Thad McCracken arrived in West Yellowstone early on a Sunday morning with 16 of his dogs and parked at a trailhead for the Madison Arm Loop. The dogs, all Alaskan huskies and most of them siblings, had traveled for two days from Mosier, Oregon, to prepare for the imminent sled dog racing season.
“These dogs have trained here so much,” McCracken said. “As soon as I got here, they knew where we were at.”
The dogs were quiet in their kennels as McCracken began bolting his sled together for the 25-mile warmup run he had planned for the day.
“In my experience, if they have more than one or two days off, they tend to use up a little more energy at the start because they’re so excited,” said McCracken. “They’re not machines.”
It was only when McCracken laid out the interconnected leashes in front of his sled that the dogs began whimpering and pawing gently at their doors. Whimpers turned to howls as he let the dogs out one by one, tethering them to the sides of his trailer. Howls turned to barks as fourteen of the dogs were lined up in front of the sled, which quickly escalated into a full-blown chorus of operatic sopranos, squealing and yipping, leaping and lunging as McCracken made last minute preparations.
This season, McCracken’s team, called the Mosier Misfits, will compete in the venerated Wyoming Stage Stop Race (purse: $165,000), as well as the Yellowstone Special Race in West Yellowstone (purse: $30,000 and an F-550).
“We’ll do four races this year, maybe five,” McCracken said. “There’s just not enough races in the year for the sport to be worth it. You have to love it.”
The cacophony at the trailhead built to its climax, then dropped suddenly to silence. They were off, bundles of potential energy instantly becoming kinetic, running as if their lives depended on it. The team rounded a corner and disappeared into the woods.
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