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NUTHIN' UP MY SLEEVE!: A cow moose rests Tuesday in 3 feet of snow beside the Logan River just west of Tony Grove. / Photo by Mike Sweeney

Today's word on journalism

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Help Wanted: U.S. Defense Department Seeks Better PR Officers

"Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today's media age, but . . . our country has not adapted. For the most part, the U.S. government still functions as a 'five and dime' store in an eBay world."

--U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, on why al Qaeda is winning hearts and minds, in speech to U.S. Council on Foreign Relation (Thanks to alert WORDster Mark Larson) WORD Note: The WORD will take the next week off for Spring Break, sleeping in and seeking wisdom. Return: 3/20/06

High School teacher races huskies in 120-mile Cache Valley K9 Challenge

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 sled.

"They get the most wear and tear," said Fairburn. The other dogs will wear booties if they show any sign of abrasion.

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 good show."

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 asleep.

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," said Fairburn.

"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.

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