When Blair Braverman attempts to travel the 1,000 miles from Anchorage to Nome in Alaska this March, she will do so with no human company, but with 14 of the most character-filled canine chums instead.
That’s because Blair, 30, is the driver of a dog sled. She is gearing up for the Iditarod race in March, which will see her cross the wilderness of Alaska.
To do so she’ll need a team of 14 capable dogs which she will choose from a squad of 20 Alaskan huskies – and Twitter is going wild for them.
Right now, we have 20 dogs in training for the Iditarodâand 14 pups will enter the actual race. Allow me to introduce you to the BraverMountain Varsity Team.— Blair Braverman (@BlairBraverman) January 2, 2019
That’s because each dog has a wonderful and unique set of characteristics which make them great company, and Blair has been sharing their stories with the world while she trains on the Denali Highway this winter.
Here’s Pepe for example, “our true Lead Dog” according to Blair.
1. PepÃ©— Blair Braverman (@BlairBraverman) January 2, 2019
We have many dogs who can lead the team, but our true Lead Dog â the pup who makes each run happen, who gets us through every storm â is Pepe. Pepe is smarter than all of us. She will run forever and keep running. She is basically everyoneâs mother. pic.twitter.com/K6ckFTvv6l
The posts have received tens of thousands of likes on Twitter, with social media users falling in love with the group.
“The single most important thing for a sled dog is that he or she loves to run,” Blair told the Press Association.
“Secondary important traits are a good appetite, a double coat – with a soft downy layer under water-repellent outer hairs – and the ability to get along well as part of a team.
“The issue isn’t getting them to run, it’s getting them to stop!”
2. Flame (age 5)— Blair Braverman (@BlairBraverman) January 2, 2019
Flame is my souldog. She is desperately codependent and we are both happiest when we are in physical contact at all times. She is also, to my occasional surprise, a fantastic sled dog. She finished every one of my qualifiers with me and never seems to tire. pic.twitter.com/JpWVcWxb94
Fun fact: If Pepe leads us the 1000 miles to Nome, her own mother (a legendary leader who retired to be a pet last year) will be waiting for her at the finish line.— Blair Braverman (@BlairBraverman) January 2, 2019
Having attended a dogsledding boarding school in Norway when she was 18, Blair became a dogsled guide in Alaska in the summer, and only got her own dogs four years ago when she moved to northern Wisconsin and began training and racing in earnest.
But what does it take for the dogs to fulfil their sledding potential?
“When we’re raising puppies, the biggest thing we want to teach them is how to be brave,” said Blair.
“We take them to different places and encourage them to explore and play and have fun, so that they’re exposed to a variety of people, smells, weather, and so on.
“After that, our secondary focus is to build confidence in them as athletes. If some young dogs are slower than others, we’ll divide them up into different playing and running groups so that no pup feels left behind if they can’t keep up with all their siblings.”
And while the dogs must be strong and tough, they come in all shapes and sizes, like Grinch here.
4. Grinch (age 6?)— Blair Braverman (@BlairBraverman) January 2, 2019
Grinch has a heart of gold and a brain like a box of rocks. He is extremely strong, maybe our strongest dog, but is easily confused. He loves attention. He loves giving hugs. He has a significant overbite and his limbs are fitted together like off-brand LEGOs. pic.twitter.com/jrmob29ynt
“A chiropractor once called Grinch a ‘borderline trainwreck'” Blair wrote on Twitter, but that hasn’t stopped him being part of the team.
Asked which dogs’ characteristics will be crucial to the race, Blair named lead dog Pepe as well as Jenga here, who “thrives on problem-solving”.
3. Jenga (age 8)— Blair Braverman (@BlairBraverman) January 2, 2019
Flameâs half-sister Jenga is a Boss Bitch and she doesnât suffer fools. She was my first leader and is the only dog mentioned in Ice Cube by name. I feel that Jenga and I understand each other, because we are both fearful creatures prone to fearless decisions. pic.twitter.com/l84GElL51N
Meanwhile, Colbert brings an altogether different set of skills.
5. Colbert (age 5)— Blair Braverman (@BlairBraverman) January 2, 2019
Colbert is a big hunk of burning enthusiasm. At checkpoints, when itâs time to start running again, heâs always the first dog on his feet and he barks and jumps until the other dogs stand up. He usually runs in wheel, the position right in front of the sled. pic.twitter.com/sRXJ8y788C
“Colbert is everyone’s alarm clock and cheerleader,” said Blair. “He’ll wake me and the dogs up at checkpoints and make sure we keep moving.”
Blair has only ever had one dog who didn’t want to work in sledding – that dog now lives with Blair’s mother where she enjoys a life of hiking instead.
As for the rest, they’ll enjoy the adventure of a lifetime with Blair when their race gets under way in March.
And thatâs everybody in training right now! I canât wait to keep exploring with these friends. pic.twitter.com/sWlUlwNa52— Blair Braverman (@BlairBraverman) January 2, 2019
“I’ll be all alone and I’m not allowed to accept assistance during the race,” said Blair. “It’ll just be me and 14 of my dogs, embarking on a big adventure together.”