& Foaming on the Canine Trail
by Phil Carson
August/September 1989 Issue
It's springtime training for Jeff Ulsamer's 45 sled dogs, and
that means trouble for curious writers.
In winter Ulsamer runs Dog Sled Adventures in the mountains
outside Steamboat Springs, Colorado. In warm weather, like many mushers,
he uses a three-wheeled cart to run the dogs. However, Ulsamer's cart
is actually a fiendish species of tricycle; it sports a Harley Davidson
front-end and seat welded to the rear wheels and frame of a Honda Civic.
Ulsamer recently invited me to accompany him for a ride on
the monstrosity. As a career thrill seeker, I accepted.
I met Ulsamer in the early evening at his place on Spring
Creek Road just north of Steamboat.
Our route is a dirt road that winds up a precipitous to the Continental
I realize I'm in for serious thrills when Ulsamer chains his
mad three-wheeler to a tree in the yard before clipping any dogs to the
towline. The moment he merely touches the cart, all 45 dogs howl for attention.
They really want to run.
Ulsamer is not moved. He selects Chong
for his lead, and Laser Beam and Aziak for the next two positions. (Unknown
to me all three are bitches in heat.) He harnesses Bear and Jaws, clearly
his most aggressive males, into the wheel positions.
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: Jeff Ulsamer always makes sure his dogs
get plenty of water during theses summer outings. The customers
also appreciate it as it gives them a chance to wash off the mud
Musher Jeff Ulsamer is obviously unaware that the author is
screaming something about life insurance.
Bottom:Jeff Ulsamer and dogs work hard to ensure sending home
another satisfied customer.
Rapidly, Ulsamer adds six more jumping, yelping dogs to the towline -
two females, four males.
Eleven dogs scream and jerk at their tug-lines. Ulsamer hands
me a baseball cap with a look of concern.
"Here. You might need this," he says.
"For what?" I wonder naively.
We seat ourselves on the cart; Ulsamer on the motorcycle seat,
me on the plank seat between the two back wheels.
OBJECT OF THE EXERCISE IS TO STAY ON!" Ulsamer calls over his shoulder
as he leans up to unclip the brush hook holding us to the tree.
Suddenly G-forces thrust me to the back of my seat. We bolt
from the yard, rattle over the rough log bridge spanning Spring Creek,
make a hard right and shoot up the road. I have no problem staying on.
My hands are locked into a death grip around a couple of struts. The baseball
cap is already history.
As we gain speed, dust, dirt and small rocks rebound off my
face. Stoically, I say nothing. (Actually, I'm incapable of speech.) Moments
later the uphill pitch steepens and the surroundings lose their blurry
Somehow I manage to spew a few questions.
"HEY HOW DO YOU STEER THIS THING?" I yell.
"ACTUALLY," Ulsamer yells back, turning completely
around in his seat to face me as he answers, "THERE'S NO STEERING
ON THIS MACHINE!'
But my screams are lost in the roar of wind and wheels.
The road levels off, winds around the side of a hill with a 50-foot-dropoff
on the right, then plunges downhill. The first creek crossing looms ahead.
"DID I TELL YOU TO WEAR OLD CLOTHES?" Ulsamer yells
over his shoulder.
Frankly, I'm not worried about my clothes. I'm thinking of
all the opportunities I've missed to purchase life insurance.
We plunge through the stream and rattle up the opposite bank.
The road narrows to the width of our rear wheels. Brambles rip and tear
at our clothes and faces. The cart catches air as it bounces over rocks.
I, too, catch air-- the only thing keeping be aboard is my white-knuckled
grip on the struts.
Then, the mud.
Skiers who whimper about "mud season" don't know
mud. No one does, I think. Not until they've tasted it as it splatters
across their face at 30 miles per hour.
My eyes are half closed to keep out the mud and rocks. I'm
tempted to clamp them all the way shut, but I cannot. Who would want to
miss their last moments on earth?
We cross the creek again, this time over a rotting plank bridge.
Ulsamer yells "HAW!" and Chong leads the team into a hairpin
left turn through face-whipping shrubbery. We recross the stream and are
soaked to the bone a second time. On the opposite bank we make a hard
right to regain the road. As we do, our right rear wheel catches on a
rock, and sends us twisting and careening down the road on two of our
three wheels. Flying rocks are no longer a problem. My face is protected
by a thick coat of mud.
The last downhill plunge back to Ulsamer's place is the piece
d resistance. I suspect my pilot of catering to my propensity for
cheap thrills when he eggs on the dogs down the steepest part of the hill.
"LET's GO! LET'S GO! LET'S GO-O-O!'
"S-s-say that was f-f-fun," I manage to spit when
I finally stagger from the cart. I am firmly convinced that the devil
himself rides one of the accursed vehicles around the perilous curves
Ulsamer is beaming.
Another satisfied customer.
Following this episode, Phil Carson took up mushing under Ulsamer's
tutelage and survived to terrorize his own passengers. When not eating
mud, the author writes on the human and natural history of Colorado for
various publications, including Backpacker, Sports Afield, Cross Country
Skier and High Country News.