Prepping For Winter

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30 October 2014   2.30  PM    18 F    Sunny

It’s hard to tell at what point autumn (Fall) becomes winter. I suppose the official designation of the Winter Solstice is as good a point as any. However, if we waited until then to accept that winter has arrived, it would be a bit late for most of the things that I should have done before “it” arrives.

So, whether it is still late autumn or early winter, morning temperatures hovering around 0F kind of make it a moot point.  It’s cold, it’s going to get colder and anything I want to find and/or use at any point between now (or hopefully very soon) and some time in late March or early April probably should be gathered up from wherever I have abandoned it around the property before it disappears under the copious amounts of snow we’re going to get this year.

As part of our ongoing kennel management strategy, we relocated some of our canine assets  (yep, we just moved a few dogs around the yard.) Part of that was to try and get most of the main string dogs closer to the hook up area and part of it was to ensure that the play groups didn’t get so large as to be potentially unsafe.

We also took the opportunity before the ground freezes completely solid to try and remedy some of the summer’s handiwork from a few of the boys. During one of our previous reshuffles, we somehow ended up with the 6 males from “The 6 Dog Pen” being stationed in “The Girls’ Pen”, as well as the group of 5 dogs that arrived from Seppala Kennels earlier in the year. It maybe seemed like a good idea at the time, but the chaos, destruction and hole digging that went on in the formerly, beautifully pristine and level girls’ pen was outrageous. The main culprits were Turov, Yuri and Echo.  Which makes sense because they were the 3 principal miners at their previous location.

Not a word of a lie - this is over 5' deep.  If Turov's chain was longer, he'd still be digging.

Not a word of a lie – this is over 5′ deep. If Turov’s chain was longer, he’d still be digging.

Lunar landscape - it never seems so bad in daylight.  Disaster awaits after the first snowfall.

Lunar landscape – it never seems so bad in daylight. Hard to navigate safely in the dark. 

 

And now, after 3 lorry loads of sand and a few hours with a skidsteer, it looks like this. We also fixed the other pen that they had tunnelled through.

Lovely, smooth and safe.

Lovely, smooth and safe.

Fortunately, or perhaps not, those 3 boys are all on the main team and have been moved to a new location, the descriptively named “Middle Pen”. So, they have new ground to work on, but the onset of the colder temperatures means we have been saved from major earthworks for at least a few months.

Goodbye Takeo

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5 October 2014       4.00PM       43 F        Overcast

Gealach Mor TikTak Takeo  5 Sept 2003 ~ 29 Sept 2014

Gealach Mor TikTak Takeo    5 September 2003 ~ 29 September 2014

In December last year, Takeo was given just hours to live. 

In the intervening months, he has been such a blessing and a joy to be around. He became a fixture in the house, and despite his great size, he could fit into the smallest corner of a shared dog bed, or he could sprawl out and seemingly fill the living room. All of the girls deferred to him and he made the most of every moment.

As the weeks and months moved on, we could almost, occasionally, forget that he was living on borrowed time. He was always a happy, relaxed companion dog as well as being a fabulous sled dog and valuable teammate. He raced mid distance in New Hampshire, ran dryland sprint in the UK and then trained with us here in in Alaska.

tak me

tak stratford

Takeo at wheel, racing the Stratford Nighthawks 30 mile race in New Hampshire and a third place finish.

For all that we were grateful and happy to have the extra time with Takeo, his passing is no easier, his loss no less keenly felt, the tears are still as hot and heavy.

Goodbye my big old boy,  run free with your brothers.

Goodbye my big old boy, run free with your brothers.

Hook ‘Em Up

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18 September 2014 3.00 PM 53 F Raining (again)

Hard to believe that more than a month has gone by since my last post.

