You are Never too Old to Run Sled Dogs

You Are Never To Old Too Run Sled Dogs

By Robert Forto and Mac McClanahan (Nov. 2000)

About three weeks ago, Robert “Mac” McClanahan gave us a call and said that he received a copy of The Gangline and wanted to learn how to run sled dogs.

I said, “Sure come on over!”

This is his story.

Mac McClanahan is 82 years old and full of life. He said that he has done just about everything; flew helicopters in the Korean War, forced landed three planes, paraglide, walked the Colorado trail, but nothing compares to being behind a team of dogs. Mac said it was one of the most emotional times of his life the first time he was behind a team of dogs and that was just a mere two weeks ago.

Mac was looking for a dog last year that could meet some pretty rigid requirements. After months of research and reams of paper on the internet, he and his wife Melba, decided on a Siberian Husky.  They put their plan into action and happened to find exactly what they were looking for. They found a female, open faced, gray, with blue eyes that had the build of a sled dogs, according to all of the books that Mac had read. Why a female? On Melba’s insistence, she said that you can’t get smarter than a woman and if you wanted a lead dog you needed a female.  They must have made the right choice because it just so happens that the dog that they picked is a sister to one of our sled dogs here at Team Ineka, Nixon.

For the past year, Mac had been working with his new dog and friend, Chukchi, which Mac says means “sled puller”. Mac says, “I thought I would give her a name and hope that she can live up to it. It is her destiny!”  They walked miles and miles and even walked a portion of the Colorado Trail this summer. Mac says “I was walking with friends 30 to 40 years my junior and if it wasn’t for Chukchi I might not have made it to the top of that pass.”

Mac’s goal is to run with some of Team Ineka’s dogs this year in a race or two with a team of three or four dogs. He is working very hard on his training and he and his dog are doing great.  Right now they come over for a “session” twice a week and we try to teach something new each time.  He is learning quickly.  He has been dragged, had a dog fight with a dog on the trail, and even gotten lost when his team took off too fast for me to catch him with my team.

We talked about the future of the sport and what he thought about the Iditarod and he said he thinks the future is very bright. Mac said that this is a “word of mouth” sport and he will do his best to promote it.  He said that he has lived in Colorado for seven years and has seen lots of dog trucks driving around but nothing else. He said that needs to change.

There needs to be more advertising in local papers and different forms of media. Mac said that he is telling everyone that he talks to that he is running sled dogs.  When he does everyone stops, their ears perk up, and they want to know more and more.

That is what this sport needs. More ambitious people like Mac.  His spirit keeps me motivated and all I want to do is train and train.

Mac ended by saying, “I don’t know if she (Chukchi) has the ability to be a good lead dog or if she ever will, but I do know that she has a mind of her own and when she wants to listen she will do just that.”

Well, we are going to try our best to make that dream happen for Mac and Chukchi, she is a natural in harness and will be running in races this year. I have already promised him that.

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