The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Local News

February 25, 2014

Winter wonders on land

Bismarck man trains sled team

While many people cringe at the thought of snow after this winter, Mike Payne of Bismarck relishes the thought of another snow storm coming in. It was, therefore, a perfect day Feb. 20 for Payne to hitch up his dog sled team and head for Kennekuk County Park to work with his dogs.

With snow flakes falling at about an inch an hour, I ventured out to the park in search of a story about a man trying to learn a skill that few people in this part of the country attempt to learn. With a book to read and information from the Internet, Payne began his venture about a year ago, first purchasing one and now owning five Siberian huskies.

The dogs were ready to run as Payne let down the trailer door to hook each dog to the harnesses. The anxious sounds of the dogs eagerly waiting their turn made it evident that they were ready and wanting to go.

Once the dogs were hooked up in their places, Payne and the dogs headed from the Lake Mingo boat ramp to the park entrance, a distance of about three miles.

All of the dogs in Payne’s four-dog team are yearlings and all seem to enjoy the adventure as much as Payne, who told me, “Once I had one dog, they just grew on me.”

His goal is to own a six-dog team and to run in the Copper 500 in Michigan or the Big Sky 300 in Montana. Both of these dog sled races are qualifiers for the Alaskan Iditarod, a race covering 1,000 miles of the most rugged and beautiful scenery on earth. Payne, however, does not have his sights set on this race.

Payne’s food bill runs $160 a month to feed his five dogs.

“The dogs come first,” Payne said. “A person has to dedicate his or her life to feeding, exercising, and cleaning up after the dogs, and you have to be a little bit of a veterinarian at times. You can’t let them get bored or they can be a little destructive around the house; you always have to keep finding something for them to do.”

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