Mush!

The Prague Post

In north Bohemia, one of Europe’s toughest dog sled races

Gentleman, start your dogs!

Well, maybe that’s not how this competition will begin. But there’s going to be some exciting racing next week in the Orlické Mountains near Deštné, as the 12th annual Šediváckuv Long dog sled race offers thrills for mushers and spectators alike.

“Spectators will see many, many dogs!” promises co-organizer Pavel Kucera, who founded the competition in 1997 and has been running it since then with his wife Andrea.

Back then, Kučera and other dog sled drivers (called mushers) were looking for a place in the Czech Republic to race. They found the Orlické Mountains near Deštné to be a suitable area, with proper snow, elevation and trail conditions.

That first year they had 17 teams. Sadly, the night before the first race was to start, two of Kucera’s Siberian Huskies ran off. One of them, Šedivák, was shot and killed by a local villager. In honor of his memory, the race is called the Šediváckuv Long.

Last year, the race attracted more than 80 dog sled teams from nine European countries, including Germany, Austria, Holland and France.

There are three basic types of dog sled races: sprints (usually two- or three-day events with heats run on successive days), mid-distance (heat races of 23 to 129 kilometers per day or continuous races of 160 to 322 kilometers) and long-distance (races of 322 to 1,610 kilometers.) The Šediváckuv Long is, as the name suggests, in the long-distance category. In 2004 it was the European championship race in both the mid- and long-distance categories.

Since 2002 it has been one of four legs in the Iron Sled Dog Man competition, which includes races run in the Swiss and Austrian Alps. Participants race either 222 or 333 kilometers over four days, running a different course each day from the same starting point.

Kucera recommends attending the Šediváckuv Long either Wednesday or Thursday.

“On Wednesday, people can see the start and finish of the race at the same location in Deštné,” he says. “On Thursday, they can see a night race. It is beautiful to see the sled dog teams with their headlamps.”

Iron Sled Dog Woman

Jana Henychová, from Josefuv Del, has raced dogs for 10 years. This will be her seventh time running the Šediváckuv Long.

“It’s ranked among the most difficult races in Central Europe,” she says. “There is no doubt that participating in a race of this kind is very challenging — just to overcome such a distance requires years of hard work, a considerable batch of courage and, most importantly, a good team.”

Henychová started with one dog; she now has 24 Siberian Huskies and runs her own Husky school. She says she began her mushing career as a “self-learner,” and that her “try and fail” method brought “lots of smashed and knocked knees and torn clothing.”

Women are a minority in this extreme sport, but that just encourages Henychová. “It gives me motivation for self-improvement,” she says. “And who knows, maybe there will be an Iron Sled Dog Woman [competition someday].”

There aren’t many professional mushers in this part of the world, so most of the participants in the Šediváckuv Long are amateurs. In 2000, the organizers invited Walter Treichl, the founder of the Iron Sled Dog Competition, to participate in their race. An Austrian musher, Treichl accepted, and after running the race invited the organizers to join his race.

While anyone can take a drive up to Deštné and enjoy the Šediváckuv Long, for participants a little more planning is needed. Henychová and her dogs begin training in August, running short distances at first.

“Slowly but surely we work our way up to 100 kilometers a day,” she explains. “By the beginning of January we’ll have passed over 2,000 kilometers. It is most important, though, to keep the dogs happy, excited and willing to pull. I have to show them my love.”

The time and effort are worth it.

“The reward you get for this hard work is four days in amazing nature with your pets,” Henychová says. “You meet people with the same interest from all over Europe. This race is going to be an extraordinary experience not only for the mushers, but also for the visitors.”