Some of what was targeted has been achieved. We did indeed snaffle some of the potato harvest,  the new part of the dog yard has been successfully fenced and is getting the final security precautions put on place – to prevent unwanted exits more than undesirable entrances.  Although after a bear took a wander through our property last week, I was very happy all our dogs were on the other side of the fence and very pleased that Mr Bear had read our new gate sign and respected our wishes.sign

The website update took rather a lot longer than anticipated. But, it is more or less done, and will (hopefully) be kept a little more current than it previously was. At least now, all our dogs are featured and you can see them in all their wonderful loveliness.

The mechanical gremlins are well on their way to being banished. The Rhino finally got to the Yamaha dealer, thanks to Big Lake House of Yamaha for coming to pick it up and the trailer is still in pieces but repairs are in hand (according to my man, Lev).

With the arrival of September, thoughts turn to the coming winter and the goals for us and our dogs. I’ve tried a couple of methods of attacking the winter plans – and no one approach has had a greater or lesser influence on the outcome. So, with that in mind, I decided I wanted to have clear targets this year.  Of course, these are all flexible and we’ll adapt and deal with whatever happens, but the rough plan is :

  1.  Do some camping/checkpoint training with the dogs.
  2.  Enter the Willow Relay Sled Race (with TJ of Cold Canyon Sled Dogs as the other team) run in late Dec
  3. Enter the Knik 100  – run in early Jan
  4. Enter the Earl Norris Memorial Race – run in late Jan
  5. Enter the Two Rivers 200 – run in mid March
  6. Have fun.

It has to be said, we’re already off to a flying start. Our first training run this year was done on 1st September. A couple of cool days saw us get organised and actually get a team out a full 3 weeks earlier than we managed last year, and 4 weeks earlier than the year before that. With Queen’s 6 pups (although at 18 months old, they’re hardly pups) to incorporate, plus the newest adult dogs from Seppala Kennels that arrived in June, we’re taking it nice and slow to give those guys a positive experience and to ensure that it’s fun and safe for us all. So far, it’s been a bitty schedule and we haven’t quite got into a regular routine. However, the dogs have all done well, we’ve even managed our first couple of head on passes without incident, and I was very pleased at how focused the young dogs were.

young Tanera after her first run.

young Tanera after her first run.

Now, we’d like some cooler temperatures and a lot less rain.

 

Summer in Alaska

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7 August 2014   2.00 PM     65 F      Some blue, some white

I guess, technically, summer is in full swing.  The days are still filled with bright, sunlit hours and the mornings are still pleasantly warm.  Most people are still looking at that summer “to do” list and wondering if it is all going to get done before Fall arrives.

This summer, we have been busier than usual. We’ve even managed some of the Alaskan things that we’ve always either avoided or missed out on. I’ve been fishing, we’ve tended the garden and even produced edible produce. We’ve done some much needed kennel improvement and expansion, I’ve spent ages working on an update for our website and we’ve had a litter of puppies.  Oh wait,  that last one didn’t actually happen………  still there’s always next year.  My wife is on her usual summer trip back to Scotland and I’m in charge for a change. So far, things have gone smoothly and there hasn’t been any drama or unnecessary excitement.

Fishing with Mike

Fishing with Mike

My biggest halibut,  forgot to take a "before" pic.

My biggest halibut, forgot to take a “before” pic.

Kapitan Karl,  boat captain, tour guide, fisherman, chef, beer supplier and fish filletter extraordinaire. extraordinaire

Kapitan Karl, boat captain, tour guide, fisherman, chef, beer supplier and fish filletter extraordinaire.

The fishing trip was wonderful, and I got to see some humpback whales playing around for an hour or so whilst we’re fishing. We also saw dolphins (or porpoises) and some sea otters, as well as some amazing scenery and glaciers. Plus we all caught fish !

Not quite icebergs,  but glacier ice having calved from the glacier.

Not quite icebergs, but glacier ice having calved from the glacier.

One of the many glaciers I got to see.

One of the many glaciers I got to see.

