When Marla BB answered the phone on a recent day, she was finishing massaging oil into one of her several dogs, Vox. Vox is part of BB’s pack she bred and raised herself. BB owns Hilltown Sleddogs, a West Chesterfield touring and racing sled-dog kennel where she trains her furry family in sprint racing, mid-distance racing, and skijoring (a winter sport in which a person on skis gets pulled by dogs, horses, or a vehicle).
BB and her dog team are in Alaska to mush across the interior, following the nearly 700 mile-long Serum Run trail stretching from Nenana to Nome. BB joins a group of 13 other mushers on the trip, including “The Fabulous 5” group made of over-50 women.
Metro Minute spoke to BB about her years in the mushing life and how she prepares her dogs for the expedition—a journey that began Saturday and ends by March 11. (Comments edited for length and clarity.)
How did you get started in mushing?
I began a career in singing after graduating from Emerson College in 1982, performing on tours until 2007 with my blues band. In the summer of 2017, I performed from Fairbanks all the way down to Kodiak Island, south of Homer. On my days off, I went to as many mushers dog yards as I could. I met Aliy Zirkle, a Yukon Quest Champion, in 2008. I apprenticed at her kennel. Aliy retired a leader [dog] to me. That was the start of my team.
I ended up buying land—18 acres. At that time I had two litters already, but it became my future home. I took a loan for a house ... that’s how Hilltown Sleddogs came into Western Massachusetts. It wasn’t until I got enough dogs when I focused on my sled dogs. That’s where the allure is. That’s where I have a niche.
How are you planning to tackle the Serum Run Trail?
I’m a racing champion in North America. Being here in Alaska allowed me to finally achieve mid-distance racing, allowing me to practice 30-, 40-, 50-mile runs. That’s what you need to do for your 100-, 200-, 300-mile runs. The expedition is 30-, 40-, 50-mile runs every day. When you do a 300-mile race, you do it in 40-mile increments, rest for two hours, do another 40, then rest for maybe three or four hours. It’s called a continuous machine.
I did the first two legs of the run already, so I have the advantage of knowing what the first two days are going to be like, and my dogs know. It’s all how you train your dogs and how you respond to your dogs. As long as your dogs are healthy and there’s nothing wrong with them, they may be sore in the middle [of a trip], but they’re acclimating. They get stronger.
We’ll be camping for 18 days. The dogs have their extreme jackets, they’ll be on straw, on a picket line. I have jackets they can run in if it’s really cold, and jackets they sleep in so they stay dry. They’ll be really comfortable because they’ll get to move around more freely and play. I’m excited to go out on the trail with my dogs. I’ll be able to sleep in an Arctic oven tent, roasty-toasty in my sleeping bag, or I’ll be inside a school on a cot or on the floor with my sleeping bag.
How did this group, including “The Fabulous Five,” come to be?
It was just random the way it happened. These are women who are accomplished in their lives and have done a lot in their mushing careers. They knew this was an opportunity. One woman has done everything but the Serum Run, so she wants to be able to see that part. It’s people who know that if they don’t do it soon, they might not have the opportunity to do it again. When I came to Alaska in the winter, I was just going to train and then I realized, “all right. We’re ready. Let’s do this race."
Stefania Lugli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @steflugli.