Jerry Scdoris has twelve of the most faithful friends one mountain of a man could ever hope to have in a lifetime. Consider what they do for him:
Whenever Jerry hollers “Hey,” these dedicated buddies of his rise to their feet and go.
Actually they run and run and run anywhere he tells them to go.
They will pull hundreds of pounds while enduring deep snow or slippery ice and a biting wind that would send most of us indoors for rest and relaxation beside the nearest toasty warm woodstove.
And get this: They never, ever complain. In fact, they live to be outdoors when winter is its roughest: downright mean and nasty.
Jerry’s best friends are huskies.
“These huskies been doing this for thousands of years. It’s like - why do birds fly, why do fish swim - my dogs just got to run.”
They’re not big or brawny either. Rather, they’re medium-sized pooches about twenty pounds each, but they are huge when it comes to desire and energy and enthusiasm to please people.
During a visit to Jerry’s Iditarod Training Camp near Mount Bachelor in Central Oregon, I asked him how he trains dogs for the kind of pure commitment it takes to run and pull through the snow. He told me his dogs “are 110 percent go-power. They just have to run out of pure joy.”
“It all starts out fast and exhilarating,” noted Scdoris. “I think it surprises people how fast and how powerful these little dogs are A lot of folks have sled dog dreams – they’ve read Jack London novels as youngsters and have just had it in their brain to go for a sled dog ride – that’s how I started – decades ago.”
Jerry is in his 18th season at Mt Bachelor, but he has been a professional musher for over thirty years. He also takes passengers on a thrilling dog-sled ride across a three-mile course.
He’s covered 100,000 Alaska wilderness miles with his dog teams and he likes to say the dogs are “experts in motion.”
When you watch Jerry work with his dogs, you witness an incredible transformation when he attaches the huskies to their traces individually and they become a team.
The older, veteran lead dog is generally calm in comparison to the younger huskies. The excitement and energy build among these youngsters, who bark and yelp for joy until the musher releases the drag brake and steps onto the back runners.
No longer do you hear a dozen whining individuals, because the dogs’ eagerness settles into a determination to pull hard and fast no matter the weight in the attached sled basket.
Dave Sims, a longtime partner in Jerry’s business, designs and builds all of the equipment including the toboggan-style sleds that carry up to 600 pounds – plenty of room for Mom, Dad and a couple of kids.
“The sleds are safe, they’re sturdy and they’re comfortable for people to sit in. You can fill them up heaping to the top so you can haul a lot of gear in them.”
I was intrigued with so much energy about to be let loose, so my wife, Christine and I didn’t hesitate to accept Jerry’s invitation to sit in the comfy sled. Actually, Chris sat while I was invited to stand on the runners.
With that, we were off in a moment of madness, down a slope into a wooded stand, leaving a snowy wake flying up behind us.
The loop trail’s first part follows a narrow Forest Service trail flanked by Douglas fir, ponderosa pine and hemlock.
As we slip-slid along, it was a bit like a combination sled and rollicking roller-coaster ride.
Jerry reminded me the dogs are bred for only one reason: “to run, run, and keep on runnin’.” Then he surprised me and asked, “Would you like to try running the team, Grant?”
“You bet! What do I need to know--besides hanging on?”
“Keep your knees slightly bent, take your right foot off the brake, and put it on the runner,” he replied. “Then say ‘Okay.’”
“Okay,” I whispered, uncertain what I should expect from the eager dog team.
“Nooo--you gotta mean it,” Jerry gently scolded, then shouted to his team in a commanding tone, “Okay, okay!”
And we were off again! The feeling was exhilarating and surprisingly quiet. We cruised silently at nearly twenty miles an hour. Suddenly I found time to admire the surrounding mountains that peek through the forest.
The deep powder is a storybook landscape for speeding through narrow trails in a dense pine forest with boughs bent low from a fresh powdery blanket.
Jerry spoke: “I’d say half of the visitors come up with a ‘Sergeant Preston of the Yukon’ fantasy. They are not real sure what to expect--perhaps bigger dogs, and then they’re amazed with my guys’ speed and enthusiasm. You know, Grant, these animals just don’t want to stop.”
You’ll want to stop in, though, and make Jerry Scdoris and his best friends part of your Oregon snow-country adventures. The training camp and rides open with the first fall of snow in November and continue into spring.
There’s a certain peaceful feeling out on the trail – a feeling that –even for an hour or so – all is right with the world.