The next couple of days were spent checking for halibut recipes, trying some of them out and getting the rest of the fish prepped for the freezer. Our garden supplied some herbs, and also enough rhubarb to keep us regular for quite a while. The strawberries haven’t really come to much, the entire harvest consisted of 7 berries, although I think the birds may have done better than that.

4 lbs of rhubarb.

4 lbs of rhubarb.

We’re also waiting on our potatoes being ready. Well, when I say “our potatoes”, our neighbour did all the digging and planting, of the seed potatoes that he bought, but they’re planted in our vegetable plot – so I think we can lay claim to at least some of them.
We had decided that we could do with another exercise pen for the dogs and finally managed to get organised enough to get that started. Whilst our buddy Lev was here with his backhoe (he’s available for hire, very reasonable rates and very efficient,) we got him to take out the self seeding trees in our main yard, that over the 5 years we have been here, have started to make a bit of comeback. They’re smallish trees, mostly cottonwoods, but they’re in deep enough they don’t want to come out. The plan of a quick run over the yard with a bulldozer didn’t quite succeed and it took a bit more work than anticipated, but at least we can see dirt again.lev dozer
The new yard is all prepared and we’re just waiting on the fencing going up, which likely will be in the next 2 or 3 weeks. Long before the ground freezes and we can’t get posts in. We’re also going to make the temporary puppy pen, permanent. Not that it will always have puppies in it of course, but it will be a handy segregation area.

All of this is taking place with one eye on the weather forecasts, the hoped for arrival of cooler temperatures and the start of training season. We have some new dogs to incorporate into our crew, as well as Queen’s pups, now 18 months old, who will be learning what their future holds. We don’t have many dogs retiring from last year’s group, Oscar, one of our leaders is definitely gone, he’s 10 1/2 and made it clear last winter that he was happy to be dropped. Mermaid, who is the same age, seems far more vibrant and is still acting like a much younger dog, so she’ll stay in the pool, but be under closer scrutiny.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Duncan blog entry if there wasn’t some tale of mechanical woe to relate.
The front drive currently looks like a scrap yard – there are immobile bits of machinery scattered across it, like an obstacle course. The major casualty is our Yamaha Rhino, that has fried its digital brain and therefore won’t start and is currently useless and needs hauled to the dealer. Behind it, is the big snowblower, which is actually working fine, but without the Rhino to move it around, is just an ugly lawn ornament. The plan was to take the Rhino down to the dealer which sounds simple enough. Even with the Rhino not running –  we managed to winch the Rhino onto my trailer and proceeded to tie it down.  I set off and got all of about 100 yards before a loud crash brought me to a sudden stop. The trailer tongue had sheared in two, and the body of the trailer was now nose first into the ground.  Much muffled cursing could be heard – which I suppose means it wasn’t that muffled.

Trailer tongues are not supposed to point at the sky. Dead Rhino clutters up the yard.

Trailer tongues are not supposed to point at the sky. Dead Rhino clutters up the yard.

So, now we’re in a bit of a pickle. I’ve tried to borrow 2 different trailers from friends, only to find that whilst their’s are not quite as broken as mine, for various reasons, they’re not roadworthy either. I’ve tried getting hold of the trailer manufacturer to purchase a replacement tongue, which “should” just bolt on – except there seems to be no-one at the factory. And no dealer has such a part. The Rhino, meantime, will just have to wait it’s turn, for a trip to Big Lake and a new brain.

Machines,  pah !

