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Mush hour

Ryan Graff

REDSTONE – The start line at the Redstone Dog Sled Race fell uncharacteristically silent every few minutes on Sunday. Dog handlers and racers brought teams of sled dogs from a nearby parking lot to the start line. With each step, the dogs yelped louder and pulled harder against the handlers’ grips. As the crowd joined the event announcers in a countdown to the start, the dogs pulled harder and yelped louder. When the crowd reached zero, however, and the handlers let go, the dogs suddenly hushed and pulled their sled up the course. “It’s the waiting (the dogs) have problems with,” said musher Dave Wurtz, of Tiny Town. “All this noise and craziness, it’s just silent once you’re in the woods.”Wurtz was in Redstone with about 40 other racers from Colorado Mountain Mushers for the 21st annual race. He joined dog sled racers, skijorers, spectators and volunteers from Sterling to Rifle for the race. “I’m the chairman of the board,” said volunteer Jim Cox. Cox’s title is unofficial, though he does preside over chalkboard-sized charts that track the racers and times for each of the races’ divisions – from three-dog mixed teams to six-dog pure Siberian husky teams. The board, though, for all the work Cox did, didn’t get that much attention from the racers, who seemed to be more interesting in enjoying the trail and their dogs than actual hard-nosed racing. “The trail’s really fun, it’s kind of like being in a washing machine,” said 15-year-old Katie Harris of Sterling. The trail was a six-mile sprint and full of sharp turns with a lot of downhill, Harris said. Harris got her start dog sledding four years ago with a plastic sled and her father’s two hunting dogs. “Now we have 14 dogs,” she said. That story is typical for mushers, who find their way to the sport by all roads. One started with a cute but spirited “runt-of-the-litter” dog from a kennel in Wyoming. One was drawn to the sport more than two decades ago after covering a race as a photojournalist. And some just loved dogs as much as the outdoors and found dog sledding a good way to combine the two. The same winding to a dog sled race was true of spectators. “I’m from Southern California, and I come to watch the dog sled races,” said Mike Shrubsole of Huntington Beach, Calif. “It’s just a lot of fun and it’s a lot of neat people.” Others were taking refuge with their kids from the other big spectator event in the area – the X Games. “These are the anti-X Games,” said Tripp Sutrow, of Carbondale, noting the smaller crowd and relaxed mood. For all the dissimilarities, however, the race’s appeal wasn’t completely different. As Shrubsole stood next to the trail snapping pictures of sleds careening – and sometimes tipping – around the first corner, he said: “This is a great corner for watching the spills.”Contact Ryan Graff: 945-8515, ext. 520rgraff@postindependent.com


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