Paws Along the Trail with Food
What do the dogs eat? What do the mushers eat? These are great questions students have asked.
The dogs eat high-performance dry dogfood called kibble. When mushers stop at a checkpoint or just along the trail, they will melt snow in their cookpots. To the hot water, they add kibble. This gives additional hydration to the dogs by adding the water. I have seen different mushers have different methods. Rick Casillo added the dry kibble to his dogs’ bowls and then added a ladle full of water. Others mix the kibble with the water and then put it into the bowls.
Ladles can be different as well. Most mushers have the wide, shallow ladles. Jeff King, always an innovator, used a narrow, deep ladle. Most mushers use a cooler in which to mix up the watery food. Others use buckets. The dog bowls vary as well. Some are flat, rectangular containers, while others are round plastic bowls. These are stacked after the dogs finish to be carried to the next stop.
Andy Pohl gave me some good feeding information. Mushers will give the dogs snacks of meat, or even make a soup-like mixture of hot water with frozen meat tossed in. In his cooler was a “soup” of warm water, salmon slices, and meat steaks. I saw bags of frozen snack meat along the trail of tripe (look up the meaning of this), elk, turkey skins, chicken, and belly meat. He also showed me a baggie of golden fat. His wife, Kristy Berington, told me the fat is a good way to add calories for the dogs. Sometimes they roll it into balls and then roll it in kibble for a dog snack.
Ok. That’s for the dogs. What about the mushers? They send their food ahead, frozen, in their drop bags to the checkpoints. Their frozen food is in vacuum sealed plastic which can also be dropped into heated water to thaw. Whatever they bring must be thin so it can thaw easily. If mushers don’t need all their food, they often leave it in the villages for the volunteers or the villagers to use. I enjoyed some thawed supreme pizza and a large piece of egg breakfast casserole left by mushers in Anvik. Both were delicious! I had the privilege of helping load up the mushers’ return bags onto pallets at the airport. We had to make sure there was no perishable food left because that adds extra weight. What I dug out were water bottles, Capri Sun drinks, and other snacks. Mushers struggle with liquid for themselves as water and juices freeze so quickly on the trail. Capri Suns are kept in inside coat pockets so they can at least be slushy and drinkable. Musher Charley Bejna told me that he sometimes wraps his water bottles in shirts and then puts them into his beaver skin mittens. The fur mittens are so warm that his drinks don’t freeze.
One last good story. Two of the trail volunteers came back for lunch and were talking about musher Travis Beals feeding his dogs fiber/multi-vitamins. He shook up the bottle to make sure the capsules didn’t stick together, opened his mouth, and poured them in. He then went down the row of dogs, opening their mouths and “bird-feeding” the dogs the vitamins, just like a mother bird does her young. I guess it’s a hands-free method a musher can use!