OUTING, Minn. (WCCO) — In the simple beauty of the winter woods is heard a chorus of canines. Sharp barks and harmonious howls signal a kennel of sled dogs nearby and ready to run.
“I love every minute of it, there’s never a dull moment,” veteran sled dog racer Kevin Malikowski said.
Malikowski is doing his morning chores, something he tends to with pleasure. His work is hard, but to him, it’s hardly work.
“I’m out here every day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. And I love to be out here,” he said.
To the veteran dog sled racer, his parcel of land east of Outing, Minn. is his slice of paradise deep in the woods of Cass County. The 24 Alaskan Huskies that Kevin and his wife tend to are bred to pull and expect to do no less.
“O.K. boy, you haven’t been out for a while,” Malikowski said to one of his dogs as he prepared to choose a training team. “We got them all harnessed?”
In the time it took WCCO’s Bill Hudson to harness one lucky dog, Malikowski had rigged nine others for the morning run. The ten dog team can hardly contain the eagerness. Their energy is apparent as they leap off the frozen ground.
“It’s not just the racing, it’s the fact that I can get out and do it. And I enjoy it so much,” Malikowski said. “It’s a way of life for us!”
Malikowski has been a musher for 35 years. This ride would be for pleasure, just to demonstrate the tremendous pulling ability and agility of the dogs.
But most of Kevin’s training runs go for hours because the races he typically enters will stretch for days. Dog sled racing is all about the endurance of both musher and dog team.
“If you go train 20 miles and go to a 250-mile race, you’re probably not going to do very well,” Malikowski pointed out.
On a hard-packed trail it’s common for Malikowski and his team to speed by at over 12 miles an hour, taking in the treasures and beauty of nature zipping by from the deft skill of a master and his mates.
“The communication with your dogs after that many miles, they trust and give you everything they’ve got. And they’re happy to do it,” he said. “I guess it’s just the solitude with the dogs, they’re my best friends.”
Malikowski said he hates to see winter come to an end. Come summer, his dogs will stay in shape running around in a large enclosure.