A Templeton man is living in Alaska as he trains his team dogs to pull his sled for 300 miles next month.
Allen Dunn is in Fairbanks and himself is being trained to run sled dogs by veteran Lance Mackey, four-time Iditarod Yukon Quest champion. Dunn will compete against 22 teams.
Dunn had a casual introduction into dog sledding approximately nine years ago.
“I went to the Chapman State Park Winterfest. They had dog sled races up there. I went up one year and seen it, and said this is something I would like to do. So I began to gather dogs up, Siberians at first, then I switched over to Alaskan.”
So Dunn, who lived in Templeton at the time, would start in Wick City and use the Trail to run dogs to East Brady and back, which is approximately 50 miles.
“I had a cart that had wheels on it and I would train with that. Then when we got snow, I would take the sled down and start using the sled. But for the most part, there wasn’t much snow, so I used mostly my cart to train my dogs.”
Dunn said he went from Templeton to enter races in Maine and Michigan before moving to Alaska for official training.
Dunn, who is 58, said he figured he wasn’t getting any younger, so he better get to Alaska if he was going to enter the big races.
“My goal was to participate in the Yukon Quest, which I will this year in the 300-mile race, starting February 3. Next year, I am going to do the 1,000-mile Quest from Whitehorse Canada, up the Yukon River, into Fairbanks Alaska.”
Last year, Dunn ran the 200-mile race. It took him almost 40 hours.
“You run the dogs in 40- to 60-mile runs. You rest them four or five hours, then you run them again for another 60 or 70 miles. These dogs can do over 100 miles per day and burn 10,000 calories in one run. These are amazing animals.”
“Six of my dogs are yearlings and five are 14 months. So I have a young team. Then I have three veterans. They have been doing very well.”
“You don’t get much sleep because you are taking care of the dogs all the time. 300 miles is a long way with dogs.”
Dunn said the Alaskan dogs are bred for speed and give you everything they’ve got in a race. He started them in September running a few miles each day and built up their endurance to over 50 miles. There are breaks for several days at a time, but then he does runs at different times per day to keep the dogs from developing a routine.
Dunn said different races take a different number of dogs.
“The race that I am in is 12 dogs. You start with 12, and if something happens to one of the dogs – they pull a muscle or sprain a wrist – you drop the dog and they ship it back to the starting line, and you keep going with the dogs you have. You cannot replace them. So it all comes down to training. You have to cross the finish line with at least six dogs or you have to scratch. My goal is just to finish the race with 12 healthy dogs! If I place anywhere, then that is gravy on top of it!”
“In the 300-mile run, there are four check points. The first run is 72 miles. The second run which goes over a summit is 44 miles. Then there is another run over another summit of 28 miles. Then you come into the circle where there is a six-hour mandatory rest. Then the last two runs are approximately 70 miles each.”
To the victor will go the prize money. But for Dunn, he said it is more about the experience than the money.
“It’s about being out there on the trail with the dogs for me. It’s about seeing the interior of Alaska via dog sled – what better way to see it!”
Currently, Dunn said daytime temperatures are hovering around -12. However, in February, he said temperatures will go down as low as -50 some nights. He has purchased cold weather gear from the military in order to survive the extreme weather conditions.
His accommodations are primitive at best. He rents a cabin with no running water, a generator for electricity, and an outhouse for a bathroom. But he and his dogs call it home.
“My plans are to stay here for three years. I am going to do the Iditarod in March 2020, and I think that will be my last race in Alaska. Then I’m going to come back to Armstrong County, buy a piece of ground, and start a touring business with the sled dogs. I would like to give the people from western PA a chance to ride on an Iditarod dog sled team. I do love Pennsylvania. It’s beautiful there and my family is there.”
Dunn will be today’s guest on “David & Friends” on WTYM AM 1380 at 9AM. The show is available live on radio, using the free app for Android or Apple mobile devices, the website at www.wtymradio.com, and also on the WTYM Face Book page. (video also posted below)
Dunn plans to visit the area later in February after the race and promised to appear on “Talk of the Town” on Family-Life TV.