School teacher races huskies in 120-mile Cache Valley
TRAVELIN' DOGS: Dean
Fairburn and his Alaskan huskies in the parking lot
of the Ramada. / Photo by Shauna Leavitt
By Shauna Leavitt
February 28, 2006 | Two cougars quietly watched Dean
Fairburn as he tried to pull his spooked dogsled team
back onto the trail.
It was after 10 p.m. and darkness blanketed the Idaho
wilderness. All Fairburn could see were two sets of
eyes on the edge of the trail. Initially, he wasn't
too concerned since they were probably deer. He swam
through the deep snow to help the lead dog back onto
the trail. When he turned around and glanced up, he
found himself at eye level with two cougars.
"The cougars seemed more curious than scared," said
Fairburn. "I got the dogs back on the trail and drove
away from the cougars without an incident."
Fairburn, a high school teacher from Garden Valley,
Idaho, said he likes to train the dogs at night before
the snowmobiles come out.
The night training prepared Fairburn and his dog-sled
team for the Cache Valley K9 Challenge, a 120-mile overnight
race that took place last weekend at the Hardware Ranch,
east of Hyrum.
Fairburn's dogs and the other teams were on display
in the barnyard while they waited for their races to
begin. The musher's stayed close to their team to answer
questions and let visitors know which dogs were approachable
and which were not.
At 2:30 p.m., spectators stood back as the mushers
began preparing for the race. Fairburn put protective
booties on his wheeler dogs, the ones closest to the
"They get the most wear and tear," said Fairburn. The
other dogs will wear booties if they show any sign of
When the sled was securely tied to the front of Fairburn's
truck, the dogs were hitched to the sled one-by-one.
The moment they were attached to the sled they tried
to run. It looked like a pack of kangaroos. Each time
they tried to make a leap forward, the force would shoot
them straight up in the air.
Once the team was ready, the sled was detached from
the truck and four adult handlers carefully lead the
team to the starting line.
Fairburn was the fourth team to start. As the stop
watch counted down, the handlers prepared to jump out
of the way to avoid being run over by the dogs and sleigh.
Once the dogs are let go, they want to run full throttle.
Fairburn put some pressure on the foot brake to keep
them at a controllable speed.
There were some steep hills on the race, but the toughest
part was the heat. "The [Alaskan huskies] run best in
temperatures of 10 degrees above or below zero. It was
at least 50 degrees when we started running," said Fairburn
"I could have worn shorts without a shirt across the
finish line," said Fairburn. "That might have been a
Pretty well everyone's philosophy [on the second day
of the race] was to beat the sun. I left at 3 a.m. after
our five hour layover. I wanted to get as far as I could
before the sun came out."
To keep the dogs cool, Fairburn had them eat snow
and packed it on them. "When we crossed a creek, I got
them some water and poured some over them," said Fairburn.
Putting the heat aside, it was an enjoyable race.
"Camp was neat. It was nice to be up there with other
mushers all camping together." The mushers staked out
their dogs, took care of them then tried to rest a bit
on their sled. "I laid down for a bit but never fell
Out of the seven teams, five made it to the finish
line. Fairburn explained, "Two front runners were scratched.
One of them got off trail or missed the turn and went
pretty far out of the way. She made it to camp pretty
late at night but decided it was best to stop." It is
unclear why the other team scratched.
Although tricky at times, the trail was beautiful.
"Just as the sun was coming up, we came upon really
tall trees caked with snow, [it was] like a winter wonderland,"
"My goal was to finish, I'm not there to win. The
other dogs are better and better trained,"
Fairburn's team was the fifth of five to cross the
finish line. He hopes to run it again someday.