All She Wants to Do Is MUSH ; Ever since She Was 7, She Wanted to Race Sled Dogs. Now the Teen Is Happily Living Her Dream

Article excerpt

Liz Bailey hates summer. That's because she loves to "mush" - race her four-dog team over the snow. It's an unusual hobby for a 13-year-old, but she's been doing it since she was 11. And she dreamed of racing dogs for four years before that.

Liz is a good racer. Last year she and her team of Alaskan huskies were ranked No. 6 in the world in the junior category by the International Sled Dog Racing Association in Merrifield, Minn.

For Liz, dog-sledding is ideal. "I've always loved speed," she says, "and my favorite animal is a dog, so you'd think this sport would be just perfect for me." Her eyes light up as she talks about it.

When you see her train, you start to see why mushing is such fun. It's just Liz and her dogs zipping across the snowy hills of a Christmas-tree farm not far from her home in Strafford, N.H. Add the rustic barn and frozen pond in the distance, and the scene seems to belong inside a snow-globe toy.

First Liz attaches her four-foot-long wooden sled to the dogs' nylon harnesses, using ropes. Then she stands at the back of the sled with her feet on the ends of the 1-1/2-inch-wide runners.

Her mom, Deb, holds onto the ropes until Liz is ready to go. It's not easy, holding on to Sebring, Paris, and Jewell (Tessa, her fourth dog, isn't feeling well today). The dogs bark and lunge forward, eager to run.

Suddenly, Liz and the sled take off down the narrow trail of packed snow. The dogs' heads are down, their ears laid flat, and their backs arched. They are straining to get the sled up to speed. Their barks quickly yield to sounds of the sled scraping over snow and the dogs' panting.

Liz doesn't just coast along on the sled - she's part of the team. She shouts commands like "Haw!" (go left), "Gee!" (go right) and "Hike!" (go faster). She leans into turns to stabilize the sled, and runs behind it (while still holding on) to help the team go uphill. She may "pedal" (kick the sled forward using one foot, as skateboarders do), or apply the foot brake.

Each dog has a specific role. Paris and Sebring are the leaders. They are the most intelligent and quickest to respond to Liz's commands. Jewell and Tessa run behind them. They need to be strong, because they bear most of the sled's weight around corners.

Lead dogs are smart, but sometimes their attention lags. …