Call of Leadership

The Call of Leadership

Dog Sledding in Michigan is alive and well!  At least while there’s snow on the ground.  This bit of a “lost art” is kept alive by Liza Dietzen from Team Evergreen Kennel.  Hear how she took over this kennel of energetic dogs and turned it into a fun event everyone can enjoy!

Show Notes:

Team Evergreen Kennel Website

Team Evergreen Facebook Page


Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:00] Hello everyone. And welcome to the show. I’m your host Cliff DuVernois. And today we have the owner of Team Evergreen Kennel. Michigan’s very own dog sledding company. This is going to be Lisa . Lisa, how are you? 

Liza Dietzen: [00:00:43] I’m doing pretty good. How are you?

Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:45] I’m doing well. Thank you for asking, why don’t you tell us a little bit about where you’re from and where you grew up. 

Liza Dietzen: [00:00:50] I grew up in Wisconsin in the Fox Valley. Near Appleton. It’s a little town called Kokona. And if you’re not familiar with that, it’s about a half hour South of green Bay, Wisconsin. And I lived there pretty much my whole life until going up to Northern Michigan university in Marquette, Michigan in the, in the upper peninsula. 

And I lived there for about 10 years before we moved down here to Wallace, which is just South of Escanaba. And we’ve actually been doing rides with tree types resort in Gaillard for the last six years now, which has been pretty amazing. You have a lot of people come and visit us there and get dog sled rides. And. 

It’s just a pretty awesome experience for people who would think that they have to go all the way to Alaska or a candidate in dry dog sledding. But we’re kind of right here in your, in your local area. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:47] So that’s actually one of the reasons why I reached out to you because I am one of those people who thought I would have to go to Alaska to experience dog sledding. So. I’m very happy to have found you on Facebook and they have you on the podcast today. Just, I want to take a quick step back here. What made you decide to go to Northern Michigan university? 

Liza Dietzen: [00:02:08] I have always liked the cold and snow. And so what better place to go then? Somewhere that’s right on. Lady Lake superior because she gives you all the good stuff up there with the snow and the cold weather. And back when I was in, I think, seventh grade, my dad and I took a trip up there to go skiing. 

We used to do a lot of downhill skiing before I hurt my knee. And then it kind of was a bummer. But when we went up there, I kind of just fell in love with the area and the. The scenery and being in nature, that’s always been something I have loved. And then the bonus was that the P 200 sled dog race takes place in Marquette, Michigan. And so that was a huge highlight for me because I’ve always wanted to do dog sledding and get into dog sledding. Just never had the opportunity. 

And so being presented with that sort of culture was right up my alley. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:03:09] And what is it about dog sledding to that attracted you to it? 

Liza Dietzen: [00:03:15] Well, when I was in kindergarten, so I was probably five or six years old. We actually learned about parts of the idea to ride in our library curriculum. So when I was in kindergarten, we learned about the story of Balto. That was kind of the introduction to the idea to ride for us. school and my librarian read that story to us. 

And I kind of just was like, yep, that’s me. Dogs winter. I’m always been an animal lover. And I guess I raised my hand and said, I’m going to do the, I did rod someday. And she says, okay, whatever. you’re five or six years old people talk all the time. Do you actually really do it? Who knows? Right. Well, when I did actually start getting into it, I actually messaged her and said, Hey, guess what? Guess what I’m doing? And while she was super excited, 

The first thing she pretty much said is, Oh, I bet your mom hates me right now. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:04:18] Huh.

Liza Dietzen: [00:04:19] My mom is not a cold weather fan. She does not like the cold. So she always wonders why I couldn’t have picked like beach volleyball in Florida or something. 

Cliff Duvernois: [00:04:30] Well, I think for most people, Florida is like the second home, you know, for people in Michigan. So, you know, there it is. But yeah, I.

