NINILCHIK - Alaska dog mushers are experiencing a prickly start to their training season. Training at lower elevations has been punctuated by porcupine encounters.
Iditarod veteran Tim Osmar, of Ninilchik, said it seems he's seeing more porcupines this year. They've been on the trails, on the beach and even on the road.
"I hate porcupines. I have a bounty on them," said the 23-time Iditarod veteran and a former Yukon Quest champion.
Because most dog mushers wait until after dark to do their early training, there's a better chance of running into a porcupine.
Motorists can keep moving after they hit a porcupine, but Osmar says mushers who have a run-in with one of these barbed creatures can find it far more bothersome.
A recent porcupine accident left Osmar's three lead dogs quilled. He had to flag down a passing car to get his team home.
Back at his house, with the help of family, Osmar was able to pull all the quills out of the dogs.
His neighbor - a fellow musher - was not as lucky when his dog team hit a porcupine at night a few days later.
"I had one get quilled bad. I had to take it to the vet to get them out," said Will Faulkner, a veteran of numerous Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Races.
The dog of another mushing neighbor, Jenni Van Muijen, who runs dogs for Osmar's father Dean, found a porcupine in the yard. The dog got dozens of quills on its head and inside its mouth.
"I stopped counting at 150 quills," she said.
Osmar said knowing so many other mushers have hit porcupines, he is more vigilant than ever when he runs in the dark. Maybe even a little too vigilant, he said.