 

 

 

 

Good dogs, Good truck

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11 July 2014       2.30 PM      64 F      I can see blue, almost

As the miles roll on, the dogs and I are getting more relaxed. Even Katya decided that perhaps I wasn’t so bad after all, and deigned to join us in the fresh air eventually. The days tend to blur into each other, as there really isn’t much to distinguish between them. The further north we get, the more daylight we encounter too, which really means you either go by your watch and proper time, or else just wing it and go by your stomach, your bladder or the truck’s fuel tank. I had tentatively arranged to visit friends in Whitehorse, if I didn’t pass through town at the 2 in the morning,however with so many variables affecting the driving time, I pretty much put that to the back of my mind and went with the flow.
So, if I saw a nice parking spot to drop the dogs, I used it. If I wanted to have coffee and a delicious bagel from Timmie’s, I’d detour till I found one. Now, I’m not seeking sponsorship from anyone for our dogteam, but if any company wanted to do so, and if they happened to be called Tim Horton’s, then I’d be in heaven.
Passing through Fort St John and Fort Nelson on a lovely sunny day, knowing how much truly amazing countryside lies ahead is always a “we’re getting there” moment. The mountains are majestic, the surroundings amazing, the people population is minimal and even the traffic is greatly reduced. Equally delightful, as the miles rolled by, the bears seemed to determined to make themselves known. Did you know that bears like to eat dandelions? Well, I certainly didn’t, but I saw quite a few happily munching away on the bright yellow flowers at the side of the road.

Do you mind?  I'm having a snack.

Do you mind? I’m having a snack.

Oh look, another bear.

Oh look, another bear.

As well as bears, I saw several porcupines, a few moose and of course, the gigantic bison that decorate the stretch of road between Liard and Watson Lake. The main herd seem to travel together, but scattered across the 100 kilometres or so , are small groupings of young males, and occasionally a single bull who must consider mixing with the rest of the herd, as far beneath his status.

Tatanka !

Tatanka !

Heading up into Stone Mountain Provincial Park, the road was so quiet, that I managed to take a photograph that every time I have tried for before, I’ve had to abandon the attempt before I got squished by a large 18 wheeler barreling down the hill.

Daunting scenery

Daunting scenery

Another couple of hours driving looking at similar backdrops, I decided it was time for a long break. What prettier place than the side of Muncho Lake. The dogs got fed, and enjoyed the breeze and sunshine and attracted the attention of some passing tourists, who pulled over to ask lots of questions.

14 muncho home

Pretty Muncho Lake, amazing mountains and relaxed dogs

After a few hours, it was time to load up and move on. One of things I have learnt to do is to load the dogs, put everything away and then drive forward 4 feet before jumping back out and double checking that I haven’t left anything behind that I shouldn’t have – like say, a pile of dogbowls and water container. Not that I’ve ever done that, I just know a guy who might have!

The view in the morning from the roadside.

The view in the morning from the roadside.

Quick rest stop at Teslin

Quick rest stop at Teslin

More by luck than judgement, I found myself making the approach to Whitehorse in the late afternoon, perfect timing to go visit Jacob and Gwen at Grizzly Valley Kennel. Jacob also has Seppala Siberian Sleddogs, including the brother to Nik, who is on my truck. It was great to spend time with them, to get to meet his dogs, to swap stories and drink a couple of beers. Happily, Sedna felt relaxed enough to sleep quietly in the truck for our stay. The next morning, I was back on the road, and heading for Alaska. A smooth run, an easy border crossing and dinner at Fast Eddy’s in Tok.

On the road home, what a vista

On the road home, what a vista

One more night on the road, somewhere between Glenallan and Sheep Mountain, and it was one last run for home. It always seems to come quickly, after the days of driving and being outside, Wasilla seems like a bustling metropolis and then I am home. The truck performed perfectly, the dogs all did remarkably well – and considering that for most of them, this was their first time travelling any distance, they did it without real trouble, complaint or fuss. They ate and drank well, and aside from Sedna’s first night of noise, they took it all in their stride.
They were given a quick walk and then taken over to their new pen, where they’ll be segregated for a while, before being integrated into their new places.

A warm welcome to Gealach Mor Seppala Siberian Sleddogs for Nikola of Seppala, Inchounski of Seppala, Yekaterina of Seppala, Zuryanka of Seppala and Sedna of Seppala.

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