Mushing Magazine article...

Fear & Foaming on the Canine Trail

 

by Phil Carson

for
August/September 1989 Issue

MUSHING MAGAZINE

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 Divide.
  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 and grit.

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.
  "THE 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 quality.
  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!'
  "SAY WHAAAAATTTTTT??!!"
  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 of Hell.
  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.

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