Mushing on the mountain
A desk job wasn't in the cards for Geneva Lyon. The Brightwood resident has never been one to slow down, taking her love of recreation and sports from childhood into adulthood with a career in action clothing, and now dogsled racing.
Lyon has been riding with dogs in some form or fashion for the past 14 years. Lyon began combining her two passions of snow and dogs while on a snowboard. At the time, she had a large wolf dog who would run along with her while she carved down the mountain. After an unfortunate collision, which injured the dog, Lyon sought more dog-friendly ways to get her four-legged friend out on the slopes with her.
This led her to "skijoring," or skiing with her dog pulling ahead. Skis don't have the sharp metal edges snowboards do, so she felt safer with the new sport.
Everything just kind of, well, snowballed from there. Lyon's friend soon showed her dogsledding, and once again Lyon's recreational life evolved.
"(My friend) took me on an ATV with 17 dogs pulling one day and I was hooked," Lyon said. "It just seems like a natural progression because animals and snow are the things I love most."
Lyon has raced in more than 40 competitions all over the country, taking first place in many.
"Conconully Snow Dog Super Mush is a race I really wanted to do since I knew there were races," Lyon noted. "It's 16 miles, about 10 miles of it is uphill. We went last year, and I placed first. That was really cool. I was proud of my dogs for that. They're the stars. I'm just the coach."
Until very recently, Lyon had five dogs of her own, borrowing a sixth dog when she wanted to race. Now she has six racing dogs: Clover, Thistle, Yarrow, Quincy, Cosmo and Juno. Most of her sled dogs are children of her dog Lolo.
"Through (the Cascade Sled Dog Club) I learned about sleds, but I never thought I was going to get a bunch of dogs," Lyon said. "It's a really cool sport anyone with a dog who wants to pull can do."
Lyon runs her team about three or four times a week, starting in the wee hours of the morning to avoid the throngs of snowmobilers and keep her dogs safe. The team runs anywhere from two to 20 miles a day depending on the time of year.
"I like to get up there at dawn, right before the sun comes up," she explained. "It's a little more exciting to be up there all by yourself."
As she harnesses up her team, Lolo and her other non-race dog Biga watching from the car, the sounds of the highway are matched only by the excited yips and howls of the dogs. Before the word "mush," the barks of the team echo through the woods at Frog Lake. But once Lyon gives word, the dogs are off and an almost deafening silence falls over the snow-covered trail.
"The dogs are so excited, then just laser-focused," Lyon noted. "You become like one unit. I get really excited when I hear them. They're so excited and happy that even if I don't feel like being out there that day, they get me excited."
Another person very excited by races and getting out on the sled is Lyon's two-year-old daughter Shade Snail. Snail has been along for the ride since before she was born and has now actually raced on her own in peewee events with her mother's dog Lolo.
"She's (technically) been going to races since she was 2 months old," Lyon said. "It just made sense. The second she got on the sled, she loved it. She wanted to go faster."
Lyon was happy to find she was not the only mother passing the passion of dogsledding down to her children.
"I was really motivated because there were a lot of women who are mushers and moms," she noted. "It's one of those sports where women are equal and being a mother is awesome. People love it when kids are at the races. Pretty much everyone there was cheering Shade on because (our children) are the future of our sport."