The Writing Traveler: Mushing – It’s a Dog’s Life by Alex Mahon


The gun fired. The owner snarled. The dogs barrelled their way up the mountain to the cheers of the crowd.

On the same weekend we went to Aiguestoretes, Nuria suggested an alternative to hiking in the mountains – watching a mushing race in Port Aines.

She read from the guidebook.

Mushing is a general term for a sport or transport method powered by dogs and includes carting, pulka, scootering, sled-dog racing, skijoring, freighting, and weight pulling. More specifically, it implies the use of one or more dogs to pull a sled on snow or a rig on dry land. The term is thought to come from the French word marche, or go, run, the command to the team to commence pulling. “Mush!” is rarely used in modern parlance, however; “Hike!” is more common in English. Mushing can be utilitarian, recreational, or competitive.

“Sounds interesting,” I said. “How far is it?”

Not far,” she replied.

Alarm bells rang in my head. In Scotland, ‘not far’ means twenty miles. But in Spain, it’s anything up to 200 miles.

“Okay,” I said, preparing myself for along journey.

“You drive,” she said.

This was a good idea as I was hopeless at reading maps.

We set off as the sun descended the sky.

Halfway up the mountain, a chink of sunlight blinded me, forcing me to drive dangerously close to the edge of the road. A glimpse at how high up we were added to my nerves. From then on, I slowed to a snail’s pace. If the young driver of the Cabriolet behind me was anything to go by, the forty or so drivers behind him were a tad annoyed. Still, better to be safe than sorry.

At Port Aines, we wandered around, looking at the dogs. I’d never seen such a variety of husky crossbreeds. We took photos of them and of the surrounding area. Then we had hot soup from a kiosk and carried it to the starting line. Howls, barks, and yelps filled the air as the first team of dogs got ready to pull their sled. The announcer told us about the owner, types of dogs, and the results of their previous races.

The gun fired. The owner snarled. The dogs barrelled their way up the mountain to the cheers of the crowd. One particular dog team caught everybody’s attention. They lay still and in silence. It was extraordinarily weird to see dogs behave in that way, especially after the racket the previous ones had made.

After the last team had gone, we walked across to the finishing line a hundred yards behind us. Cheers went up as each team arrived. The eventual winner of the 19 km course was Tom Andres, a German. He came in under 18 minutes.

On the drive down, I suggested we buy a dog.

“And who would take it for walks?” she said. “Besides, leaving a dog stuck in a flat most of the day is cruel.”

I was strongly tempted to say we do the same with the cat. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned at the university of life, it’s this: a man should never bring a woman’s cat into the argument. So I smiled sweetly and nodded. “You’re right.”

“As always,” she said and turned on the radio.

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