails and a large population of people who love their dogs. Some of the trails are close to the ocean and with the ocean breeze the weather stays cool enough to run dogs a few miles most mornings throughout the year. Today there are upwards of 250-300 people in southern California stretching from north of Los Angeles to south of San Diego who are regularly participating in some form of dryland mushing, with about 85% of the dogs being huskies, many of them from rescue.There’s an informal group called the Southern California Working Snow Dogs spearheaded by Rancy Reyes who has helped to spread the word about working dogs in harness. Rancy is an Industrial Engineer who lives in Costa Mesa, Orange County, California, about 45 minutes south of Los Angeles. He currently has three, what he calls, “Siberian brats” and runs his dogs mostly on scooters and carts. He first got into Siberian Huskies about 20 years ago when he adopted Alex and Jessie. Rancy dabbled in dryland mushing back when there was not much access to information, especially in southern California, unlike today with the information available on the internet. He relied mostly on catalogs, looking for a way to get some exercise for his dogs. He purchase a couple of harnesses for his dogs, harnesses that he now knows probably didn’t fit all that well, and started running with them while they were wearing their harnesses in a form of cani-cross. They hiked, went backpacking, camping, and did everything except actually going dog sledding. One of his first experiences with dryland mushing was when he went bikejoring back before he knew that bikejoring was an actual activity. He put the dogs x-back harnesses on them, connected the dogs to the bike, and took off—the dogs and Rancy didn’t know what they were doing and the dogs were all over the place. Nothing really came out of it at this time and he continued to use the harnesses a lot with Alex and Jessie via cani-cross. They would also pull him on snowshoes. Rancy even tried roller blading with them, in about 150 yards he crashed 3 times and set out to find something with brakes he could use with his dogs. He even considered a baby jogger because they had brakes.Turning PointIn 2000/2001 Rancy adopted another husky, Niko, after his first two had passed away. Niko was just a spaz, and adopted him from a family who couldn’t handle him. Rancy knew he had to get him to run somehow to get him the exercise he needed to be a wonderful companion. He’d run and hike with him, doing his best to exercise the heck out of him. When Niko was about 8 months old Rancy came across Diggler’s website while looking for a small wheeled rig with brakes. He bought a Diggler Alpha Dawg and decided to give this dog scootering a try. He fitted Niko with Jessie’s old harness, connected up some skijoring lines, and Rancy and Niko had a blast. At first Rancy learned a lot of the internet, then he met Debra Blanchard who organized a small sledding club in Big Bear called the Siberian Husky Social Club. He would get tips here and there and pieced information together pretty well to be able to successfully dog scooter in the park near his home. 250-300 people in southern California participating in DrylandFairview Park is just a few miles from his home, and it’s ideal for dryland with lots of nice trails, water, and shade. When asked how he got so many people to come out Rancy said, “I was the only one going out there and I thought it would be fun if there more people. It would be cool if there were 5 people doing this.” He posted ads on Craigslist inviting people to come out and join him.He used the internet to spread the word, even starting a Yahoo Group for the people with working snow dogs in southern California. Rancy would invite new people with a willingness to share equipment, tell them the basics, the idea behind dog scootering, and how to use the equipment.Rancy says of himself he’s, “Far from being the expert. I’m just there to get them started.” and even though he didn’t know that much that “In the kingdom of the blind the one eyed man is king.” By sharing what he did know the interest continued to grow.Introducing new people and their dogsRancy posts when he will be at the park on the internet to a large list, asking people new to the sport to come about an hour early so he can go over the basics with them. When the new people and their dogs arrive he encourages them to walk around and soak up the environment. He tells them a little bit about the basics, the idea behind dog scootering, and a little bit about the equipment: the scooter, the lines, and the harness. Then he sends the person out on the scooter without the dogs to get a feel for it. Rancy fits the new dog with a harness and gets the owner started with walking the dog while it’s pulling the leash from the tug line. While Rancy’s out on a run with his dogs the new person is practicing with the leash and they meet up about 45 minutes into Rancy’s run. While he’s resting his dogs he gives the new person an introduction to dog scootering and hooks up their dog to get them to try scootering. This first time is an introduction, a short lesson, the second time they come out they can run the trails with the other teams.This southern California group now has an Arctis Cart that can handle up to 8 dogs so they put the older and slower dogs in this team along with some of the new dogs giving another alternative to the introduction to dryland for new people. It’s a great way to have new people experience how fun it can be to exercise their dogs. When thinking about getting into dryland what does Rancy suggest to the new people as far as equipment and how to learn? “Get the right equipment. When I first started I was only going to get the small Dirt Dawg and I sucked it up and got the Alpha Dawg. Diggler for me is the best, especially DSK or Alpha Dawg.” He also suggests finding someone you can run with so you can learn from them and joining different clubs even if you are just communicating over the internet.EventsThe Southern California Working Snow Dog participants aren’t a formal group, they aren’t a club and it’s worked well for them. In the beginning some wanted to make it a formal club with officers and Rancy wanted to keep it casual with a focus on “let’s go out and run our dogs.” Any one can do anything within the group—the events are all done with volunteers, Rancy does a lot of the planning, and now others help out. The growth has been all organic, and has grown naturally with the interest of exercising dogs while having FUN! The Southern California Working Snow Dogs recently started a dryland race that’s not a race called “Not So Great Serum Run,” this past January over 70 teams participated! There are also on-going events that the group organizes including Introduction to Urban Mushing workshops usually held in the spring and presentations from mushers such as Karen Ramstead who gave a presentation in July.Dryland future in Southern CaliforniaShortly here Fairview Park will be officially recognizing Urban Mushing as an activity in the park just as the park recognizes the model airplane enthusiasts, helping to provide credibility to dryland for the use of the park among the varying users of the trails. Who would have thought that dog sledding on wheels would be recognized in southern California as a regular park activity! • Liz Parrish & Barb Schaefer are co-authors of Be the Lead Dog, 7-Life Changing Lessons Taught by Sled Dogs. Together they provide hands-on dog sledding on wheels clinics (UrbanGoDogs.com) and ultimate dog sledding adventure experiences (RunYourOwnIditarod.com), as well as presentations using sled dogs as teachers.
Racing in the ACE Race with Tonya Helm On this episode of the Mushing podcast,