Liza Dietzen: [00:05:08] The idea or ad is a roughly thousand mile race that goes from Anchorage, Alaska all the way up to Nome. It follows the historical route of the serum run. That was rotten back when the city of Norman was suffering from diptheria. I want to say it was in this. That in the 70s, don’t quote me on the date. I’m not very good at dates. but It was. Some time ago And the children of gnome came down with diptheria, which is a pretty, a deadly. Disease. And so they had a relay race to get this medicine because the nearest hospital that had it, wasn’t Anchorage. So the train could only get it so far. And then dog sled relay took over and got the SERM to known to help save the children. So the idea to rod was kind of invented to commemorate the historic run. Of the dogs through this serum. With the serum. To save these children. So it follows pretty closely to the same route. Obviously there are some changes. But it’s basically too. It’s basically two. I don’t know what the right word is. Yes honor. Yeah. It’s basically a way to honor the dogs and the trip that they made and to kind of see what they went through. And to think back then, things were not as good as they are these days. And the care and whatever for the dogs. it’s just kind of one of those historic type things to try and keep the tradition and history of dog sledding alive, because now that there’s snow machines, a lot of the people in Alaska. Don’t necessarily need sled dog teams because they have snow machines and other ways to get around where back then. Really the only way to get around in those rural areas. Was dog sled. So the race is trained to help keep the history of dog sledding alive within the state of Alaska. of what. It is. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, when you think about the yearly care that a dog team requires, it’s definitely easier to just put a snow machine away in the winter and take it out again. Next winter. We have not run in the idea to ride yet. this last winter, 2000 and. What year is it now? 2021. So. This last year, January, 2020. We did finally finish our qualifying races to run an I did, or I, we are now qualified to go up to the race in Alaska. And everyone keeps asking when we’re going. And that’s a really hard question to answer because it’s not about just qualified men saying tomorrow, I’m going to the idea to ride. takes a lot of resources to get there and a lot of planning and logistics, and just that season running the idea to rod will cost roughly $40,000. So, yeah, it’s not one of those things where you can just. Pack up and head to Alaska the next day. It takes a lot of resources and work. And we kind of. We, as in, I, in my handling crew and looking at our dogs, my dogs, we kind of just decided that. We’re going to kind of take our time going there because you can’t practice too much. And when you get out into Alaska, if you have a problem out on the Tundra, you’re. Possibly days away from help. Or a hospital where, you know, if something goes wrong in our races around here, You know, you could be at a hospital and a couple hours. And so you have to really be confident in your winter survival skills. Your fire building skills at negative 60 degrees in a snow storm. Making shelters. And not that we don’t have those skills. I just feel like we could do better at it. And looking at how we finish some of our qualifiers. And compared to some of the other teams, I feel like there’s a lot of things that we could improve on and I would like to try them again and see if we can improve on those things and see if I can kind of. Build a little bit more confidence in myself. I think my dogs could do a no problem. It’s it’s me. I’m the weak link in the whole operation. They’re equipped to do this a lot better than, than humans are. They’ve got their double coats and there. Special metabolism. Metabolism and special things that they have evolved over the years to help them adapt to those types of temperatures, where humans, we. We’re not quite as adaptive to that, as we like to think that we are. Yeah, it’s a lot of upper body work. A lot of people think that we’re just standing on the back of the sled. Which. In a lot of realities. Yeah. We are just standing there, but at the same time, we’re standing on a two inch rail. So think about standing on a two inch rail for. Thousand miles and what your feet might feel like after that. And it’s a lot of balancing work because a lot of these. Sleds are. Not hinged in the fashion that we think of a door, but they do a move back and forth to help you steer the sled. And so a lot of times you’re standing on the back of the sled and you’re constantly balancing because if you lean too far, one way you might tip the sled that way. If you lean too far, the other way, you’re going to tip the other way. So it’s a lot of. Balancing and maneuvering. And so you’re moving around back there even when you don’t really think that you are. And that’s another way to kind of keep warm is doing all those movements, but. We figure that on a sled, we on a cold night dog sledding where probably burning anywhere between five and 7,000 calories, I would think. then the dogs themselves during peak training and racing, they’re