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Oregon Dune Musher's Mail Run March 13-14, 2010
Oregon Coast Notes - News

Oregon Dune MushersAs time passes, more events emerge that allow a recreational or freighting musher the satisfaction of entering and completing a serious, challenging event. One such event, the Oregon Dune Masher's Mail Run, covers seventy-two miles over the dunes and is billed as the longest dry-land dog team event in the world.

The Oregon Dune Mushers Mail Run commemorates the period of time when sailing ships and horse drawn coaches provided transportation along the Oregon coast until about 1914, when the railroad tunnel was completed to the Gardiner area. In the old days, the Oregon beaches were used as highways along the coast and still come under the jurisdiction of the Oregon Department of Transportation from low tide mark to the high tide mark.

The Mail Run is a non-competitive endurance run. It is believed to be the world's longest organized dry-land run for dog teams. The event includes dog teams traveling in different class groups, covering a distance of 75 miles in a two day time period. The trail takes the participants over roads, trails, beaches and huge sand dunes and into the communities of Lakeside, Winchester Bay and Florence.

Each Mail Run musher carries commemorative envelopes signed by the musher. The stamped envelopes are cancelled in North Bend, Lakeside and Florence and are sold as a fund raiser of the Oregon Dune Mushers. In the past, they have sponsored Oregon Mushers to the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska.

The First Oregon Dunes Mushers Mail Run was in 1978

Jim Tofflemire of North Bend, Oregon founded this event.  Jim ran a team of registered Siberian huskies in the 1977 Iditarod.  Because he lives very near the dunes, he did the bulk of his Iditarod training there. The topography allowed Jim to do long distance training over a variety of conditions, running on flat beaches, dodging quicksand, crossing bodies of water, and climbing and descending some pretty steep dunes. Training in the dunes also helped Jim train extremely competent lead dogs. There are often no defined trails or roads, so a leader must quickly respond to the masher's commands, even without a landmark.

In 1978, Jim organized and ran the first Mail Run. The route follows the old mail stagecoach roads on the dunes. Each team carries a packet of commemorative envelopes, signed by the musher, from start to finish. These envelopes are sold by the club to raise funds both to sustain the Mail Run and to fund Oregon mushers who wish to run the Iditarod.

The Mail Run takes place near the end of the racing season. It allows racing mushers to run together without actually competing.  It also gives the recreational musher the chance to see how well he or she has done training at the end of the season and what needs to be done to further enhance the qualities of the team.

An Introduction to Sled Dog Sports

from the old Team and Trail Magazine

Whether this is your first introduction to sled dogs, or you have visited a sled dog kennel or attended a sled dog sporting event, you may be interested in some of the facts about sled dogs that mushers (dog team trainers and racers) don't seem to have the time to explain because of their preoccupation with their dogs. This is especially true at sled dog races where the driver's entire attention is on his dogs . . . prior to, during and following the race. They come first, last and always.

Although many sled dogs make good pets, they are not exactly like other domesticated breeds. They come from a long tradition of running in harness. Being a part of a team fulfills their "pack" instinct, and to the sled dog's way of thinking, this is the most important, most exhilarating part of his life.

Other sled dogs are a sled dog's "best friends," and he enjoys nothing better than running with his friends. He and his teammates naturally accept the leadership of the dog which has proven its capability at the front of the team. Unlike old tales that would have you believe that lead dogs fight for their superior position . . . they don't. They earn it in training runs by exhibiting their enthusiasm and intelligence.

The "ultimate" leader of the dog team is the human being on the runners of the sled . . . the one who cares for the dogs, protects them, houses them, feeds them and best of all, takes them out as a team for training and racing runs. A team of dogs is much stronger than any single person can control physically, but by being fair, consistent and considerate, the driver earns the respect of his dogs which willingly respond to his every command.

In order to earn a dog team's trust, the driver must truly love and appreciate dogs and share in their joy as "partners" on a running sled dog team. Otherwise, the responsibility of maintaining and training a team of dogs can be pure drudgery. Even for the most conscientious dog driver and kennel owner, there are no guarantees of glory and awards awaiting him at the end of the trail.

There are sled dog teams all over the world, some composed of as little as one dog. Others number in the teens and twenties, and whether it is a one-dog team or a twenty-dog team, each animal demands individual attention and care. Only the person who admires and respects dogs can provide the time and dedication it takes to make a dog team.

Everything that the driver does for his dogs will determine what they will do for him on the trails. If he does not earn their trust as their leader, the dogs will elect "their own" leader . . one of their own kind. When that happens, the dogs become a "pack" instead of a "team," so it is the wise trainer who does all that he can to maintain a healthy kennel of happy dogs that can place their confidence in him.

Competitive sled dogs are among the best housed, trained, fed and conditioned canine athletes in the world. They receive veterinary care that compares with the medical care offered to Olympic athletes. Each dog on the team plays an important, individual role, so every effort is made to keep each one in top physical and mental condition in order to keep the team together.

All rules governing sled dog competition -- whether it is team racing, skijoring, weight pulling or cross-country trekking -- are designed to maintain the well-being of the dogs as a top priority and secondly, to provide a fair contest. All competitors belong to one sled dog organization or another, and all of them were created to promote humane contests where "the best team wins," but actually, none of them are losers.

As you look at all the sled dogs in kennels and sports arenas, you are looking at some of the best, most cared-for athletes in the world. And unlike many other dogs who don't have a choice, they can do what they like to do most under the safe supervision of a "good master."

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