Urban Mushing Now and Zen

NAMPA, Idaho (KBOI) - For Sheree and Tyler Welshimer, the two family dogs can be a handful. And then some.

Nika is a 100-pound Malamute and doesn't know her own strength.

"Most people think she's the male," says Tyler, "because she's so much bigger."

She also looks part-wolf, but Tyler explains that's because Hollywood uses Malamutes in movies instead of wolves because they're far more docile and more easily trained.

Misha is a black-and-white Siberian Husky, just 60 pounds and far more visitor-friendly.

Each has a distinctive personality, just like kids, and Sheree treats them as such.

"She's an elementary teacher and she knows how to talk to them," says Tyler. "She talks to them like kids. 'You stop that. I'm ashamed of you.'"

"Woof! Woof!"

The sudden barking from Nika is deep and almost rattles the windows.

Tyler and Sheree wrestle the dogs into their harnesses. It's the first and most involved step in getting the team ready for a session of urban mushing.

"Come on. Let's go," Tyler tells his "fur kids." As if they don't know what's coming.

When he's not writing for the Idaho Press Tribune, Welshimer runs a bicycle repair business, so he's very familiar with anything that calls for wheels. But the urban mushing thing meant a new approach to wheel-based recreation, especially one that adds dogs to the mix.

"They're getting better at not being distracted," says Tyler.

Mushing is nothing more than tying a team of dogs to your rig--any rig--and pushing off. Tyler tried it with a bicycle but quickly gave up.

"I didn't want to do the bike part. I'm just not fast enough," he says. "Never was."

Then Sheree found a contraption online called a Diggler. It turned out to be a perfect match. You can describe it either as a bicycle without pedals or gears. Or a scooter with handlebars and brakes.

"I was not quite prepared for the feeling of going 15-20 miles per hour five feet behind some dogs," says Tyler. "Eight inches off the ground. It's just a different kind of high. Biking, you're up kinda high. It's just different."

And it's doggie heaven for Nika and Misha.

"You're doing what works for them instead of having them cooped up and then wondering why they're antsy and ripping things apart in the house," Tyler says.

But it's clear the dogs get antsy, too, on the road, like two four-year-old kids.

"Most of the time that's good," says Tyler. "Some of the time it's not."

"If they're messing around, I say, 'Leave it,' meaning leave him alone."

Just like kids, they're always eager for treats, so Tyler keeps a baggie full of biscuits on him at all times. Praise and reward is the mantra of every musher, urban or not.

Out on a Nampa back road, he urges on the pair with a hearty "Good job, guys!"

They make for an odd sight, but drivers, for the most part, pay them no mind. Almost uniformly, they're more patient than put out.

"They'll smile, pull over, slow down. They'll wait behind me," he says.

But there's a question that hangs in the air like the odor of manure from a nearby farm: would he consider mushing on snow in the Iditarod?

"Probably not. Just because of the cost and they have sixteen dogs and don't run 'em all at the same time."

So in Tyler Welshimer's world, it takes just two to tango, or, as sometimes happens, tangle. It seems half the time he's stopping to undo a leash wrapped around one of the dogs.

But it's all good.

"I would say it's about as good as it gets. When they're doing what they're supposed to, I'm grinning and not thinking of anything else."

It's the zen of Tyler Welshimer, a state of mind he musters in the midst of a mush.