burning anywhere between 10 and 16,000 calories a day. So these are not. For the weak hearted people. Or the weak. To dogs. And so there’s a lot that goes into it, just in figuring out how to get that many calories into you, to not deplete your, your calorie and energy level too much. So it’s, it’s a lot of strategy and an intake for sure. A lot of money. Which I don’t know that any musher really has. So I started out with a mentor, so, and I went up to Northern Michigan university. I started out with somebody else who already had dogs. And I learned from them and that was snowy Plains kind of up in Marquette, Michigan. And they kind of took me through the first steps. They were the first ones who got me on an actual dog team. I had run a couple of dogs in front of a slide that I had built. But nothing crazy. And just across the dog park a couple of times, but they got me on my very first dog team. Real dog team on the sled training, learning how to kind of train some of these dogs. And then when my knees are no longer met by them because I wanted to do more competition and they did more of rides. I moved to a second mentor who basically threw me into the whole world of competitive dog racing. And I learned a lot from him and I was with him for one season. That was David Gale. And he actually was the original owner of team evergreen council. And when he retired from the sport. After that first year, I was with him, I kind of had fallen in love with all of these dogs. And I did want to say goodbye. So with. A friend, a couple friends of mine, we all took over the kennel and we bought team evergreen kennel. And that’s kind of how I ended up with team evergreen kennel. And then, and that was in 2012. And then in 2014, I took sole ownership of team member green kennel. So it is been my kennel in. In sole ownership since 2014. So it was really weird from going to no dogs to about 21 dogs and a very short. A lot of time. It back then. I looked at things differently than I do now. But at the time, I was looking for dogs that were happy to do their job or a good eaters. And just. Needed a job. I did a lot of taking in rescues or last chance dogs back when we first started. And now we’ve kind of evolved into a more. Not that we don’t take in those dogs still, but we have like a more closed goal. As in, okay. We need, we are end goal really is to do the idea to rod. So these are the types of dogs that we need in order to get that goal accomplished. So we’re looking for dogs that have good Colts, because if they don’t have a good coat, they’re not going to survive out in the cold. Any dogs that are going to eat and they love to eat because if they’re not eating those 16,000 calories a day, We’re in trouble. Dogs that are highly driven and they like doing their job because if they don’t like doing their job, then we’re not having fun. Right. So it’s all about keeping the dogs happy and setting them up for success because. If they’re not having fun, I’m not having fun. And if they’re not having fun, we’re really not going anywhere. Because if you, if you have a dog, you know that if they don’t want to do something, they’re not going to do it. So if they aren’t having fun, they’re not going to do it. I like to tell people you can’t push a rope. Because that’s the only thing he had is really connecting these dogs to the sled is a rope. And so if they weren’t doing it on their own will and their own passion, You wouldn’t be going very far. So the dogs have to really enjoy doing their job. And that’s kind of what I’m looking for is just a happy. Go lucky dog that likes doing what they’re doing has some good coat qualities. So that they can do well out in the cold and have good eating skills because they like to eat. And the other thing is they have to have good feet because like cars on a tire. If you don’t have good tires, you’re not going to get much traction. You’re not going to go for a good. And the same with the dogs. If their feet are hurting or they don’t have very good. Good feet. They’re like tires on your car. You’re not going to go. Very good. And you might have to stop and you might have to drop out. So keeping the dog’s feet is like, keep tending to your tires, making sure that they’re they’re well taken care of. So anything that’s going to make the dog a little bit. More comfortable is always something that we are looking for. In our dogs. Well, when we lived in Marquette, we did some local rides, but not a whole lot because we are still primarily a racing cuddle. But rides can sometimes help offset the costs of this hobby because it’s not a cheap hobby by any means. We estimate that it costs. Roughly a thousand dollars a month to maintain our small kennel. We’re considered a micro kennel. Only having 14 dogs. Some of these tour kennels have 200 or more dogs in them. So they have a lot of dogs to take care of. So the expense goes up exponentially as you add, add dogs. So we are actually at 14 are considered a very small, small kennel in our expenses are still pretty high considering that it’s about a thousand dollars a month, which. When you think about a $12,000 a year, you know, like, but when I really think about it, that’s almost half of my income every year. 

