The Main Crew

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1 November 2014    1.00 PM     15 F    Clear and sunny

With all of the excitements of the winter ahead, with the plans we have to race and explore with our sled dogs, I thought it would be a good time to let you see some of the main running dogs.

We started training in September with a group of 30, which includes just about everybody in consideration for a spot on the “big team”.  In early training, it’s so much easier to get multiple teams out with the distances being that much shorter. As we progress,  the runs get longer and everything takes much more time to accomplish. Additionally, being an old fogey, there are only so many hours in a day I can cope with bending, harnessing and riding on an atv without my back grumbling to a greater or lesser degree.  (and it’s usually greater)

So, the solution is to whittle down the team numbers. Sometimes, that’s quite easy – a few of the older dogs are more than happy to step aside when we start going further. Queen’s pups, at 18 months old have been doing a fantastic job, but are too young to be pushed and will benefit from continuing to work, but at a reduced level. So, the young and the old are sorted,  the marginals are the hardest group to assess. Most of those, we know from previous years, like going out and doing a bit of work, but seem to be missing that willingness to push themselves – may be they are the smart ones! A few others just need a bit of additional time and effort to feel more relaxed and become part of the team.

Both of the races that we’re entered in, in late December and early January are 10 dog teams. With that in mind, I’ve decided to go with a main training pool of 14.  It’s big enough that it gives me a bit of a cushion, and it’s also about the maximum number of dogs I’m comfortable running on a 4 wheeler.

Meet the Fabulous 14  

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 !

 

 

 

 

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