Those who know me and were present at the pre-race meetings for Craftsbury, Stratford or Fort Kent in the winter of 2004 – 2005, will doubtless recall the glazed expression that drifted across my face once the discussion turned to the trail map and at what points there were going to be “interesting” moments, such as tunnels, road crossings or my personal favourite – the railroad crossing.
Map reading has never been a strong suit of mine – all hail GPS – however, I can follow coloured pie plates quite easily, unlike some I could mention, but won’t.
Accordingly, one of my (many) concerns about our move has been the delightful possibility of getting lost deep in the Alaskan wilderness, or as is just as likely, getting lost only a mile or two from home. So, during my quick visit last month, I tried to walk a little bit of the immediate local area – getting to know a couple of the loops closest to our place that we’ll doubtless run a lot during late August and September.
I also was delighted to finally be able to take my friend Leo up on his offer to come running with his team. Actually, I should point out that Leo’s full and proper name is – Leo, Gary’s handler. It’s a bit of a mouthful but apparently that’s the correct form of address. Selfishly, I was using these runs to try and get an idea of where we were in relation to our place – I suspect I’m going to end up in Leo’s yard by mistake at least 3 or 4 times.
Anyway, Leo took me out with a team most days that I was there and I got to know some of the dogs a little.
As is the way, the dogs all live on swivel chains and have their own houses, most with their names displayed boldly. Craftily, to avoid over-confidence in aspiring handlers or helpers, some of those dogs don’t actually live in the houses with their names, but are sneakily positioned elsewhere. I fell for that a couple of times, bringing over the wrong dog or wondering why there was just no way on God’s green earth, that harness was going to fit that dog. I did quickly (for me) pick up some of the crew – a few favourites that spring to mind –
- Thunder, black dog – not to be confused with Thumper, white dog!
- Vlad – he of the head nestling trick.
- Woody – not living in Woody’s house.
- and the Spice Girls – Pepper, Cajun and Spicey – except Spicey is a boy, but that ruins the mental image.
Two other dogs made a fairly lasting impression, Rochester – crazy line banging lunatic who broke 2 tugs one morning before we got out and Fargo, who is just a monster dog. H U G E
Thanks Leo, for your patience and the veggie burgers.
I also took the opportunity to take a drive up to Cantwell, a 2 and a half hour drive from Willow to visit Mike and Caitlin Santos of The Wolf’s Den Kennel. I thoroughly enjoyed the drive, quite amazing backdrops and breathtaking mountains. I did take a few photographs but none of them even come close to portraying the majesty that is the Interior, well the little bit of it I could see from the Park’s Highway.
It’s not great, but it’s the best I could do under the circumstances. If you want better, try Google ! Or come back on here next year or the year after and see if I’ve improved.
Anyway, the point of the drive was to visit Mike and have a chat with him about his dogs, his kennel and of course his harnesses. I hadn’t planned on a particularly long visit, but Mike had so much information and was so willing to share that I ended up staying the night – and scrounging a free dinner and copious quantities of coffee. However I did help scoop and water……… He also hooked up a team and took me out for a run up the mountainous trail out of his yard. The route home also took us back through the “suburbs” of Cantwell and it has to be said, the locals are obviously used to seeing a dog team pad along their roads, judging by the nonchalant waves issued our way.
As well as spending time with all his adults, I also got to be a puppy chew toy for a couple of the litters Mike has on the ground just now. It seems puppies are the same the world over.