Just to maintain my kennel. And so there’s a lot. That we think about and rides is a good way too. Sometimes offset that cost. And so when we lived up in Marquette, we did some of the local rides. People will come from. The university, or we meet people at work that were interested in rides, but we didn’t do a whole lot. Of touring because we were mostly racing. And then one day one day. Kevin McKinley down at tree types resort contacted us and asked us if we’d be interested in doing rides. And it was never really anything I had considered before. Until that day. And I guess, so the opportunity presented it to us. He grabbed it. So it wasn’t really us going to tree tops. It was actually treat taps who found us. And I’m actually pretty thankful for it because it’s been a really great relationship with them. And as worked out fantastic and we love doing it and we get to meet a lot of cool people. And the dogs enjoy it because they get socialized. So I love sharing the sport with people because as we said earlier, People think they need to go to Canada or Alaska. And here we are, right, right in Michigan. For people to come and visit us and learn about the dogs and get to pet the dogs and meet the dogs and see that they’re not necessarily, you know, scared or. On socialized, like some of the animal rights groups. Project onto sled dogs at times. And they get to learn about the sport and see the dogs enjoy themselves and enjoy doing what they’re doing. And that’s, what’s really cool for me because otherwise. Sled dog racing. Isn’t really a spectator friendly sport. Cause we’re usually just out in the woods and nobody sees us. So I really gives people the opportunity to come and have that. Almost intimate. Experience with these dogs and learn about them and see them and meet them. And it’s awesome when we start getting people multiple times a day because they booked earlier and they came back later in the afternoon cause they had so much fun. Or even weekend to weekend and year to year, we have people that come every year and sometimes almost every weekend to get a ride from us because they’ve enjoyed the experience. And to me, that is. Super rewarding to know that we’re getting it out there and people are learning about these dogs and they’re enjoying it and they’re having fun. And they, they like it. And so that I feel is a big, important part of being a musher is getting out into your community and teaching the people about the dogs and what is really about. We’re not making these dogs do this. They like to do it on their own. Again, we don’t have whips. We don’t have rains on them. Like horses. It’s all voice command and willpower. If they didn’t want to do it, we wouldn’t be going anywhere. So it’s really interesting to see people interact with the dogs and the dogs, getting the socialization. And they just love to be Pat and people see in the different personalities and the dogs is, it’s just great. Well the first and last year, I’d usually get to it, get the most experience because they actually get to see the team being hooked up and go out for the first time. And even at the end, they get to see kind of a little bit. Of a different But all the rides are, are fun. They’re in 10 minute increments. The trail is a, roughly a mile long. Which people don’t think is a very long, the thing is a lot of people also don’t come prepared to sit in the sled for one mile. We do recommend that you still wear some winter gear like boots and snow pants, because you do get what sometimes, and you are sitting in the snow. And yarrow and the cold. And so sometimes when you get people who come in their regular street clothes, which still works, but they come back a little colder than they thought they were going to. So a lot of times we recommend that you still wear your snow pants and you know, some of your winter clothes. Because you are still in nature, whether we’re at a resort or you’re out in the woods this is a full contact sport. We call it. And the dogs are still dogs and sometimes we take corners sharp and you’ll get snow shout up at ya. It’s just all part of the experience. It’s very smooth. A lot of people wonder if it’s going to be bumpy. There are times where it gets a little bumpy, but for the most part, it’s actually a very smooth ride. It’s like being on a snow roller coaster. So, you know, like some of them are a little rickety and some of them like the new ones are super smooth and you don’t even know that you’re on a, on a machine and that’s kind of how this is. And we even get kids and adults even going down some of these Hills with their hands up yelling, like they’re going down a Hill on a roller coaster. And it’s just fun to see their enthusiasm, because I remember those first times that I was ever on a dog sled and I felt the exact same way. Just that, that pure joy of watching these dogs work and enjoy what they’re doing. And so the first ride of the day, usually he gets to see us hook up, which is kind of a fun experience because we do what we call loose hookups. So we actually let the dogs down, we, we put their harnesses on and then we let them go and they actually run to the sled to be hooked up. So this is where I’m talking about. This is all free. Will they do this on their own? We’re not dragging them to the line there. Individually on their own, walking to this area to be hooked up. And to me, that’s really cool to see, because I know then for sure this dog wants to go. And a lot of times they’ll even go into the spot where they want to stand on the line. They’ll stand there. Like they’re hooked up even though they’re not because they know that they’re going to be doing their job and they love doing this. So the first couple of teen. Teams out for the day, get to see that. And then just like, There are a lot louder, usually on the first, first run barking, because they’re just super excited to go. And as they go and the further we go, the more they mellow out. So you don’t necessarily see all of the barking, but they still do. Every time we go out, get excited and get lunging and banging into their harnesses and it spun. And then the last ride of the day always gets to see that loose loose drop too, because then we’ll just let them go off of the line and they’ll run back to the truck and they’ll go. And wait for us to take them out of their harnesses and put them back up into their little houses and they’re ready to go. So that’s what I talk about this freewill and that’s what I like people to see is. We’re not dragging them down there. We have a couple dogs that are flight risk. We called him. So we do. We do walk them down to the line because otherwise they’d probably be all over the place, but for the, for the most part, that’s not that that they’re not excited to go. It’s just that they’re a little overexcited to go. We had to kind of contain them a little bit, but the ride last about. Five to 10 minutes, depending on the trail conditions. And so if the trail is a really hard pack, do you get a faster ride? And then this last weekend we were there and it was kind of slushy and Packy snows. There I lasted in your closer to 10 minutes. So it really just kind of depends on the trail conditions that we’re dealing with. And that’s what we try and tell people is we can’t really give you a certain time because. The first ride of the day is always the fastest. And so like, we kind of can base things off of that and the trail conditions, but generally were lasting between five to 10 minutes to go. This one mile, and if you kind of do the calculations on that, that’s averaging between like 12 and 13 miles an hour or 10 and 13 miles an hour. So they’re, they’re kind of booking it along. And then of course, the more weight that you add in the sled. The slower, they’re going to go to some of these little kids that we get in the sled, the dogs don’t even think there’s anybody in there and we just fly. Which the kids don’t, don’t complain about at all. That’s where we get those roller coasters screams, which is hilarious to me and just makes me smile to seeing these kids that were the age that I was when I first learned about dog sledding, enjoying this experience in Michigan, that I had more of those opportunities as a kid, myself. And so to be able to prevent or to present those opportunities to, to children makes me feel great because maybe someday one of them will become a musher too, just like me. If I can change one child into a machete, I will be happy because. Machine, unfortunately, as a dying sport, just because of the time and the expense and people have families and it’s hard to have dogs and have families. And so there isn’t really a whole lot of a younger generation coming up behind us. And so. 

