She puts the next five miles or 15 minutes in the paws of the six dogs dashing ahead of her.
The rig drags in the leaves as the dogs' muzzles pressed into the morning air, pulling Fritzler through the trees of the state forest in Augusta.
"Some people go bowling, some people have a boat. We have dogs and horses," her husband, Al Fritzler, said.
He watches as his wife disappears into the forest, waiting for her return so he can take another six of their dogs out.
Katie Fritzler has been participating in dog sledding for over 20 years, and when they became married her husband's interest in dog sledding piqued as well. Today, they have 16 dogs they own 10 acres and are a part of Mid-Union Sled Haulers (M.U.S.H).
"My son had to have a team, I had to have a team, and my wife had a team," said Al Fritzler.
The Fritzlers and were among several people who participated recently in a dog sledding training weekend at Fort Custer Recreational Area hosted by M.U.S.H., a nonprofit organization for amateur dog sledding in the Midwest established in 1980.
"Fort Custer is one of two parks in Michigan that has designated sled dog trails," said Marti Ellerby, race coordinator at Fort Custer, one of five or six locations that M.U.S.H. has races at during the year that start in January.
Some common racing dogs are Alaskan malamutes, Samoyeds and Siberian huskies but other breads are welcomed. Dogs typically start racing when they are a year old but a full team usually is made up of dogs at least 2 years old, according to Ellerby.
Applicants can enter from one to seven dogs to be broken into classes based on the number of racers. Larger teams race longer distances.
But regardless of the size or breed of a team, Ellerby said, M.U.S.H. forms a tight-knit community around the successes of its members.
"We always help each other," she said. "It's important to have someone to call when you're on the trail."
Al Fritzler said M.U.S.H. is different from other race promotions in its focus and acceptance of newcomers to the sport. "We want to help new people," he said.
Mid-Union Sled Haulers will host its annual event at the Fort Custer Recreation Area on Feb. 13-14.
– By Daytona Niles, Kalamazoo Gazette