Plumas County Sled Dogs | The secondary roads of Bartell

Her bond with her dogs and her love of exploring the great outdoors made Alyssa Martin a dog sledding fanatic. John Bartell leaves the secondary roads and embarks on the snowy trails of Plumas County.

PLUMAS COUNTY, Calif. – There is a deafening silence after the snowfall in the Plumas National Forest. It is a wild land where fresh powder smothers the outside world and blankets the man-made roads. This quiet silence is often broken by Alyssa Martin’s team of sled dogs.

It’s hard to follow, but there are 13 Siberian huskies in the group. When you enter their kennel, you are greeted with a bombardment of howls.

“Some are a lot friendlier than others, but they each have their own personality,” Martin said.

The 29-year-old is not your average sled dog musher. She has had no formal training, and neither has anyone in her family.

“I’ve been dog sledding for 18 years, since I was 11.”

Martin makes it look easy, but everything she’s learned comes from books and advice from other mushers. Today, she takes the dogs for a short run through Plumas-Eureka State Park just outside of Johnsville.

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“My first big race was 100 miles and it was a big wake-up call. I didn’t finish it,” Martin said.

One day, Martin will complete this 100-mile race, but for now, dog sledding is therapy.

From the sled, all you can hear is the hypnotic gasp of breathing dogs and the hiss of wooden skis against the snow. It’s happiness.

“It’s just dead silent, and so peaceful, and there are no distractions. It’s just you and your dogs,” Martin said.

Martin’s dogs are smaller than Alaskan huskies. They’re also a bit slower, but for Martin it’s not about speed or strength. It’s a matter of loyalty. It’s easy to see that she and her dogs have a special bond, and they have to. They have been through a lot together.

“We had very cold temperatures, snow storms. We were chased by a bear once,” Martin recalls. “It was a sow with two cubs. She charged and I pulled out my grizzly spray and she stopped. Then I said, ‘It’s okay. Then I told my dogs to carry on.”

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The land in Plumas County is wild. It’s ruthless. And it takes a hard spirit to break the silence of these mountains. When Martin travels this land with his team, it’s not quiet.

“We know each other inside and out, and you can tell how much they care about me and how much I care about them.”

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