It’s really important for me. I think too. To get the education out there. So people get interested in, even if they run it recreationally with few dogs, that’s still something. And I think that it would be really sad to see the whole sport die as a whole, because these dogs just really love doing what they’re doing. 

So the weight limit on the slide is 200 pounds give or take a little bit, I mean, we’re not going to be out there with a scale weigh in. You guys. But the reason we have the weight limit is not necessarily because the dogs can’t pull more than that is because I have to be able to steer you. And I know this is radio, so you can’t see how big I am, but I’m only about 110 pounds on an, on a coal on a good day. Soaking wet. 

And so when you start adding 200 pounds into this slide, you’re starting to max out what I can. Safely steer in the sled. And I, obviously this comes down to safety. We want everybody to have fun and be safe on their ride. So I need to put that weight limit on there so that I know that I can safely guide you during this ride. 

And so the weight limit doesn’t come necessarily by how much the dogs can pull because the dogs pull a 650 pound ATV during the summer or during the fall. So, I mean, they’re pulling a lot of weights. They can do it. If we have a bigger team. It’s just that I need to be able to steer you. The second thing is you need to be able to fit in the sled. 

So the sled is only so big and if you don’t fit, you don’t fit. And we found 200 pounds to kind of be that for the sled that we have to kind of be the. The good number for what we can steer and what we can fit in it. And so that usually amounts to one adult. Or an adult in a small child or two children is usually what we look at for us led load. 

We have a Facebook page. Team evergreen kennel. That’s where we do most of our updates. We post a lot of pictures and videos on there. We also have a website which is It doesn’t have a ton of information on it because, well, it’s a lot of work to keep it updated. I’m not going to lie. 

And so I try and keep it minimal so that I don’t have to worry about updating it every couple of months to make sure it’s up to date. So it kind of gives you the information you need. To get where you need to go. It directs you to either our contact through email or phone or our Facebook page. And it also can link you to tree tops resort. 

Which is where we do our rides through. Sometimes we do our rides at our home location, but we don’t always have reliable snow here and it would have to be during the week, which isn’t always. You know, accommodating to people. So in springtime, we’re a little bit more open to people coming here for rides. If we still have snow, but our main rides location is at tree types, resort and Gaillard. 

And through our website, you can also link to them and it’ll take you directly to the page where you can book with tree tops for a ride as our dates and times on there. And if you call them they will schedule you for one of those time slots. Like I said there in 10 minutes. So if you have a family of four and you’re all going to need a separate slot you’ll book four slots. 

So you, so say you wanted to start at noon and you’d do the 12 o’clock noon. You do the 12, 10, 12, 20, and 1230 slots. If you have four people. And like I said, they don’t always take 10 minutes. So if you have a family of four, you might get done before then. But then we also then use that time where you can kind of meet the dogs and pet them and she moves on them and take pictures. So we’re not gonna just scoot you out when you’re tired. You know, when you’re done, if we have time, you’re allowed to sit there and ask questions and all that kind of stuff. 

And then just going actually to tree tops resort there. Their website, you can get to the dog, sledding and rides. There and book directly through tree tops. 

Thank you. I spend fun talking to you.